By Mike Soika
I no longer imagine the Divine as a life guard who will save us if we venture too far astray.
I can’t deny that I am frightened for the future of our country. The President acts as if he is above the law, while his party members cower and watch muted as the Constitution becomes a meaningless piece of parchment. And at the same time, the Democrats compete, hoping to find a candidate who will heal our divisions.
I know I’m not alone in my fear, but the adage that “misery loves company” doesn’t seem to apply. The fact that so many of my friends have the same sense of angst provides no solace.
In former times, I could find peace in prayer. I used to believe that the Divine had a plan for me, and for the unfolding of the universe. If the world got too scary, I could wrap myself in the warm blanket of God’s love with the faith that all would be fine because everything was destined for God’s greater good.
My faith is as strong now as ever before. What has changed, is my belief about what God is and how the Spirit engages with the world. Growing up Catholic, I perceived God as Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent: that God knew everything, was ever-present and was all powerful.
That’s not what I believe anymore, and as a result the world has become a more unsettling place. I no longer imagine the Divine as a life guard who will save us if we venture too far astray.
We are left pretty much on our own, but not in a – God doesn’t exist – kind of way. We are left on our own, because we are how the Spirit moves in the world. The Divine is our inward teacher who pulls, prods, whispers, and maybe even goads us into becoming agents of peace and justice. If we don’t act to bring about the kingdom of God, then it won’t come about.
But, knowing that I must take my part in the unfolding of the kingdom doesn’t solve the problem of a country that is seemingly spinning toward chaos. Being an old community organizer, I know that people in power only act when confronted with a countervailing power. And, that lack of power on the part of everyday people is the primary reason why we don’t see urgency around important issues like climate change or gun control; two of many concerns that have significant support within the US population.
And so, here is my dilemma: I can’t pray for change, because I’m the answer to my own prayers. I can write letters to my elected officials and support a protest here and there – but I don’t see how that changes the power dynamics and brings about the systemic change we need. I can certainly vote and work for candidates who align with my values, but at this juncture that seems like a crap shoot. So, what am I to do?
Theodore Parker wrote a paper in 1853 from which he is credited for the famous quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” That may well be true and provides some guidance. A few argue that we are now living in the most peaceful time known to our species. While democracy across the world is teetering, the long sweep of history demonstrates that humankind does indeed march toward a greater good.
Said another way: if goodness and light rests within the soul of each person, then the call towards goodness is unending. I see that in our own Meeting for Worship. Often, I will feel a tug to stand and speak a message I hear from within. But out of timidity or caution I hold back, only to see another Friend stand and deliver the same message I was pondering. I have been shown – time and again – that the voice of God will not be stilled. If one person hears but does not act, another will both hear and act.
I have now come to see that the voice of the Divine is an eternal call for peace and love. When we heed that call, we take but one step in the long march of history towards building the kingdom of God. Thus, all who are troubled, like me, can take solace knowing:
“So, hearts that are fainting…
That God at their fountains
Far off hath been raining”[i]
[i] Tales of a Wayside Inn, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poems and Other Writings, page 432. Library of America, 2000