During the time I spent in recent days preparing this reflection, I found myself struggling. It has been difficult to find focus. Stillness has eluded me. Everything in my being seems to be disturbed, weighed down by an increasing heaviness of heart. It has been a challenge to allow myself to remain in this uncomfortable space, to allow my spirit to be troubled. Dissonance can make it hard to listen, but as I stayed in the discord, I was gradually able to hear some of the clashing voices rising up within me.
We live in a broken world. There is a constant ebb and flow in the specific issues that capture our attention, inviting us to see and respond to the needs of humanity. Whether they affect only a few individuals or they are pervasive in society, all needs carry significance, though it may vary in degree. 2020 has shown a spotlight on many different, highly significant issues in our nation. But unlike the typical cycles we experience, after rising to prominence most of them have remained prominent rather than receding as the next one emerged. The compounding of concerns with so little resolution has been overwhelming and exhausting.
Tension is often present in life as we navigate the pushes and pulls of competing needs, interests, and perspectives. This is true in our lives as individuals as well as communities. Working toward resolving these tensions can help us to affirm our values, clarify our priorities, and make choices that bring about change. The ways in which we engage this process are critically important; they have a significant impact not only on the outcomes, but also the experience of the process, and our ongoing relationships with one another.
Much of what weighs on me now is rooted in the ways I see people going about their responses to the important issues we face. Respectful dialogue is rare. Listening is all but non-existent. For many people, it seems to have become acceptable to level vicious personal attacks and even physical assaults on people whose viewpoints, ideas, and opinions are different from their own. Self-interest and personal gain are aggressively pursued, often at the expense of the common good. Staunch political partisanship dominates and determines everything, sometimes to the extent that opponents are viewed as outright enemies. It is painful to see almost every facet of life strained by such extreme polarization. The pain is heightened when people who identify as Christians engage in these ways and even call into question the faith of others simply because they are on the other side of the political aisle.
It has been difficult to pray through this, in part because it is hard to know where to begin. I have a new appreciation for Jesus’ lament as he looked down on Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Lk 19:42). Consistently, though, my prayer has circled back to one thing: love. Love of neighbor is at the heart of the greatest commandment (Mt 22:39). Love for one another is also the hallmark of Christian discipleship (Jn 13:35). Love orients us toward the other, calling us to look out for their interests and not merely our own (cf. Phil 2:3-4).
When polarization prevents us from considering the perspectives and needs of others, it is an obstacle to love. No matter how pervasive this might be in society, the Gospel calls us to something different. Though it may not be easy, I can choose to engage others grounded in the spirit of God’s love. I can be a peaceful presence, open to respectful listening and dialogue. I can strive to seek the common good. I can be an agent of healing and reconciliation. Though the affect of these efforts may seem small, I can give voice to the hope that these seeds will indeed grow and bear fruit. I can trust that this can and will happen in God’s time.