Like many Americans, I experienced a fair bit of anxiety over the course of the election.
The morning after election night, when the election was still undecided, I headed into Morning Glory Ministries to help with emergency assistance. I was greeted by Carol, a longtime volunteer with a quick wit and lots of hard won wisdom. Her car was filled with warm clothes for the upcoming winter. As I helped her unload I mentioned how stressful election night had been.
She shared this: “Honey, I learned a long time ago that no matter who is in power, they can’t touch my soul. No matter what happens, I’m going to wake up every morning and I’m going to come here and do what I do. They can’t touch my soul.”
It was like the punchline of one of Jesus’ parables. Simple, evocative, piercing.
I’m reminded that the time of Jesus was a time of violent political repression and upheaval. They were never any peaceful transitions of power, people couldn’t participate in the political process (outside of violent uprisings), and there was incredible inequality and deadly poverty. Conspiracy theories abounded in the form of gnostic cults and messianic prophecies. Religious division and dysfunction were omnipresent.
Into this chaos Jesus declared: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” and “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
How, in the face of death, division, and political turmoil, is the equanimity, peace, and love of Jesus even possible?
Only with God, of course. As James Finley writes, “We read a book, we hear a sermon, we run our finger lightly over the crystalled luminous designs of a frosted window and something of God appears. Through a hidden opening he enters and the One we searched for in vain suddenly holds us, sharing with us his secret presence.”
A week later, I made my way to daily mass. I noticed a man bent over in the pews in a tattered tank top. It was 41 degrees out and raining outside, so his choice of clothing was suspect.
Throughout the Mass, he kept wandering closer to the altar, until finally, after the homily, he sat in the reader’s seat near the ambo. I could see all he wore in addition to his ragged tank top were some torn long johns. He had no shoes on his feet.
I invited him to come with me over to Morning Glory. I gave him some food and warm clothes, shoes for his feet and new dry socks. All gifts from our generous donors, diligently sorted by Carol and our other volunteers.
When I told the story to John, the director of Morning Glory, he said, “So you left Jesus at Mass and met Jesus in him.”
Another parable punchline. Simple, piercing, revelatory.
When I focus on the wisdom of John and Carol in light of these experiences, I get a glimpse of what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. If I focus less on the struggles of the powerful and more on the struggles of the poor, if I trade my obsessive worry for ordinary work, if I shift my focus from all that is wrong to all that is right, all that is beautiful, and all that is true, I find that my soul begins to dwell a little more deeply in this Kingdom.
We can continue to do the work that is before us: to alleviate suffering where we find it, to seek and struggle for peace and justice, and to serve the poor the vulnerable. But we can do this with anger and anxiety or we can do this with peace and love. The former is the way of the world, and the latter the way of Jesus.
2020 isn’t done with us yet. There will be more chaos, more suffering, and more uncertainty. The news cycles will continue to send some of us into adulation and some of us into despair. Every event will be an invitation to greater peace or greater despair.
We may get emotionally caught up in the whirlwind of it all, thrown about by fear and anxiety. But when we keep our feet on the ground, our hands busy with service, and our soul resting in God, we can always come back to this peace, back to this hope:
They can’t touch your soul.