Unhooked From Politics

I’m trying to depoliticize, unhook, maybe that’s a better word, from the incessant political chatter of our day. I’ve had it. I’m sick of it. I’m trying to shake the illusion that everything must be seen in terms of what is political. It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum, it seems we have all come to believe that politics will save us from danger and grief. Politics will surely usher in a new age of harmony, prosperity, and justice—those are the kinds of shaky notions that underlie our kneejerk turn to politics for everything.

This is a grand illusion. Some commentator last night blurted out her real feelings about all she was reporting: “I wonder if we [meaning she and her companion reporters] are not the ones living in a bubble. Does all this stuff really matter?” But the deeper question for me is whether our culture is strong enough to pop the bubble. Do we have the personal, cultural, spiritual depth to admit the illusion and take the conversation to a deeper level where real healing might take place?

This has gotten personal for me. Good grief, I ask myself, is all this obsession with what’s political really the best use of my attention and energy and time? Is this what I am made for? It’s as if we have gone to the bloodthirsty circus of a Roman Colosseum. There we sit with greedy attention while the blood flows and the city burns around us. Aren’t there other things, I ask, that matter more to our spiritual and moral wellbeing? Aren’t there other things that could help build up healthy neighborhoods, churches, cities, our country, the world?

Here’s what has been happening to me. In my exasperation, impatience, even fear of what’s going on, I’ve turned in earnest to the great monastics and contemplatives from Christian history. Whoa, you might say, this seems a little naïve, something like an escape, surely unrealistic. But if we look at the history of the founding of the monastic movement—with St. Benedict in the sixth century, for example, or St. John of the Cross in the sixteenth century, or Thomas Merton in the twentieth—we find that contemplative prayer was a counterforce to chaos and confusion. For Benedict it was the corruption of a collapsing Roman empire. Prayer matters, Benedict and so many others concluded. It may actually change the world.

I am discovering that maybe this deep prayer is a realistic alternative to the exhausting, frenetic political scene in which we feel so helplessly drowning. These contemplatives talk a lot about silence, a quieting of the incessant chatter of the mind. In this silence we enter into the presence of a lavishly loving God. There we find a new anchor for lives swirling about in madness. God wants us, so this great tradition tells us, to quiet down, to surrender, to let go, to let God be God in our lives and in the world.

And then there is this: Once we learn to enter into this silence of prayer, it’s as if we put on a new pair of glasses. It’s as if the picture turns from black and white to color. We move around more quietly. We become more attentive to the small things. We see layers of reality we missed before. We find ourselves reading different kinds of things and reading in different ways. We find ourselves more grateful for each passing moment. At least that’s the promise of the contemplative way.

I’m a beginner in all of this. I have a long way to go, but I’ve stepped out on a path that promises something so much deeper than the hyper-politicized path that only leads to more division and dissension. All of this could be quite naïve, I suppose, but I’m banking on something like this to change my focus. Turn off the news for a while, at least most of it. Shut things off for a moment. Set down the cell phones for a time. Drop the papers and read good things for a change. Slow down. Listen more carefully to others who are living real lives with real hurts and real joys.

Politics can spin around in its own little sphere of activity without my help. Turn it off for now and spend more time in prayer, in silence, entering daily into the presence of the living God. History tells us this way of life works. I’ve decided maybe it’s worth a try.