The Election as Spiritual Practice

Are you suffering from ESD?

Apparently, Election Stress Disorder is a real thing. About half of Americans report feeling significant stress — stress that affects their sleep, their relationships, and their lives.

The media, ever ready to solve problems they have helped create, is publishing advice about how to avoid ESD.

1. Turn off the 24 hour cable channels (says the newspaper).

2. Don’t spend so much time on Facebook (say the cable channels.)

3. Respectfully change the subject when co-workers and friends start to talk about politics (say the advice columnists).

Well, Duh!

Except, in my experience, just avoiding hard stuff leads to spiritual stagnation and broken relationships (and I have had a LOT of experience avoiding hard subjects). When we turn around and face the things that cause us stress, we grow.

The alternative to avoidance

These next few weeks are a fantastic opportunity to try to practice loving our enemies. Note that Jesus does not tell us to avoid our enemies, or to run away from them. On the other hand, Jesus is very clear that we don’t hit them back.

Given the campaign rhetoric, I don’t think the word “enemy” is too extreme. We use words like “attack ad”, “battleground State”, and “adversaries”. According to the attack ads I have seen, my well-being depends entirely on my candidate getting elected. It’s almost too awful to contemplate what will happen if my candidate’s adversary gets elected. It follows that if you are so benighted as to support that other candidate, then you are a threat to my very existence. You are, by definition, “my enemy”.

Our polarized political debates lead us into a spiritual Chinese finger trap.

The more we try to resist the “evil” of the other side’s candidates, and their values  and ideas, the more trapped we become. I don’t know about you, but I often wake up thinking up good arguments about why people should vote for my candidate and should not vote for the other one.  I can obsess about these things, especially when a friend, a relative or a high school classmate posts something completely idiotic on Facebook. Then I am as stuck on arguing with them in my head as someone straining to pull their fingers out of  Chinese handcuffs.

We all know that the only way to pull our fingers out of the trap is to bring them together — the opposite of what our instincts tell us to do.

So, Jesus teaches us a way of breaking out of the spiritual prison that polarization creates by teaching us to do things that are the opposite of what our instincts tell us to do.

Here are some counter-intuitive practices for these last couple of weeks before the election.

Pray for the candidate you would never, ever, in a million years vote for.

I told you this is the opposite of what your instincts say. But what does Jesus say?

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

I know, it feels almost immoral.

I just want to pray for America.

I just want to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

But Jesus says:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

 Make it a daily practice between now and election day to hold that scum-of-the earth lying traitor in your heart and pray for her or him – for all those crazy people who are going to vote for that person.  Or, if you don’t pray, at least wish that person well, and see what happens to your heart and mind and soul.

No, it’s not easy. Oddly, it brings us into contact with unexpected parts of ourselves — I will write more about that next time. As hard as it is, I’ve discovered that it sets me free to, among other things . . .

Treat the people who disagree with you as well as you treat the ones who agree with you.

This is tough, too, but It is practical. The day after the election, we still need to work with people who voted the other way. We have to have Thanksgiving dinner with people who voted the other way. Can we put those relationships first and our political principles, no matter how deeply held they are, second?

God does it, of course. I don’t know why the sun continues to shine on people who belong to the other party. I don’t know why the rain that waters my lawn waters the garden of the guy down the street who has that awful sign in his front yard. But that’s the way God is. For centuries God has been doing this to us: Methodists and Baptists, Protestants and Catholics, Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists – even atheists. It would be so much better if it only rained on Democrats or the sun only shone on Republicans. Then we would know who was right and who was wrong.

I’m always surprised that, when I put relationship  before being right, it always feels more right than when I put being right first.

Next Practice: Looking at why the other side ticks you off so much and what genuine conviction looks like. 






2 thoughts on “The Election as Spiritual Practice

  1. I’ve been meditating and reaching out with metta to Jim’s family in Ohio and Michigan with positive thoughts. Meditation is also keeping me calm. I have faith that no matter the outcome of the election we are all loved and capable of loving at our core. Some of us need extra love and reassurance, support and help. So there are always going to be ways to serve others.❤️

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