A political vacuum is dangerous. In the context of the American elections, the vacuum is not simply an empty space waiting to be filled by the person most adept at grabbing power. It is an empty space waiting to be filled by whatever that person is.
Presidents are generally remembered more for what they were than for what they did. Political power, especially in America, depends to a great extent on personal charisma and the chimera it projects and, as we are seeing in the current election debates, chimera, rather than considered argument, produces instantaneous, if short-lived, effects on an audience which wants to believe what it has been persuaded that it is seeing on the podium – not who it is really seeing.
The power hungry persona fuses with the face of the potential leader, so that it is hard to tell the difference between the two. This is why many of us are willing the American people not to succumb to the momentary and ephemeral taste of power at the cost of making a politically inexperienced narcissist the most powerful person on earth – which is what he dreams of becoming.
To will something to the good is not a purely mental discipline, if only for the fact that no single individual or group has that kind of ‘will’ power. It is also the reason why so much that passes for faith healing, and which ends in failure or is proved to be fraudulent, is confused with the kind of ‘willing’ which we call prayer, and which transforms people or transfigures the way things are seen by all interested parties. This is the kind of transformation and enlightened vision which we urgently need to take effect in the politics of today, in America and elsewhere, and it is the duty of every person of faith to enter into this work.
The transformation of politics, in both secular and religious contexts, will come about not by concentration of the mind but by our becoming the means for God’s grace to inhabit the political and spiritual vacuum of these times. We do this by being fully present to God in our own emptiness. Our emptiness is not a vacuum. It is the stillness of our inner silence in which we know God.
Stillness and inner silence enable us to be present and attentive to the American presidential election, to all the people caught up in the debates, to the rhetoric which both enmeshes and confuses them, to the duplicity and sheer nastiness of politics in both the world and the Church, and to where we may sense a possibility for goodness. It is about allowing all these things to inhabit our inner space without allowing them to overwhelm us. Our inner space is the default position to which we return moment by moment in the waking day, and it is where we meet Christ. We are not overwhelmed by the people and situations which we draw into this space because the abiding Spirit of Christ is already there to meet them. Our task is simply to return them to him.
Returning brings with it a certain authority, which is not the same as power. Power disfigures the human heart and blinds all possible vision because it is driven by human greed and egocentricity. It is something to be taken, often from others. Unlike power, true authority is never grasped or clung to. It is always given. Those who receive authority will relinquish it if the Giver requires it to be returned. Hence, true authority is always exercised in open handed freedom. The people who have true authority will often be seen as a threat to those who simply want power.
In the moment of ‘returning’ to the Christ who inhabits our inner space, we are given authority to enter into the work of peace building. So ‘returning’ is crucial to halting the global turmoil which we are currently witnessing and to ultimately transforming it. To return does not mean to escape from. We do not return to our own private space and hide from the world. Our space belongs to all who suffer or are deluded by the blandishments of those who want power over them. In the moment of returning to Christ we are also returning to him the victims of the powerful, including those we ourselves may have victimised if we have been powerful. The moment of returning others to Christ is a moment of the most profound love any human being is capable of. It is a moment of transformative grace.
This is why the word ‘return’ is also used to mean repentance. When we ‘return’ the politics of North America, or the war in Syria, or the horrific abuse of women both at home and abroad, to our inner space, we are repenting with them, for their situation and on their behalf. In our inner silent space, and for this ‘returning’ to be possible, we are given the authority to work simultaneously on multiple time trajectories, the present moment, the immediate and historic past, the immediate future in which a child’s life may be hanging in the balance in a bombed out hospital in Aleppo, and the longer term future of the world and of the Church, both historic and eternal.