The lead up to the Inauguration made me edgy and unsettled. After what had happened on January 6, I found myself wondering quite a lot about what might transpire as we approached the big day when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would be sworn into office.
I didn’t need anything that would lead to more uneasiness. But, then . . .
A couple of days before the Inauguration, as part of my usual morning routine of getting connected to the day—coffee, local paper, New York Times, Boston.com, Washington Post, and finally, YouTube—I noticed a video on that last site that caught my attention, “A Reporter’s Footage from Inside the Capitol Siege” from The New Yorker.
At first, I just looked at the little thumbnail box and the title, and thought about it for a moment or two. Do I want to see this? Do I really want to see this? And, then: do I want to see this now? Answers: No. But, I probably should. No.
Later in the day, still thinking about it, I went back to YouTube and clicked on that video. I watched with a mix of horror, fascination and increasing distress. The footage begins with the rumblings outside of the Capitol complex, then the break through the perimeter and the entry into the building, with the rioters, among other things, expressing dismay that the Senate chamber had been emptied of people, their voices dripping with violent intent.
Then the footage focuses on the raised rostrum in the Senate chamber. A man with a furry, horned hat, face and torso painted in red, white and blue is there, victorious at his accomplishment. A few “MAGA” hat wearing compatriots join him. At 7:56 in the footage, one of the men wearing a MAGA hat raises his arms and yells out in a loud voice, “Jesus Christ!” Not in a jeering way.
Instead, a sort of prayer begins, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name. Amen.” And, the men (all men, young men) roar in assent, and then repeat, in loud voice, some with their hands raised, “Amen.” And, the man with the furry, horned hat announces that they should have a prayer. With megaphone in hand he begins his prayer, thanking the Heavenly Father, “for gracing us with this opportunity” . . . “to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights.” And, then continuing, “Thank you Heavenly Father for the inspiration needed to [garbled] send a message to all the [garbled], the communists and the globalists. This is our nation, not theirs. We will not allow America and the American ways, the United States of America, to go down. Thank you [garbled] for filling this chamber with your white light of love, your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and love Christ.” And, the prayer continues, including still more references to “white light.”
The young men with him can be heard murmuring Amens along the way. Some of their arms raised and their eyes closed.
It’s a scene that I found more than a little disturbing. The juxtaposition of “harmony” and “peace,” with “our nation, not theirs,” the violent tone, and quite a few uses of the word “white,” made for a concoction that didn’t seem Christian to me, and definitely not prayerful.
As if I needed more reason to feel edgy and unsettled.
I remain deeply concerned about the rifts in our country, laid bare so completely in recent days. Inauguration Day itself offered a bit of comfort when it came to prayer. The prayers that bookmarked the swearing in ceremony of the new President and Vice President were very different than the prayer of the rioters. The Invocation, offered by a Roman Catholic priest, spoke of a people of “many races, creeds and colors, national backgrounds, cultures and styles . . . our vision of equality, inclusion and freedom for all.” The Invocation also called for care of the common good, with malice toward none and charity for all, that we might follow the path of love. The Benediction, given by an African Methodist Episcopal pastor, offered a vision in which we discover ourselves through our connection to God: “We will seek the good in and for all our neighbors. We will love the unlovable, remove the stigma of the so-called untouchables. We will care for our most vulnerable, our children, the elderly, the emotionally challenged, and the poor. We will seek rehabilitation beyond correction. We will extend opportunity to those locked out of opportunity. We will make friends of our enemies.”
I’d like to think that the prayers of Inauguration Day are the prayers that actually reflect who we are, what we are and to whom we belong, as a people, as a country. But, I can’t escape holding these diverging prayers together in my brain, allowing them to cast a portrait of division, distrust and alienation.
We are a divided people, with diverging views of what the United States should aspire to be. For those of us who claim a connection to the Christian faith, we speak of God and we may employ a common language. Yet, it seems clear enough that the meaning of the words we speak is very different. How will we proceed from here? Will we continue on our diverging paths, moving further and further away from each other? Or, will we find in the midst of our common language the call to humility that will begin to bend our diverging paths toward each other?
I find myself deeply unsure about what is to come, and how people of faith will be involved in the process ahead. Will we sow seeds of still more division, or will we cultivate efforts toward unity? Will we find ways to speak less in prayer, and instead to engage in better listening as we pray? And, will we find ways of putting down our own megaphones, in order that we might be open to perceiving the still, small voice of God? Sadly, I do not know.