January 31, 2017 by Ray Yanek
I went to mass last Sunday to find the church in chaos. The previous service ran long so people were both coming and going, crowding the entrances and exits. The ushers were outside directing traffic. An ambulance approached, lights revolving, to come help an elderly lady who fell. A fire truck soon followed, which further snarled traffic. Then, a train crossed at the tracks half a block down backing everything up even further.
Symbolic, I couldn’t help but think, of our nation, with Executive Orders, walls, protests, stays.
But inside, we found a visiting priest at the altar whose name I never did learn. He was elderly and unrushed, so soft-spoken that we could barely hear him from the choir loft where my family and I sat. My wife said he reminded her of the sloths from the movie Zootopia. I had to agree and I understood why the previous mass ran long. I had the sinking feeling we were there for the long haul as well. Anxiety rose in the church like candle smoke, all those people mentally screaming to “hurry up! We have things to do!”
And I was probably leading the chorus.
But I caught myself and tried to focus. I found a center and tried to listen to his words rather than the cacophony in my head. And, much to my surprise, listening to him became quite easy. Once I calmed my thoughts it became surprisingly easy not only to listen to his slow and easy words, but to hear them, to hold them, to look at them, to examine them.
To think about them.
He spoke about the swamp we all live in– again, appropriate given the current political rhetoric– and about how we become so used to and conditioned by our time in the murky water, that we tend to forget we are, in fact, in a swamp, full of snakes and gators and ravenous mosquitoes.
He spoke about Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount. He talked about how when Jesus saw the crowds waiting for his sermons, he didn’t go down among them but rather walked up the mountain and those who wanted to hear what he had to say had to climb as well.
Jesus, didn’t want to teach in the swamp, not when Pharisees and the hypocrites polluted everything. He wanted to remove himself from the swamp, to a place of higher ground, and he wanted us to follow.
That morning before church, my wife, my daughter and I, watched Face the Nation. It was my wife’s idea, actually because she wanted to be more informed about what was going on in the country through what she hoped would be a more reputable source then the stuff we were seeing and hearing in other ways.
My emotion fired in immediately, as did my anger and disgust. The first interview was with White House Chief-of-Staff Reince Priedus and he was instantly confrontational and defensive, evading questions of substance, and issuing veiled threats. If people were complaining that countries like Pakistan weren’t on the list of banned countries, he intoned, then maybe they should expand the executive order.
On the other side, later in the program, came the DNC chair nominee Representative Keith Ellison. He became as just defensive over other issues and dodged just as many questions. He banked a lot on emotional appeals.
But yet in the middle of these two men–an interesting production choice, by the way–came Senator John McCain. He was calm, respectful, soft-spoken like the priest who kept everyone too long at mass. He was intelligent, discussing facts and honest concerns rather than kicked up emotional appeals.
I have to admit that I didn’t vote for McCain when he ran for president, but as I listened to his calm, thoughtful, intelligent, words on Face the Nation, I couldn’t help but think “Thank God for this old guy”–a calm voice in the storm, someone rising out of the swamp of anger and emotion to address our problems and issues with calm, with intellect, with respect and thoughtfulness.
I understand the importance of passion. I agree wholeheartedly with peaceful protests and resistance.
But I also understand the words Rumi spoke long ago when he reminded us to “raise our words, not our voices” and that “it is rain that grow flowers, not thunder.”