In the wake of the elections, I feel the need to be grounded ever more deeply in contemplation so I can move forward in new ways into the space that holds the tensions, contradictions and challenges that are before us as families, as congregations, as a nation, as Christians, as Earth community.
This is not easy. The complexity is great. There are so many levels from which "to take a long loving look at the real." And every time I begin to write, I realize how conflicted and contradictory I feel. All my presentations discuss the need to see the "other" as a revelation of God; to be curious about those positions different from mine; to see in our differences the potential for creative growth. I find myself doing this on a personal level as I try to understand why someone I know and worked with voted for Donald Trump. Or why a few of our sisters supported him. This is the disposition of my heart as I ponder the many analyses of the election and what needs and fears motivated both sides.
On the political level, however, I find a resistance to withholding judgment on what the new administration may look like and do. I can't suspend my knowledge of what I know about President-elect Trump both from my reading about him and my experience of him during the campaign. Having been in Washington when Rep. Newt Gingrich was in office and when John Bolton was United Nations ambassador, I know what they stood for and what policies they advocated. It seems as if the other names being floated for cabinet positions or White House staff are of a similar ilk. So I appreciate the immediate uproar about appointing Steve Bannon as chief strategist and trying to stop something before it is irreversible. I can feel the urge to act now . . . we can't wait.
Yet I also know that if I or we keep seeing everything President-elect Trump does as an extension of who he was during the campaign, how can he change a position? How does he get the space to come to some new realizations without needing to defend himself all the time? Is it possible to extend trust and stay alert to suspect behavior that may violate the values of our Constitution and the values of the Gospel?
I wish I had an answer, but what I do have is an image. Since the election, an image that Cynthia Bourgeault used in one of her courses from Spirituality and Practice* keeps emerging in my mind. It is that of a "Cosmic Sentry," an archetypal image. Taking some liberty with her reflection, I find myself reflecting on these insights, words and phrases:
A Cosmic Sentry is one who offers intercessory prayer. His or her entire body becomes a lightning rod for the energy of divine compassion. Human yearning and divine blessing ebb and flow wordlessly across this sacred meeting ground in deep and purifying exchange. The planet has always been held in its orbit by those solitary sentries who take on this great work. His or her work casts a circle of protection around our fragile and beleaguered planet.
What captures my imagination is seeing us not as solitary sentries but communities of sentries who in our contemplative prayer allow ourselves to become lightning rods for the energy of divine compassion. As we move from contemplative prayer to reflecting on the realities facing us we will be invited to engage with others out of a deep empathy. We will cast a circle of protection which embodies the values of love, hope, equality, inclusivity, justice, sustainability, peace and right relationships. We will be invited to enter deep conversations with each other to see how to move forward in ways that address the common good while addressing our diverse needs.
Another aspect to being a sentry is to signify when danger is near. As sentries, we never sleep! Contemplation awakens us to a heightened reality. It calls us to stay awake to what is. I imagine as communities of sentries we stand alert ready to signal when danger is sensed both far away and immediate. It is a wake-up call to us all who fall asleep to the complexity of our times and the changing reality. I imagine women religious and others like us alerting each other to what we sense needs to be challenged or needs to be supported. Rooted in Gospel values we stand on firm ground and speak out of our moral authority. We act out of the energy of divine compassion as we write, educate, engage in non-violent protest.
I wonder if we can become "communities of cosmic sentries." What might it look like? Sharing our commitment to contemplative prayer and the actions it promotes among us on the more personal level through social media? Letting each other know what "dangers" we sense and how we might respond?
I can't help thinking about how our motherhouse is in an area where the majority of voters chose Mr. Trump. I wonder how many other motherhouses are in small towns and rural areas where the greatest anger and hurt was felt. What if, each time an alert is sounded, we reflect on how to communicate our concern and values to this larger population of which we are a part? We might write letters to local newspapers or hold a get together of some sort to explore what we see happening. We might consistently visit our elected representatives to alert them of the danger we see.
A sentry is also defined as a guard standing at a point of passage, as a gate. Perhaps we can be the gate which we open wide so as to freely move between worldviews and beliefs but which we may quickly close when hatred and violence try to gain the upper hand.
I'd like to end with some of Cynthia's words: "At whatever level you sense these things in yourself, let yourself sink fully today — even if only as a 'willing suspension of disbelief' — into the possibility that this archetypal hope is real. . . . Life is not random or uncared for. Somehow we are carried. Something intends to flow onward, in great ebb-and-flow patterns, until love comes to fullness in every human heart."
I offer this image to you for your reflection. If you feel there is some energy to see how we can keep connected with each other as communities of cosmic sentries, please let me know. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — and, please, do check the "thanks" button at the bottom of this page.
* "A Simple Immediacy" by Cynthia Bourgeault: Day 23: Cosmic Sentry, Spirituality and Practice at spiritualityandpractice.com
[Nancy Sylvester, IHM, is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue iccdinstitute.org since 2002. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, MI. ihmsisters.org as well as in the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was National Coordinator of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]
Editor's note: Nancy Sylvester's October Contemplate This reflection, Becoming a civil and respectful democracy again, was published at NCRonline.org.