Did you feel inclined to cheer at Merryl Streep’s attack on Donald Trump? Or perhaps rather at his retaliatory tweet, the one that said she was ‘overrated’? (I must admit to some sympathy with both…) But I have come to the conclusion that, in this time of crisis, to incline to such a response is to head up the wrong path. Retorts, rebuttals, refutations, repudiation, ridicule, mockery, sarcasm, satire, scorn: all those reactions. I crave the psychological release of using them as much as anyone. But I think that they only compound the evil.
|A toad. We may be tempted to think of some people as toads.|
My guess is that God is as much concerned about the way we debate and discuss divisive issues as about the substance of those issues. Perhaps more. A great deal of the distress I have felt over the last six months stems from the way people have responded to the crises with loaded speech or emotional behaviour, often crude. When we compare our instinctive behaviour to the standards embodied in the Gospel, we see at once that even Christians fall way below what is expected. We forget that we are going to be judged on our speech. Only this morning (10 January), in my daily New Testament chapter, I found myself reading:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.’
When our most disliked political figure says or does something that makes us want to blast them with invective, St Peter says bless them instead—and you may recall that Jesus said the same thing. And how do we bless disliked people from a distance? Well, of course, by praying for them.
Have you ever thought of prayer as a creative activity? We, as writers, whose craft is to imagine the best, the worst, and everything in between, are particularly well placed to practise creative praying. For me, praying creatively starts from a simple principle: God cares infinitely for every single person. He wants the very best for absolutely everyone. If he had his way they would get it right now, but, consistent with his loving nature, he upholds their freedom to reject it. Knowing that this is the ultimate purpose for all, I can set up in my praying imagination a scenario of well-being and blessing for those difficult characters. I can envisage all the virtue and kindness which God longs to form in their souls and ask for this to come about. I can try to smile on them the way God does. I’m offering my cooperation in his work of re-creation; working together with God, as St Paul puts it.
So I shall hold Donald, Theresa, Jeremy, Nigel, and the others before my inner eye, and I shall take up an attitude of goodwill, setting aside rejection and scorn. I am going to treat them as if they were respected friends, and I’m going to imagine the best that they could have and be and do. I’ll imagine the immense power that the US President has. What an exciting opportunity to do good! If he could just catch a vision of compassion—if he could be touched by the awareness of God’s compassion—what might he do! And similarly, in her smaller arena, Theresa. There is, of course, no guarantee of success. But it’s not about success, it’s about faithfulness.
Dorothy Kerin, one of my spiritual heroes, used to describe prayer as a ray which could be powerfully focused on its object. She was a healer, and perhaps thought in terms of that marvel of her youth, the X-ray (which we now know can have harmful effects!). But I think she was right. If we all focused the bright ray of loving, caring intercession on our leaders, especially those we dislike and fear, what creative possibilities there might be! What changes we might see in our society!