COMMENTARY: Religious Mysteries in Election Mess

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

(Eugene Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. His new book, “The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality,” will be published in the spring by St. Martin’s Press.)

(UNDATED) The 20th century officially ends, capping the second millennium on the last day of December. It is not ending with a whimper but a bang.

The same delusion factories that promise immediate relief for America’s physical heartburn also produced post-election national spiritual distress for which they have no remedy. Try as it might, the public relations/advertising complex, better known as our “spinners,” cannot cure lies and distortions with additional doses of these destructive elements.

That is why average Americans so often said, in recent weeks, they were “sick” of the whole thing, that they couldn’t “swallow” or “stomach” any more.

Yet, in this distress, ordinary men and women have also experienced profound spiritual realities that are the human stuff of salvation. Hard spiritual truths are inconvenient, inescapable and necessary all at the same time.

Good people know this in their hearts. They need encouragement and affirmation in realizing that their spiritual lives are co-extensive with their everyday lives. In other words, they do not go to church to find their spirituality. They bring their daily struggles to church for validation as the site of their saving contacts with God.

Two experiences found in the jangle of our current dissonance carry within them the music of salvation. Waiting and being imperfect are traditional and essential mysteries in any mature spirituality. They are very simple; they are found in every day in every life. No talking in tongues, cures, visions or other miracles are required.

Waiting is the mystery of the season of Advent itself, not only to orchestrate the days liturgically in expectation of Christmas but as part of everything that defines and deepens us humanly.

We have been reminded of this tension in waiting for election returns. But expectation is seeded deep in our souls. Waiting remains inevitable even in the age of “anything you can do, we can do faster” in everything from Internet connections to divorce.

“Instant” is the operative word in marketing food, drink, entertainment and that broad area of gratification-in-general.

In real life, we must wait for anything worthwhile, from growing up to growing wise, from finding our true love to finding our true calling. Waiting is our human epidemic and is found everywhere, mirroring, in its various specialized settings, the aching range of our longings and fears.

For we speak of a waiting area in an airport or railroad station as the scene of long-anticipated reunions, for catching first sight of a familiar face coming home again. In waiting rooms in hospitals we find the sorrows of everyone who has ever wept at the suffering of loved ones.

When will we know, we ask, as we wait, as wait we must, for the test results, the biopsy, MRI examination, or the doctor to come. The measure of our belief and the depth of our love: These are revealed in the mystery of waiting.

How hard it is to wait, as sometimes we must, before we can tell the one we love we are sorry for some wound, small or great, that we have caused. Sometimes it is still too tender to touch and we must wait until we will not make the hurt worse by speaking, even in regret, about it.

Waiting is indeed everywhere, as part of that even larger religious mystery of being imperfect. We are learning as a nation that our voting, and our voting machines, are just like us. They make mistakes because we make mistakes. The notion of zero-defect performance in anything human, or anything really spiritual, is an illusion.

The insurance industry, service contracts, the confessional, greeting cards, the reset button, the delete key and the eraser all depend on our most abiding and indelible characteristic _ being imperfect.

The Christian is not called to icy perfection but to a kind of glorious imperfection. Were we able to be perfect, we would never have to trust anybody, hope for anything, love each other or pray for anything. The best things about us are drawn out of us only because of the imperfect things within us.

These are the mysteries. Perhaps an election filled with waiting and imperfection is worthwhile if it reminds us that these experiences are filled with wonder and are as common as sunrise and nightfall.

DEA END KENNEDY

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