The dark side clouds everything…Lies, deceit, creating mistrust are his ways now.
- Yoda, Episode II
OK, I admit it. I’m a Star Wars nerd. After the kids go to bed, I sometimes pick up my son’s light saber, turn on it’s glowing green plasma sword, and defend the galaxy against injustice. Last week my kids and I spent the entire walk to church discussing the similarities and differences between the Force and the Holy Spirit. I can’t wait for December 16th. You get the idea…
Like many who are trying to make sense of the election of Donald Trump, I have had moments of despair and hope. The despair comes when I consider that a person who fosters fear, anger, and hatred – particularly against those who are most vulnerable and disenfranchised – has just been elected leader of the free world, is going to have codes to nuclear weapons, and is going to nominate at least one Supreme Court justice. Yet there is some hope. It comes when I consider that he does present an alternative to the status quo in our political system. One of the great ironies of this election is that Trump and Bernie Sanders actually share one critical quality – that is, they both recognize that middle-class working Americans are getting squeezed financially and socially. So, maybe some of his iconoclastic ideologies will shake things up in a way that opens up new possibilities. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
But even if some of those hopeful elements ultimately come to pass, there is a deeper spiritual and moral struggle that every American has to engage honestly and fiercely. And that is that Donald Trump’s rhetoric and intentions of creating a closed, protectionist, police-state society – in which Mexicans, blacks, and Muslims are viewed as the primary enemies of law and order – has broken open a chasm from which the worst elements of white supremacy have emerged.
I don’t think it’s fair, or even helpful, to say that all people who voted for Trump are racists. This article from the Washington Post by a Muslim, woman, immigrant explaining her vote for Trump was eye-opening to me, and there are plenty of well-intentioned people who voted for Trump, for a wide mix of complicated reasons. But even if it’s not fair to blanket-label Trump supporters as racist, it’s also true that many vocal supporters of Trump are white supremacists.
Richard Spencer, a leading voice of the new alt-right, has received the media spotlight recently. Last week I listened to his interview on the radio program “Reveal” from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Spencer speaks calmly and openly about his desire to create a white, ethno-nation-state. He wears a coat and tie, and keeps a neat haircut (which has Neo-Nazi undertones). He’s an articulate graduate of the University of Virginia, and the University of Chicago. He does not rant and yell, but speaks calmly and with ease about why whites and people of any other color hate each other and would be better off if we just minded our own ethno-nation-states. And then the Atlantic posted a video of Spencer giving a talk in Washington, D.C., while people raised their arms in a “heil [Hitler]” salute. Is this what Hannah Arendt meant by “the banality of evil?”
Back when America was great, at least the Ku Klux Klan had the sense to recognize that their beliefs and behaviors were something to be ashamed of. They hid behind white sheets like the cowards they are. Somewhere deep down they knew they couldn’t claim to be Christians and hold that kind of hatred in their hearts, even if they never attempt to reconcile these competing loyalties to God and country.
But Donald Trump and his alt-right followers and promoters, including his new chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon, are normalizing this kind of hatred. They are sowing fear, confusion, mistrust, misinformation, and hatred.
This is the path of the dark side.
These are dark times.
But there is another kind of darkness that we can embrace. And that is the dark night of the soul, classically described by St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, poet, theologian, and spiritual director from the sixteenth century. The dark night of the soul is an invitation to go deeper into the process of transformation so that a person becomes capable of moving toward a deeper union with God. The sign of arriving at the threshold of the dark night is what Sr. Constance FitzGerald describes as impasse.
An impasse arises when all our old ways of doing things no longer work. We are brought face to face with our inability to change or improve the situation. We are confronted by our own powerlessness. In many ways, this election has marked an impasse. Many people struggled with how to vote (at least at the national level) because the alternatives were the status quo that isn’t working or bigotry and fear-mongering. This is an impasse. The sense of powerlessness is – ironically – one thing that all sides of our political divide can agree upon!
Impasse is terrifying. St. John describes as “like hanging in midair, unable to breath.” But it is perhaps the most significant moment in a person’s spiritual development. That is because the temptation to return to the way things were is the strongest at this point. Fear can overtake us. It can cause our normally rational modes of thinking, choosing, and acting to be hijacked. This is why the dark side stirs up fear and misinformation. We can be manipulated into a false sense of relieving ourselves from the fear of the unknown by just returning to what feels comfortable. [Make America Great Again!]
But St. John is clear – the impasse of the dark night is a gift and an invitation. It is an invitation to move forward with John calls “dark faith.” It is a faith that says, “I’m scared. I don’t know where this is going. But I’m going to trust that God is calling me into something new.” We can’t go forward while holding onto our old ways. The fear is real and it needs to be acknowledged. But we can’t cling to our old prejudices and hatreds if we want to move closer to God. Courage is paramount. We can’t move toward the promised land clinging to the fleshpots of Egypt. We can’t bring the golden calf. We can only move forward with a dark, naked faith. It is a radical act of courage, trust, and hope.
What happens next is a total transformation of consciousness. But it is a transformation performed by God. We can only say yes, let go, and enter the darkness. Only if we are able to do this do we create the space within our souls to allow God to do the deep work of transformation that God so desperately wants to complete. Our fearful, angry, childish part of our consciousness will be quieted and comforted. And what lies on the other side? Freedom. Creativity. Serenity. Solidarity. Community and Communion. Compassion. Mercy. Love.
“The strength and vehemence of love has this trait: Everything seems possible to it”
- St. John of the Cross
On the other side of impasse lie unlimited possibilities.
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 30: 15 & 19). The writers of Deuteronomy didn’t know George Lucas’s version of The Force of Yoda, but they did know the Spirit of YHWH. And they know that accepting to follow this Spirit is an invitation and a challenge. We have a choice in this country. We can choose to give in to the dark side, or we can enter the dark night. Each of us must make our choice. We all have to live with its consequences.