Thursday, September 4, 2008

I feel like a motherless child...

I've watched both of the American political conventions now: I've written about my gratitude and joy when Michelle Obama spoke and I have noted that there are very real challenges and questions presented to us all by these candidates - and especially by their running mates!

And what I sense at the end of the Republican convention, but did not feel at the conclusion of the Denver event, is that I am a motherless child when it comes to politics in these United States. There is such a mean-spirited energy alive in the partisanship of contemporary American politics that like Jeremiah I weep more than rejoice. It is ugly. It is petty. And it forces us to look beyond what we hold in common to what separates us.

I love the way The Wailin' Jennys capture what this feels like with their version of the old spiritual: "Motherless Child."

Call me an elitist, but I also think of Goethe's poem, "The Invisible King," which Robert Bly tells us is the story of "the rationalist father who denies, fanatically, any suggestion of another or spiritual world - and the result is that his son dies. This poem is a miniature history of Europe." Dare I say it feels like is has also become something similar for my United States?

Who rides at night, who rides so late?
The father rides on, his child in his arms.
His arms are curled and firm round the boy,
He keeps him from falling, he keeps him warm.

"My boy, why is it you hide your face?"
"Dad, over there do you see the King?
The Invisible King with ermine and staff?"
"Dear boy, what you see is a rolling mist."

Hey there, my boy, come along with me!
I have the neatest games you'll ever see.
On the shore my daises blow in a line.
My mother has shirts all golden and fine.

"Dad, is it true you don't hear at all
The little gifts the King is offering me?"
"Calm down, my boy, no need for all this -
It's a dry oak leaves making noise in the wind."

Child, good, child do you want to go?
My daughters will care and wait on you so.
The great circle dance they do every night,
They'll sing and dance and tuck you in tight.

"Dad, it worries me that you don't see
The Daughters there at that ugly spot."
"I see the spot very clearly, my boy --
An old gray willow, that's all there is."

Your body is slim and I love you.
Come now, or seize you is what I'll do.
"Dad, listen, please Dad, he's got hold of me!
He's done something bad to me, he has!"

The terrified father rides wilder and wilder;
The boy is now groaning as he sits slumped over;
In grief and fear at last the father got home.
The boy lay dead in his father's arms.

There is no blame or shame in this poem; there is no Democrat or Republican nor right or wrong; it simply tells us that different people and generations with very different experiences either see the promise of the kingdom of God - or they don't. Both groups of people love their children, hold them dearly and ride to protect them and their country for they are sacrificial and honest and pure. But some see the vision... and some do not. And when we cannot see the vision, our children die... and some become a motherless child.

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