I attended a poetry discussion at All Saints Church in Atlanta last week. While the priest did her best to keep us away from current events and focused on verse, we moved back and forth. I told her about my new community group Standing for Love, formed in response to all the hate speech we heard during the election. Others shared their concerns. Then she handed us poems to match our moods or goals. She gave me a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song.
The poem is a meditation on Rilke’s relationship with God and his struggles with his church’s ideology. It can also be a reflection on our relationship to our nation and our struggles to find our voice in the new order. Will you be a falcon, a storm or a great song? At first I thought great song, but we need falcons too, people who can see something the rest of us can’t and take swift, decisive action. To be the storm, the angry wind and hail. These are the people whose voices are heard as a collection. We need them to stir us up, impel us to act. To be a great song. These are the thought leaders who sustain us over time, giving us hopeful lyrics to store in our souls and stirring melodies to soothe our fears. We need everyone.
I don’t want people to stop talking about the election. It’s an extraordinary event. I do want people to decide who they are going to be and get to work. We don’t necessarily need grand gestures. I am going to count on stories of love and acts of kindness to sustain us. Every time I think I am being corny or ineffective, serving marshmallow hearts when we need bold designs, my friend Sarah sends me a story of love. They are stories about people who are gathering and making love a movement.
Our strengths are not always apparent or readily understood. Whatever they are, it’s time to use them and keep on using them. One of the gifts of this election is the call to action you are hearing everywhere. Respond with your greatest strengths. Tell me what you are going to do. It is so comforting to hear other people’s plans. It reminds me of the moment in a mass when the priest asks us to pray for someone who is sick. In the silence that follows, you imagine hundreds of people working on his or her behalf, sending messages to God.
I’ve never been a fan of the moment in church when the priest tells us to share “the sign of peace.” Everyone starts shaking hands and saying, “Peace be with you.” It feels forced and also shallow because we rush through it. The next time I am in mass, I am going to imagine hurdling over the pew and hugging people up and down the row. Instead of “Peace be with you,” I would say, “Let’s be one!”