We as a nation have been reeling from the events of last Wednesday at the Capitol when rioters from a nearby Trump rally pushed past Capitol police, broke into the Capitol and violently interrupted the work of Congress in certifying the electoral process votes. The lawless crowd—replete with Trump flags, Confederate flags, and anti-Semitic sweatshirts –was incited by the president and led by some members of Congress.
The sense of grief, outrage, confusion, and anger has been palpable. All four living presidents who preceded Trump have called this sedition or insurrection.
From a spiritual perspective, there are several things that are worth noting.
First, the events took place on Epiphany, the ancient celebration of the incarnation. Yet instead of revealing divine light and life, they revealed the darkness of white supremacy, while illuminating the danger of leadership built on lies.
Second, preachers addressed their congregations on the Baptism of the Lord Sunday. This is the same day on which Christians are called to remember their baptismal vows. United Methodists vow to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of their sin. Additionally, they accept the freedom and power God gives to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Spiritually speaking, could this mob scene have been better timed? White supremacy has needed to be routed for a very long time. But how do we actually accomplish living into our baptismal vows? What does repentance look like?
There are efforts to impeach the president, and to silence him on social media, both of which seem like important steps to take. But will his inability to serve as president again or to rile up 88 million people at a time solve the problem of us?
It’s easy, and satisfying, to point the finger and say, “that person or those people are the problem.” But to be alive in America is to swim in the waters of systemic racism, to breathe the air of polarization, and to accept the inevitability of division and blame.
To truly repent of national sin takes more time than a public censure or de-platforming. (Although four years of this president’s cruelty and lies has felt quite long indeed.) Repentance requires a deeper, more personal review.
This is where Lectio Divina comes in. This ancient style of reading and hearing the scriptures calls us to enter into the frame of the story. As a scripture passage is read slowly, four times, listeners are invited to visualize themselves as different characters in the story, imagining each character’s feelings and motivations. The net effect is that instead of distancing oneself in blame, judgement or even pity from heinous characters—say the angry mob who called out “Crucify him!” or Pilate who gave the order, or the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross—the listener gains a bit of understanding, even compassion. Out of this shifting perspective, the listener moves into forgiveness of the other, and repentance of their own sin.
Ultimately, as Christians, we are called to manifest a higher consciousness, and to live into Jesus’ Kin(g)dom vision. I pray that these expressions of life are built on racial equity, and trustworthy leadership, among other qualities. But you can’t step into a new future saddled with old resentments. We must live into our baptismal vows. Lectio Divina provides a step in that direction.