A Political/Spiritual Experiment

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.

— James 4:11

I don’t normally write about politics on this blog, for a number of reasons. I believe that the good news of Christian mysticism is for everyone, not just for people who see eye to eye with me politically, and so I am hesitant to alienate some readers with my political views. Obviously, some political bloggers write in order to persuade or defend their viewpoints, but I don’t think I am knowledgeable enough or eloquent enough to do that effectively. At the end of the day, I’d rather see more and more people engaging in contemplative prayer and a spirituality grounded in forgiveness, compassion, and joyful optimism in God’s lavish love, regardless of where we stand politically. I suspect that the more people embrace mystical spirituality, the more likely it is that our public life will slowly but certainly sort itself out.

Over the past few days I have already grown weary of the mounting rancor and partisan spirit that I see among my Christian friends and associates during this election year. This is true whether they are supporting a candidate whose last name begins with “M” or with “O.” Passions run high on a number of issues, from Iraq to abortion to energy policy to same-sex marriage. It breaks my heart when I see Christians (or contemplatives of other faiths) surrender their serenity and rootedness in the love of God for anger and hostility clustered around “their” issue or party or candidate.

With this in mind, I’ve made a decision, and I’d like to invite my readers to prayerfully consider joining me on this. This decision involves a commitment of daily prayer, in two parts. First, I have decided between now and Election Day to daily pray for the ongoing conversion of both the major political parties and their candidates for national office. When I say pray for their conversion, I am not questioning anyone’s faith. Apparently all four of the major candidates are regular churchgoers and value the spiritual dimension of their lives. But I believe that conversion is a lifelong process, and that God isn’t finished with any of us. With that in mind, when I look at both parties and their platforms, I see positions that I believe are contrary to the will of God. Yes, I see this in both parties. I’m not going to list details, because that will just engender fruitless debate. Neither am I going to go on record as to which party I believe stands in “greater” need of conversion. Naturally, I have my opinion on that one, and I am sure you do too. That’s not the point. As the Epistle of James so uncompromisingly states, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” By that standard, both Republicans and Democrats stand in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Both Republicans and Democrats stand in need of the conversion that can only come through the untamed love of the Holy Spirit. Joe Biden, John McCain, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin all stand in need of our prayers.

So pray for their conversion to the love and justice and joy and delight that can only come from God. And, my friends, take it a step further. Here’s the second part of my daily commitment: I have decided between now and election day to daily pray for God’s blessing on all four of the major party candidates.

Yes, that’s right. Pray for God’s blessing on all four of them.

If you’re like me, you will probably find it easier to pray for God’s blessing on two of them — the two who more closely represent “your” views, passions, values, concerns. That’s normal. It’s normal, but it’s not perfect. And Christ commanded us to be perfect, in some of his most powerful and stirring words:

I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

— Matthew 5:44-48

We are to be perfect, just like our heavenly father who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. So please pray for God’s blessings to rain on both tickets this fall. Let’s face it, right now the race is a dead heat. So there’s a 50% chance you will be disappointed come election day. That’s true regardless of whether your vote will be red or blue. So please, for the sake of your own soul as well as that of the nation, pray for God’s blessing to shower on both parties. Pray for the ongoing conversion of both parties, but also pray for their blessings.

Guess what this little political/spiritual experiment will do? It will force you to face your own imperfection. If you’re like me, you will wince as you pray for the blessings to fall down on “those guys.” That wince is evidence of our own sinfulness, our inability to love people the way God does. I’m not saying you have to condone the political party with which you disagree. I think it’s a good thing to pray for God’s blessing to fall on all people even while we still continue to work hard to bring the values of God’s reign into the world, which of necessity means we will face opposition and political conflict. I’m just pointing out that the Christian thing to do is to love our opponents. And I mean love them — to cherish them, to delight in them, to care for them, to seek their blessing and their good, to want God’s love and forgiveness and joy to course through their veins. And yes, part of loving someone is being honest about how we disagree and to seek God’s justice and a spirit of humble conversion. But conversion begins at home. And as we all get into the habit of praying for God’s conversion and blessing to rain down on both parties and all four candidates, we will at the same time be opening our own hearts and souls and minds to the healing metanoia that can only come to us from God.

What’s the point of doing this? Well, I believe prayer changes things. For one thing, it changes the heart of the person doing the praying (that’s you and me). As our hearts change —as we are converted to live a more Christlike life — hopefully we can discuss politics with our friends and associates with a little less rancor and a lot more love. Hopefully we can find ways to engage positively and creatively even with those with whom we disagree. But I also believe prayer is more than just a self-help tool. The more of us who are praying for God’s blessings to fall on all four candidates, the more we can hope that all four of them will in little and perhaps even big ways live out God’s call for their lives. You know, whoever loses in November isn’t going to just shrivel up and blow away. The losers will still be out there, doing what they do. Shouldn’t we be praying that God bless them so that their efforts might be oriented toward God’s love and justice? And of course, the winners certainly need our prayers — even if the ones we secretly hope will just go away end up being the victors.

My dear readers, if you haven’t already done so, please carefully form your conscience and mindfully support the party/candidates you believe will best advocate for God’s love and justice. Some of us will vote one way, some another — and that’s okay. If we are all engaging in a life of prayer and devotion and contemplation, hopefully the Spirit will use us to achieve truly Godly ends in a corporate context. Once we have made up our minds, then let us remember to honor and love those who oppose us. Let’s remember to pray for the continual conversion of both major parties and their candidates — indeed, for all people and all political factions, for all of us stand in need of redemption and forgiveness. And let us pray for God’s unimaginable blessings to grace both parties and all the candidates. Indeed, may God’s blessings shower upon us all, regardless of our where our political loyalties lie. After all, we’re all on this earth together. Let’s love each other the best we can while we’re here.

One final thought: if you are a practicing contemplative, then you are likely engaged in a regular practice of meditation, contemplation, the Jesus Prayer, contemplative recitation of the rosary, or some similar exercise at simply seeking the presence of God. If this is part of your practice, please at least hold the intention of blessing and conversion for all people in your heart as you practice. I once heard Cynthia Bourgeault say that she thought contemplatives were the best hope for the healing of the world. I agree with her, with God’s grace. If you feel this way as well, then please join me. Let’s offer our spiritual practice for a better world.

Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Pentecost and Ecstasy
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Entering the Year of Mercy: Are You Willing to Take the "Rahner Challenge"?
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • John Gormley

    I join you in your efforts to have us learn how to inform our politics with a consciousness and conscience that is in accord with the Way (Tao) that is the source and sustainer of all life. My practice already has been reduced down from the complexity and confusion of most religions to the simple constant mantra in my heart repeated numerous times in each day: “May all beings be healed; may peace prevail on earth.” Thank you for your good work

  • Virginia Russell

    This is a wonderful commentary. A wise nun told me that God gives us the leaders we deserve. If we fast and pray and look to our Heavenly Father all will be well. And you are so right that meditation and contemplation makes us look at our own need for conversion. Isn’t it said that the just man falls a thousand times a day?

    Thank you. I join you in this experiment.

  • http://AworkinProgress Mike Senzig

    Marianne Williamson started an organization (American Renniasance Alliance) several years ago which was based on this idea. That spiritual participation in elections should be from above the battlefield, that going into the battlefield on either side was a move away from spirituality. It kind of morphed into a group with a different focus. But the idea has stuck with me. And I’m glad to find company!

    I am pasting an email that I sent out in 04 and again in 08:

    Of course, I have selected a candidate. My candidate is God’s latest gift to third millennium politics! The other candidate is the devil incarnate. He plans to ruin our country!!
    But the operative word is OUR. Whether Red or Blue, we are first and foremost Americans! Lately we are tending to forget this. The election is not a choice between good and evil. The result of the election cannot bring about the downfall of our country. United we stand and divided we fall. I hope and pray that we can take the hatred and hostility out of this election.
    Reagan (bless him or curse him) was quoted several times during the last week or so, as saying “We are all friends after 6:00 o’clock.” Twenty years ago there was more civility in politics. It was better.
    Even GW showed he could be cordial during the Clinton portrait ceremony.
    The last election bared the rift that has us divided into Red and Blue America, and this rift is beginning to be nearly as big of a problem as terrorism itself.
    As Americans, we all want essentially the same things. Our political differences are more about how to achieve what we want and who should pay for it. About the very role that the government should play in our age. The “liberals” gave us the Declaration of Independence – the “conservatives” gave us the Constitution. We need the best thinking from both sides!
    We need to fully address the political issues, and to vote, but we need to address the eventuality that our candidate might not win. And if not, we still need to be Americans, and get back working together until our next opportunity and the next candidate and the next election. During the last few administrations, politicians loyalty has become more to their party than to America. This is not good.
    Let us prepare to support the president taking office in 2008, whether he is our candidate or not. Let us get our loyalty back to being Americans! Let’s get united, and let’s STAND!!

  • Dennis B

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been waiting to hear someone–anyone!–say these words after years of political disunity and polarization. I’ve felt for too long that we need to set aside the heat and rancor that has characterized our politics, and begin to act as though Jesus Christ was truly our Lord. I may disagree with someone on certain issues–they may be issues about which I feel a passionate commitment. But I need to love that person as a brother or sister, and that’s not the easiest thing to do, if I fail to see my own sinfulness.

    By announcing that we have a Lord, we are announcing that we are under command. We have obligations. We have duties. They supercede feelings of party loyalty, feelings of animosity toward people different from us, and feelings of pride in the righteosness of our stands on issues. We are commanded to love one another, because in the display of that love, we truly show that we are sons and daughters of God.

    Once again, thank you for so beautifully articulating how we contemplatives may bear fruit.

  • Robbie Monsma

    You have paraphrased beautifully my swirling thoughts. I often find myself as a witness to others about how to cut through political code words and so have been focusing on redeeming the minutia. Will now end by pointing people to this gentler and simpler approach.

    So happy to participate in this conversation and to converse with other contemplatives.

  • Clifford Post


    I think that you state this very well, and I am joining you in praying for both sets of candidates and for both parties. I was reflecting on the Matthew passage last weekend, and was struck that perfection is measured by how much we love everyone, our enemies as much as our friends. We need to have hearts as wide, as generous, and as accepting as God.

    Lord, let it be so.

  • judith collier

    God bless you Carl and kudos for the courage in bringing this subject up. I get so angry listening when others are opposing my views but I do keep still and remember who I represent. Sometimes I thought I just didn’t have the guts to speak up and maybe I was just fooling myself but either way I keep the peace and speak my truth humbly, this helps so much when speaking of politics. I will pray as you have asked! I am a passionate person and if I can do it so can others, but one does have to have God’s help. Hate is so easy but so destructive and when the temper is over all one has is carnage.

  • zoecarnate

    I love it…so true…I shall take your challenge – just don’t forget to leave out the Christian anarchists who feel we shouldn’t vote at all!

  • Eric Miller

    Very well written and formulated. God’s blessings be on all who hold political office–our country will need wise and prudent leadership in the difficult years ahead.

  • Lance Droy

    To be alive spiritually man must have union with God and must be conscious of it. Apart from this union his life will be an empty drudgery, a mere imitation of true spirituality. But there is no formal technique by which man can attain union or it’s conscious realization. God, the infinite life, cannot be grasped in forms, because union with god is the goal, the very meaning of human existence, its apparent absence shows a radical defect in our nature- a defect who’s clear symptom is precisely our attempt to POSSESS god in so many different ways.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

  • Sarah

    Carl, I want to share with you and your readers what Nancy McDaniel, National Prayer Coordinator for Aglow, International, taught at a Prayer Seminar this February in Denver, CO. This from my notes:

    Nancy said that the whole Bible is God’s plan for releasing destiny into the world, and that it only takes a simple prayer to accomplish just that. Just a simple prayer can change lives, circustances and nations. Prayer unlocks and releases the destiny that God has already set in motion.

    When praying for any of the candidates in this year’s elections, she admonished us to pray to build up, not tear down. “Don’t put yourself in a position,” she said, “where you have to begin your prayers for the next president of the United States with repentance for what you have thought, spoken, even prayed against that person.”

    She also said that when you pray, you should remember, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” When you release blessing against curses, you bring the enemy into defeat because he has no defence against blessing. Unlock destiny with your prayers and let God do the rest.

    Nancy also told us to ask for an ongoing, unfolding, expanding revelation of the holiness of God to be released into our spirits. She said God wants to pick us up from where we are at and put us down in a new place. That sounds to me very much like the Benedictine concept of *conversatio* or continual conversion of life.

    Women like Nancy, who by the way is a Pentecostal, are why I persevere in Aglow, even though I often feel my spirituality is out of place in an organization whose membership in this country is largely evangelical. At the end of this month I will join hundreds of my Aglow sisters in Washington DC where we will pray throughout the nations’s capitol for the release of God’s destiny in this election.

    Thank you so much for this posting, Carl. I join you in your prayer project and am heartened that many others have pledged to join you as well.



  • Anne Ryan

    I will join you in this. I realized how much I needed to when I examined my initial resistance.

  • http://peter-petersrants.blogspot.com/ Peter

    I have a good report for Carl and a response to what Lance said above.

    First, for Carl: I took your advice and forwarded the link to your prayer suggestion to a lot of people on my list, not sure how they would respond–some of my friends are pretty one-sided when it comes to this political stuff! Much to my surprise, although not everyone responded, EVERY SINGLE RESPONSE THAT I DID GET WAS POSITIVE–everyone thought it was a good idea, even “inspired,” and most agreed to give it a try themselves. Cool! I am blessed by this and I hope you are, too!

    Now to respond to Lance: Yes, our crying inner need is for union with God, with His Uncreated Life, and to have some degree of awareness of this. And yes, without this awareness, our life is unbearable drudgery, existential meaninglessness, a mere imitation of real Life and Substance.

    This radical defect in our nature (as you so aptly call it) is the starting point of the mercy of God toward us in Christ: He became aware of the pain of our separation from Him, and He made a suffficient Way through the perfect sacrifice of our Savior Jesus for us to be reconciled to Himself.

    Philippians 2 tells us that He did this precisely by evaluating (in what is called the Mind of Christ) that God-identity was NOT something to grasp on to or possess; so He GAVE HIMSELF FOR US so that our radical defect could be corrected, our emptiness filled, our destiny satisfied and the fullness of meaning could displace the drudgery and emptiness of a life without union with Him. If we are experiencing this union, then our hunger is being satisfied, and the last state (of the redeemed human) is better than the first: O FELIX CULPA that has led to such a cure! Our union with Him as the Redeemed will be closer than if we had never fallen!

    O happy destiny! O glorious plan!

    So I think that our desire to possess God is OK in itself, except for our perverse tendency to put something or someone less than God on the throne and then be content to worship that INSTEAD OF God: this is called idolatry, and it brings swift consequences. We cannot GRASP God Who is Spirit, and as Jesus taught, we only receive His life by giving it away first (along with whatever else we would naturally grasp). Here the path of renunciation, so unpopular in our day, makes perfect sense because it helps us to divest ourselves from our idols, leaving us free to worship the living God.

    Thank you for your question! Our very defect opens us to His divine correction and healing–and I think it is common knowledge that the main means of spreading the good news of the Kingdom that Jesus and His earliest followers used was divine healing, in the Name of Jesus!

    Carl may have more to say on the subject, but this is my 2c worth.


  • http://www.virtualteahouse.com Beth

    Thanks, Carl for lighting the way.
    ‘There has to be a better way’ is my guidepost these days when things appear to be locked down in any arena. This is surely a better way. Maybe the only way.

    I am forwarding this post as a suggestion to the communities I am part of.

  • http://www.findinggracewithin.blogspot.com Shannon

    “Bless them all. Change me.”

  • K K Daniels

    This issue is best handled under, “separation of church and State.”
    And it has always bothered me in that the two teams pray to G-D to win. How can they honestly do that? Yea without sin cast the first stone.

    People think that if they have more then G-D smiles on them more……my daddys bigger that yours…….children wake up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lance Droy

    Behold The Spirit , Alan Watts

  • http://www.matthewsmith.id.au/ Matthew Smith

    I’ll never forget the dream I had where I fell into a lake and couldn’t swim when the the political leader I most hate in the world came and reached out a hand to me. “Why do you hate me so much?” he asked as he lifted me out of the water? I never answered him, only that part of the dream is remembered and I often recall it when I struggle with my feelings towards politicians.

  • Jil Launius

    Thank you so much for your commentary. Those were the exact words I needed to hear/read. I am ashamed to admit that my stances have been polarizing and not unifying. This is a wonderful opportunity walk my talk as a contemplative Christian. A wise person once told me to pray “bless them and change me”. This is a wonderful experiment to put those words into effect and hopefully be a small change that will lead to healing in the world. Thank you again and I yes I will commit to this experiment.

  • Bruce

    Carl, thank you for this. I agree that prayer is needed, both for the nominees and for the rest of us. I pledge to pray daily between now and the election.

  • judith collier

    It’s working, I noticed my own reactions after praying for several days. I am not so emotional and much more objective when speaking to others with different views. I am respectful and I have noticed how they reply in kind once I mention that we need to pray for the continual conversion of all and blessings upon both parties. I ask them to spread the word and I remind them and that we are all Americans who want the best for our country. And I do not speak ill of the present administration rather history will judge this. And I tell everyone of the beautiful spiritual site of ANAMCHARA.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Thanks, Judith. I, too, am trying to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. I’m finding that people across the political spectrum are responding. I really do believe that all Americans, whether we vote “red” or “blue,” want to find that deeper unity in the One Love we all adore.

  • Sarah

    Well, the election is nearly upon us, and I am amazed at how differently things look from the perspective of prayer. And how calm I am about the impending results. I have to admit up front I’m a pro-life voter. Ever since Roe v. Wade, that has been my bottom line issue. And, yes, there have been persons I wish I hadn’t voted for that I did on that one issue. Choices, however, seem so much easier when one looks at them in black and white.

    Yet, when one looks at the choices at hand from the heart of the Father, there is no black and white, nor even shades of gray. The Father looks only at the sacred in each individual and calls it forth. We join Him in that work when we pray from his heart. True prayer from the Father’s heart admits no negatives. It is Genesis 50:20 at work: “That which you (the enemy) have intended for evil, God has used for good.” This man or that man might win, but God never loses. Praise be to His Holy Name for ever and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.


  • judith collier

    I can’t wait until this election is over. Lord, how I pray that all goes well and the machines do the job correctly and that all our politicians are circled with protection. I pray for whomever loses will not be discouraged but go on to fight another day. I pray the lines will go smoothly and the people in lines will be considerate and respectful. I pray this nation will become once more a beacon of light and a hope for all. And that we remember unless we are all brought along in prosperity we all lose one way or another and we will pay the piper this day or another day. Power is not the answer all of the time, respect works extremely well in most situations.