Leonard Cohen, who died the day after Trump’s victory in the presidential election, introduced his song, “If It Be Your Will” with these words, which I found very powerful in this time of tears, pain and disappointment for so many of us.
“I don’t know which side anyone is on anymore I don’t really care. There is a moment when we have to transcend the side we’re on and understand that we are creatures of a higher order. That doesn’t mean that I don’t wish you courage in your struggle. There are on both sides of this struggle men and women of good will, on both sides of this struggle that is important to remember. Some struggling for freedom, some struggling for safety, in solemn testimony to that which binds a generation one to another.”
It was 1985, and Cohen was speaking to a group that was sorely disappointed by the recent election, so the comparison is apt. Many of us are sorely disappointed. Many of us are not only disappointed but in deep fear for our lives, our families, our lovers, and our partners. And so Cohen’s words pierce through many of our hearts.
But what does it mean to be creatures of a higher order? What does it mean to step outside the usual rap of standing up for our side? What does is mean to stop demonizing the other side? What does it mean to stop scapegoating?
And to be clear, everything inside me is crying:
I am sad for those who have been demonized in the election.
I am sad for my daughters who hoped for the first woman president.
I am sad for Trump voters who are being generalized as racists or bigots.
I am sad for the vilification of people of color, different religions, and those with disabilities.
I am sad that so many assume Trump is a fascist and wants to destroy the country.
I am sad for our inability to see the crisis of climate change.
And so I want to listen to the wisdom of Cohen and his Jewish-Buddhist piety. I want to listen to Jesus, the one I follow, who says, “Look at the lilies of the field, they neither labor, nor do they spin.” Or when Jesus hangs out with those who are strangers in the land, or when Jesus befriends those who are different, all the while never telling them to stop being who they are — Jesus loves them and is with them.
What would it be like to stop taking sides?
Your enemies are human beings who live and who will die. They are in terror for their lives; they worry what will happen to their children; they don’t know the future, and they want good things for those they love. And so give up the very need to see sides—we are all, in the end, on the same side.
What would be like to stop wanting revenge?
It means not plotting bad things for others. It means not wanting those who are different to come to a bad end. It means loving people who are ordinarily neither like you nor want to be your friend.
What would it mean to give up the need to win?
It means a radical acceptance that everything is the way it is. This does not mean that we surrender to what has been done to us or to others—our struggle in this world will go on. But the truth is whether we win or lose, there is at the core of reality a God that, even in the darkest times, promises us peace that passes understanding.
What would it mean to face the fact that you are losing and you will die?
It means that you come home to yourself, not when everything is good; not when everything has come to you in the right way that you expect. No, it means to live in the shadow that death is near, that the end is not far away and so begin to taste things in the present moment. Love the person God has given you in this moment. Love the neighbor, even if she voted for someone different than you did. Love your family even if they continually disappoint you. It means look around at the horizon, the beauty of the sky, the light coming off the water, the last blooms of flowers as the winter is coming. One day, perhaps soon, you will die, and peace is at hand.
What does it mean to know abundance even in a time of powerful despair?
It means that you are free indeed. It means that circumstance can’t control you. It means you can love even the one who wants your downfall. It means you can see goodness even in the one who disagrees with you. It means you are powerfully free from revenge, from despair, from darkness.
It means you know the light—you don’t just believe in the light.
Kurt Franklin, the black gospel singer, produced this song, “I Need You to Survive.” It speaks to the fact that we all need each other; there is no one who can be left out. We are in this together.
May the light of the Spirit that made you, sustains you and redeems you, be with you even right now, even right here, even in the worst of times. And may this be and become the best of times. Amen.