Spiritual guides can be found anywhere and everywhere. They are found among our nation’s heroes and wise leaders. They are found among everyday people with no intellectual or spiritual pedigree. They surface in every faith tradition and among seekers who claim no specific faith tradition. They can even be found in our dialogues with characters from adult fiction and children’s stories. Though distant in time and place, we can encounter them in spiritual imagination.
I regularly commune with Abraham Lincoln and the residents of the 100 Aker Wood. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t hold séances here on Cape Cod, nor do I hear voices from stuffed animals and deceased presidents. But I do regularly ponder the spirit of Lincoln and my friends from the 100 Aker Wood.
This year I have been pondering Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom and compassion. In a time of war, Lincoln sought a wider perspective for the nation:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
No truer words have ever been spoken by a president of the United States. In this time of polarizing, bullying, and fake news perpetuated from the highest levels of government, we need to live by a higher standard. Recently, a national leader even publicly trashed Jesus’ counsel to love our neighbors, and at a prayer breakfast! These days, we cannot let our ethics be determined by our leaders; we must set the bar much higher in terms of honesty, integrity, hospitality, ethics, and patriotism. We must set the bar high in terms of civility. Lincoln knew that leadership is about integrity and inclusion, even of your enemies. It is about following the highest good in our private and public lives, even if it isn’t politically expedient. A master politician and fallible person, who led a brutal war, Lincoln still sought to mend bridges with rivals, opponents, and even the seditious Confederacy.
A.A. Milne captured this same spirit in the wake of the carnage of World War I. He imagined a peaceable realm in which he and his son might live. He realized that his healing and the healing of the world required an alternative to violence and enmity. Milne recognized that although woodland creatures are occasionally at odds, when push comes to shove, they choose the well-being of community over personal gain. Piglet is the hero of the book in many ways: Small and Anxious, he nevertheless saves Owl and Pooh when Owl’s house crashes to the ground and later gives up his own home to provide shelter for the homeless owl. Sure, mistakes are made and misunderstandings occur, but eventually everyone does the right thing.Adventure comes with each new day because woodland companions choose to join in common cause and accept one another’s idiosyncrasies.
Today, we need to look toward our great leaders of our nation’s history – to the wisdom of George Washington, the stature and compassion of Lincoln, the environmentalism of Teddy Roosevelt, the courage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the self-transcendence on civil rights of Lyndon Johnson, the buoyancy of Ronald Reagan, and the dignity and integrity of Barack Obama. These are models that any leader must look to as he or she seeks to go beyond self-interest and ego to serve the nation and the planet.
The story is told of a conversation Lincoln had in the final days of the Civil War. His companion asked, “What will you do with the South now that the war is over?” He expected vengeance and punishment, but was shocked when Lincoln responded, “I will treat them as if they’d never left.”
On Presidents’ Day, millions of Americans will imagine what it would be like to have a president with spiritual stature. They will cry out for a leader who puts world loyalty and the common good ahead of self-interest and power politics. May the President listen to their words and chart a new direction for the nation. May the President realize that opponents are often better policy guides than allies and court preachers. May we, regardless of politics, let go of the need to have “enemies” – whether we are talking about the press, protesters, or the President – and look for the higher angels in ourselves and pray that these better angels come forth in those with whom we disagree. Today, let us welcome the peaceable realm of Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, and their friends, and let us seek like Abraham Lincoln to be a people of grace, dignity, and justice.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 50 books, including “Piglet’s Process: Process Theology for All God’s Children,” “The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” and “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims.”