Exhilaration, Exhaustion, Tennyson

Well.

“Mood.” Screenshot of a survey of election day emotions by the New York Times, uploaded to Flickr by Ethan Hein

Two weeks ago, more or less, I was watching the pictures from Chicago and weeping, sobbing, as the world changed. And I was so grateful that my wife knew me well enough to explain to our children why I cried, why this meant to me what it does. I’ll find some time to post about it in the future, I promise, but meanwhile Judith Warner’s Tears to Remember does a pretty good job (leaving aside the why) of explaining how I felt about this election. If you don’t feel like reading her column (though you should — it’s really good), at least scroll down for that amazing picture.

I know that others may not share my feelings. Our nation has made a choice, but many of my family members, friends, and neighbors (47.2% of them) disagreed with it. I also know that much remains the same. We still have bills to pay (if we can), children to raise, family, friends, & neighbors to know and love. The world (and the government, and the church) is still a field of mission for the Word of the LORD — as it was before. As before, the Kingdom of God is already present & not yet here. And we the people are still the stewards of our nation, like it or not, ready or not. We still have a long way to go.

Democracy is an exhausting thing. Our family was paying attention in 2004, but this season we took part in conversations not only in different face-to-face groups, but also via Facebook, FactCheck.org, Newsvine, various blogs and email lists for family members, homeschoolers, and our church fellowship. Our seven-year-old was debating environmental policy with his friends. We were energized; we were sleep deprived. As this election season drew to a close, I made a point of asking everyone I met, “Do you think we’ve done better this year? Have we actually had the civic conversation that we should have had?” Most (not all) people thought we had, that our chance to participate had not been wholly wasted. For those who choose it, engaging fully with public issues, speaking out with both conviction and integrity to our fellow citizens, is a spiritual discipline and an act of faith. So I think as a nation we have something to be proud of. Not every place on earth is blessed with the freedom & opportunity for citizen participation and peaceful transitions of power.

But that doesn’t make it easy. It is a feature of democratic society that every decision we make together asks someone to give something up. We argue with our whole hearts, minds, and souls for the fate of our nation, and in the end some of us loose. Somebody else’s choice carries the day, and we surrender our own will for the sake of our fellow citizens and for the sake of the wholeness of our nation. This is a personal sacrifice of self-denial, a spiritual discipline, and an act of faith.

So it has ever been when powers change, even in days of yore. When Camelot came to an end at last, the mortally wounded King Arthur gave Sir Bedivere one last task: take the sword Excalibur, and cast it again into the lake from whence it came. The sword was Arthur’s Divine emblem of sovereignty over Britain, and letting it go was no easy task for the noble knight:

He, stepping down
By zig-zag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
Came on the shining levels of the lake.

There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw: but at the last it seem’d
Better to leave Excalibur conceal’d
There in the many-knotted waterflags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
So strode he back slow to the wounded King.

Arthur chastises Sir Bedivere for his failure to cast away Excalibur. Again he is sent, and again he fails to part with this wondrous emblem of power, glory, and Divine approval. At last, on the third attempt, he closes his eyes to the beauty of the blade, and finally obeys his King. Arthur is laid on his funeral barge:

Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere,
“Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world;
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds.”

And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?”

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur

As your fellow citizen, I crave your prayers, whether you see Camelot coming in to Washington again with this election or being at last overthrown. I’ll be praying for the new President, Barack Obama, and for all of us, both here at home and as one of the 1,000,000 Christians Praying for President Obama on Facebook. And whether or not you are the praying sort, I crave your good faith that together we shall not let our own good custom corrupt the world, and that the promise of this great nation can be fulfilled in many ways.

~~~
With a hat-tip to Tapu Misa (via Michael Winship) and Petey & Petunia.

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