Seeking Sobriety: Prayer and Practice in the Election Season

I have been contemplating a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer. Even as I read it silently, I hear this particular prayer sung in the consistent, comforting monotone of an evensong cantor:

“O GOD, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour, Amen.”

Cambridge edition, Book of Common Prayer

Rest and quietness. Give us peace that we may pass our time in rest and quietness. Rest and quietness.

These two blessed necessities, rest and quietness, are as difficult to find as toilet paper was back in March of 2020 and more precious than N95 masks were in June. Even in the absence of actual sound, social media resonates with riotous anger and self-righteous proclamations. The angry antiphony of political extremes leaves hardly any space for the calm chanting of choral collects.

During my time in Scotland, the following confession of the Scottish Episcopal liturgy particularly struck me:

Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws…Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Sobriety extends beyond abstaining from alcohol; it includes abstaining from the intoxication of riotous anger, as well as self-righteous virtue signalling. Sober living relies upon intentional reflection, reorientation, and relationship and it results in greater spiritual rest and quietness. How, though, can we achieve such sobriety in a culture that is—on both ends of the political spectrum—feeding itself on fury? How can we achieve rest and quietness in such a season?

Prayer, of course, is essential; however, I would advise that we begin by praying for our own discernment, compassion, and decisions. Let us examine our own hearts and pray for our own Christ-centred wisdom before all else.

Practically, we must also take intentional steps to pursue the sobriety that we as a society are sorely lacking. In the following month, we are likely to see increased violence in word and deed. Families may be fractured and friendships abruptly ended. I wonder, though, if the following practical steps might safeguard these precious connections and provide at least some rest in a restless nation and situation:

  1. Newspapers > Newsfeeds: I have taken to reading a hard copy of the paper each morning. Instead of the constant updates and flawed facts of social media feeds, reading the paper has become a morning ritual by which I remain up-to-date, but am not constantly bombarded with every opinion, every update, and every argument from every person and source. Contemporary spikes in mental health issues and societal unrest suggest that we were never meant to be in constant, unrelenting communication. Let’s be mindful of our media consumption.
  2. FaceTime > Facebook: I am hurt and shocked every time I log into Facebook. People I love and respect have turned to defriending and disregarding others instead of engaging in thoughtful dialogue. I often wonder why we feel free to vocalize hatred online when we would rarely (I hope) do so in person. After all, I would never march into my neighbor’s kitchen, shout my political views, and then refuse to accept accountability for their justified confusion! What if, instead of posting aggressive outbursts, we called each other up? What if we looked into the faces of our fellow image-bearers and engaged in ongoing conversation instead of hit-and-run comments?
  3. Ideas > Individuals: It is a mark of insecurity and ignorance to attack an individual instead of an idea. Well-researched and fruitful debates rarely occur in soundbite insults or abrasive shouting matches, as last night’s “debate” made painfully obvious. Perhaps we ought to consider the close friendship between the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Antonin Scalia as testifying to the powerful potential of caring for one another as people even as we critique and challenge each other’s politics. Reader, do not resort to personal attacks; do your research, hold to reason, and speak with respect.
  4. Everyday > Election Day: Don’t misunderstand me: the results of this election do matter. Let’s not, however, mistake an important thing for everything. How we live and interact everyday is more important than a decision we make on election day. You and I, my dear reader, may vote very differently, but what matters is that we continue to converse, convict, and encourage one another. If my preferred candidate does not win, I will still make my bed every morning. I will still chat with baristas and smile at other runners on my daily jog. I will still go to work and teach music to the teenagers who are our future. I will still play the organ for church on Sunday mornings. This election matters, but what matters more is how, where, and with whom we elect to spend our daily lives.

As we move into what promises to be a tumultuous October, let us hold fast to reason and respect, pursuing peace insofar as it depends on us and seeking prayerful and practical ways to achieve “rest and quietness.”

2 comments

  1. You are filling an empty gap in my life with your books, music and thinking. In a small group of Christians in a supper club I find no readers, not much interest in theology and unchallenged in seeking the deep things of God. I am a 78 year old grandmother.

    Liked by 1 person

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