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Learning the New Song

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit… I will sing a new song. As difficult as it is, I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth of my life, my mind, and my spirit. I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all this is within me may lift my voice unto God. How I love the old familiarity of the wearied melody—how I shrink from the harsh discords of the new untried harmonies. (Howard Thurman)

As I have reflected on this meditation by Howard Thurman during the election and post-election season in the U.S., I’ve asked myself, “What is the old, tired, familiar melody in my life at this time?” I realize that it is fear, despair, obsessive worry, knee-jerk actions. What is the new song for me? Discovering it requires listening. It’s God’s invitation to something fresh and new in each moment. It requires listening, learning the melody, and then singing along. This past week and a half, since the election, has been an invitation for me to deeper prayer.

When I awoke the day after the election, I felt dismay and anxiety. I had wanted a landslide for my candidate and watched in apprehension at what unfolded before my eyes, with threats of stopping the vote counting and declaring victory prematurely.

How could my dismay at what was happening be turned into productive prayer and action, rather than obsessive anxiety? As I listened for God’s prayer in me, I heard the new melody. I found myself being drawn to pray deeply that what is of God in each person in this country would be raised up and that what is not of God would fall away. I have returned to this prayer many times a day since that Wednesday morning.

As I pray, I have a sense of God working, of the good being raised up in poll workers to give them the strength to keep counting ballots in the face of threats, of the good being raised up in judges to give them the courage to reject frivolous lawsuits, of the good being raised up in ordinary citizens to give them the will and the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood as they listen to the rhetoric of politicians.

I have a vision of others who are uniting in the same prayer that I am praying, holding up one another’s arms in prayer as Aaron and Hur did for Moses, so that we don’t give up when we grow weary. The vision I see includes some who are called to pray at this moment, some called to work for fair ballot counting and protection of our democracy, some called to witness in the streets, some called to pray now and work tomorrow, others to work today and pray tomorrow, some to work and pray at the same time. The work and the prayer are integrated.

As I listen for the new song, I continue to pray and sense how God is at work. I feel confident I will know what is mine to do when. As I listen for the new song, my prayer also moves to those who are marginalized. I’m aware of many who have been and still are suffering deeply, of the children at the border separated from their parents, of the black lives lost in police killings, of those in poverty especially vulnerable to COVID-19, and more. I pray that whatever is of God in the marginalized will be raised up to give them hope and remind them of their dignity when they are tempted to despair. I pray that whatever is of God in the rest of us will be raised up to give us strength and courage to fight for the protection of those on the margins.

This prayer feels deeper than any particular election, and I continue to feel led to pray this prayer. We so need the good to be raised up in each of us as we move forward now as a country, as a world. Those of us who disagree with one another, who supported different candidates, need the good to be raised up in us so that we are not tempted, respectively, to gloat or to turn to bitterness and despair. How can I personally listen for the good? How can all of us carry out respectful dialogue and find our way forward as fellow citizens seeking to re-build a democracy together?

May we each continue to listen for the new song that is ours to sing. May we all learn to sing the new melodies. The degree to which we each faithfully sing our new song will determine the degree of harmony and healing manifested among us.

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