Enjoy the Silence

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Pixabay)
On the day after the Mueller report, take time to ponder some more important things.

Today is . . . the day after Mueller Report Day!

And a few other things.

This is Good Friday, the most somber day in the Christian calendar, when Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus. At sunset, Jews will begin the celebration of Passover, when they remember their liberation from slavery in Egypt.

These are old stories: Christians have been marking Jesus’s crucifixion for two millennia, and Jews have been commemorating their deliverance for more than 3,000 years. Nations and empires have been founded and come undone, terrible wars fought, all-too-rare and fragile moments of peace enjoyed, our own relatively new republic born and grew to power.

Unless God has abandoned us entirely, we will not be talking about the Mueller report in 3,000 years.

Passover and Easter both are spring festivals and have long been connected to other rites of spring, when our ancestors, emerging from the long, silent, cold, and more often than not hungry winter, took time to thank God for the blessings they enjoyed, to celebrate the bewildering fact that the world had not ended after all but had been born again.

We, too, should be mindful of our blessings, which are — please, don’t ever forget — beyond the wildest imaginings of our forebears only a generation or two back. Americans don’t starve to death in the winter. We don’t freeze to death. And before you dismiss that as a laughably low bar to clear, consider what has been the normal state of human beings for most of the time there have been human beings.

We have not just gone through a civil war. We have gone through what appears to have been a relatively orderly investigation of the president of the United States who — while we are counting our blessings — is subject to the law, like anyone else. Politicians being politicians, there has been dishonesty, opportunism, and petty advantage-seeking all the way around, and almost no one has come through this episode with his reputation enhanced. But our institutions seem to work, and to work pretty well. That has not been the normal state of affairs for human beings, either.

During Passover, the Jewish people celebrate their freedom. The American people do that, too — and should do so every day. Without failing to pay due respect to the sacrifices that were made, among other places, at Valley Forge during that very cold winter, our freedom came to us a lot more easily than it did to Moses’s people. Unlike our French friends, we do not spend Armistice Day pointing out to the children where the trenches were; unlike our British cousins, we do not spend VE Day pointing out where the bombs fell on our capital city. We are a blithe people, who sometimes have scant regard for history because we have been so little touched by it, here in our safe harbor. I would never wish for things to be any different, but I do worry sometimes that we got our freedom too cheap and hold it in implicit contempt.

On Easter, Christians will give thanks for our many blessings in this land, and for the Principal Blessing that is for all the nations. But it isn’t Sunday yet. In his great meditation Death on a Friday Afternoon, Father Richard John Neuhaus counsels readers not to rush ahead to the joy of the Resurrection, but to linger a while by the cross and think about the price at which that salvation was purchased. There will be plenty of time for trumpets on Sunday.

And there will be plenty of time for noise on Monday, the mad hurly-burly of democracy heightened and amplified by the miracles of modern technology — a blessing, yes, if a mixed one. The debates will go on, along with the arguments, the denunciations, the cries of recrimination, and the cries for justice and for vengeance that often are confused with each other. But today there is silence, if you want it, and time to think, to pray, to try to understand, and to try as best we can to do that heroic and impossible thing that we are commanded to do: to love our enemies — and maybe come to understand that they are not our enemies at all.

Abraham Lincoln managed. Surely we can make an effort.


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