So, writes Rev Sydney Maitland, the results of the Euro-elections are in and the questions are now being asked: why did they win or lose? Who is to blame? How to obtain or maintain power next time? How to present the party’s case? Which voters to target? All this political calculation is made in parallel with more basic questions like maintaining the national budget, ensuring peace on the country’s borders and in its streets, maintaining the rule of law and justice in the administration of law. These questions have their own kind of drama, but it is not like the blood-lust of finding and destroying scapegoats.
In the church we also pray political prayers: that the Queen may be so replenished with the grace of the Holy Spirit that she – and I should add, her ministers – “may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way”; we pray for those set in authority over us “that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations.” In the litany we pray for the Ministers of the Crown, that they may be endued “with grace, wisdom and understanding.” The Blue Book intercessions lead our prayers for nations, leaders and governments, that integrity may mark all their dealings (Form 1), for those who exercise rule and authority: that they may acknowledge your power (Form 2), for all who wield authority and influence (Form 3).
These are not petitions that take satisfaction in political blood-lust or even point-scoring: they do however point out our own needs, not only for the things that none but the state can supply, but also for temperance in our own desires and demands.
Easier said than done. How does it work out when we speak of the standard or the cost of living, of social and economic justice, fair wages (minimum? living? affordable?) care for the environment, never mind the proper supply of housing, energy, water and the basics of life? This is where opinions will vary, passions become inflamed, tempers rise – and the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace then becomes fragile, fractured, and even liable to being sundered.
One characteristic that I keep finding is that emotion often replaces argument and that point-scoring replaces due consideration and discernment. We end up with feelings uninformed by balanced consideration of facts, and of facts presented or spun with such partiality that a balanced consideration is effectively prevented.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the wizard Gandalf was often asked for advice, and would counsel that the person respond to his heart (yes, in this story it was almost always a male inquirer). In Christian terms, this in good advice: but let me rephrase it: in what direction do you find peace and stillness – and in what direction do you find uncertainty, confusion, disturbance, even darkness?
To put it another way, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Would the course of action proposed lead to an increase or a decrease in these characteristics of the life of Jesus among us?