The expression to “gird your loins” in literal terms means to put a strap around your waist and hips in preparation for battle. The point is to prevent your cloak falling off and your legs free for running when, presumably, fighting for your life. It’s also where we get the word girdle.
The verb ‘gird’ is used 26 times in the Bible, each one in reference to a preparation for something either difficult, mournful, or sacred. I have the impression we’re about to experience all three.
Primarily, it is a phrase meant to instill courage. And as we enter the year 2024, it is a phrase we should all take to heart.
It’s not my custom to write about politics, except for when it intersects with the existential concerns often raised by religion and spirituality. It is intersecting with them now. And in a way that shall be recorded in every imaginable history book of the future.
Particularly here in the United States, but the same is also true in parallel form throughout the world, all of humanity is in the process of answering the questions: Who are we? What shall become of us? Which ideology shall have the power to shape our future?
I’m not here to say that one side is right or wrong, though I certainly have my opinions about it. I’m here to say: Gird your loins. Prepare yourself. This is going to be difficult.
We already have an inkling of the ideological conflict we have ahead of us. For years now it’s been building up a head of steam. We’ve seen the divide gaping into a chasm, polarizing friends and families into staunch positions from which neither logic nor facts can dislodge them.
It will not be mindful, well-reasoned logic that gets us through it, or else that would have already worked. It will be the better angels of our nature which accomplishes it.
We aren’t ready for this. No one could be. Even though we’ve been preparing for it for centuries. But we may compose ourselves with deliberate kindness. Self-care. Voting. Contributing in positive ways to online discourse. We can be lighthouses.
That is what all of world scripture asks of us in this precarious moment. To be a dram of non-anxious presence in an ocean of anxiety and fear. For that is all it takes, really. A single birthday candle has the power to dispel an entire roomful of darkness. Be that small light.
Demonstrate kindness, patience, and forbearance in your online exchanges. It is noticed by others, believe me. I make a point of replying to online ugliness with deliberate radical compassion and understanding. I compose my replies to them as though I’m oblivious to their hostility.
Just when I start to wonder if anyone notices, I get a thoughtful message from someone who not only noticed but took it to heart. Those are the people for whom I am writing those comments. It’s not really for the ones who demonstrated the ugliness, though it would be great if I actually reached them. I’m really modeling behavior for those who don’t know how to respond to it without compounding the problem. We all need a bit of scripting support from time to time.
It’s less effort to be kind, really. The burden is lighter by one chip’s weight from our shoulder. And that chip on your shoulder is heavier than you think. Let it go. You don’t need to “win.” You don’t need to beat your opponent into submission or retreat. You don’t need to best someone. Drop a minor love bomb of thought and move on. You don’t always need to stick around to make sure it’s germinated. They are like seeds of trees under whose shade we may never sit. Do it anyway.
As we walk stridently into the year 2024, gird yourself with the awareness that your words and actions are more powerful than you realize. Embolden yourself with the knowledge that a loving response to hate literally is the lesson of turning the other cheek. It has the effect of dissolving much of the antagonism we experience. Because that antagonism isn’t founded in anything substantive. It’s founded in fear borne from a lack of communication and understanding. It often withers in the face of a steady and confident kindness.
You are the weapon you seek in this battle for the soul of our age. Wield it with assurance.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is a Unitarian Universalist Minister at the First Parish of Fitchburg and the First Church of Lancaster. He is also the host of a monthly radio show called Our Common Dharma based on his columns every 4th Monday at noon on WPKZ 105.3FM. Email [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.