I saw a nurse talking heatedly with two patients down the hallway at the hospital where I serve as a chaplain. Suddenly, she saw me in my collar and made a beeline towards me. We had sat once before and talked about her life and her challenges. She told me I wasn’t like the priests when she was growing up—I was easy to talk to. She used to be a semi-driver, sort of a rough and tumble lady, but also very sweet. Now she was walking towards me scowling. As she approached she smiled and playfully punched in me the arm like we were old pals.
She asked me briskly, “Two things you’re never supposed to talk about, right?” It took me a second to guess what she was talking about. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “religion and politics.” “Yeah,” she said, “Some people just don’t get it!” As she walked away, I replied, “But, maybe those are the two things that we should always talk about.”
Sometimes hyperbole is the only way to get through to people. Though we should never say never and always avoid always, they may sometimes be necessary.
I saw an excellent movie on Wednesday called “Away From Her,” which was about a couple dealing with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Several times in the movie, the lament from the woman with Alzheimer’s was her regret over the superficiality of so much of her life and interactions with others. When the end is in view, when death or loss of self is approaching, many begin to reflect on the meaning of their lives.
Though we are created by God to enjoy creation and the lives we have been given, to have fun, and to be happy, we are also uniquely created for Religion and Politics. Religion might be defined simply as the process and practice of our relationship to Divine Mystery, to the ever-present spiritual reality that gives our lives deeper meaning. Politics, from the Greek word politikos, which means of, for, or relating to citizens, is the process of making decisions applying to all members of a given group. Politics is the process and practice of how we relate to each other as a society. Without relationships, life would not be worth living—we would cease to be.
So, what two more important things in life can there be but how we relate to God and how we relate to each other. Religion and politics are what make life meaningful, and if we try to pass through life superficially, trying just to be happy, eventually we will realize just how meaningless our lives have been. And then it will be too late.
© Paul Dordal, 2016