Do Not Put Your Trust in Princes

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On November 9th I watched the election results pour in with two other observant Jewish feminists. Like many others, we watched in horror as our planned celebration of a Democratic victory gave way to a shocking defeat. The very best outcome we could imagine, based upon Trump’s 100-day plan, was that democracy itself would be preserved and the constitution upheld, but the planet would be destroyed by his reckless dismantling of all environmental protections, including bans on extracting fossil fuels (i.e. fracking, drilling,and the like).

Not knowing what else to do, we opened our siddurim—Jewish prayer books—and stood together in silent prayer.

This did not “make everything ok.” As Jewish tradition testifies, despite prayers reassuring that God will save, nonetheless tragedy and oppression are perennial hallmarks of Jewish experience. And despite the differences some perceive between Hitler and Trump, we noted far more similarities for us to feel safe as Jews under his leadership. Thus, our prayers did not provide the false hope that all would be well with us and ours just so long as we said the right prayers.

But those prayers nonetheless made everything less overwhelmingly terrifying. It put Trump in his proper place. He is not the source of life, not omnipotent and not omniscient. As a Jewish process theologian, I only attribute one of the three qualities to God anyway. From a process perspective, God is not all powerful. God provides a lure for becoming—and ultimately desires mutually abundant flourishing—but ultimately we decide who and how to become. And not even God knows for sure what the future holds.

Trump blusters and behaves as if he is, if not the sovereign God, at least a close facsimile. He proposes policies that directly flout the constitution as if he alone has the authority to change over two hundred years of American tradition at his whim, in much the same way biblical narratives occasionally portray God. But regardless of how one envisions God, Trump remains distinct. While Trump holds significant worldly authority and power, he does not have the power to create a universe, a galaxy, or a world. His powers are in fact limited by the fact that he is only human.

And as long as we have each other there is a limit to the evil he can do.

(Which is why, incidentally, he goes to such pains to create division and strife. But I digress.)

I daven (pray) daily. Not because I think it will appease some transcendent deity. But because it shapes my heart and mind so that I am more capable of materializing the vision of a commonly shared yet diversely populated community strong enough to resist Trump’s crazy-making calls to hatred. It also reminds me of the biblical images of godliness that are undervalued in our society. These images, in turn permit me to move through the overwhelming (and justified) fear of a Trump presidency.

In short, it reminds me that Trump is still only human, that this too shall pass, and that when we move to ease one another’s suffering we enact the image of God within us and unleash the creative energies of the universe that can most quickly thwart his nefarious purposes. To say that this too shall pass is not to dismiss the potential for tremendous suffering; and I am well aware that I may pass before the suffering does. But to remember the temporal finitude of Trump’s reign and the adversity he will unleash merely denies that suffering the final word in humanity’s narrative.

It is also a reminder that the biblical God, appearances of capriciously violent behavior notwithstanding, is also depicted as the creative force that cares for the vulnerable and demands justice (some might say “equity”). This reminder is tucked into my prayer book as psalm 146. I will close this brief reflection by sharing my interpretive rendition of this psalm, greatly inspired by Catherine Keller, and Rabbis Marcia Prager and Art Green.

Praise the Life of All the Worlds!
Praise the Boundless One, O my soul!
I will praise the Source of Life as long as I live;
I will sing praises to the God of Becoming all my life long.
Do not put your trust—or your fear, either—in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish—and maybe before then, if we all live the image of Godliness.
Happy are the God-wrestlers,
whose hope is in the Abundant Source of Life,
who remakes heaven and earth daily,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who repeatedly infuses the world with liveliness;
who promotes justice for the oppressed time and again;
who gives food to the hungry.
Godliness sets the prisoners free;
Wisdom opens the eyes of the blind.
The Compassionate One lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Master of Peace loves the righteous.
The Righteous One watches over the vulnerable,
upholds the orphan and the widow,
and brings the ways of the wicked to ruin.
The Life of All Worlds will resurface repeatedly, everlastingly,
your partner in becoming, O Sanctuary of Safety, for all generations.
Open yourself to the Goodness that creates worlds!

 

Shelley Dennis is a doctoral candidate in theological and philosophical studies in religion at Drew University.

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