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Amanda Gorman performs ‘The Hill We Climb’

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Amanda Gorman, the Poet Laureate for the January 20, 2021 US Presidential Inauguration, enacted her poem, ‘The Hill We Climb,” with images that encourage a country to hold a mirror up close to the face of our collective well-being.  This is the labor of poets and poetry, to use words and silence both, and as Gorman demonstrated, to utilize  the performance of one’s arms in motion and pause, as a means of drawing in the public’s moral imagination for its future.  In short, where do we see the future calling us, and how will we act in ways that get us there?

In this question, Gorman helps us to recognize both a people’s weariness and the stirring sinews of hope, in the same moment.  It was in this context of a moral imagination for our future that the newly inaugurated President of the United States dedicated himself to the years ahead with “all my soul.”  He did so by drawing upon his own faith as a Catholic-Christian and pulled on a religious thread that surprised some.  He mentioned Saint Augustine.

President Biden made his statement on the soul’s work, with appeals to love and empathy, both of which can be a cause for strategic engagement in the world.  St. Augustine, whose writing influenced the formative philosophical and theological years of the Latin Church, is still mightily influential today.  But that wisdom is often subterranean, until he gets a shout-out in a speech of this kind.  For his part, Augustine spoke prodigiously on paper, and used compact and colorful oratory of words to describe what inhibits love (like leaves blocked in a channel along a roofline) or to lament the heartbreaking loss of a friend to illness in his youth (like pouring my soul into sand).  In Augustine’s work, as is clear in Biden’s comments and his well-known religious formation, is a relationship between love ordered toward God, alive in the world, and desirous of being the cause of joy itself.  In every loss, in the fraught moment of challenge construed, the moral imagination begins from the fidelitous sway of a love well-directed; such is the wisdom of Augustine in an inauguration.

In this season, the Religica Theolab asks itself what Gorman asked of us too – what is our future and what acts are required to get us there?  A Pandemic Age.  What impacts “all the people,” from the root pandemos, in this title, is inclusive of much.  A pandemic age includes structures that fail us, that do not come from the heart of love strategically at work in the world, and that are cause for disparities, unevenness, and pain.  This includes structural racism and other forms of violence.  And the pandemic age also includes a virus, which is a singular source of national and global mourning right now.

What we know is that this age – and coming out of it – we are going to look different.  You don’t lose this many people and fail to acknowledge grief that will remain with us.  There is also an uneven advance of those who will redefine work that is inclusive of an in-home place, and a whole lot of people who don’t have that kind of privilege day to day.  How we trust democracy from those who are clear detractors for their own purposes, and who scurrilously attempt to convince us that an entire system is broken, is going to be a serious job to undo.  Our moral imaginations require us to work together, and we have years to go to do so.

Gorman’s question in the mirror will require us to draw on religious traditions, spiritual pathways, and indigenous wisdom, in order to locate our gratitude for one another and for God or transcendent mystery, and to assess how these perspectives have made sense of injury across the aegis of time.  The Religica Theolab is one way in which we engage the moral imagination toward deeper healing in a future to which the living must co-create together.  

What face appears in that mirror that Amanda Gorman held up for us, to forecast our collective well-being?  The wisdom of the ages would tell us love must reside at the center of our response, and that our unity formed in love is the first measure of all ringing freedom.

This BlogCast was authored by Michael Reid Trice

Michael Reid Trice is Founder of Religica, the Spehar-Halligan Associate Professor for Constructive Theology, and serves as the Director of the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs at the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University.  Michael spends his time at home today … because we’re in a pandemic! He serves on national and international boards, publishes in his guilds and hikes with his wife, daughter and their 100 pound Hovawart when he isn’t on a zoom call.