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Night Terrors (a villanelle)

This is a poem I started and abandoned a few times over the last year or so. Recent events have helped edge it towards something more of a thing.

Through dark and lonely reaches of the night
It hunts me with a restless ruthlessness:
The question — what if They in fact are right?

They say it all comes down to might on might,
And mine I cannot muster to contest
Alone, and in the darkest realms of night.

The world has ceased to render black and white
To me; I do not know; I fear to guess;
To Them, there is no question but They’re right.

They vouch that They are walking in the light
While, “wilfully contrary”, I digress
And wander lonely in the dark of night.

I am the orienteer of my plight.
To retrace now would be to acquiesce…
I cannot countenance that They are right.

Day dawns, and braver others rise to fight;
Till dusk there’s rumours of a just redress.
But then I am alone, and it is night,
And in the summing up, They’re counted right.
Carolyn Whitnall, 2016.

…Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom… (Isaiah 59)

...Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. [...] Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins... (Psalm 25)

(See also John 9:4-5Romans 13:12, Psalm 74:16a, Psalm 86:11-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 107:13-14 ...)

High on the list of things currently plaguing my meandering thoughtlife are the 81 percent. (Of white evangelicals who voted for Trump, in case you missed this particular stomach-wrenching statistic). And the horrified worry: would it have been me? Well, no ... not me now, I'm pretty sure ... but me a decade ago ... when my self-doubt and religious anxiety hovered around a calamitous joint peak, and my personal relationship with God was best described as distant, and my Biblical literacy was best not described at all ... If someone had given me that vote, and given me to think that I was choosing between the murder of unnumbered innocents and the urgently needed rescue of the increasingly suppressed church ... And then left me to ponder the implications of my decision for the eternal condition of my own soul ... Then yeah, I reckon terror and insecurity may well have outweighed my flakey commitment to integrity and compassion, and my concern for the full and equal flourishing of brothers and sisters and neighbours deprived of my multi-dimensional privilege. 

I'm not suggesting that this was what was going on for all (or even any) of the 81 percent; I don't pretend to know. But certainly, I'm painfully aware that, whatever criticism I might be inclined to level at it, their collective voting decision also calls for some uncomfortable self-scrutiny. Because I've learned and grown in many ways since I might have been easily led to vote for Trump, but (as I here find myself grappling with in villanelle form) I've a long way to go, particularly when it comes to discernment, courage and unselfishness.

As for the white evangelical leaders who chose this outcome and used their influence over people (people like me, in some cases) to action it ... well, quite frankly, I'm overwhelmed with angry dismay – that is, in between panicking that they're somehow right and I am a worldly heretic blinded to the truth. (In which moments, lets face it, all I really need do to assuage said panic is open my Bible pretty much at random, and/or give a split second's thought to what it means for a community that is supposed to exist for the marginalised to have voted overwhelmingly oppositely to almost all black women (94%)). And I'm more than a bit troubled (as are others) by the degree of apparent indifference in the UK evangelical church ... the slowness of our own spokespeople and bodies to proactively challenge the complicity of these high-profile Christians, many of whom are well-known and regarded here too, in electing a president who ran on a platform of undisguised hate, lies and white supremacy. The first Sunday service post-election at my own evangelical church was, as I dreaded, almost as though nothing had happened [1]. "Come on and dance with joy in your heart", everyone was singing as we walked in. I declined, and sat and meditated on imprecatory Psalms instead (a habit I picked up from John Goldingay, and thoroughly recommend for those times when you've no words of your own for the wrongness of it all): "O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!...Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute?..." (Psalm 94) This hardly feels like any sort of time to dance; rather to mourn, and tremblingly remind ourselves that God makes no alliance with injustice, no matter who might seem to do so in His name.

[1] Almost. Some thoughtful allusions were made later, in the sermon and prayers – but you kinda had to be looking out for them to notice. I did appreciate that our leadership team were far from oblivious and were evidently grappling with what to 'do' with it all... The fact that I would've preferred a considerably less tentative approach does rather imply that it's probably for the best that they are the leaders and I am not...

[Thumbnail image public domain from].