In the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” a foxhole scene shows two men who’ve been at odds with one another discovering their common humanity during a pause in the battle.
While not easy on the eyes, the film is good on the heart, and my viewing of it, just after the presidential election, couldn’t have come at a better time.
The end of 2016 tried our country in ways some of us have not quite experienced before. Emotions that had been roiling beneath the surface burst forth, threatening our ability to see one another from the inside-out.
I see 2017 as a chance to return to a more harmonious state, but it will require recognizing first our own weaknesses, committing to improving on them and finally, realigning our hearts with God’s will.
The scene in “Hacksaw Ridge” provided a clue of how this might be accomplished, reminding me that hope comes in seeking common ground.
Sometimes, unity is thrust upon us unexpectedly and shockingly, such as in the deaths of so many entertainers we collectively loved who left us in 2016.
But even in our sadness, I witnessed a spark of commonality as we lamented together their hasty exits, and our differences faded against the backdrop of our shared affinities.
I’m keeping those thoughts near as I continue sorting through the wreckage of 2016 and look ahead with optimism.
Thankfully, those with faith in a good and loving God have recourse in such times. Seeing the world and ourselves as God does can bring great consolation and courage.
In the most divisive of times, I’ve also found prayer to be a help. Just days after the presidential election, a local community event took place that some organizers made clear was not intended for all, despite promises of unifying our city.
Though the uninvite was discouraging, I didn’t want to completely relinquish the idea of helping bring people closer together, and in time, I realized a way.
The gathering was set to begin at 3 p.m., or Divine Mercy hour in some Christian traditions. Scripture reveals that Jesus’ death happened at the ninth hour, or 3 in the afternoon, and that at that moment, mercy flowed in abundance from the side of Christ out into the whole world.
It made sense to me to spend that hour —when others would be marching outside — inside in prayer. So, on the appointed day, I arrived at the Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel of St. Mary’s Cathedral just before 3 p.m.. Soon, a handful of friends began trickling in to join me.
Kneeling, I prayed for all the people I knew who needed healing. Then I prayed for those gathered for the event, for clarity over misunderstandings and peace.
I began meditating on Jesus’ life, and when I reached the time of his birth, I thought of how, from the beginning, he’d been hated and marked for death, even in his most innocent state.
I pondered his parents fleeing Bethlehem, and how jarring it must have been to start their lives with their new son, not with a soft welcoming, but on the run.
Then it hit me: Jesus had come as much for those who sought to destroy him as the rest.
He came for the sinner like me, sitting there in the chapel, and for those marching over the Red River. He came for President Obama, and he came for President-elect Donald Trump.
With that thought holding me, mercy began filling my heart. Every conflicted feeling that had accompanied me to the chapel vanished, and I felt only love.
Later, I would reflect on another scene in the movie when the main character, “Doss,” is frantically trying to save his comrades left for dead at the bloodiest portions of the battlefield. “Just one more Lord,” he says, knowing time is of the essence. “One more.”
Like Doss, I yearn to bring life to others, even when it feels impossible.
My chapel visit on that bright November day ended with me singing in my head, “The Prayer of St. Francis,” a welcomed mantra in times of dissonance in my life. “Lord, make me a channel of your peace…” it begins. Though I often fail in this, it remains another of my heart’s desires.
I am back now peering into that foxhole at Hacksaw Ridge, seeking to see the neighbor who has kept me at arm’s length as my brother, my sister.
“You, too, are why he came,” I whisper, “and you are loved.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Jan. 7, 2017.]