I’ll readily admit, I don’t tune into many sessions of Congress. Nor have I ever before grown misty-eyed watching one. But this year’s was a first, perhaps for many of us.
The words, “Ms. Pelosi, I extend to you this gavel” carried enormous weight. In simple, ritual words, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy signaled a transition of power. No tanks filled the streets; no military presence controlled Washington DC. Yet all had shifted in the 116th Congress.
That august chamber, the House of Representatives was filled with children. Sometimes noisy, clearly excited, dressed up for the rare event, they gathered ‘round Grandmother Pelosi as she took the oath “on behalf of the children of the United States.” It represented tangibly our hope for the country to improve for the next generation, especially for the Dreamers, the refugees and the children separated from their parents at the border.
Some parents and grandparents, also sworn in as new members, represented the most racially, ethnically and gender-diverse body ever assembled. The visual was superb: a Palestinian thobe, a Muslim hijab, a Pueblo dress, mirroring, though not yet completely, the people the House represents.
Of course it’s not perfect. Much work remains to restore the best this country can be and stop the abysmal abuse of civil rights and destruction of the environment. But hope is a gift and a grace from God, which like all gifts and graces, is mediated by human voices and hands. As Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. …It has to do with… being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.” It’s not American optimism, that everything will turn out the way I want, but ultimately, the way God wants.
How appropriate that the dramatic opening of Congress occurred three days before the Christian feast of Epiphany with its reassurance that light will overcome even the darkest times. The radiant star and Herod’s slaughter of babies rub shoulders in the day’s readings. So we continue the expectation that the Divine Mystery will be revealed in human things, a healthy humility mixed with a buoyant hope.