Andrew posted a necessary reminder over on Tumblr that the holiday of Thanksgiving was instituted by Abraham Lincoln. It was in 1863, in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, and the holiday served two purposes. First and foremost, it was a reminder to the citizens of the United States of the blessings they shared even in the midst of the country’s bloodiest conflict. Second, though, it was a reminder to the people that some conflicts were necessary and that while all yearned for harmony, they had to bear up under a disharmony en route to a higher one.
In Lincoln’s own eloquent words:
[I ask that we cultivate] with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
Look up a moment at the title of this blog. Disharmony and harmony, wounds and peace, all form part of the network of oppositions around disrupt and repair. This way of thinking, common to Lincoln’s thinking, is deeply sympathetic to spiritualist attitudes. Even if Lincoln cannot be said to have been a spiritualist (and he was at least sympathetic to the movement), his way of thinking emerges in the same milieu as spiritualism, shaped and shaping it. Lincoln’s daemonic visage plays an instrumental role in U.S. spiritualism, too, appearing in seances with advice all over the country after his assassination.
Lincoln wasn’t perfect, by any stretch. He would have eagerly ended the war with slavery intact, so long as it was contained. But over the course of the war he became convinced that the war stretched on because slavery needed to be brought to an end, because it was precisely the immorality that made disunion possible. Unresolved, no mere military victory could restore Union. He became convinced of a difficult moral imperative upon him and he struggled to carry that imperative to freedom out, even when he could not always grasp its exact dimensions.
His willingness to endure disharmony and transform it into active disruption for the sake of a greater harmony makes Lincoln an exemplar of spiritualism and of spiritualist thought. What is realized in disruption is not disharmony, but the movement of harmony to resolve and encompass disharmony. Disharmony is the symptom, harmony the doctor, and disruption the operation through which the injury or illness is cured.
If we can call spiritualism genuinely American, born in the United States but encompassing the whole of two continents and rippling outward across the globe, we can also describe a genuinely American corruption of it. The guiding harmony at its heart can become a quest for comfort, the conviction of the moral perfectability of human beings can become a naive optimism that it all works out for the best, no matter what. Spiritualism is readily co-opted into prosperity gospel and technocratic progress.
But here, in Lincoln’s institution of Thanksgiving, is the virtue in answer to that, a prayer that harmony only be returned “as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes.” The conception of Divine purpose proposed here is not a clear plan to which Lincoln can refer, but an acceptance that individual human desires ought to accommodate themselves to an order revealed within events.
While we seek harmony easily, as part of our animal being, it is in our capacity to realize and endure sacred disruption that we develop our moral and spiritual being. This is precisely what it means to take up the work of healing within a spiritualist context, to become either an agent of disruption or an agent of repair in cooperation with the spirit of harmony.
There is good reason for the sympathy between Spiritualism and Christianity, because it is precisely on this point that they converge. The question, of course, remains as to the mechanism proper to realizing the healing power of the disruption, but it must begin and end with a commitment to the principles of harmony and a willingness to bear witness. That requires the disruption be localized, focused, within a healthy body of harmony. As Lincoln says, the aim must be that “harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.”
Which is why I am so disappointed with the grand jury declining further investigation into Officer Darren Wilson having shot Michael Brown to death. It is the task of the justice system to provide the theatre of conflict into which the disharmony of such an event can be, through the disruption of legal struggle, brought to a resolution that restores harmony. The declining to undertake such a trial is an egregious failure, one that leaves the disharmony that led to Michael Brown’s death to fester, alongside so many other terrible wounds to the body of justice.
Michael Brown, his family, and his community deserve a justice system capable of undertaking a disruptive trial of Officer Darren Wilson. They deserve a public and difficult exploration of the situation that made it possible for an armed servant of the public to shoot, dead, an unarmed member of that same public. And we all needed the healing work that trial could have exemplified, a bit of justice in a country that has become increasingly known for its injustice and apathy.