Donald Trump: poisonous snake… or homeopathic remedy?

In this post I explore the rise of Donald Trump to the office of president elect of the world’s (arguably) most powerful nation. With a little bit of help from prophets ancient and modern, I consider the question: what is the higher wisdom at work here? In following this line of enquiry I have arrived at a surprising proposition: that these events are potentially the catalyst for a healing ritual of sorts and, if we choose, a global wake-up call. 

The outcome of the 2016 US election seems to me to be a major leap forward in the unravelling of the global neo-liberal political and economic status quo. So is this good news, or bad? In reflecting on these events the biblical image of the bronze serpent that Moses holds up as a healing symbol to his frail and faithless flock has been emerging strongly for me (check it out in the book of Numbers, chapter 21). Perhaps it might give us some prophetic clues. Here’s my retelling of the story.

The Israelites are in the middle of their long 40-year exile in the desert. Having contended with various triumphs and adversities, long arduous years punctuated by large doses of miracles, grace and the odd disaster, they are weary and impatient, and their faith is at an all-time low. Despite receiving bread from heaven and water from a rock, they are anxious about survival – where is the next meal coming from? What is there to sustain them? They complain about the food they are given – it is as miserable as they feel. They start to question the whole project. What was the noble calling that led them out of Egypt, in search of the Promised Land? Who was it that had brought them this far, and, more to the point, who was going to bring them home?

They are casting around for someone to blame. Moses, their leader and prophet, bore the brunt of their increasingly vociferous complaints. And as for God – who is this God that has given them nothing but trials and persecution, insecurity and strife? No thanks, they say, no more. Negativity spreads like wildfire through the community. And then, to top it all, nature seems to withdraw its support for their plight and, instead of manna, they are sent poisonous serpents. Soon they are struck down with snake bites, and many people die.

From the vantage point of acute suffering and loss, and with the benefit of hindsight, they realise that despite their many setbacks, the journey so far had been marked by a relentless flow of goodness and grace, even though they scarcely appreciated it at the time. They become aware that their self-defeating actions and negative words – their cursing – have somehow stemmed this flow, this mercy.

On their knees now, they are sorry for having spoken bad words against the Sacred Name and they repent of their lack of faith. They ask Moses to commune with the Great Spirit on their behalf to bring an end to their blight. Like the great shaman of the Sinai desert that he is, Moses retreats into the wilderness in prayer and receives instructions for a healing ritual. Moses is to make a bronze statue of a serpent and to raise this on a tall pole for all to see. This he does, and henceforth everyone who looks upon the figure of the serpent is healed of their affliction.

Like the Israelites some three and a half millennia ago, the United States of America carries the same ambiguous – and possibly unwarranted – status of a chosen people in the global psyche, or at least in the many corners of the world colonized by the ideology and culture of Western civilisation. There is a sense that what happens in the USA is a sign, a portent, of the destiny of the whole human family, such is the mythic power ascribed to this volatile ragbag of a union descended from immigrants, slaves and dispossessed indigenous peoples; it is an uneasy alchemy of poetry, subjugation, individualism and idealism. The American people seem to represent in our imagination all that is best and all that is worst of human nature; and the potential divinization of history hangs in the balance. No wonder the eyes of the world are turned towards this current political drama: it is a crisis (and opportunity) not just for the American Dream, but for the Dream of the World.

I’m not sure who the Moses figure is in this drama – Barack Obama perhaps?! But it seems to me that the figure of Donald Trump on the world stage is functioning very much like the bronze serpent – a shocking symbol that has been lifted high for all to gaze upon, compelling us to look at what is toxic, ugly, life-denying and unsustainable within ourselves, in our society, and in our politics and economics. Like a homeopathic remedy, swallowing this medicine means exposing all that needs healing and redemption, and bringing it into the light.

If we carry on the same-old, same-old game of projecting the poison outwards, then the snakes in our path will continue to have deathly power. Donald Trump isn’t the problem, he is merely a symptom of a deep-seated dis-ease, the root of which is a wounded humanity habitually trying to purge itself of its toxicity through violence and by dehumanizing, objectifying and cursing the ‘other’. The trouble is that there is no other – there is only us: you and me. And the only power potent enough to break the cycle of violence is the power of love.

Moses was a servant of love, stepping out into an empty land, leading a people to an unknown but promised and longed for destiny. When his people were on the verge of giving up, he looked within himself for the wisdom that only the intuition of the heart can give. He knew that life must be a conscious choice, that by default we are run by fear and a perception of scarcity, and that we turn our fear into anger and blame and look for an enemy to fight. Sometimes we need to see the choice set out before us starkly, and to be fully conscious of the alternative: the image of death and degradation that our scapegoating leads to.

Some fifteen centuries later, as told by John’s gospel, Jesus evoked the symbol of the bronze snake as somehow prefiguring his own life and mission, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness”, said Jesus, “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Who is this Son of Man that calls for our allegiance and, in return, gives us life? For me, as a Christian, it is the man Jesus who utterly refused to meet violence with violence – even at the cost of his own life. He refused to hate, he forgave his enemies. In the words of one of my beloved teachers, he opened wide his arms and with a loud YES of acceptance and surrender he loved evil to death. To gaze upon the figure of the crucified Christ is to meditate on the power of love to undo our own destructive compulsions, and to expose and disarm our desire to put all the dark and ugly stuff within ourselves onto someone else. Whether or not you ascribe to the literal meaning of this story, it’s without doubt a powerful and compelling myth that contains profound and universal truths.

To put it another way – the Son of Man – or Child of Humanity – is every one of us. It is the True Self within who knows that the way home is through our broken humanity, through touching the earth and descending rather than ascending. It is the wisdom child who understands there is no easier softer way – that being human, without an anesthetic, in all its agony and ecstasy, in intimate relationship with other annoyingly flawed and wounded human beings and with our messy ailing planet – this IS the easier softer way. According to many contemporary wisdom teachers, these individual awakenings, added up collectively, is what is signified by the fabled ‘Second Coming of Christ’. This might be understood as a fully divinised humanity, in alignment with the cosmic forces of creation, advancing incrementally until we reach a positive tipping point of no return.

Jesus revealed this path of redemptive non-violence in such a dramatic way that the door was blown wide open for all with eyes to see. By embracing our experience, however dark and unwanted; trusting in the force of life to win through in spite of our attempts to subvert and control it; dancing with the miracle of this wondrous earth and our own noble human nature, there is a way to stop the cycle. Tragically, the human family as a whole has stubbornly continued to miss the point time and again, fearing, perhaps, that walking through that door will cost more than we can give, not realizing that the gift is already given. Our doubting minds push away such generosity – surely it can’t be that simple, that open, that inclusive?

If Donald Trump is a bitter tasting medicine revealing all that is broken within the unified field of our One World, there is a deeper wisdom at work calling us to make a choice. The invitation is to raise up an alternative vision of at-one-ment, of what it means to be whole and holy: in compassionate solidarity with ourselves, with each other and with our beloved planet. We are being called to pour out our lives, as Jesus did, in service of love: the one true thing that can make all the darkness and violence and degradation of this world disappear.

There is evidence already that these momentous events have indeed sparked positive affirmations and actions to uphold what is Good, True and Beautiful. There’s also plenty of examples of the opposite – the less demanding way of demonising and blaming Donald Trump for all our ills. If the latter wins out, then, sadly, we will have collectively missed the point – yet again. It could go either way.

Here’s a paraphrase from some well-known lines from Deuteronomy (chapter 30, verses 15-20) which speaks to the crossroads we are now faced with.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you listen now and are obedient to the command of the heart, loving the One who is all in all, diligently observing the demands of the voice that emanates from your Deeper Source – then you shall live as truly generative and creative beings on this earth, and the Great Love that formed you will richly bless you.

But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, if you give your allegiance and your toil to lesser gods, to the quick fix, the misguided desires of the small self, I declare to you that you will prolong the suffering of the planet and its people, and many will see death, and the land that you so long to reclaim as your true home will once again be lost.

I call heaven and earth to witness to this today: that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and the future beings may live, loving what is Good, holding fast to what is True, walking in Beauty; for that means long and full life for you and for all your relations, human and non-human. It means finally coming home to your inheritance as a child of the Universe, and as a son and a daughter of this Earth.

There is a prayer, an awakening that is gathering force in our times: we are the ones we have been waiting for. It’s time to stop the cycle, to really put into practice the truism that hatred cannot be cured by hatred. It’s time to step up a gear and recognize that we’re all in it together – Trump supporters and Clinton supporters, Remainers and Leavers, liberals and conservatives, black and white, gay and straight and everything in between. We need to turn and re-turn to ancient ways – listening before speaking, and truly seeing the humanity in another person’s eyes no matter how much we may disagree with their opinions or life choices, even and especially the Donald Trumps of this world.

This isn’t to say we should passively accept the anticipated assault by the new US administration on initiatives to preserve the environment and protect those who are vulnerable. Indeed, acts of non-violent resistance to hold back the forces of destruction will become more vital than ever, as will the prophetic imperative to speak truth to power. But it means approaching it all from a higher frequency of compassion and all-inclusive solidarity.

The death of modern day prophet Leonard Cohen, announced on 9th November – the day after the result of the US presidential election stopped us all in our tracks – prompted a deluge of tributes and commentary on the world wires and presented a curious contrast to the figure of Donald Trump. The timeliness of his departure was nothing less than poetic, ensuring that immediately after the apparent triumph of what for many is a malign force, a very different voice was heard.

In the title track of his newly released final album, ominously titled ‘You Want It Darker’, Cohen used the powerful Hebrew word ‘hineni’, which means something like, ‘Here I am. Send me’. It is a performative utterance expressing an unconditional readiness to give oneself totally in service of Divine Becoming. According to the Old Testament writers, hineni is the word Moses used in response to the voice of God calling out from the burning bush, and by other giants of the Hebrew scriptures too, including Abraham, Isaiah and Samuel. These figures testify to the power of faith; and their message for those with the courage to make such a whole-hearted commitment: beware, the Universe is listening and will respond by giving you a mission, and your life may never be quite the same again.

‘You want it darker: hineni, hineni, I’m ready my Lord’ says Cohen. The song is at once a powerful anthem to a faith that continues to burn fiercely despite the gathering darkness of broken hope; and a protest against the apparent betrayal of the promise inscribed in the figure of the crucified Christ, the promise of a love more powerful than death. After more than two millennia of gazing on this figure – in the face of continued wars, of the misappropriation of the Christian gospel, of untold brutal conquests and the subjugation of lands and peoples, of the relentless conversion of our common wealth into private gain, and of a planet and people that now appears to be on the very edge of self-destruction – the promise is wearing thin. In Cohen’s song of outrage ‘a million candles burning for a help that never came’ is the devastating image of hope betrayed.

And yet… Cohen’s ‘hineni’ belies despair. Despite all appearances to the contrary, and even though it makes little sense on a rational level, the song records Cohen’s readiness to surrender his life in trust to an underlying coherence, an ultimately benign force. This is fueled not by fuzzy religious consolation, but by confronting the darkness of self and world head on.

Artists and mystics such as Cohen abide at a depth of existence that most of us only inhabit fleetingly; giving voice, on our behalf, to half-remembered truths that, if we have the ears to hear, can keep us anchored in what is real. The kernel of truth revealed in Cohen’s final, and perhaps finest, work is that faith would not be faith at all without darkness. If God created both day and night, and our deepest intuitions affirm that this God is ultimately good, then darkness has its purpose too – to bring us into birth, awakening, light.

The path that Jesus walked – his words of life, his healing ministry, and his radical self-offering – was the ultimate ‘hineni’. It echoed God’s unconditional hineni to us and testified to a friendly and personal universe that is, not only ready, but forever running to meet us with open arms; a universe that responds to our faith with the divine fiat, the heavenly yes that brings new creation into being, and life out of death. In this circle dance of love there is no initiator, it is all one prayer: call and response, response and call. This combination – our willingness to step up to the mark, and the movement of God in meeting us there – is the alchemy of miracles.

Hineni, hineni. Are we ready?

Liz Day
Norwich, England

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Let me know what you think! I would love to hear from you – -please leave your comments below, and follow this blog to receive updates about future posts. (To add a comment – click the comment-icon-46236 icon and scroll down to the end). 

None of the ideas here are original! I’ve drawn inspiration from many different sources, intentionally and unintentionally – most notably of course the Bible. I’m particularly leaning on the wisdom of three of my favourite authors and teachers, all of whom have published commentaries on the presidential election, saying similar things in different ways – and with far greater eloquence and knowledge than I possess.

Charles Eisenstein – The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

Cynthia Bourgeault – Post Election Reflection

Richard Rohr – Rebuilding from the Bottom Up: A Reflection following the Election

24 thoughts on “Donald Trump: poisonous snake… or homeopathic remedy?”

  1. Beautifully written Liz. Although I’m no longer a Christian, your writing expressed my hopes and dreams for love and light. Thank you for the time and effort it took to write this.. an expression of your love for us all x

  2. Liz that is a wonderfully deep and thoughtful post. I’m really grateful that you talk of the necessary dark. …..and hineni. I came across the word last week and have been meditating on it ever since. How coincidental…and of course Leonard Cohen. What a prophet we have lost. As Tchenka says St. Leonard. It’s a heartfelt response and I resonated with so much of what you say. Thank you.
    (as an aside sorry I wasn’t able to stop and chat yesterday. I was only just on time for a meeting)

    1. Thanks Michelle for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Let’s chat next time we run into each other!

  3. A very interesting and inspiring take on our current dilemmas. I think you are right and while biblical comparisons may put off those who have no religious faith, Cohen is a figure who speaks to all who care to listen. I think we need to be wary, in the wake of his death, of raising him up to some level of holiness – he would have been the first to disclaim such a status – but I do see him as some kind of weird prophet, a guru without disciples (to paraphrase his own lines) someone who saw a way and a light even in the midst of the deepest darkness. And we need that now. We need that crack in everything – and maybe you are right: Trump is the symbol and substance of a poison which needs bleeding from the system. Whatever he is or is not, we need to fight. We need that non-violent resistance now more than ever. Thanks

    1. Thanks very much Sarada for your insightful response. Yes, I realise the biblical references can put people off. I’ve pondered about that one a lot, and feel a sense of pain about how our great faith traditions and sacred texts are marginalised in public conversations. I am sympathetic to the reasons for this – it’s true that organised religion, and certainly my own Christian religion, has a lot to answer for, and has done damage to the ‘name’ of God, and in many instances abused people’s trust.

      That’s a huge area to unpick, but I think the other side of it is that we live in a somewhat polarised world, so everything is either good or bad, black or white. And actually the great faith traditions also have precious treasures of wisdom to offer, and have done much good in the world, and there’s a great loss in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

      I’m trying to balance being be true to my own experience and inspirations, and being inclusive with my language so that I can reach out to others with my words, which is what I very much hope to do. It’s a tricky line to walk!

      Thanks too for the word of caution about elevating Cohen to a grandiose level of holiness. I think you’re right – noted!

  4. Thank you, Liz.. I think it’s so difficult in this day and age to communicate what it means to open yourself to “death” so that life may flow and truth may be revealed. You did a great job of transposing tough spiritual ideas and giving them modern relevance.

    I definitely appreciate your inspirations as well–not just Charles, but I’m a huge fan of Richard Rohr and other modern-day mystics such as Anthony deMello and Bernadette Roberts.

    1. Thanks Kate – yes I was really bowled over by Cynthia’s glowing endorsement! Thank you so much for sharing this link to the Rabbi Sacks video – it’s a powerful and fascinating tribute to Leonard Cohen and his prophetic legacy. I hadn’t realised quite the depth of Cohen’s Jewishness. The video has also given me a fresh appreciation of the rich tradition of mystical Judaism that had a hand in forming him. Good stuff.

  5. Liz, thank you for the wisdom of mining the Judeo-Christian tradition for a metaphor, perhaps even an arcanum, for finding healing in facing the dread snake of our corporate shadow. Perhaps one might call it the cosmic shadow. I have also been pondering serpents as I search for meaning and healing in Standing Rock water protectors’ rallying image: the Black Snake. Here is an article exploring that facet of this global KAIROS. http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/black-snake-in-the-heartland-spirituality-american-enviromentalism

    1. Yes, thinking about the symbol of the snake could well be an arcanum in this context – a fascinating suggestion. Thank you so much for making the connection and pointing out that it’s coming up in the confrontation over the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. Likening the pipeline to a poisonous black snake, posing a deadly threat to the local ecology and people, is powerful, performative language. The flip side I guess is that it’s also bringing together a ‘spiritually integrated movement’, an unprecedented global alliance in solidarity with indigenous wisdom. Poison and medicine seem to be closely related!

    1. I’m really honoured Nina that you might use my reflections as part of your worship – thank you. And thanks for the book tip too.

  6. Thank you for a different and thoughtful way of looking at one of the complex issues facing us today. It could so easily just turn into the ‘villain’ Donald Trump versus the ‘good guys’. I believe we should start with a simple ”Sawubona”. This is a greeting used by the Zulu people of South Africa. It means ”I see you”. There is also a philosophy ‘Ubuntu’ which means, I am because we are.

    1. Thanks for your contribution Jo. I LOVE the Zulu greeting Sawubona. Love it. And Ubuntu too, fabulous. We have SO much to learn from the peoples of the earth (the ones who haven’t yet been wiped out).

  7. Perfect Liz. Resonating deeply with my own reflections. You have a gift for language and communicating and Im really glad that you started this blog, that you have given yourself a platform for your voice. Proud to have you as my friend and how lovely that you have used the photo of the Super Moon that you took on our walk together.

    ‘Super Moon’s occur when the Moon is close to the Earth. This helps to amplify the energy of the Full Moon and allows us to feel it on a much stronger and deeper level.

    This Full Moon will be guiding us to stand up for ourselves and to stand up for what we truly believe in. It will also be helping us to express ourselves and what we want for our lives moving forward.

    Whatever you have been holding in, whatever emotions have been bubbling on the inside may come spilling out with this Full Moon energy, so be prepared to do some cleansing.

    Releasing emotions is sometimes the most therapeutic thing we can do for ourselves, so perhaps use this Full Moon energy to journal or express yourself through creative projects.

    The October Aries Full Moon has a lot of strong, passionate and fiery energy, which is going to help us all really take that leap forward in our lives. Use this energy to step into your warrior gear and really stand up for your life and the direction you want it to head in’.

    Tanazz – Intuitive Astrology

  8. Hi Liz, Thanks for using your gift with words to write this blog – looking forward to more.

    I don’t know if you saw it but Ellen Degeneres used a ‘snake’ clip from David Attenborough’s latest series as part of her message of hope after the election result, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: ‘It is better to light a candle …’.

    I am finding that I want and need to write letters of support and thanks to people in the public arena who are showing leadership and speaking with integrity at this time, surprisingly that has included a Conservative MP, (I am not a member and would be even more surprised if I ever voted Conservative).

    I reccomend Stephanie Dowrick’s book – ‘Seeking the Sacred’ – it is helping me find my own response to the current situation within a framework of the major world religions, as well as affirming those of us who may have belonged in the past but don’t particularly subscribe to one at the moment and are still seeking. Kristen x

    ps will go and read what Cynthia B wrote now 🙂

  9. This is just a beautiful piece, passed on by a friend, which I in turn will pass along. I am just home from a group study of John Dominic Crossan’s newest book “How to read the Bible and Still Be A Christian”. The path of non-violence that he has pursued, threaded among the violence all the way through the Bible, now pulses within me as a confirmation of my faith in the root of my tradition. And I can see a way forward, reclaiming outer with inner action. Your piece here is a valued part of that heartbeat. Blessings from Oregon!

    1. Thank you Karen for your lovely comment, I’m so glad you like the piece. I’m intrigued by the title of the Crossan book… I read a great short book by Thomas Merton a few years ago ‘Opening the Bible’ which really helped me understand better what the bible is – and what it’s not. Good to hear that you’ve found a way to connect with the root of your faith tradition. Sometimes it takes a lot of digging!

  10. Dear Liz,

    I have printed out the post and found it profoundly helpful. I saw the election result in very simplistic terms as being the wrong answer and was inclined to blame Trump, but as you said he is the symptom of the dis-ease and not the cause of it. Therefore we have to avoid the dualism which puts the evil out there and respond by saying it may be that the darkest times will inspire a corporate response, a willingness to be messengers about the rumour of light. It is an appropriate message for the season.

    I shall look at the sites you suggest and the writers that have inspired you.

    Thank you for this. It has been significant.

    Love Eleanor

    1. Thanks so much Eleanor for posting your comments; I’m just delighted that my writing has been so helpful for you. Calling it ‘my writing’ feels a bit odd, as it just sort of emerged, and doesn’t really feel like ‘mine’ as such… I guess that’s what gives me confidence to share it, as well as receiving positive heartfelt responses like yours. I love the idea of being messengers about the rumour of light – yes indeed – a beautiful image for advent and Christmas. Liz xxx

  11. Thanks for reading my post Marcia. I like the way you frame it, and the idea of a meta-level context – absolutely. That’s one thing re-ligion in its broadest sense is supposed to help us with – seeing the bigger picture. It also seems to be a function of the internet! Which has its pitfalls and limitations, but is on some level a tool for developing a more unified consciousness. Lovely to connect with you in California!

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