There are three kinds of spiritual practices. Some are ways to connect with the divine (however you define and name that "something more" beyond yourself). Others are designed to deepen your relationships with your family, neighbors, community, and the world around you. And others help you identify and cultivate your own values, the needs of your soul, and the ideas and ideals you want to encourage in yourself.
The second two kinds of practices are valuable when you participate in politics — whether you are choosing a candidate to support, voting, running for office yourself, making your opinions known to elected officials, or engaging in some other activities in the democratic process.
The following practices came to us after we watched the first of what will be many debates in the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign. We have organized them under key practices of the world religions in S&P's Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. We hope you find them useful as you watch the debates.
Politics is a holy endeavor, if you make it so. Choosing the people you want to support for office is a sacred process because those elected will make decisions that affect you, your loved ones, and future generations. Prepare for watching a debate with a few moments of silence. Breathe in, breathe out. Say a prayer for insight and discernment.
Turn off your phones. Shut the doors. Focus your entire attention on the candidates. See what you can learn about them from what they say and how they say it. How are they dressed? Notice their facial and physical gestures. Remember, your encounter with these candidates is like going out on date. Nothing or everything could happen. Watch for surprises.
It is hard to run for public office. Say a word of gratitude for the women and men you are watching, acknowledging all the time, energy, and anxiety that went into their getting up on that stage in front of the cameras. Consider the other daunting challenges these people have faced over the past months. Think of a concrete way you can express your gratitude for their courage and perseverance.
Consider how this ritualistic time enables you to connect with the candidates and their teams. Many will share stories of how they got to this point in their lives, giving you a way to connect to their histories. Ask yourself, how am I connected to this candidate? Perhaps you share a geographical connection or a generational one. Imagine what it would be like to work on a candidate's team; what role would you play? Remember, too, the millions of other people who are watching this debate. You are connected to them too.
It is easy to be distracted by the dynamics of a debate. Who's making the best impression? Who is getting the most screen time? Are the moderators being fair? But you are there to listen to what the candidates have to say in response to the questions and the statements of others on the stage. Set the intention that you will give the candidates your "listening heart." At the same time, listen to your own inner voices of intuition and conscience.
Reverence is the spiritual path of radical respect, courtesy, civility, and manners. One way we practice this spiritual quality is by looking for signs of it. How are the candidates relating to each other, the moderators, and the audience? Are they respectful, civil? Notice specific behaviors. What could they do differently?
Sometimes the most important people we meet in our lives are strangers we did not expect to encounter. The same goes for ideas. Openness means being receptive to new possibilities, without prejudging them. Unfortunately, politics has the reputation of attracting narrow-minded people who are determined to make sure that the old ways are honored. See what happens when you open your heart to something suggested by one of the candidates that you never considered before. How does open-mindedness feel?
America's democracy aspires to the value of "freedom and justice for all." We should expect the candidates to reveal their positions on and plans for ensuring a free, fair, and just economy and political system. Take notes on these ideas, and if you don't hear them, after the debate, come up with a plan to get your ideas to the candidates.
Questions are an important part of the spiritual life. We ask questions to clarify what we believe and what we want to do. As seekers for purpose and meaning, we use questions to focus our journey. Debates are also built around questions. As you watch, make a list of the questions asked of the candidates. Then ask yourself, is this what I want to know? If not, make up your own list of questions and plan to spend some time researching answers to them on the candidates' websites.
We all have parts of ourselves that we find despicable or embarrassing; we try to deny them by pushing them into the shadow. It could be our anger, pride, impatience, negativism, narcissism, or sense of entitlement. Pay attention to how you react if one of the candidates exhibits any of your shadow qualities. How does this influence your assessment of them?
A debate gives the candidates a chance to defend their positions by referring to history, public policies, or world events. They may use stories from their lives or anecdotes about people they have met on the campaign trail to further explain what they believe should happen. Be a willing student of these teachers. From a spiritual perspective, everything is part of the divine curriculum!
In most debates, the candidates will be given the opportunity to make a closing statement in which they talk about the way things are and what they can be. This is their vision. After listening to all the candidates' statements, write your own vision statement about what you want to have happen as a result of this election.
At the close of the debate, take a few minutes of quiet to reflect on what you have heard and seen. Avoid the temptation to join the pundits assessing who won and who lost. Instead, use the Quaker term and ask yourself, What have I heard that "speaks to my condition?" And what have I heard that speaks to the condition of the nation? Find a word or a phrase that stood out to you and write it on a piece of paper to carry with you for the next few days. Use it to remind yourself of the values and visions you most cherish and want to see preserved and expanded.