This essay is from Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World. It was one of those conversations that has stayed close to my heart–a before and after moment. Just as relevant this week as it was eight years ago!
Election Night 2008
You cannot change life—because God on high,
controls this world with an all-seeing eye.
He makes the calls and you’re never alone;
all’s well in heaven and God’s on the throne.
It is Tuesday, November 4, 2008, the day our country is going to elect a new president. Throughout the day, I check in with news sources to listen to exit polls and election results. A little before 5 p.m., I pick up the leash to take the dog for a walk before the first polls close on the East Coast. After all, this is an important day for our country. Whoever wins the election, there will be a “first” in office. Either our country’s first African American president or our country’s first female vice president. An historic night.
Earlier in the day I had left a message on an answering machine for Samuel, an Old Order Amish bishop, a man who has been kind to answer some questions for me about Amish ways. Just as my hand reaches for the doorknob, the phone rings. My phone’s caller ID pops up with Samuel’s name, so I put down the dog leash (sorry, pup) and grab my notebook and pen, eager to connect with him. It’s always fun to talk with Samuel. I learn so much from him. Not thirty seconds later, Samuel makes a remark that seems so right, so grounded, so piercing in its simple wisdom, that I feel a catch in my heart.
Samuel: “Hello, Suzanne. I was going stargazing tonight and stopped by the phone shanty to pick up my messages. Thought I’d return your call.”
Suzanne: “Samuel, do you mean to tell me that the entire country is glued to the television tonight and you’re going stargazing?”
Samuel: “Well, you see, Venus and Jupiter are moving close together this month. . . .” (He then went on to describe the alignment of the planets with great enthusiasm and detail. I could barely keep up! Remember, this is a man with an eighth-grade education. But that doesn’t mean his education stopped at eighth grade.)
I stop taking notes, a little stunned. Think about it. Most Americans (myself included) were thoroughly immersed in the moment, on a temporal event (albeit an important one) that would come and go.
What a profound comparison of our two cultures! We are both Americans. We are both Christians. We had both voted that day (he even told me for whom he voted). He knows all about the election and its consequences. I ask him where he gets his news and he says, “My daughter subscribes to Newsweek and gives me her old issues, and I read a local daily newspaper, but it’s pretty feeble.” He has strong reasons for the candidate whom he supports, and he lists out his reasoning, apologizing if it conflicts with my party affiliation.
No doubt about it, Samuel cares about this election. He voted. But then he went stargazing.
Samuel’s eyes are fixed on the heavens.
On the eternal view.
On a sovereign God.
Stargazing isn’t a one-time “antidote to election anxiety” for Samuel. Actually, I don’t think he feels any anxiety about the election at all. Stargazing is a way of life for him, a metaphor. So are long walks in the woods. He keeps a pair of binoculars with him for bird-watching as he plows the fields in spring. “Skywatching has its rewards,” he says. He has never once gone on a walk in which he didn’t see or find something exciting or interesting.
Samuel sees God in every aspect of creation, large and small, from the recycling efforts of the dung beetle to the red-tailed hawk that soars above his fields on thermals of warm air, searching for a down-on-his-luck cottontail. “The God who created all of this beauty and grace must be a wonderful and loving Being,” he says, meaning it with his whole heart.
And such a God, Samuel believes, is able to bring all things together to his glory.
As I hang up the phone with Samuel, I pick up the dog’s leash (oh happy dog!) and take her for a long, long walk. I hear the hoot of a great horned owl, trying to woo a mate. I watch the late afternoon sky change from bruised blue to velvety black, dotted with diamonds. The day’s concerns, even a day with a national election, seem so small and unimportant under this sky. Worries lift, floating up off my shoulders and disappearing into the night. I decide that I will not watch the election results, after all. I can wait and read about our next president in tomorrow’s paper. And I promise myself to make a daily appointment with nature to remind myself of Whose capable hands are in charge of this earth.
What a difference it makes when we lift our eyes upward and fix them on God’s heavens.
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).
May God bless you and give you peace as you make your decisions to vote on Tuesday. And then…remember to look up at the stars that night. And…after you vote…leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of “Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World.” My small way of thanking you for casting your vote for our country…regardless of whom you vote for. Just…be sure to vote!