A Reflection on the Inaugural Ceremony through the Lens of the Four-Fold Path

Becoming Beloved Community, the strategic imperative of The Episcopal Church, is based on the Fourfold Path of Telling the Truth, Proclaiming the Dream, Practicing the Way of Love, and Repairing the Breach. The Fourfold Path is inspired by Bishop Desmond Tutu’s leadership as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa; in his book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, he offers both this tool and wisdom for the path to forgiveness.

In the two years of working with the FourFold Path, I’ve come to deeply appreciate it as a lens through which to understand, experience, and practice racial healing and reconciliation in our lives and world.  The recent U.S. Presidential Inauguration offered a rich opportunity to apply this lens, offering helpful insight into the path itself and it’s four dimensions.

The fact that the FourFold path is represented in the form of a labyrinth is key, pointing to the inter-relatedness of the four dimensions. While Telling the Truth, Proclaiming the Dream, Practicing the Way of Love, and Repairing the Breach name core components in the work of racial healing and reconciliation, in practice, these often overlap and merge, definitions blurring in their manifestations.

The power of Telling the Truth is to hold up a mirror so that we might see our whole, complex existence. Truth reveals in no uncertain terms the dissonance between our aspirational selves and the reality. However, it does not get stuck in the addictive patterns of shame/blame/guilt; rather, it pulls back the veil in the radical signal of “I see you/us/me.” Wednesday, I felt this from the leaders who showed up for the historical ceremony. There was a willingness to stand in the truth–to hold it in its complexity, from different perspectives, from different political viewpoints–and acknowledge the current national reality and the rich and layered history that has led us here. My body received this truth-telling as a softening, like a bowing to the holiness that is always present in the paradox, where multiple truths exist. In these moments, there is shift from centering individuals/groups/organizations in the narrative to humble locating that self in a much larger narrative in which each role becomes equal in its importance.

Truth-Telling is always rooted in the Way of Love, which is why the experience of it feels so different than when claims are made out of fear. When artists and leaders and musicians dared to look into the eyes of this still growing-up nation, and call it as they saw it, it felt like love. Amanda Gorman’s words illustrated this beautifully, “We are not broken. We are only unfinished.” Garth Brooks’ singing Amazing Grace, “I was lost but now I am found.” The Way of Love demands Truth-Telling in what feels very counter than the Hallmark, sentimental form of love that is twisted to “feel-good” and “make nice”. This blend of Truth + Love invites us to carefully tend those places that hurt, those wounds that ache.

Which brings us to Repairing the Breach: the aspect of racial healing and reconciliation that often feels urgent based on our conditioning to fix and solve. Truth + Love moves us here to the place of repair in a whole different way. The impulses of fixing and solving is rooted in fear; Repairing the Breach is rooted in Truth + Love. Acknowledging the harm done, is a crucial first step in the restoration and repair. There was a unified inaugural message among all those that contributed that as a nation we have fallen short of our ideal and in doing so, there has been great harm. The naming of this truth alone was a form of repair.  There was a remembering in which all the pieces of ourselves–personally, communally–that have been dis-membered and dissociated were gathered up and re-membered.

And finally, we come to Proclaiming the Dream. Throughout the ceremonial day, Americans were offered the juxtaposition of our national aspirations through anthems, songs, spirituals, prayers, and poems–symbols that have served as guiding northstars to the nation’s four hundred year evolution. These symbols point to the nation’s origin story–they both remind us of our complicated past and the future we dared to imagine. These symbols served in Proclaiming the Dream–rooted in the Truth of who we are now while courageously and boldly commanding us to show up now for and in our future. President Biden’s speech, Amanda Gorman’s poem, Rev. Silvester Beaman’s prayer each did this powerfully, weaving together the past, present, and future into what felt like a new promise of now.

The Four-Fold Path offers a valuable lens through which to make meaning of our experiences so that we might understand and practice the work we are each called to do as followers of Jesus, in being the reconcilers, healers, and justice-makers in our lives and in our “unfinished” world.