Long ago (too long for me to comfortably remember exactly how long ago it was), I read Steinbeck's The Short Reign of Pippin the Fourth. I think it was in middle or high school, after we'd read The Pearl. It may have been soon after I discovered Stephen Schwartz' Pippin! which captiovated and entranced me no end. I read anything that had the name "Pippin" in the title (and even stretched it a bit, reading Great Expectations because the main character's name was "Pip").
What has stayed with me, though, from Steinbeck's brilliant novel - short, riveting and laser-sharp in its satire - was his discussion of power. In Steinbeck's Pippin, France has decided the Republic has failed, and they are looking to reinstate the monarchy. They find one lone direct ancestor to Charlemagne - Pippin, who will be the Fourth of that name. As the modern-day Pippin grapples with the enormity of what confronts him - kingship and history and government and rule - he is reluctant to assume power, fearing (like all wise men) that he will be corrupted by it.
However, he is told by one of his advisers: it is not power that corrupts, nor absolute power that corrupts absolutely. Rather, it is the fear of losing power that corrupts.
What an riveting idea! I think, for myself, how much I am ruled by my fear, how often I base decisions for action (or inaction) on my fear of losing control, giving up my power. And these situations, where it is fear, when I do not sit comfortably in my own skin - in fact, am most likely trying to crawl out of it - these things never end well. They blow up in my face and leave a swath of destruction in a radius of miles. IU spend more time picking up the debris from these ill-fated actions than anyone ever should.
If I had just done the right thing - even through my fear!
But I don't. I horde my power, clutch at it like Gollum clutches his Ring of Power - only to lose it and then later, teeter at the brink of destruction. I hold my power jealously, refusing to ask for help, denying help that is offered, believing foolishly that help is just another word for weak, or less-than.
And while I may not have been corrupted by my fear of losing power and control, I have certainly been crippled by it.
Zechariah tells of his dream, and the angel who declares ?Not by might, not by power..." We read this text during Chanukah. Perhaps, we read it - I read it - to remind me that my "power" is merely illusion to begin with. Or, if not illusion, then certainly immaterial.
So it is with hope, this Chanukah season, that remember this lesson beyond the light of the menorah, and carry it into the days and nights ahead of me - not by might, not by power, but by spirit alone...