Saturday, November 14, 2015

From Coventry to Paris

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it"

Not the words I had hoped to have in mind on this 75th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz, when the city has planned to gather in University Square, to form a chain of light leading to the Cathedral - destroyed by the Luftwaffe but rebuilt as a sign of hope.
In Coventry, the decision was made not to tidy away the past, for there is no hiding the fact that the wounds of history run deep, and it is vital to acknowledge them if healing is ever to be possible.
So, the medieval walls of our ruined Cathedral stand open to the sky, as much a part of the Cathedral today as they were when they were all the Cathedral there was. They act  as a constant reminder that humanity is flawed, that we get things unbearably wrong, cause incalculable pain to one another, and assuredly make God weep again and again and again.
They make me pause whenever I see them - and never more so than in this week of remembering. On Wednesday, at 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there was silence in Coventry, as I stood with my colleagues from the university chaplaincy team looking out across the square to where the ruined Cathedral continues to dominate the skyline, drawing the eye on a journey from old to new, from past to present. The future was represented by the students in front of us, coming from all over the world, from places that were “allies” and from places that were “enemies” 75 years ago. Together we stood and reflected, not remembering exactly, for none of us was alive when the bombs fell, but each of us, I'm certain, experiencing in some way that bewildering cocktail of sadness and gratitude which is part of Remembrance tide.

But Remembrance here has an added dimension. The day after the Blitz, Provost Howard stood in the ruins of his Cathedral as a petitioner, a representative of the whole of the damaged and destructive human race, and spoke to God.
"Father, forgive" - he said.
A sentence with no object...It's not "Father forgive THEM" - projecting the violence and hatred out to the other, and thereby justifying acts of reciprocal violence and vengeance...
Rather "Father forgive" is a prayer for us all - for the many ways, great and small, in which we wound one another and mar God's image in us day by day.
I can't imagine those words were universally popular in the city, as people emerged from air raid shelters to pick about the rubble of their homes, or searched the morgues desperately for friends and family.
When we are in great pain, it's natural to want to hurt others.
When we see the innocent suffering, it's tempting to want the perpetrators to suffer in return.
But "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" - and whatever the pain, to meet violence with violence can never help.

On Wednesday, it was an extraordinary privilege, when the silence ended, to lead the Litany –words we know so well in our Cathedral, which speak into the shared guilt of a broken world but carry always the promise of transformation. Sometimes we might take those words and their promise for granted – but when you stand between the ruins of yesterday and the hope of tomorrow it’s impossible not to be moved to a fresh commitment, and to pray from the heart “Father, forgive”. 
Today, as I pray for the people of Paris, and for those who are so quick to take up arms to avenge the lives lost, the peace shattered, I'm trying to own the Litany as never before. God's love is never limited to the innocent, the victims, those whom we long to comfort and embrace. That's so hard to grasp...but grasp it we must if we are to be people of peace today and tomorrow.

For now, this Hasidic story offers a wise perspective as we try to move forward as best we can, by light available to us...

Only Then..

A rabbi asked his students, "When is it at dawn that one
can tell the light from the darkness?"

One student replied, "When I can tell a goat from a donkey?"

"No," answered the rabbi.

Another said, "When I can tell a palm tree from a fig?"

"No," answered the rabbi again.

"Well, then what is the answer?" his students pressed him.

"Only when you look into the face of every man and every woman
and see your brother and your sister," said the rabbi. 
Only then have you seen the light. All else is still darkness."

Lighten our darkness,
Lord, we pray,
and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night,
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Veronica Zundel said...

Thank you for this. I was born in Coventry, 13 years after the bombing, to parents who were refugees from Vienna. I began to seek God 13 years after that, and was baptized at 16 in Queen's Road Baptist church, though I also had links with the International Centre at the Cathedral, and every year attended the Anglo-German carol service in the Chapel of Unity, at which my dad sometimes played the piano, and at which I sometimes read a reading in German or English, my first encounter with the Bible. I left Coventry first in 1972 at 19, but lived there again for a couple of periods as my parents didn't leave there till 1990. The Cathedral and its role in reconciliation still mean a lot to me.