Sunday, January 27, 2019

Better to light a candle? Some half formed thoughts on Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

What do you say when there are no words? 
(If there are no words, then any attempt to write seems almost criminally foolish, but I somehow need to set a marker in place, if only for say that I have paused and looked back, and mourned today, though words and thoughts are as muddled as my feelings. I have no right to speak of these things. This is not my story in any way. And yet, if we leave the story only to those who are inextricably tied to it, is there a risk that it becomes, incredibly, a minority concern....and that cannot be. This is, surely, the story of what it means to be human - or to lose touch with your humanity...)

So...though words are inadequate, they are all that I have.

This morning I read that if we were to keep a minute's silence for each victim of the Holocaust, the world would remain silent for 11 years.
11 years!
6 million Jewish lives, - not forgetting the Roma, the gay men, and those deemed imperfect - disabled or with learning difficulties.
Not an amorphous group of victims but precious individuals, children, women, men - as numerous as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the sea-shore.
Demonised, penalised, scape-goated because they were "other"...

More than ever, I reflect that the great gift of Coventry to the world is the power of missing word. In our Litany we say, day by day, not "Father forgive THEM" but "Father, forgive" because we refuse to divide the world into "them" and "us" - to see ourselves as untouched by the potential for of cruelty that lies within. 
The seven-fold entreaty "Father, forgive" stands for me as a statement of shared humanity and an act of commitment, to search my own heart and ask for help in rooting out those habits of mind that might otherwise allow me to follow that path.

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. 

"Liberation" sounds so joyous, so triumphant, that it's hard to comprehend the horror that was found when the jeeps rolled in.
This morning's gospel was the account of Jesus's mission statement, quoting Isaiah

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ 

It sounds so wonderful, calling everyone to join in this glorious work of redemption...but for many, so unthinkably many, the year of the Lord's favour came too late. Small wonder that the Holocaust has left an indelible mark on Jewish theology. Where was God then?

Was this moment after which faith became impossible?
In "Night" Elie Wiesel writes, famously, of the execution of a child...and the cry from one of the prisoners forced to watch "Where is merciful God, where is he?"
The child, being light, is slow to die, and Wiesel watches his agony with that same question resounding in his thoughts

 “For God’s sake, where is God?"
            And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
            “Where is He?  This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”
That's the only kind of God who seems relevant now. A God totally immersed in human suffering, a God who experiences every bit of that agony, and the agony of each one of those who perished in the camps, and those whose dreams are haunted to this day.
This is the God of Calvary, not of Easter Sunday...and it seems, as we watch the creeping anti-Semitism surfacing again today, that we may be suspended ourselves in the painful liminality of Holy Saturday. 

Fallen humanity is tragically slow to learn the lessons of history

And yet - even amid all this, there are beautiful moments of grace. 

These tangled thoughts are part of the on-going work of my pilgrimage, of course...for my time in Jerusalem has made the mess of human motivations more real and powerful than ever.
I had spent today increasingly uncomfortable that our Cathedral, for all its calling to be a place of Reconciliation, had taken no part in marking the Shoah. Contrite, I wanted absolution but see no likely source.
Until, after Evensong, I was introduced to John, a Messianic Jew who arrived in this country on the Kinder.transport. His opening greeting was a hug, - which embraced both me and my fumbling longing to do better, to make a difference, to live in full humanity and assert day by day "Never again"...Not for the Jews. Not for the socialists. Not for the trade-unionists. Not for the refugees. Not for the economic migrants. Not for the people of colour. NOT FOR ANY SINGLE ONE OF GOD'S PRECIOUS PRECIOUS CHILDREN.
Never, never, never again.

Though there seems to be so little that I can do, even a few words on a blog might just be better than nothing. After all, even a pinprick of light is a comfort in the darkness

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