Julian Meeting for November 2020
We live in perilous times: the country is in the grip of a vile pandemic which currently shows that it still has plenty of life in it; that has already proved it will not be easy to eradicate so introducing great fear and trepidation of its power. I am reminded of some words of P. J. Kavanagh who wrote;
‘We live in times that are particularly conscious of the hellish nature of the world. We should be aware of suffering, torture, injustice. There are, however, times when our preoccupation with these things, and scepticism about the idea of ‘beauty’, would seem to imply that our forefathers lived in kindergartens and sucked their thumbs, whereas we alone have found the courage to open our eyes and look at the world’…
It may seem as if poetry, the creative arts and the world of imagination, are useless in the face of so much that is evil and destructive; as Seamus Heaney has said, ‘no lyric has ever stopped a tank!’ No; but there are lyrics, paintings, architecture, music, that have stopped a person dead in their tracks, amazed at the work of the human mind and hand and eye; seeing beauty, experiencing momentary wonder that they had never noticed, and enlarging their understanding of what it means to be a person. This is as relevant now, to-day, as it has always been whether during the period of the Holocaust, the years of Communism in Eastern Europe and Stalin’s Russia, and the years of Brian Keenan’s captivity in the Lebanon, all revealing human spirits that are imprisoned but not contained, confined but not held captive.
There is an incident recorded by the Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz. He spent most of the 1939-45 War in nazi-occupied Warsaw, a poet whose work is filled with childlike wonder at the beauty of the earth now forced to record the terrible anguish of the Ghetto. Crossing a field under heavy gunfire in 1944, just as the Warsaw uprising began, he refused to let go of the one book he held under his arm – T. S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, ‘because I needed it and because it belonged to the Warsaw Library.’ Such people, sometimes in solitude and with no guarantee of recognition, have been true to their vision of what is human and stake out for us the parameters of the human spirit.
So, even in these moments of grappling with an inhuman monster, I strive to make out that partial but authentic vision of God I see in Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of which he speaks. Its language of love is universal; its goal, holiness and community; its building blocks, justice and freedom, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. But if my chief concern has been with what is human that is because there is another area of vision, which I term religious, and which is expressed in the quite common transcendental experiences of life as well as in literature and theatre, music and art.
As Christians, we claim that the capacity to see and to wonder, by giving proper attention to the mystery of people and things in the process of learning to love them, is what it means to be human. Without it we shall have no vision of what it means to live either as stewards of this astonishing creation or as fellow-members of the human race.
So, we all join in prayer, asking God to keep us all safe, to face the future with hope and the compassion to help those in need.