Holocaust Day asks can we bring light in darkness
To Mark Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27, Norfolk County Council Chaplain, Rev Dr Liviu Barbu, reflects on being the light in the darkness.
There are still many unlearned lessons in the history of humanity since the first Fall of man. We study the past to better understand the failings of human nature under certain circumstances and thus to avoid and prevent the repetition of the worst ones. This year, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust encourages us 'to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to be "the light" before, during and after genocide.'
Following that lead, I would like to invite you to consider and reflect together with me on different types of darkness still prevalent in our societies. The roots of these may be subtle or openly manifested, wired into our conscious or unconscious self, and they could often catch us out unaware, usually popping out in countries ravaged by wars, but also, surprisingly, in otherwise common places.
People could be persecuted, misjudged or prejudiced against, directly or indirectly, openly or hidden, physically, mentally or spiritually, because of class or caste, because of one's 'pure' or mixed race, because of one's too strong skin colour or not so clearly defined. Or because of one's gender, for being male or female or for not clearly being one of the two, or for being too manly or too womanly, for one's 'wrong' nationality, for being too poor or too rich, because of one's lifestyle and beliefs, religious or irreligious, for having a belief or for not believing in anything or not enough. Maybe for one's opinions, personal or public, for those being of the ‘wrong’ sort, politically correct or incorrect, either too strong or too soft, or lacking, for political convictions, for spreading good or bad news or indeed fake news. Because one is too beautiful or too ugly or too common, too clever or less so, for having an able body or a not so able one, for being young or old, or either too young or too old for specially designed. For speaking with a ‘wrong’ accent, either too posh or too local or foreign, for being or wanting to be in the 'wrong' country. The list could perhaps go on for much longer.
Most of the things in this list we are born with or inherit, and so they are a given and we are neither guilty nor should we be exceedingly proud of. There are thus so many ways of affirming one’s ‘superiority’ against the other, looking down on him or her for not being like us, making ourselves thus not brothers and sisters, but rather unfair judges unduly influenced by personal, limited and precarious views and prejudices, inherited or acquired.
But God is not like that. God is light and there is no darkness in him. He created the world and humanity through light and for them to be a light in the darkness of the universe. The Jewish and Christian traditions share this vision and hope. Each of us then is a light which could and should illumine the world around us.
God is graciously and abundantly raining down with loving kindness on us each and all, his beloved children, regardless of whether we succeed in responding with thanksgiving and with the same generosity to our neighbours, to the people we live in and work with. We therefore have no duty but to love, to accept one another in our sheer differences and to heal, like God does with us, the bits in our and others lives which have been unfortunately touched by darkness. It goes, of course, without saying that this generosity should not prohibit us from taking firm action when darkness threatens the light and the limits of general common sense.
Coming back to my previous idea, I would say that the middle, the royal way, is to accept with gratitude what we are and to affirm that with confidence and humility, in love, so that we may not be ashamed of ourselves nor crush the other or the others with our difference and ‘superiority’. God wants us to be loving, or at least tolerant, caring and understanding and through those qualities or virtues to discover our and everyone else's special and unique place in the world.
We are also encouraged, especially today, to be alert to the denial of reality and clear evidence, to be weary of division and to put a stop to misinformation. Being true to ourselves is but the first step in preserving the truth from distortion. That enables us to speak it with love and understanding for those who have not yet travelled the way of wisdom to the end.
There is certainly much good and evil in our confused world where good has cunningly been mixed with bad, and where often the bad gets a good name and hides under the aura of virtue. We ask God to illumine our mind, to be able to discern more accurately between good and evil, to understand and to do the deeds of light.
The current pandemic is certainly an episode of darkness in our time, but also, as it already proved, one of shining a great light on the one humanity, provisionally caught up in the grip of a dark disease, fighting its way out together as one, in the hope that we could be back to an even brighter future in which people resemble more God and give out more light and diminish the darkness in the world.
Finally, we should pause, step back and reflect: how much are our ways of thinking and our actions a light to myself and those around me?
Pictured above is the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.