Saturday, 26 January 2013

Holocaust Remembrance Day & some thoughts on mystery of humanity

Today 27th January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It marks what can only be described as the most horrific period in human history. Not that the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime are unique. Sadly we can find examples of attempted genocide throughout human history.

January 27th is marked as Holocaust Remembrance Day because it was on this day in 1945 that the largest death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops. It has been observed, on this day, in Britain since 2001, although other countries have chosen different dates. It was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7, during 2005, to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today the world uniformly recognises the 27th of January as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

And why do we mark this day? It is not just out of respect for the 6 million Jewish people, the 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, the 1 million Roma, the quarter of a million disabled, the 10,000 homosexuals and the many many more who were so brutally murdered. We mark is to say never again. Never again can this be allowed to happen. Well it seems that we have failed. Attempted Genocide still goes on and brutality towards one another continues and has continued ever since. Maybe not on the same industrial scale as under the Nazi regime, but it has continued; it has continued not only in other lands, far, far away but in our land too and to some extent in our very communities. It continues every time we dehumanize another, or ourselves. It happens every time we fail to recognise the sacredness of life, our own or that of others; for to commit such brutality requires a human being to fail to recognise the sacredness of another’s humanity and that of all life. It requires us to reduce ourselves or others to nothingness; it requires nihilism; it requires us to reduce life or at least the life of another into something without meaning. To destroy life without conscience requires a human being to reject the sacredness of life.

I was sat trying to figure out how to approach this subject the other day. I was doing my usual broad sweep, looking at different angles of approach, when I remembered that the first Unitarian service I ever attended, some 8 years ago, must have been on or around Holocaust Remembrance Day. I know it was a cold Wednesday lunchtime in January, when I first walked through the entrance of Cross Street Chapel; I remember it like it had just happened; I can re-feel the whole experience now. It was at a time when so much was changing in my life and as a response I was attempting to make sense of things and exploring religious paths. I was looking for spiritual answers, because I knew that they did not lay in my former reductionist and materialist mindset. By the way I’ve not found the answers, unless the answer is to seek and to serve, which I suspect it might be.

I sat and listened intently and was touched deep down within the core of my being  by the minister John Midgely's short address. What sank into my soul was this idea that Germany had been overcome by a dark sickness, but that this was not unique to the German people. It could happen to any country and or any culture. I can think of no society or nation that has not committed atrocities against another and if not against others then against its own people. What I realised was that this darkness is in me as it is in everyone and everything, but it is not all that there is, goodness, love and compassion is present too. The key is to feed the love and not let the hate prevail. The basis of my own theology is that there is that of God in everything, but that this is not the only force at work. There is another force at work too and this force thrives on separation, on alienation. I see it at work whenever we separate each other whenever we see someone or something as lacking in worth and dignity. It operates whenever we make someone or something unwelcome; it works whenever we reject, whenever we refuse hospitality to someone or something; it operates whenever we lock someone or something outside of the city gates, including ourselves; it happens when we lose reverence for life itself.

Distrust and fear are deeply rooted within our psyche, within our culture. We do not trust one another, we are afraid of the stranger. Just think about how we greet each other. What do we do? We usually shake hands. Why do we do this? Well it stems from the middle ages. Back then we shook hands to check if our guest was carrying concealed weapons. It is not a greeting based on love, but one based on distrust. Only after they shook hands could the host sit comfortably with his guest. And what did the guest do as soon as he was poured a drink? He chinked his cup with that of his host. He did this to ensure that the host got some of his drink, therefore if he had been poisoned then so had his host.

Deep mistrust and suspicion is ingrained within our culture. Maybe this is why we find it difficult to welcome the stranger, to revere the other. We are taught to separate.

There must be another way, a way that does not encourage distrust. There is, the other way is reverence. The key is to learn to revere one another. After all we are all formed from the same substance and we have the same spirit running through us. Shakespeare expresses this so beautifully in Hamlet...

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”

Hindu’s are taught to acknowledge one another reverentially whenever they meet. Their greeting ritual is not based on distrust it is based on reverence. They greet by bowing with hands joined together. They honour the sacred mystery they are encountering. This is the key I believe, this honouring of the sacred mystery in each of us.

We are all part of the one human family, the family of life. When we separate, we dehumanize, we fail to acknowledge one another’s sacred mystery. We are not all exactly the same we have different qualities, different characteristics, different gifts to offer as well as different needs. That said we are all made of the same substance, the very same substance that the whole universe is made of, or at least the matter we have knowledge of and I believe that the same spirit runs through all life. I do not personally believe it controls all of it, but it is certainly present, always there offering the lure of its love. It is our task to choose this love, because if we do not then we will begin to separate and alienate and I believe that it is this that causes the distrust and fear that leads to hatred and dehumanising violence.

The solution is simple, I believe, as solutions usually are. The solution is reverence, reverence for life itself. We need to offer welcome to everyone and everything including that which we find uncomfortable.

Today we remember the Holocaust and the millions that have been murdered by the hands of fear, distrust and hatred. Today we recommit to the ideal that we never let this happen again. We do so recognising that it happens all the time. And that it begins to happen again every time we separate one from another every time we fail to revere the sacred mystery of one another and the sacred mystery of life.

So let us begin again in love, by learning to revere one another and all that is life and beyond...

...It seems approapriate to end this blog with the following words by my colleague the recently retired Rev Cliff Reed 

"Marking the Holocaust"

I ask you now please to stand in solemn silence and remember the names that stand for genocide –

Auschwitz, Sobibor, Majdanek; Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen; the list goes on and on...

Tasmania, Wounded Knee, Armenia; Halabja, Bosnia, Rwanda; the list goes on and on...

The names of places where humanity failed to be human. The names of places where we reached the depths.

We stand in solemn silence. We hear the words of the Kaddish spoken in memory of the millions dead, each one an individual, a murdered person.

We honour them as lost kin. We honour those who resisted evil. We honour the righteous of the nations. Would that we had been among them...


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