Saturday, November 14, 2015

God in the darkness

The ghastly heart-breaking events in Paris on Friday evening cast a chill over everything. Today under leaden rain-filled skies we spent time on London's south bank with good friends, loafing and laughing in first one cafe, then another.

Occasionally the conversation drifted towards Paris and what if... But we listened to the free jazz, enjoyed excellent coffee and walnut cake and luxuriated in our freedom to do what the hell we liked.

And my thoughts have been Calais intermittently through the day, the past few days. I've wondered about the people I met a week ago, wondered about the precariousness of their lives in the grim tarpaulin ghetto, under increasingly wintery skies, wondered about their fragile hopes.

The horror of what was visited on the citizens of Paris on Friday - which could so easily be visited on us - reminded me that for so many, this is a daily reality. Before Paris, suicide bombers created carnage in Lebanon and before that barrel bombs fell on Damascus suburbs, and gunmen strafed shoppers in a South Sudanese market, and Libyans live in fear of their neighbours, and...

...And so the litany of fear and conflict continues.

In our conversation today, my friend asked 'where was God on Friday night?' The answer that now trips off the tongue because it's the one Eli Wiesel offered when asked the same question about Auschwitz, is that he was on the streets, in the restaurants, in the night club and football stadium, feeling the kiss of shrapnel, the jarring penetration of bullets.

Is it the whole answer? No. Perhaps he was in the queues of Parisians desperate to give blood to save the lives of strangers; perhaps he was in the policemen painstakingly removing the dead, trying to identify the bodies for grieving relatives; perhaps he was in the congregations of Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs all praying for an end to the darkness. Of course, he was in all those places and more.

And he is in the jungle, meeting his people in St Michael's, energising the doctors volunteering with the sick, in the hands and eyes of the poor offering their food to you, in the stories of flight and hope, in the tears of rage and exhaustion, in the dogged determination to see people receive justice and the camp be consigned to history.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot snuff it out however hard it tries, because the darkness doesn't get it, because the darkness is only an absence. The light is a presence, always and forever leaking in through the cracks and prevailing. If that wasn't true, we'd have retreated to hide in our houses and closed our hearts to the strangers in our midst. But it is true, so we go into the world and do what we can do and leave the outcome to God, the source of the light.

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