The Rectory, November 1996
November is a month of remembrance. In this month we remember the victims of war and those who gave their lives in the hope of creating freedom and peace for others. We remember also all those we have known and loved and who have died, as we pray for the departed on All Souls' Day. Remembering is not to be derided as mere nostalgia or living in the past, but as an active recalling in appreciation for what has been given, and in the hope that we might learn not to repeat past mistakes and so live more generously towards one another in our own time.
But there is a way of remembering that is a form of entrapment. It seems at the moment as if the world cannot free itself of its past or learn how to live with what has gone before. Most of the world's present conflicts arise out of deeply rooted fears and hatreds, out of traditional rivalries, and the memory of past offences and ancient claims. The power blocs of the past fifty years have given way to the rise of new nationalisms and old ethnic bitterness. The next few Sundays are also preparing us for the coming of Christ who reveals the passion of God for a world reconciled, and who through his coming into the world opens up its possibility. With Christ comes the hope of forgiveness for past wrongs and the breaking of the cycle of hatred. In Christ the past can be accepted and healed and humanity be freed to respond to God's call for a new world.
I want to suggest three ways in which we can share in this work of overcoming the fragmentation of the world. The first is honesty. There can be no healing or reconciliation without honesty, at a personal or national level. In South Africa the remarkable progress towards a more just society has gone along with a willingness to face the past. A Council, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has been conducting a painful process of national self-examination. People have been willing to come forward, from all sides, to acknowledge their part in the fears and terror that fuelled hatred and repression. Reconciliation begins with honesty about the past and the truth about oneself.
Secondly - truth. In an uncertain world it is comforting to adopt a viewpoint that can claim to be absolutely and fully the truth. Such a stance brings security, but at the cost of real truth. So often, fragments of the truth are grasped and made into a whole. This is the basis of fundamentalisms of whatever kind, in the name of which much evil is done. The Dominican theologian Simon Tugwell has written:
To engage with the truth is always to be subject to its scrutiny, not in possession of it.
Lastly, we have to ask how we think about our own identity. Do we consider ourselves to be individuals in isolation, or persons in relationship? Again Desmond Tutu has said:
The discovery of our interdependence is the key to overcoming our divisions and freeing us from deep-rooted bitterness. If we hurt our neighbour, in the end we also hurt ourselves. This unity as persons is not a threat to distinctiveness, it is not about absorption or dominance but mutual recognition and respect. It is something we need to go on learning in modern marriages and partnerships, in community relationship and between peoples and races. Jesus spoke of it as love and said it was the very nature and essence of God. Indeed I think that it is only in the acknowledgement of God and in encounter with the love of God that we can afford to be fully honest about the past, open to truth, and discover our unity as persons.