ITV’S DOWNTON ABBEY (a quite extraordinary essay on the complexities of our shared humanity if ever I’ve seen one) has held millions in its thrall, and often holding their breath, on the outermost edge of their seats. Julian Fellowes has given us characters we can feel we know personally, and countless echoes of the vicissitudes, storms and tempests we experience in our own lives. But he’s also given us vivid portrayals of the merciless dreadfulness of the First World War, something most of us have had no direct experience of; of innocents marching into the abyss of hell on earth; of a worldwide upheaval bigger than the most violent earthquake anyone had ever dreamed of.
For millions the catastrophe amounted to physical death; for millions more the catastrophe was to burn on and on in a thousand “little deaths”, lifelong regrets, and a view of “civilization” that had been changed forever. To this day humankind is engaged in the double occupations of remembering – not forgetting (“tell them of us and say for their tomorrows we gave our today”) and the slow and painful tasks of re-membering – restoring (rebuilding “arms” and “legs” to the cruelly torn framework of the life that is left).
And yet still “man at war with man hears not the love song angels bring”. God grant us grace, then, this Remembrance-tide, to grasp the truth that the world can be turned upside down destructively or it can be turned upside down positively. Disciples of Jesus Christ will always want to pray and to work for the latter, to make of their religious allegiance something that “binds up the whole” – bringing all of our diverse and colourful humankind together by celebrating our common humanity, in every time and in every place, and always resisting, faith-fully resisting, all the vain distinctions that maintain division, inappropriate nationalism, or false spiritual “certainties” and pride.
There’s a proper innocence in infants and children that we will want to nurture and maintain. And there’s also a blind innocence in parts of the adult world that has people believing they’re marching to glory when in reality they’re headed for hell on earth. In the name of all that is of God we must strive to wake ourselves out of that kind of stupor. May God grant us the wherewithal to Re-member.
7 November 2011