By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published September 1, 2016
“God dreams us, and we should not let God dream alone.”
Dorothee Soelle, “Theology for Skeptics: Reflections on God”
There are many reasons these days to believe that our world is grim. Rage and violence explode with a frequency that is beyond alarming. It has become a routine experience to turn on the news and to be drawn into yet another shooting, bombing, beheading, genocide or natural disaster.
There are some social commentators who argue that we will become numb to the onslaught of atrocities and disasters that not only seem to but, in fact, do hit us from all sides. I personally believe that life has not changed all that much since the first humans felt the strange and new sensation of conscious awareness. What has changed is our ability to know more about our world and to know it almost as soon as it happens.
There have always been atrocities on a grand scale. What has taken place in our own lifetime is the harnessing of the power to inflict mass destruction and our inability to undo that power. We have worked to make sure our power of destruction is invincible. Which also means that we cannot tame or cage the beast we have created. It is bigger, much bigger, than we are. We made it so.
One may wonder just where God is in all of this. There are those who will say, when looking at the scenario that is present day life, that there is no God. A God who would stand by silently as so much slaughter takes the lives of millions of innocent people is unthinkable. There can be no such God. We therefore must go about our lives as if God does not exist—doing what we can to sift through the ruins of human life to seek out what is salvageable, what is good.
But there are those whose hope lies in the existence of a God who is still with us, still a part of our lives, our histories, our joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies.
Recently I saw a video on the life of the photographer Donald McCullin. He narrates the video as it shows image after image of the tragedy of being human. There are pictures of starving children in Biafra, of brutal killings in Nigeria and the Congo, of the horrors of war in Cambodia and Vietnam. There is one photograph of a dead North Vietnamese soldier. His eyes are open with the vacant and lifeless stare that is death. Some American soldiers went through his pockets, looking for souvenirs, discarding scraps of paper and a photograph next to the body. The photograph was of a young, pretty Vietnamese woman. A wife? Girlfriend? Sister? Her identity died with the young soldier. McCullin picked up the photo and scraps of paper and gently placed them near the body of the soldier. He was deeply moved by the sudden intrusion of a remnant of human love in a place of death. “We are all victims,” he says, as the image gives way to the next, “victims of war.”
Yet, God dreams. We are his dream, come to life. He lives through us, loves through us, dreams through us.
A trace of God’s dream once lay on a field strewn with corpses. It was an image of a young woman, a woman who knew love and was given love, and was cherished—and whose beloved died giving his life for his country, for her.
I wonder if that woman is still alive. I hope she found love in her life. And I hope the dead soldier opened his eyes and gazed upon a place of beauty, a place where love flourishes, the place where there is no death. The place that God desires for us all. A place where all that he dreams finally comes true.
And we are his dream, this vast mystery of life, with all its despair, joy, hope, desperation. I know there will come a day when he will awaken, and take to his heart this unfolding dream, and add the final touches so that we will be to his likeness. He has always left a few hints about the dream, not unlike a photograph of a beautiful young woman that was tenderly placed near the heart of a man she loved and lost in a war. And, as well, not unlike the movement that took place in the heart of a photographer when he saw the picture, and pondered the universality of love and the ache of its loss.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.