Funny how sometimes several scattered moments of cognition can be drawn together by one of those rare migrating coincidences of thought, when against all odds, we are made attentive to something precious and important to capture,which otherwise would disappear in the fast flowing stream of consciousness which passes for thought in an overstimulated world.
It started when I read a novel last week by David Silva, The Rembrandt Affair. It's the story of a lost Rembrandt masterpiece, an SS Officer who combined an obscene courtesy to those he robbed with indifference to the plight of those same Jewish victims, a Jewish painting restorer who works for Israeli intelligence, and a little girl who, like Anne Frank was hidden by neighbours. A key moment in the story is when against all warnings, she crept out into the snow one moonlit night to play and dance. She was seen by the neighbours, reported, and the family were transported, except her, whose freedom was bought with the painting. Like so much of the literature of the Holocaust, there is the tragic irony of guilt clinging to the soul of the victims, who have done nothing wrong - other than exist.
Then I listened to Sheila Hancock's audio version of her autobiography Just Me. One chapter describes her visit to Hungary, and her discovery of the 600,000 Jewish people who were there before the War, and the tiny remnant who survived. Her sorrow and anger, her utter bewilderment at such organised human cruelty, combined with her rage that this could happen while she was betwen the ages of 8 and 13, in her lifetime, is one of the most telling pieces of soliloquy she has ever uttered, including Shakespeare.
I then watched the programme on Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, a pre-olympic docu-drama that filled out the stories of these two remarkable human beings. Both of their later lives overshadowed by war, and the cost and consequences of ideologies that reduce human beings as means to ends, rather than privilege every human being as ends in themselves.
By now, inside a few days, one of the 20th Century's most systematic forms of madness had insinuated itself back into that conscious reflective place in the mind, where prayer, ethical judgement, moral energy, critical thought and human wondering mix together in the search for meaning. As if the discovery of meaning could lessen the evil, reduce the guilt, redeem the suffering, restore hope or render the Shoah as something less than the mystery of iniquity it is. Because at the same time it arose in an historical nexus of events imagined, initiated and implemented by human beings, morally accountable, made in the image of God, and utterly capable of denying to others the humanity they claimed for themselves, thereby raising by their actions, in the tragic irony that accompanies moral suicide, a more potent question mark over their own humanity.
And then I came across this - and I realised again the spiritual genius of God's people, the miracle of human hopefulness and goodness, the capacity of that of God in us to look Hell in the face and refuse it ultimacy.
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us.
Remember the fruits we bought, thanks to the suffering; our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this.
And when they come to judgement, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. (Prayer of a condemned Jew in Belson)
I'm glad I was in my study on my own when I read this, and I am glad for two reasons. First, because together with the clues and intimations above, I was ready to hear words that in their truth and hope and love, slice through the dark tangle of hate and anger, sorrow and shame, despair and distress that grips the heart when we are confronted by intolerable but unalterable truth. Secondly because I cried, confronted by the distilled essence of goodness and mercy.