Earlier this week, I was deeply moved by pictures of the Pope embracing a disfigured man.
I can only imagine what kind of a life this man has had to lead because of his condition. This man has likely had to suffer rejection, ridicule and quite possibly outright abuse due to his condition (yes, I am hypothesizing as there is little information about this man, but given the way most people suffering any illness are still stigmatized even in modernity, I don't think I am reaching too far).
One the one hand, I was touched by the Pope's ability to physically embrace someone most people would be uncomfortable with. More so, I was impressed by his ability to spiritually embrace that man's pain. I am sure that spiritual and emotional pain is as much a part of that man's life as is his physical pain.
The fact of that matter is that most of us (and I included myself in this) do what we can to consciously avoid people, places and things that cause us discomfort, but oftentimes there is great spiritual and emotional traction to be found in facing and embracing those people, places and things.
But you know what? That is what a spiritual leader is supposed to do. In reality, that is what we are all supposed to do. So in a sense, it was not the fact that the Pope was embracing the man that really moved me.
What really touched me about those photos was the spiritual solace that man was quite obviously finding in the very humble and human touch of another person. What touched me was the depth of emotion that man was obviously experiencing in that moment.
In a sense, on Remembrance Day, we are doing just what is happening in that photo: we are deliberately embracing something that makes us uncomfortable, something that is challenging if not painful to embrace. We are, in a sense, embracing war, pain and suffering. In part, even though it is uncomfortable, I think it is important that we do this. Lest we forget, we may do it all over again. Lest we forget, we may let the devotion, selflessness and sacrifice of so many in the past, present and future go unnoticed.
But it must be said that we are not embracing these things in order to glorify them. Like many, I have been somewhat bemused by the recent "White Poppy" campaign. Some people dislike the red poppy because they think it glorifies or supports war. I for one have never seen it that way, any more than I think people growing mustaches in November glorifies or supports prostate cancer.
I can't speak for anyone else, because I think we all keep Remembrance Day in our own way. Many of us, myself included, have been touched by armed conflict in some way. But I for one have always felt that Remembrance Day has always been a celebration of peace.
We observe a moment of silence at 11:11 on the 11th day of the 11th month. Although the date is accurate, the precise hour the armistice was signed is apparently somewhat apocryphal, referring to ending hostilities at the proverbial 11th Hour.
What occupies my thoughts in that minute of silence is this: what did that minute of silence feel like to the people who signed the documents ending the war? What did it feel like when the guns finally went silent? What did the soldiers feel in that first minute they put down their guns? I can almost imagine the whole earth heaving a collective sigh of relief in that minute, or at least in the first minute they were first made aware that peace had come.
The red poppy to me symbolizes the flowers that were once again able to grow over the fields of battle once the war ended.
Remembrance Day celebrates that sacred space of peace and silence that were able to enter the world when hostilities ceased. It celebrates the fact that healing could begin for those who had survived the conflict, and those who had lost loved ones in conflict.
In the Gospel passage for this week (Luke 20:27-38) sidesteps an academic question by simply saying "God is a God of life". Similarly, I think we can sidestep the academics around Remembrance Day by being reminded that the message of the day is not one of death, but one of life. In the same sense, the story of Christ's life is less about his crucifixion than his resurrection. In the same sense, Elijah could not hear God in the storm, but could hear him in the silence that came after the storm.
May this day be a day of life for you, a day of peace and and day of grace.