On Saturday 14th November, 2015, I stood looking on the Cathedral of St Michael of Coventry, ruined and rebuilt, 75 years after the Luftwaffe raid which brought about its destruction. It was raining.
Those who don’t know Coventry’s history would be forgiven for noting the pathetic fallacy of such weather. The irony of a city coming together to mark 75 years since its destruction, the night after grave acts of terror had been wrecked upon Paris was not lost on any of us. There was a sadness in the air as we gathered. Every soul mourned for the 129 people killed less than 300 miles away and 24 hours ago.
But in Coventry, sorrow did not win the day, just as it had not won the 15th November 1940, when people had climbed out of air-raid shelters, or returned from beyond the city limits to find their homes and lives destroyed. The people mourned, but were left ‘not little, nor yet dark’, because they chose to look to the light.
I spent much of the weekend in and around the Cathedral of New St Michael’s, which stands for all that Coventry city upholds. For hope, for peace, for the healing of old wounds. These ideas lie at the heart of Coventry, of its Cathedral, of its people. It is a place which has realised that ‘the opposite of war isn’t peace… it’s creation!’
On Saturday, it was hard to hold on to hope. But everyone there knew the price if we lost hope. Hope, the theme of a global peace forum which had concluded only hours before the first bullets were fired in Paris.
There is a theology to that hope – a theology rooted in love stronger than death, and a God who shares in our suffering. But there are times when strict theology is only a hindrance. You do not need to be a Christian to bear witness to hope in the face of madness and destruction. Indeed, to suggest that only reinforces a polarised view of the world as good or evil, western or foreign, christian or heathen.
This was the way President Hollande of France felt when he called for a ‘merciless and pitiless’ war on those who carried out the attacks. It was that feeling which led 430,000 British people to call for the closure of all UK borders immediately.
But the world is not painted in black and white.
The world has shadows and sunlight, colours and depth. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said ‘the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.’ If Albert Einstein had known this, he ‘should have become a watchmaker’, but I would make no such choice. I would have the world no other way than that which it is. Without the uncertainty, the fear and the hatred in our hearts, the conviction, the trust and love would be meaningless.
We do not start with a perfect white canvas, and paint it black, nor with perfect black and hope to scrub it clean. We live, as humanly as possible. It is humanity which allows us to rebuild hate to love. To create what seemed destroyed. It gives us art and music, poetry and love. And that humanity, mixed with the means of grace, affords us the hope of glory.
So on Saturday, night we held up torches and phones, illuminating the night. ‘And the darkness comprehended it not.’