This week has been a homecoming. I took a plane (well, two planes, a metro and a train, to be precise) back to my beleaguered country. England, so I’m told, is morally ‘broken’. The fabric of society has been destroyed.
Some say it’s the government’s fault for being too soft. Social Security is too easy to claim; we live in a climate that nurtures “parasites” who don’t want to work and expect everything to be given to them on a plate. Others claim the government doesn’t care enough about the disaffected. People from “tougher” backgrounds feel they have no stake in their own society.
Whatever the varied reasons for the unprecedented scenes on my country’s streets, I do know that for many, talk of a “moral vacuum” is an alien concept. Certainly at my Mum’s red brick church…where Margaret arranges the flowers every Saturday…and where a group meets each month to help those going through the pain of divorce. And aside from the shock-factor pictures and screaming headlines, I’ve been incredibly heartened to see clean up operations spontaneously organized, a sense of national pride reawakened and even gossip magazines launching appeals to help victims of the riots. The light of good is shimmering through.
So what of the victims, the people caught in the cross-fire? We’ve all seen pictures of the looting, the cars burnt to an ashen shell, the woman who had to leap from an upstairs window of her house to save her life. People who have been made to suffer, through no fault of their own.
Why do bad things happen to good people? What’s more, often at the hands of their fellow human beings. It’s a bewildering question. One I used to ask my Dad as a teenager. His answer (unbeknown to him) would later be reflected in a meditation I found, written by Brother Roger of Taizé, founder of an ecumenical community in France.
“Why does God not keep human beings from doing evil? He has created us free. God is love, and love never imposes itself.”
Despite these transcendental words, as human beings in all our frailty, we are often led to wonder “Why me?” Painful events are hard to understand. Could there be a purpose, a plan behind it all? It seems audacious – even cruel – to suggest. Yet, some believe that God wouldn’t put you through something you weren’t strong enough to bear. Thinking back to some of my own trials, I can see in hindsight that they’ve helped to craft the person I am today. Hidden blessings? Perhaps.
Returning to an England rebuilding itself after confusing, violent times put me in mind of another of Brother Roger’s meditations.
“Holy Spirit, you breathe upon what is fragile. You kindle a flame of living charity and love that remains within us, still alive under the ashes. And through you, even the fears and the nights of our heart can become the dawn of a new life.”
It’s also got me thinking about my future work with CRS; the people I’ll be meeting; the scenes I’ll be witness to. I’ll be listening to the stories of refugees, the sick, those whose hope has almost gone. And it’ll be CRS’s job to help bring back a kind of “springtime of the heart.”
My trip home – although returning to the familiar – was all about new beginnings too. I came home for my big sister’s wedding: the first of the trio of sisters to take the plunge! I’m delighted to report that it all went beautifully.
Helen Blakesley is CRS’ regional information officer for West and Central Africa. She’s based in Dakar, Senegal. She plans to write a post every fortnight about her experiences and work with CRS.
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