There are many contradictions or paradoxes in life that sometimes do our head in. In biology, chemistry, physics and cosmology we are surrounded by things that just do not seem to fit together logically. In physics we are told that light can be a wave or a particle, because of quantum mechanics, in evolutionary biology we have become intelligent beings not because we first had a brain that grew, but because we could walk upright. And from then onwards we were in a bind about whether we wanted to run faster or have babies that lived. And from Einstein we get the theory of relativity, a mind blowing concept that tells us that time and space are relative, even though they seem fixed from our position. And which supposedly explains why if 2 twins are separated, one flying around the world and the other staying home, one ages more than the other. Doesn’t make sense does it!
Yet it’s not just the physical world that is full of contradictions. We humans are also a bunch of paradoxes. The author Talbot in a book called “Paradox and Evolution” believes we can behave as war mongers and peaceniks, selfish thieves and altruistic Samaritans, cooperative bees and lone wolves, conformist teacher pets and rebels without a cause. Not just different people, the same people can do all these things!
As I pondered this blog I searched for an example of this paradox that really stood out. That talks about us as rather crazy mixed up humans, who can be both angels and demons. I could not go past a book I have recently read, (of course these blogs are supposed to be about books) called “Everyone Brave is Forgiven”. A book about death and darkness, but also forgiveness and light.
Forgiveness is one of the great messages from my faith tradition. If there is nothing else that you take from the words and actions of Jesus, apart from love, it is forgiveness. His is a call to forgive one another, and maybe even more especially to forgive oneself. Jesus did not cast out so called “sinners” into the abyss, but rather ate and drank with them. He embraced those seen by society as lost forever by opening a space for a new start, a new beginning, in love for them. To be able to turn a page over, to find common ground, to speak words of love rather than hate is an incredible gift we can give one another. It could be the start of a transformation, both for ourselves and for the world. Jesus knew this and proclaimed it with both his words and actions.
I know that many would say this message is often not found in Christian Churches, where judgement and exclusion reign. But this is a profound misunderstanding of the life and significance of Jesus. For many in the 21st century the Jesus who goes to the cross as part of some cosmic plan and is said to return on judgment day is gone and in its place is a Jesus of blood and bone, of heart and head, a Jesus who calls out for us to transform our selves and others for the sake of the world. Who sees people as they really are and loves them none the less!
So in keeping with this, I wanted to talk about this book, “Everyone Brave is Forgiven”, by Chris Cleave. I found this a beautifully written, immensely powerful book, about redemption, for ordinary people, trapped in the mad, destructive time of World War II. While it focusses on Mary North, a daughter of an MP living in London, just prior and during the London Blitz, it also intertwines the lives of her friend, Hilda and two young men, Tom who is a teacher, and Alistair you signs up to serve and ends up in Malta during its terrible bombing.
I don’t want to go too much into the story, other than to say it reveals how lives, ordinary everyday lives, are affected by the circumstances in which we have no control. Yet, the human condition is one where hope and love can shine, where acts of immense bravery are intertwined with acts of sheer hatred, and where forgiveness is the ultimate act of defiance.
For me the book encapsulates who we are and who we can be, underneath all the facades, prejudices and fears of our lives and the devastation that can be wrought by external circumstance. About how we are sometimes able to go on with our lives, in a way, more real and more damaged, but perhaps more human. The last line of the book, which I won’t reveal, I think sums up forgiveness for me. It is a brave, brave person who can forgive, and somehow fashion a life out of the most terrible of circumstances. But it is also a brave person who can see their own failings and faults and forgive themselves. To see that forgiveness is a two way street that can lead ultimately to reconciliation and transformation if we are open to it.
Perhaps books like this remind us of how we can live in freedom rather than fear, by living with the possibility of being able to start over, always.