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Threads of Light

'The shivers of despair which get buried at each report of tragedy can be safely brought to the surface of one's spirit...'

In a time of heart-sore, of almost daily news of kidnap, hijack and death, I happened to go to a concert. It was in Canterbury Cathedral.

The main work was 'Dona Nobis Pacem' - 'give us peace': the special cry of our generation, who live in a world where lack of peace is pervasive. Some of the words were from that ancient chronicle of struggle and triumph, the Old Testament. Others were by a doctor who had tended the terribly wounded young men of the American Civil War, and grieved over their individual and collective deaths - Walt Whitman. The music, by Vaughan Williams, was written between two engulfing world wars.

The singers and players were young men and women preparing to face a world filled with infinite possibilities of both creation and destruction.

The cathedral was a wonder of soaring stone pillars and lacy stone latticework created between 400 and 900 years ago, a cathedral built on a spot where God has been praised and implored since the days of the Romans. In such a setting the shivers of despair which get buried at each report of tragedy can be safely brought to the surface of one's spirit.

Sorrow keeps its personal face and contemporary clothes, but is given an aspect of eternity it seems to belong within some great unperceived pattern. Each note soared up into the dark vaults above us, and floated down a breath of a second later while the next was being played, so that what had been, and what was now, were offered to us in echoing continuity.

Something was being said to us. What, I wondered, was it? And could we hear it? 'For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead.' There it was, a solo voice amid the massive sound. A personal comprehension of the wholeness of the tragedy despair at our failure to achieve effective love for our own kind, and recognition of the persisting spirit which, despite our denial of it, lives within each of us and binds us together.

New heavens and new earth

I thought of the monks and the ordinary people who had trodden those stones in untiring pursuit of the light throughout dark and turbulent centuries. I thought of the archbishop who had been murdered in this cathedral over 800 years ago because he refused to stop loving his God, and whose memory is epitomized by a contemporary sculpture of great terror and beauty.

I thought of the pope and the archbishop who met here not so long ago in a gesture of healing after the centuries of religious violence. I thought of the forgiveness which now overarches the age-old enmities of Western Europe, and which still needs to throw another span into Eastern Europe.

I thought of the friend who 30 years ago, for the sake of creating a new Africa, forgave the people who had buried her father alive; and of another friend from the same continent who refused to name the man who had killed her husband and forced her to stand in his blood to watch him die - there were, she said, enough widows and orphans in the world already.

I thought of the two Indian women who went recently to Pakistan, to take a thread of light with them across that great divide. I thought of my own small experiences of the fruitfulness of forgiveness. And, when the voices blossomed over the orchestra and sang of 'the new heavens and the new earth', I thought that perhaps it was going to be possible after all.

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