Thinking Anew – Darkness and the light of the world
The pietà-style figure is an enlargement of a sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz, and is located under an unglazed skylight where it is exposed to the rain and snow of the Berlin winter
The Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) is a building in Berlin that today serves as Germany’s central memorial for the victims of war.
It was originally built in the early 19th century as a guardhouse for troops and was first used as a war memorial in 1931 to commemorate the dead of the first World War. It was rededicated in 1993 with a new centrepiece, the figure of a grieving mother holding the body of her dead son. An inscription on the floor reads, “To the victims of war and tyranny”.
The pietà-style figure is an enlargement of a sculpture by the distinguished Käthe Kollwitz, and is located under an unglazed skylight where it is exposed to the rain and snow of the Berlin winter, symbolizing the suffering of civilians during the second World War.
Born in 1867, Kollwitz lived through two world wars and like many of her generation was deeply scarred by the experience.
With the outbreak of the first World War, her sons Hans and Peter volunteered for service.
She wrote: “I sometimes think, it was then that I gave up my strength. At that moment, I became old. Began the walk to the grave. That was the break. The stoop to such a level, that I could never again stand straight.”
There will be some on this Mothering Sunday who can identify with those words as they reflect on personal losses.
Fr William Bausch captures the sense of those dark words in a comment about Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she comes to terms with his death. “Tradition says that he was then taken down from the cross, from his bed of pain, and placed in the arms of (his) mother. And so we have the Pietà – humanity embracing its dreaded enemy death, and wondering if this is all there is. Finally, however, Mary too had to repeat her Son’s words, ‘It is finished’, and let him go.”
The season of Lent reminds us of our vulnerability, both moral and spiritual but which we are slow to acknowledge. We live the life of the great pretender until something terrible happens and we are crushed. Holy Week goes even further by confronting us with the reality of suffering and death – things that are inevitable no matter how hard we try to ignore them; they are part of the human condition.
At the same time throughout Lent the liturgy again and again points us to the God who journeys with us through pain and loss and leads us beyond what we experience as tragedy and disaster to new dimensions of life.
This is illustrated in tomorrow’s readings where a man blind from birth is given sight by Jesus. The darkness which had imprisoned him for so long is transformed by Jesus, the light of the world.
The psalm refers to a different kind of darkness – “the valley of the shadow of death”.
Interestingly some translators have suggested that the phrase “the shadow of death” is better translated the darkest valley, which captures something of the raw pain of Käthe Kollwitz’s grief for her dead son. But the psalmist knows no fear: “Though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil; for you are with me.”
The Rev Leslie Tizard, in his book Facing Life and Death, suggests that if we have doubts about the existence of God or the kind of God he is then our need will not be met by argument: “It will only be met by an act of trust. You must be willing to be found by the pursuing love of God which will not let you go . . . to move out fearlessly from your narrow self-centred life into a new wide spacious life with Christ at the centre – trusting not in yourself but in the all-sufficient love and power of God.”