Advent confuses me. It’s a time of anticipation. But, at least for this world, in this place, at this time, can we say it is a time for hope?
I’ve been much occupied with two things recently. The first is a book, ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle which, essentially, argues that we cannot find peace in the past or in the future, we can only find it in the present. That our internal, thought led lives are tyrannised by gnawing regrets about yesterday or fruitless ruminations about tomorrow. That we are more than our thoughts and that peace lies in being fully present here and now, in a place of mindfulness, a place of ‘no thought’ – just being.
The second train of consciousness has been prompted by a visit to Auschwitz Burkenau WW2 Nazi death camp only a few days ago. A place where 1.2 million people were systematically murdered. It was the scale of the place that struck me. I had expected a few huts, an interpretive centre perhaps. Auschwitz is instead a small town preserved almost exactly as it was when it functioned at its height. A highly efficient, carefully considered machine for mass murder. There is a palpable sense of numbness there. It presents a long hard look into the ‘banality of evil’. There is a dawning realisation, a sense of shock as the tour progresses that the Nazis did not regard inmates (overwhelmingly Jewish although also Communist, Roma, homosexual, dissidents and ‘intellectuals’) as human – they regarded them as the lowest of vermin.
Someone asked me yesterday what I ‘thought of the Auschwitz experience’. The truth is, it’s been largely impossible not to think about it, almost constantly, ever since. Numbness. Profound horror. Disbelief that any set of circumstances could lead to that ‘final solution’.
And so to Advent. What are we anticipating? For me the best I can manage is hope tempered by doubt. A desire for a triumph of hope over experience – at least for this material world.
Perhaps the seeds of greater hope can be found in the words of Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, and an advocate of a profound mindfulness. He says, in his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, “… we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips”.