Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Many, many attempts at explanation and description were attempted in the aftermath of the twin towers tragedy. The films, the mini series, the novels, the poems, the songs, the musical compositions.

Then the books that recount the story, analyse the causes, explain the consequences, affix and apportion the blame, dissect the responses - political, military, religious, economic, human.

John Swinton's deeply pastoral and theologically alert book, Raging with Compassion, which is not about 9/11, raises very important questions about all the clever explanations of suffering that theorise and intellectualise human pain. There are times when explanations do more harm than good, they don't reduce the pain of evil. Indeed they may add to it by suggesting that extreme suffering can ever be rationally explained or dealt with by the mind, without reducing the humanity of the sufferer. John's book offers a pastorally informed warning about the inadequacy of philosophical, theoretical, theological argument to make any real difference to the person suffering. At best such arguments make the observer more intellectually or theologically comfortable.

So I find the poem by Ben Okri all the more persuasive, not because of its argument - there isn't one - but because it looks to human responses to grief and suffering as ways of affirming and protecting that which makes each person precious - their humanity. This poem works on the assumption that grief is too costly, therefore too dearly bought, ever to be wasted. He unashamedly talks of using grief as water to encourage the growth of rehumanising qualities such as love, justice and compassion. It comes from my Oxfam book, Poems for Refugees, a source of much robust but wary hopefulness during these first weeks of Lent:

Grief ought to be used
To create more love;
There's no greater force
From below or above
Such grief as we have seen
Could water the roots
Of a new world dream.
Give the dead power
To change the world
Into something higher;
That we may listen

to hunger's
Cry and turn injustice into a flower.
This is the strange blessing
Of those flaming towers:
That we may wake up to
world suffering
And with vision sweeten humanity's hours.
Ben Okri, 2001

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