Monday, August 21, 2017

From Retreat Silence to the Shouting in the Streets

After a week of retreat (eight days without Twitter or Facebook!), I find myself again immersed in a river of conversations, comments, epithets and headlines, this time mostly circulating around the provocatively racist and nativist actions of young, self-styled "neo Nazis."

It seems to me that I am seeing a new expansion of an important area of the Pauline mission and spirituality. Not that we can issue the definitive answer to the social problems or ideological errors behind the things we see in the news: no. Our mission is not only to publish and spread the truth of things, it also has a spiritual dimension of offering reparation for the ways media are put at the service of error and ideology. Because those racist ideologies are not springing full-grown from the tabula rasa of a naive human brain; they are being communicated (with a certain perverse effectiveness) through various forms of media.
A Berlin courtroom. 

Used to be, people spoke of the "loss of a sense of sin." Maybe that was only Stage One. Now we are witnessing the "loss of a sense of truth." These particular untruths would have nowhere to go if our society has a whole had not already lost its moorings in objective truth.  And with that loss of a sense of truth, are we not also witnessing the loss of a sense of community? Looking at those angry young men I have to wonder what motivates them to follow a standard dress code, or carry a shield, or wield a torch in the name of their ... skin color?

What a contrast with the young people whose writings I was reading while on retreat! A few weeks earlier, I had received a review copy of At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl. The Scholl siblings (Sophie was the subject of a recent biopic) were about the same age as many of the white supremacists we have seen on parade these past several weeks.

Immersed in Nazi Germany (the real thing, not the romanticized and mythical version that so enraptures our American Johnny-come-latelies), by all rights the Scholls should have completely bought into the system that surrounded them. They had been members of Hitler Youth. Hans was even in the German Army (as a medic). But somewhere along the way these two young people (at their execution, Hans was 24, Sophie 21) had discovered a point of reference outside of themselves. They discovered philosophy through wise mentors who had not yet been eliminated from society, and then they discovered the foundation of all truth, God.

And so instead of enthusiastic (or at least resigned) cooperation with the goals of the Third Reich, they became a unique part of the Resistance, boldly calling other young adults in the name of the "White Rose" to reject Nazi ideology and to resist it in any way they could. Members of the White Rose wrote and printed newsletters in secret, distributing them through a variety of channels to university students. Each issue included the invitation, "Make and distribute as many copies of this as you can."

While they were doing this, the Scholls continued a lively correspondence with friends and family, sometimes alluding in coded language to their illegal enterprise. There had been hints even earlier of the direction their lives would take. A few years before the first White Rose bulletin came out, Sophie had written to her boyfriend, Fritz (like Hans, on active duty, but unlike Hans, a firm believer in "my country, right or wrong"):
" constantly meets the view that, because we've been born into a world of contradictions, we must defer to it. ... If it were so, how could one expect fate to make a just cause prevail when so few people unwaveringly sacrifice themselves for a just cause?" 
Hans, similarly, had written to his sweetheart: "This war (like all major wars) is fundamentally spiritual. I sometimes feel as if my puny brain is the battle ground for all these battles. I can't remain aloof because there's no happiness for me in so doing, because there's no happiness without truth--and this war is essentially a war about truth."

The Scholls knew it wouldn't be long before the Gestapo traced the paper, the envelopes, perhaps the typewriters, to their little group of confederates, and that once discovered, they would be ruthlessly eliminated. And yet, in the middle of their doomed enterprise, Sophie wrote to a dear friend, "Isn't it mysterious--and frightening, too, when one doesn't know the reason--that everything should be so beautiful in spite of the terrible things that are happening? My sheer delight in all things beautiful has been invaded by a great unknown, an inkling of the creator whom his creatures glorify with their beauty. --That's why man alone can be ugly, because he has the free will to disassociate himself from this song of praise. Nowadays one is tempted to believe that he'll drown the song with gunfire and curses and blasphemy. But it dawned on me last spring that he can't, and I'll try to take the winning side."

Hans, too, noticed and delighted in beauty. At about the same time as the White Rose was about to blossom, he had written to a girlfriend:
"The sun's shining. The snowdrops are out, and white clouds are sailing across the sky. Dark earth and bright sky. I feel like saying yes to everything. I feel like saying, yes, I love you, yes, I know the way, oh, yes, it's bliss to be a human being."
These are not sentiments we would expect to find our American neo-Nazis expressing. I think that's significant.

Meanwhile, there's this:

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission that can help me...get more books. In addition, I received a free copy of the book mentioned above. I am committed to giving as honest a review as possible, as part of my community's mission of putting media at the service of the truth. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

1 comment:

Lisa Tuggle, HFI said...

Sr. Anne,

Thanks for this insightful blog post. I have never heard the story of the Scholls. What a testament to the beauty of God's grace working in a soul!

If only we would give God half a chance to speak to us as He did in the minds and hearts of those young people. It seems that it is a matter of taking time to listen to His voice inside us, which is why a regular hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is so essential for people all over the world today. When I rest before the Blessed Sacrament, the din of the world's song is removed from me like so much earwax and, seemingly for the first time, I can hear God sing.

Lisa Tuggle, HFI
Pauline Community of St. Joseph