(c) Gerhard Altendorf 2006
Translation by Jochen Riess
November has come; winter is approaching the Northern hemisphere. St. Martin’s Day has passed, when people think of roast geese and the beginning of carnival. But who will remember Martinus, officer of the Roman army, who would rather lose rank and honour than ignore poverty and suffering and leave the beggar naked?
Can’t you remember how we went with our children on St. Martin’s Eve and let the lanterns glow, let the children sing of sun and moon and stars and defend the light against the incoming darkness? The ancient religious rituals provide a particular register of symbolic expressions for days like All Saints Day or All Souls Day, when the little red candle lights glimmer over the resting places of the deceased. Another opportunity to reflect on the serious aspects of life is Memorial Day. And since human beings know more in their soul than they are ready to accept and believe in their minds these occasions remain important.
November is a dark month not only in terms of climate and weather; it leads towards contemplating about the dark side of history and human life which in turn reveals the state of our social and political conditions. After we have known in Germany a special Day of Prayer and Repentance for centuries, it is not by chance that it has by now been cancelled in most of our federal states (Laender). Arrogance and oblivion hide much of past and present events.
Once upon a time a prophetic voice proclaimed a piece of good news against the darkness among the nations and the course of history: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: light has dawned upon them, dwellers in a land as dark as death” (Is.9;1). The people of ancient cultures knew fear and its effects. So does modern man: fear of future, fear of oneself, fear of other people, all of which lead to a dreadful life. We feel like children in the dark, afraid of darkness and solitude. There is a story about the child in bed in a dark room who calls on his family in the neighbouring room: “Say a word, I am afraid!” “But you can’t see us!” The child: “If somebody speaks it gets brighter!” It is fear that makes the child ask, but also a firm belief that speech can lighten the dark. We all need a voice to that effect. The people who walked in darkness were convinced that light would one day dawn upon them. Our church buildings can still serve as a parable that there has been (and still is) a faith that makes people see the light.
But if fear and yearning can not find a somebody who ‘is there’ to offer comfort, the fear will take on a destructive character and turns into an urge to kill one’s own hope and faith, because the vacuum becomes intolerable. We should therefore repeat the child’s request for a voice to speak to us in the dark: songs of yesteryear, a poem, a verse from the bible, memories of a happy moment.
The bad thing is that so many people don’t believe any more that words can help and brighten the darkness. What we need under the circumstances is a decision: to learn anew how to ask for a voice that speaks and how to listen so that we can hear what is spoken.