Stockholm, August 9, 2002
Old Environments – New Environments
I feel it’s no coincidence – after all my intentions not to be here, and last minute programme changes – that I should be speaking on this particular day in this particular place about a particular event that happened today, some years ago. I refer to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
And it was in Stockholm in 1950, five years afterwards that a petition was started demanding an unconditional ban on atomic bombs. The first government next to use nuclear weapons in war would be a government of war criminals, the petition said, guilty of crimes against humankind.
Is Nagasaki a suitable subject for a conference on Canadian Studies? One of the best things about our peaceable country is that Canada connects. Our ancestries circle the globe making us uniquely suited today to building bridges ‘over troubled waters.’
Canada ought also, as one of the participants in the creation of the atomic bomb, be reminding the world of its horrors. Dr. Takashi Nagai, the University of Nagasaki’s dean of radiology at the time, understood Canada’s role. In The Bells of Nagasaki, he wrote, “…uranium crude ore is scarce throughout the world….” But “…Canada produces any amount of uranium.”
Canadian and American leaders shared the same attitude towards “the Japs.” Prime Minister MacKenzie King’s diaries revealed that he thought it was fortunate that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and not on the white peoples of Europe. Harry Truman referred to my race as “savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic…. They sure as heck didn’t look like us… yellow little creatures that smiled while they bombed our boys. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but true.”
Arundhati Roy is asked these days, as the unthinkable is being thought, and the talk of nuclear war swirls around her, “Why don’t you leave Delhi?” She answers, “If I go away, and everything and everyone – every friend, every tree, every home, every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved – is incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love? My friends and I discuss Prophecy, the documentary about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fireball. The dead bodies choking the river. The living stripped of skin and hair. The singed, bald children, still alive, their clothes burned into their bodies. The thick, black, toxic water. The scorched, burning air. The cancers implanted genetically, a malignant letter to the unborn. We remember especially the man who just melted into the steps of a building. We imagine ourselves like that. As stains on staircases. I imagine future generations of hushed schoolchildren pointing at my stain … that was a writer. Not She or He. That.” She adds, “… The very notion that war is an acceptable solution to terrorism has ensured that terrorists in the subcontinent now have the power to trigger a nuclear war.”
The First World War, dubbed the “war to end all wars,” gave way to another more terrifying war. And today, the people of the world are faced with the numbing thought that the last “bomb to end all bombs” at Nagasaki may yet give way to the bomb to end all life. There is a mania for suicide in the air. Arundhati Roy says that whether nuclear bombs are used or not, “they violate everything that is humane. They alter the meaning of life itself. Why do we tolerate them?” she asks. “Why do we tolerate these men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?”
It is time to remember Nagasaki. It is time for us to scratch away the numbing dailyness of our lives and look again at what we cannot and beg not to see. This June, I was there, and thought of the pilot who flew overhead that day over a city that was described by a novelist as the “Naples of the Orient…. Like Kyoto,” he wrote, “Nagasaki overwhelms one with its beauty and serenity. It is a town of stone roads, mud walls, old temples, cemeteries and giant trees.” In an interview, Captain Sweeney used the word ‘pretty’ to describe the city below. It was the greatest thrill of his life, he said, when he dropped the bomb.
There is a thrill in murder. There is a thrill in war. It is not just the certifiably insane who know this thrill. The eagerness for blood continues unabated in the human condition. But like parents of murdered children, being faced after years with the release of murderers, we must look again, and warn and grieve once more, openly, publicly. We need to acknowledge the appetite for war, the fears that feed it, the hunger for vengeance, the blood lust. It is fresh blood that the dogs of war always demand. And so I believe we need to be graphic in our remembering, visceral in our imagining, we need to understand how the past is demonstrably present so that the salivating beasts with their mad thirst may drink and feel and realize the close, close connection between ourselves and the ones we devour. We need to taste the blood and know it to be our own.
In my own madness for meaning, I am searching through the grid of our mythologies, our tales of murder and our encounters with the Divine. I am calling this talk, “Three Faces of God.” A friend of mine finds this title ‘too religious’ and argues that religion lies at the root of cycles of violence. More reason, I would think, to look at religion. Hans Kung states that in our striving for peace, we should begin with religion. “Peace among the religions” he says, “is the prerequisite for peace among the nations.”
My novel, The Rain Ascends, is an engagement with the God of Abraham and the Goddess of Mercy. Abraham’s God was the God of my childhood, the God of the patriarchs. Like us, Abraham found himself in a world where death and suffering were non-negotiable. His world, like ours, was also one of unimaginable abundance. In such a world, God made a covenant with Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky. It was through Abraham’s two main sons -- Ishmael, his eldest, child of the servant Hagar, and Isaac, the child of his wife, Sarah -- that God promised, “I will make you into a great nation” and “I give this land to your descendants.” When Abraham died, both Ishmael and Isaac, together as brothers, buried their father.
Today, three great faiths, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, claim Abraham as father. His descendants are indeed, as the stars of the sky -- Jews and Arabs by right of birth, and Christians, by adoption and faith. Muhammad, the founder of Islam traced his lineage through Ishmael, and Jews claim their lineage through Isaac. Christians identify with Jesus, the Jew. All three are bound together as siblings.
The foundational myth of Abraham’s great test has confounded people through the ages. In the book of Genesis, we are told that Abraham was ordered to do the unthinkable.
Genesis 22. “The time came when God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham’, he called, and Abraham replied, ‘Here I am.’ God said, ‘Take your son Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a sacrifice on one of the hills which I will show you.’…. So Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulder; he himself carried the fire and the knife, and the two of them went on together. Isaac said to Abraham, ‘Father’, and he answered, ‘What is it, my son?’ Isaac said, ‘Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the young beast for the sacrifice?’ Abraham answered, ‘God will provide himself with a young beast for a sacrifice, my son.” And the two of them went on together and came to the place of which God had spoken. There Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Then he stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son; but the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, ‘Abraham, Abraham.’ He answered, “Here I am.’ The angel of the Lord said, ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy; do not touch him. Now I know that you are a God-fearing man. You have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Abraham looked up and there he saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it as a sacrifice instead of his son.
This is the story I heard as a Christian child and I did not know, until I read Carol Delaney’s book, The Trial of Abraham that for most Muslims, it is Ishmael and not Isaac who was the intended sacrifice. But for all three faith-communities, one of the main values that is gleaned from the story is that of obedience, of complete submission to the will of God. Mohammed Atta, before his flight into the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, is said to have written or said, “I must be like my father Abraham willing to sacrifice all.” And he did.
Carol Delaney asks us, “Why is the willingness to sacrifice the child, rather than the passionate protection of the child, at the foundation of faith?” She suggests that we need a new myth and says, “I ask that people imagine how our society would have evolved if protection of the child had been the model of faith.”
Today, the children of Abraham in the West and the Middle East, Christians, Jews and Muslims, are speaking about justice, freedom and submission to God. Their words translate into violence and a growing dread that the fearful forces at play will propel us into a reckless abandonment of constraint and a catastrophic worldwide conflagration that will end life, as we know it.
There are other voices in the world. To begin, there is a certain small island in the east, where the world’s longest living and intensely peaceable people live.
My brother, a retired Episcopalian priest, was in Okinawa for a few years in the 90’s. He told me that in 1815, Captain Basil Hall of the British navy steamed into Naha, Okinawa and was amazed at what he found. The story goes, that on his way back to England, he dropped in to the island of St. Helena and had a chat with Napoleon.
“I have been to an island of peace,” the captain reported. “The island has no soldiers and no weapons.”
“No weapons? Oh, but there must be a few swords around,” Napoleon remarked.
“No. Even the swords have been embargoed by the king.”
Napoleon, we’re told, was astonished. “No soldiers, no weapons, no swords! It must be heaven.”
A unique culture of peace had developed in one tiny part of our warring planet. We might well wonder about the spiritual heritage of such a people. Today they boast not just the longest living humans in the world – the number of centenarians per 100,000 is six times that of the U.S. – but the world’s longest disability free life expectancy.
According to The Okinawa Program by Dr. Bradley Willcox, Dr. Craig Willcox and Dr. Makoto Suzuki, Okinawan society “… reflects a cultural cosmology where the female embodies and transmits sacred forces (shiji). Most Okinawan villages still have “divine priestesses,” called noro or nuru, whose job it is to commune with the gods and ancestors and serve as spiritual advisers. In fact, until the late nineteenth century, the king’s well-being and success as ruler depended on the spiritual sustenance granted by the high priestess (kikoe ogimi), who was of equivalent social standing. This is a unique cultural phenomenon. Although women act as religious functionaries in other societies, there is no other modern society in the world where women hold title as the main providers of religious services.”
When Japan, that once warring nation, took over the kingdom, there was an entirely bloodless coup. No soldiers were found to help later with the invasion of Korea. A disobedient people, Japan concluded. A kingdom without soldiers was clearly impossible. Okinawa, with its history of peace, must surely have had a culture as close to heaven as this planet has managed. And perhaps therefore a special target for the forces of hate.
On Easter day in 1945, on the day of triumph for the Prince of Peace, war came to the people of peace. The battle of Okinawa was the biggest land battle of history to that point. In twelve weeks, in eighty-four days, 234,000 people died, more than the people killed in August in the two atomic bombings.
My brother was in Okinawa in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the battle. Beginning at Easter, and for twelve weeks after, with the pastoral candle lit, a breathtaking action of speech took place. For two hours at noon and two hours at night, the dead were recalled and their names read. These were not just prayers for the Okinawan victims -- parents, grandparents, infants, schoolchildren, the familiar members of the community. The embracing in prayer included Japanese and American soldiers, those who had brought this disaster upon the most gentle of peoples. Here was mercy quietly demonstrated. It did not make headline news. But the Prince of Peace, mocked and murdered on Easter day 1945, was powerfully alive on Easter fifty years later.
In Okinawa’s Peace Park, the names are engraved on row upon row of granite slabs resembling the waves of the ocean nearby. A white towering structure encloses a huge statue of Kannon. She is described as an Asian symbol (with no deification) and is the central figure in the structure where each year on August 15 an interfaith service is held.
There is something surreal about the Christian calendar and the dates of war atrocities. Was it a deliberately conscious act to drop the world’s first atomic bomb on the Day of the Transfiguration, the day when Christ’s face became ‘glistering white?’ The word for ‘transfiguration’ in Japanese, hen-yo-bo, also means ‘disfiguration.’ In Okinawa, the day of resurrection was the day of death. In Hiroshima, the day of transfiguration was the day of disfiguration.
The atomic bomb, created by the Christian west, was prayed over by a Christian military chaplain before it set out on its lethal journey. “Almighty God, Father of grace, we pray you, let your grace come down upon the men who will fly in this night. Guard and protect those of us who will venture forth into the darkness of your heaven. Lead them on your wings. Guard their bodies and their souls and bring them back to us. Give us all courage and strength for the hours that lie before us, and reward us according to the hardships they will bring. But above all, my Father, give your world peace. Let us go our way trusting in you and secure in the knowledge that you are near to us now and for all eternity. Amen.”
While this prayer was being said, prayers to the same God were rising to heaven from Urakami cathedral in Nagasaki.
Nagasaki had been Japan’s window to the west, visited by Francis Xavier in the 1500’s, and later by renowned European physicians. It became the primary medical centre and the primary centre for European studies, to be visited by the top students of Japan.
Although Christianity had begun to take root in the sixteenth century, within a hundred years, the country was closed, Christianity was banned, and for the next two hundred years, the Japanese Christians, known as the “hidden Christians,” were hunted down to be crucified, hung over sulfur pits, tortured and killed.
There is a story of how some of the hidden Christians escaped and survived, thanks to a confusion in the minds of persecuting authorities who mistook statues of the Madonna for Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.
It was roughly between the sixth to the tenth centuries, as Buddhism spread eastward, that the male Buddhist deity of compassion became known in China as the Goddess Kuan Yin and in Japan, as Kannon. Nestorian Christians traveling the silk-road south and east from Persia were carrying statues of Mary, the Mother of Christ. Many of these statues were adopted as images of Kuan Yin. In Japan, during the on going round up, the presence of these statues in the homes of the hidden Christians signified to the authorities, that these were Buddhist homes. But unseen by the persecutors were crosses and crucifixes, symbols of Christianity, hidden within the Madonnas. Here is one instance where a partnership between Mary and the Goddess of Mercy stayed the hand of murder.
In 1873, the 235 year ban on Christianity was lifted, and survivors headed back joyfully to Nagasaki, settling in the Urakami district where the pre-eminent presence of Christianity in all of East Asia was established. Urakami Cathedral, built brick by brick by believers, was completed in 1914, the year that began the war to end all wars.
At 11:02, on August 9, 1945, it was precisely on this spot over Urakami cathedral, over a Christian neighbourhood that the atomic bomb exploded. What I understood this year, as I walked the few blocks of that sacred place from the cathedral to the peace park to the monument of the hypocenter, was that when we murder the other, we are murdering our own, our family of faith, our Isaac, our Ishmael, our Jesus, our children, our futures.
Father George Zabelka was the Catholic chaplain on Tinian Island at the time, and as he put it, “the last possible official spokesman for the Church before the fire of hell was let loose…” He lived to regret his approval of the actions that day. “There is no state of corporate evil that is not the result of personal sinfulness,” he said in an interview in 1984. “In August of 1945, I as a Christian and as a priest, served not as an agent of reconciliation but as an instrument of retaliations, revenge and homicide…. I chose nationalism over Catholicism, Caesar over Christ, as the “Great Artist” manned by Christians in my care, took off to evaporate the oldest and largest Christian community in Japan – Nagasaki…. I played an important and necessary role in this sacrilege – and I played it meticulously. I am responsible…. I mean it literally…. A sacrilege is the desecration of what is considered holy. For the Christian, the ultimate place of the holy is the human person…. Therefore every act of violence toward a human being is an act of desecration of the temple of God in this world. War for the Christian is always a sacrilege. There is no such absurdity as a Christian ethic of justified sacrilege. I am a priest who played a role in a sacrilege and that must be said by me and others like me without equivocation or else the future is a nightmare…. I want to expose the lie of killing as a Christian social method, the lie of disposable people, the lie of Christian liturgy in the service of the homicidal gods of nationalism and militarism, the lie of nuclear security.”
For Father Zabelka, it was an act of mercy and grace that, in his old age, he was able to make a pilgrimage to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to his Calvaries. He wished to look into the faces of the bomb victims and say, “Brother, forgive me for bringing you death instead of the fullness of life. Sister, forgive me for bringing you misery instead of mercy.”
Dr. Takashi Nagai was a bomb victim who did not live long enough to welcome Father Zabelka. He was a nuclear physicist, dean of the radiology department in the medical school of the University of Nagasaki, a medical doctor, scientist, researcher, artist and scholar, knowledgeable about atomic energy. He was also a Christian convert, one of Abraham’s new children, and his beloved wife, Midori was a descendant of Christian martyrs.
He had his own understanding of the holocaust. It was not an accident. The particular place the bomb fell was not done by human design alone. That morning, according to A Journey to Nagasaki, a booklet published by The Nagasaki Testimonial Society, three B29’s left Tinian Island with the lead plane, Bock’s car, carrying a plutonium bomb. One of the planes missed the initial rendezvous point. The two remaining planes then headed for Kokura, the second target destination. This time smoke obscured the view. The back-up was Nagasaki. Tokiwa Bridge, the target in Nagasaki, was covered by clouds. Captain Sweeney, the pilot, continued northwards. An hour before noon there was a break in the clouds.
In his book, The Bells of Nagasaki, Dr. Nagai shares his anguish in graphic detail. The children in the many schools in the area, the nuns in prayer, his wife with the rosary melted beside her bones, the faithful Christians who had been purified by such intense suffering for so long – all these deaths were not accidental. Nagasaki’s hell was a sacred offering for peace. Its meaning was that this was not to happen again. Not to anyone.
Dr. Nagai believed that the bomb was carried by the wind and by God precisely to Urakami. The grammar checker on my computer rejects the words “the bomb was carried by the wind and by God” and offers instead, “God carried by the wind and the bomb.” Father Zabelka would have agreed with the computer. He says it was God who suffered at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Calvary, the place where Christ suffered and died…is the holiest shrine in Christianity. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are Calvaries. For here Christ in the bodies of the “least” was put to death by exactly the same dark and deceitful spirit of organized lovelessness that roamed Jerusalem two thousand years ago.” The cry of the ancient psalmist, and the cry of Christ, “My God my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” translates, in this context to “My God, my god, why have we forsaken Thee?”
We forsake each other, and we kill, partly because, like Father Zabelka on Tinian Island, we don’t know what we are doing. We don’t realize that when we kill, we are killing our own. We have forgotten the pivotal presence of Mercy in the world. The Goddess of Mercy who stopped Abraham’s hand is still saying, “Stop.” We don’t have to kill. No matter how terrible the world, no matter how great the suffering in it, from whatever cause, we do not have to engage in any act of vengeance or retaliation or murder.”
Could the catastrophe at Nagasaki have been prevented? Einstein, without whom the bomb could not have been made, said that next time he would rather be a peddler or a plumber. He did not know what his knowledge would help to unleash. Two thousand years ago there was one who prayed that his killers would be forgiven because they didn’t know what they were doing. But today, we know what our weaponry is capable of doing.
On the walls of the museum commemorating Dr. Nagai’s life was his question. Who had done this? Who had brought this catastrophe to Nagasaki? His answer was, that we had done it ourselves. We humans had created hell. We were responsible. These were not words of hatred, nor were they cries of despair. His message to the world was simple. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” This was the commandment contained in his faith. The tiny one room house in which he wrote his books was called Nyokodo, -- “as yourself, house” from “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
“I have my mind,” he said. “I have my eyes, I have my hands.” With these tools still left to him, the bedridden Nagai, ill and dying, poured his passion for peace into his books, a line at a time. Exhausted after writing a line, he would rest in prayer, then continue with the next line. In the extremity of his suffering, the joy and the power of an indwelling Spirit of Mercy spoke through him. This voice that spoke so clearly to Abraham needs to be heard today by Dr. Nagai’s siblings, Abraham’s other children, in the Middle East and in the western world.
When I read Dr. Nagai’s comment, “I have my eyes, I have my hands,” I was reminded of a legend of the Goddess of Mercy. It is said that she was manifest in a compassionate princess, Miao Shan, the third daughter of a king of ancient China. Miao Shan’s fervent desire was to be a Buddhist nun. The king, however, wished her to marry. At length, the king relented and Miao Shan was permitted to enter a convent but with the strict requirement that she suffer hardship. Miao Shan remained steadfast. Enraged, her father ordered the convent destroyed. Shortly afterwards, the king became ill and was informed that only medicine made from an arm and an eye of a person without anger could save him. Miao Shan gladly sacrificed both arms and both eyes for her father’s health. When the king went to give thanks to his benefactor he was horrified to discover it was his own daughter. She became the Goddess of Mercy and instead of dwelling in heaven, she remains connected to earthly suffering, gathering the prayers of those who call upon her.
Like Miao Shan, Dr. Nagai offered his hands and his eyes in an act of sacrificial love. The power of mercy was present in both.
My first encounter with the Goddess of Mercy was in a dream in a Buddhist temple when I was visiting Japan in the early 90’s. Before that night, I had never given a thought to Her and knew nothing at all about Her. I described the experience in my novel, The Rain Ascends, as the narrator, Millicent Shelby, begins her journey. Here are Millicent’s words:
She came to me that spring in a dream and touched me in her evanescent way, saying that she, the Goddess of Mercy, was the Goddess of Abundance. Mercy and Abundance. One and the same. The statement shone in my mind with the luminosity of an altogether new moon.
What I am trusting, this pen-holding moment, is that it is she, the abundant and merciful one, who is both guide and transport for the journey. She is map, road and traveling companion, moving through light and shadow, dancing the direction. And what I realize just now for the first time is that it is not I on my own who seek her, but she who seeks me. It is she who in the act of flinging stones onto the forest floor – white stones, stepping stones, word stones -- it is she who weaves the way towards herself. She draws me through the miasma of the day-by-heavy-day sad morning wakenings to her as yet unknown glad rising.
It’s about a decade later now and the ‘altogether new moon’ of that dream still shines in my mind, but even more strongly today. The Goddess of Mercy, the transcendent power of mercy, is the Goddess of Abundance. They are one, equal and together in the human condition. Without abundance, there can be no mercy. Without mercy, there can be no abundance. Like Abraham, we live in a paradoxical planet, a severe and generous place. Like Abraham, we are presented with both murder and mercy. And like Abraham, we are obedient to the deity that we worship, to the point of murdering our children, our hope and our future. But unlike Abraham, we seem to be deaf to Mercy’s command.
We hapless humans are creatures that are prone to losing our way. We have followed the glittering signposts of money and power and mistaken these for the way, the truth and the abundant life. In the name of money, greed is a virtue, and self-interest our essence. The market fundamentalists of our day, like Christian fundamentalists, Islamic fundamentalists and Jewish fundamentalists, are obedient to death, willing and able to wage war, ready to justify murder.
Without the Presence of Mercy, the dream of abundance is a nightmare, Isaac and Ishmael are murdered, the sacrifice is all there is, and we have a voracious, blood-thirsty deity, reigning over a planet of ashes and dust. We have misunderstood the foundational story of Abraham and missed the point. In emphasizing Abraham’s obedience in the ancient myth, we have glorified him, instead of the One who offers us the way of mercy. Instead of seeking the face of the transcendent in our midst, we are relying on our strength alone. And so as we wander through the cathedrals of consumption, as we bow down to the altar of money along with its powerful and obscenely wealthy priests, as we participate in the scapegoating of the poor on our streets and elsewhere, as we stand by watching the seas and forests dying, we feel the promise of abundance slipping from our grasp and a certain dull confusion, a certain soul weariness sets in.
According to Kuan Yin, Myths and Revelations of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, She, who has been worshipped for centuries on the island Pu To in China, is also unheeded these days. Today the sacred island of the goddess is ablaze with neon, resounds to karaoke and disco bars and has become a major place of prostitution. It is as if the secular has declared war on the divine feminine. This is not the work of Communism but the consequence of the pursuit of consumerism. This seems to be the lowest ebb the sacred island has ever reached and we fear for the future of this unique place. Maybe Kuan Yin will have to perform a miracle on her own island – for little else seems possible in the face of such denigration.
The awesome power of money in our day has the entire world in its thrall. For the last several years, I have joined with others who are trying to look away from the mesmerizing idol. As the addicts of the money game play their lives away in the global casinos, there are small communities around the world attempting to build more humane and people centered systems of money. I have been involved in one small community currency experiment in Toronto – a city that is one of the shining places of hope in the world. The Toronto Dollar is a dream of connection, of cooperation, and of building community. It is a tool for citizens to demonstrate commitment to the well being of the least in our midst.
Through this engagement, I have learned that the abundant way is about the joy of friendship, and about the journey of trust. I share the conviction of those who believe that people and societies locked in cycles of addiction require faith in a higher power before we can be freed. Well-intentioned impulses alone are not enough to effect a transformation from dream to reality.
How do we today find the power that can yet transform our society and our suffering world? How do we break out of money’s grasp over our hearts and minds? How do we heed Mercy’s restraining voice that says, “Don’t kill?” How do we find the power to hold back the armaments of war? How, as Stephen Lewis asks, do we find the political will to halt the spread of aids in Africa? Is it, as Carol Delaney asks, that we need a new myth? Or do we need rather to see that the “passionate protection of the child” is in the old myth?
There are words of direction and challenge that rise up to us from out of the holocausts of the world. In the depths of Nagasaki, in the darkest night, a barely audible voice is saying, “Peace on earth. Goodwill to humankind.” From this distance of time and space, we can still see the Presence of Mercy made visible in Dr. Nagai’s hands – his hands in prayer, his hand holding his pen, his hand held high to the end, by a love so strong that nothing will ever extinguish it. Like Dr. Nagai, we have access to that power, we can discover the Presence of Mercy, alive and active within us even in the most unspeakable abominations. In the midst of our vast incomprehension, Mercy and Abundance together beckon us to a higher calling.
Following the holocaust in Europe, many people concluded that there was no all-powerful God ‘out there’ to rescue us. We were adrift in a universe abandoned by the divine. The feminist theologian, Rosemary Ruether says, “Each of us must discover the secret key to divine abandonment – that God has abandoned divine power into the human condition utterly and completely, so that we may not abandon each other.” What this tells me is that the power of the Transcendent One, the power of the Holy One is working within us, empowering us in the same way that Dr. Nagai was empowered.
In Abraham’s time, Mercy held back Abraham’s arms and turned his eyes away from murder. In our day, I believe that as we walk with our tiny steps of trust, as we entrust ourselves to the one God/Goddess of Mercy and Abundance, as we participate in the making of a peace without victims, She will rush to reveal Herself in more ways than we can begin to dream or imagine. She will effect the necessary transformations of our hearts and make the more-than-human power of mercy accessible to us. As we walk with our hearts open, we should expect to be surprised by Love’s actions within and among us, in whatever is to come in the days ahead.
Joy Kogawa, born in Vancouver, B.C. in 1935, is a writer living in Toronto. She is best known for her novel "Obasan." Her most recent book is a children's story, "Naomi's Tree." Her present work-in-progress is entitled, "Gently to Nagasaki." She is a Member of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and has been awarded seven honorary doctorates and numerous prizes for her writing.
The Bells of Nagasaki, Dr. Takashi Nagai, Kodansha, 1984.
Summer games with nuclear bombs, Arundhati Roy, The Toronto Star, June 10, 2002.
Theology for the Third Millennium, An Ecumenical View, Hans Kung, Anchor Books, 1988.
Abraham on Trial, The Social Legacy of Biblical Myth, Carol Delaney, Princeton University Press, 1998.
The Okinawa Program, Bradley J. Willcox, D. Craig Willcox, Makoto Suzuki; Clarkson Potter, 2001.
Kuan Yin, Myths and Revelations of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, Martin Palmer and Jay Ramsay with Man-Ho Kwok, Thorsons, 1995.
Pilgrimaging East, an interview with Fr. George Zabelka, by Charles McCarthy, 1984.
A Journey to Nagasaki, Nagasaki Testimonial Society.
The Rain Ascends, Joy Kogawa, Vintage Canada, 1996.
AntiSemitism and the Foundations of Christianity, edited by Alan T. Davies, Paulist Press, 1979.