Two days in August
Catholic Times (UK) / Friday August 9th 2019
This week is marked by two significant dates from 1945, the use of the atomic weapons first on the city of Hiroshima on August 6th and three days later on Nagasaki. The loss of life and the dawn of the availability of weapons of mass destruction were marked by those distant August days. If you look back to the old Roman Missal and read the Introit for the Mass of the Transfiguration, August 6th, you will find these words:
“All the world shone with thy lightning and the troubled earth shook”
The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 76 could not have appreciated just how awful was that prediction for there is something deeply uncomfortable and prophetic in those few words. Now, some 74 years on, we live with an uneasy stalemate.
The days that led up to the morning of August 6th gave rise to a long poem, "Original Child Bomb", written in 41 verses in 1962, by Thomas Merton. He recounts in a methodical, almost pedantic, manner the decisions that led up to the final go-ahead for its use.
“On Sunday afternoon ‘Little Boy’ was brought out in procession and devoutly tucked away in the womb of Enola Gay. That evening few were able to sleep. They were excited as little boys on Christmas Eve. (26)
He goes on to say that- “… they reached Hiroshima and started the bomb run. The city was full of sun. The fliers could see the green grass in the gardens. No fighters rose to meet them. There was no flak. No one in the city bothered to take cover.” (31).
Ever since that terrible event, and the second attack on Nagasaki three days later, the moral absolutes have been debated. It is not without significance that Merton wrote his poem in 1962, the year of the Council and the year of the Cuban missile crisis. He concluded his writing with these lines.
“Since that summer many other bombs have been ‘found’. What is going to happen? At the time of writing, after a season of brisk speculation men seem to be fatigued by the whole question”. (41)
There is now no way of knowing what was said in those early morning moments by many voices. Now no way of hearing their words (of greeting or recrimination) traded across a room or in passing down the street.
Now no way of smelling the scent of flowers from garden shrubs or from potted plants rivalling the staleness of sleep with breakfast done.
Now no way of touching the outstretched hand of the child walking with her Mother just after eight that blue skied hour. Hiroshima Day, dark brightness in the bright darkness, Night Hiroshima.
Only in the agony of that explosive instant when on ground, razed of buildings, human forms that moved just disappeared.
Only then as the fireball rose and the firestorm spread outwards did voices of children cry “Atsui, Atsui” -it is hot- but without response.
Only then did silent shuffling ghosts leaving the stricken town hold out their savaged hands softly howling “Tasukete kure ” - help, please but none came. We begin to realise the transfigured Christ, fire-caught that August morning of fearsome Dawn.
There are times in our lives when an event is transformative, when something happens that makes a difference; there is a step-change and the person we were before is radically different from the person we become. There is no going back.
Of all the events recorded in the Gospels, the account of Peter, James and John with the Lord on Mount Tabor , just west of the Sea of Galilee, given to us by Matthew, stirs the imagination. There, on that rocky outcrop, the appearance of the man from Nazareth was transformed and momentarily his three companions were dazed by the event and covered their faces. Something of the glory and radiance of God was revealed to them, however briefly. Did they understand its significance? I doubt it. Did it affect their lives and their perception of the nature of Jesus? Most certainly it did. That moment in time was linked with an event that was yet to happen, the Resurrection of the Lord after his crucifixion at Passover. “Don’t tell anyone just yet”, they were told, the significance of such an event would be lost on those who had yet to walk the journey that led to it.
Now and then, we too are transformed, transfigured even, and the dwelling of God in us is allowed to shine through. Others see it, and are grateful for our being alongside them. Others feel it, in the gentleness of our touch or the carefulness of our hug. Others value it when we truly listen to their words of joy or pain and share with them times of great personal happiness or the darkness of desolation.