Must Thousands be Tortured, Millions Die, in Every Generation --
Because Some of Us Lack Imagination?
Last night -- the eve of Good Friday -- Phyllis and I went to see the Quintessence Theater in Philadelphia do George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan. Until we were deep into the play, we did not realize how appropriate it was to be seeing it that evening.
Toward the end of the play, one of the judges who has found Joan, the Maid of Orleans, guilty of heresy and sent her to be burnt actually sees the burning carried out. He is struck with horror at the torture of her death. Standing on the brink of madness, he mourns his own inability to imagine her death ahead of time, and tries to repent of his own complicity.
At that moment, Shaw, a socialist and by then an unchurched transreligious mystic, puts in the mouth of his character this question:
“Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”
For me, Shaw’s question leaves intact the various and mostly sacred Christian understandings of the meanings of Good Friday, while beckoning other communities to learn and share their own: Must Rabbi Akiba’s body be torn by iron rakes in every generation because some of us lack imagination? Must the Six Million be gassed to death in every generation because some of us lack not imagination of the horror, but compassion for the “Other” who is seen as not really human?
Must 29 Muslims be machine-gunned at prayer in the Tomb of Abraham because some of us are filled with fear, contempt, and hatred? -– and must their deaths be renewed in every generation, as when the Dawabsheh family in Palestine were burned alive in their own home?
Must 30 Jews in the midst of celebrating Passover be blown to shreds in every generation because some of us are filled with fear, contempt, and hatred?
Must Martin Luther King and Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and James Cheney be murdered in every generation because some of us become addicted to their own power and protect it with their cruelty?
Must Cardinal Romero be murdered as he chanted the Mass and Jean Donovan, Maura Clarke, and four other Catholic lay religious sisters be raped and murdered in every generation because their work for the poor threatened the Salvadoran government?
Must Emmett Till be lynched and Eric Garner be choked to death in every generation because Black lives don’t matter?
Must thousands die in the most powerful tornado ever recorded because some of us would burn the Earth to make a super-profit – and because some of us lack the imagination to see our planet choking, hear it wailing, “I can’t breathe!”
For those of us who are observing Good Friday today, and for all of us who can remember any of these tortures and these deaths;
For all of us who seek to renew our own imagination –-- and awaken it in others —
May we all remember to resist those Caesars and would-be Caesars of today who get pleasure from calling for the torture of anyone and who gain power from their arson, their burning, of the Earth as their political forebears burned Saint Joan.
For those of us who await with special hope this approaching Easter Sunday, may your day be filled with Joy—
And for you and for us all, may we act to make sure that all that is dead and all that is shattered in our world be redeemed to new life!