I’ve had to read all this stuff about the Holocaust for some work I’m doing this summer. Spend two hours with the Final Solution, and you better be careful with yourself. To clear my head, I watched an episode of “The Wire,” in which a man was beaten to death. Oops. I had been reading Kathleen Norris earlier in the day, and she was writing about how you fight the vices with the virtues. Acceptance the opposite of violence. So I thought acceptance for all those people, they suffered and died and killed, and I could accept that. And while I was at it, I prayed to St. Anthony for the reappearance of a missing cat, although I can’t really believe in praying to saints, as a result of many years in the Lutheran church. And I believe St. Anthony knows this.
One section of this agonizing book was about the meeting they had to set up the Final Solution. The logistics, you know. Looking over the models of the camps and talking train schedules. Then they drank brandy and smoked cigars. There’s only one good thing about reading about the Holocaust: it blows your mind like a Zen koan. At a certain point, you just have to be like, man, that’s crazy. You can’t process it. It’s one thing to say, people are evil. People are violent. We must learn from history. The tsunami of various horrors, large and small, makes the Holocaust go way past those kinds of axioms. Man, it’s crazy.
This morning I managed to get to noon mass. They have a noon service every day at my church. There’s always a priest assigned to do it, and although it’s never been just me and the priest, it’s often dangerously close. Today there was one guy and the priest, and so I felt like I was really making the party. They seemed happy to see me. I read the prayers. The other guy seemed to know some of the responses, but not all of them, so I covered for us. We read lessons and the three of us shook each others’ hands at the peace, which didn’t take very long. We each drank a third of the wine.
A little gathering of Christians always reminds me of the early church, and how goofy they must have been, making it up as they went along. It also reminds me that although some people try to make church a numbers game, Jesus didn’t do a head count before he consented to talk. Individuals are precious, small groups are powerful, and attracting a huge enthusiastic crowd is not the measure of the message. Hitler commanded huge enthusiastic crowds.
Hitler and his cronies were a small group, in their room, with their cigars and brandies, and we were a small group, in the chapel at the cathedral. While they were agreeing on the worthlessness of the human form, and human religious tradition, and human diversity, we were agreeing to its value. In the eucharist, the human form is honored as a holy part of our experience, a symbol of how people touch each other, and affirm that the breaking of the human spirit or body can create great beauty and healing. We kept our religious tradition, and we were men and women and black and white and old and young. The good is as mysterious as the evil.