This year’s Armistice Day marks 105 years since the guns stopped at the end of the Great War. It was called the war to end all wars, but sadly we know it was not. 21 years after it ended another world war started, and in the 77 years since that ended there have been numerous conflicts and many more lives lost. There are currently so many wars and conflicts around the world that it is impossible to know them all but the ones we do know have a deep impact on us. Each year we remember not only those who have fallen but continue to fall and we remind ourselves that we are called to be peace makers and to do that we have to remember the full, and ongoing, cost of war. War can never be seen as a good thing.
This year I have been reflecting on the place of silence in our remembrance, and its place in war and what it says to us in terms of how we live. I first started really thinking about silence and war and peace when I read a poem last week, written by Marwan Makhoul, a Palestinian poet who lives in Israel:
In order to write poetry that isn’t political,
I must listen to the birds
and in order to hear the birds
the warplanes must be silent
When we go silent at 11am on the 11th or 12th of November, we need to wonder about the silence. What is the silence for? What does it bring to us and the world? What does it say to the places where conflict rages on and fear grips so many, and what does challenge does it bring to a violent, increasingly hate-filled planet?
This week someone shared with me a recording from the Imperial War Museum: https://youtu.be/jwisj9WqWc0. It is a recording of the minute before and the minute after 11am on the 11 November 1918. 1 minute before and 1 minute after the armistice. It is both powerful and sad. It is sad for you hear that the guns blasted until the very last moment; even though peace had been agreed, the aggression went on as long as it could. It is powerful as the silence falls and you can start to hear the birds. There is something very insightful about silence and conflict and the relationship between the two.
Silence is interesting and very challenging. Some people cope with it really well, others struggle. The truth is we all need a degree of silence in our lives, or at least some stillness and a sense of control over sound, so that we can “listen to the birds” or notice what needs to be noticed. We need some space from all the sounds that bombard us, to help us focus on what really matters. Conflict is usually filled with out-of-control noise and as such, space and stillness are not possible.
But silence cannot just be a switching off. It isn’t a “nothing” time. It needs to be an active time, even if the active is simply stilling ourselves so we can listen for “the birds” – all that really matters. But there are other active things that will happen in the silence of this day. There is the activity of remembering the cost of war: the reality of lives lost. The reality of so many lives lost. Lives of friend and stranger, of ally and enemy. It is not enough for us only to remember the lives lost of the people we might have known or who we consider to be “our side”. We must also remember the full cost of war. Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies, and the least we can do to follow this teaching is to remember that they too are lost in war, and they too are mourned. And this is never just about military loss. Although there is an important part of this day to remember those who gave their lives because they fought in war, those who lost their lives and who continue to lose their lives are most often the ones who made no such agreement to fight. We remember them all.
The risk of remembrance is that we will only remember certain stories of war and certain people. The ones that we feel a deeper connection to, the ones whose cause we feel we can support, the ones who are, perhaps, most like us. But as the world gets ever smaller, and if we chose to, we can become aware of so many more stories of conflict that have been more hidden in the past. We need to hear those stories and remember the loss that comes with them. The keeper of one such story has come to be with us for this year – our student minister Maria. She was born and brought up in Korea, and this year marks 70 years since the end of the Korean war, often referred to as the forgotten war. After the second world war, after years under Japanese control, Korea was split into North and South and in 1950 the North invaded the South and a terrible war ensued for the next 3 years. At the end of the war the country was still split in two, as it is to this day. Deep wounds still exist and a desire for the reunification of the country lives in the hearts of many Koreans. Maria can tell you much more than me about this, but I want us to remember it today as it is one of the conflicts we forget, along with so many others. And as we can too easily forget the conflict that ended 70 years ago, we can also too easily forget the pain that is still very real for the people of Korea.
The roots of this remembering are found in a particular war but we must do more than only remember those lost in certain conflicts. The silence of this day is a time to be honest about how many conflicts have happened since then, and still happen. To ignore them is not to face the world. In one of the stories told about Jesus we hear that he wept over the city of Jerusalem, heartbroken that they did not know the ways that made for peace. In doing this he faced the conflicts that raged there, and the reality of ones that would rage in times to come. Perhaps even the one that rages now. Perhaps it is tempting for us to remember only past conflicts because it is hard to face the reality of conflicts that continue. But let us ask God to help us to do remember and notice more, because if we do not, we will struggle to live in the world as it really is. And let us learn from Jesus – weeping is OK. Perhaps in the silence, or because of the silence, we will weep for what is happening in our world. If we do, let us know that God weeps with us.
Into the silence, God will speak. Perhaps that is the sound of the bird song. God will speak and peace will breathe. God will speak and a clearing will be made in the conflicts of our world and our lives. This is what comes when we lay our conflict down. When we stop seeking revenge. When we acknowledge that we are angry and then find a different way of expressing it.
And so it is, I end with another poem. This time from a Rabbi, Rabbi Irwin Keller written on 17th October this year:
Today I am taking sides.
I am taking the side of Peace.
Peace, which I will not abandon
even when its voice is drowned out
by hurt and hatred,
bitterness of loss,
cries of right and wrong.
I am taking the side of Peace
whose name has barely been spoken
in this winnerless war.
I will hold Peace in my arms,
and share my body’s breath,
lest Peace be added
to the body count.
I will call for de-escalation
even when I want nothing more
than to get even.
I will do it
in the service of Peace.
I will make a clearing
in the overgrown
thicket of cause and effect
so Peace can breathe
for a minute
and reach for the sky.
I will do what I must
to save the life of Peace.
I will breathe through tears.
I will swallow pride.
I will bite my tongue.
I will offer love
without testing for deservingness.
So don’t ask me to wave a flag today
unless it is the flag of Peace.
Don’t ask me to sing an anthem
unless it is a song of Peace.
Don’t ask me to take sides
unless it is the side of Peace.
Rabbi Irwin Keller, Oct. 17, 2023
Let us pray that God will hold our world in our stillness this day, so that all will know the gift and peace and hear the bird song.
If want to talk about anything here or anything at all, please send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
Rev Anne Sardeson