Hope of Heaven After the Holocaust?
In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis follows a bus-load of “tourists” from hell as they visit heaven. En route, they cross “the radiant abyss” between the netherworld and the shining world above.
In her poem “Choir of the Rescued,” Holocaust-survivor Nelly Sachs invites us to understand the aftermath of hell-on-earth:
We the rescued, / from whose hollow limbs Death has already cut his flutes, / to whose longings Death has already set his sickle – / our bodies still bemoan the aftermath / with their maimed music.
We the rescued / ever yet the nooses hang turned for our throats / before us in the blue air – / ever yet the hour glass fills with our dripping blood.
We the rescued / ever yet the worms of fear eat at us. / Our star is buried in the dust.
We the rescued / beg you: / show us slowly your sun. / Lead us one step at a time from star to star. / Let us quietly learn to live again. / Otherwise the song of a bird, / the filling of a bucket at a well / could unleash our ill-sealed ache / and wash us away….
(translation mine (c) 2007)
We live in the abyss between heaven and hell, after the Holocaust but before the Day of Justice. Some days I remember, gripped by the tension in my shoulders and the pressure in my skull. I see the darkness all around me and despair. I hear the dogs barking and I can feel myself ready to wash away.
But the Radiance shines through the darkness, wakes my soul, reminds me to sing. The sun shines on my face, the flowers greet me in my path, and the trees bow to shelter me. Maybe they have been there all along and I’ve been too busy to notice. I loosen my stride, flex my feet, and prepare to meet my Lord in the air.