Saving power amid danger
“But where the danger is, the saving power also grows”
The most celebrated Christian feast is Christmas, a feast of God becoming human. Incarnation happened for the salvation of humanity. A lot of questions can be asked, as to why did God choose this way. I don’t have a perfect answer. However, my much-loved verse by the German poet Holderlin which was made popular by Martin Heidegger (one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century), gives us a lot of hints to come to a conclusion. It says, “But where the danger is, the saving power also grows.”
The salvation, which Jesus promised, was achieved by the divine becoming human. He entered into the depths of humanity so that humans can live life to the fullest (Cf. Jn 10: 10). Yes, where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom 5: 20). Does the divine act of salvation give a hint on how to act, especially when we are faced with a crisis?
A few possible examples
Some events in world history attest to the insight of Holderlin. In the Catholic world, one of the greatest events was Vatican Council II which dug deeper into the depths of the church to find the sources of renewal. (The dual concepts of ‘aggiornamento’ and ‘ressourcement’ point to that reality). After the conversion of Ignatius of Loyola, his qualities and talents employed for self-glory, became the means for God’s glory.
The recent massive floods (2019) in Kerala, India showed that the people were able to dig deep into their individual and collective resources (the extensive saving acts of the fisherman community and many other well-wishers fit in this category) to respond to the situation. If we ask, how innumerable nurses, doctors, and other social workers ceaselessly work during the pandemic despite all their tiredness, lack of facilities, and various other factors of irritation, the answer is not much different.
Victor Frankl, the famous psychologist, survived and helped many others to survive the extreme conditions of the concentration camps in World War II. How? He helped them to discover the meaning/purpose of their life and they survived the concentration camps.
Various Crises and Our responses
The present pandemic made us realize many crises — the migrant crisis, the crisis of the homeless, the ecological crisis, the crisis of our developmental and economic models. Crises are painful realities, especially for those who face the brunt of it. The saddest part amid such crises is that some of the extremely privileged don’t realize that there was (is) a crisis and danger.
If realization and awareness of the crisis is the first step, what is the next one? For many of us, it is blaming someone whom we consider responsible, which is the government. But do our reflections end there? We have heard the dictum that responsibility comes along with power. British historian, Lord Alton says power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, making our governments absolutely responsible (which only aid in the creation of absolute powers) for this crisis is not the way forward. If we accept the greater faults of governments, the responsibilities of us (individually and collectively) too can’t be neglected fully. Acceptance of my responsibility is not only a moral/spiritual decision, but it does have much political value for saving our democracy.
I don’t think going back to some ancient way of life (technological backwardness) is the way forward. For me, the next step after accepting our responsibilities is to dig deeper into the essence of humanity and society (both in the individual and collective realms). The way ahead and the resources for the ‘new’ journey do exist within our present realities — within the realities of danger and crisis. It is for you and me to explore and find.
The story of Idli-amma could further illustrate the insight of Holderlin. K Kamalathal, an 85-year-old old lady, is a famous idli (a popular Indian food) seller in Tamil Nadu, who had a deep economic crisis in her business, during the pandemic. I don’t know, how she manages…. but she continues to sell idlis at Rs. 1 for the sake of the poor. She digs deeper and finds resources more important than profit (she was never profit-oriented) to continue her business and her business becomes a saving mission.
Jesus’ invitation to us (as individuals, families, institutions, and the church) is, do like-wise. I think the invitation and encouragement of people of good-will too won’t be much different.