If our Christmas observance is ever going to move beyond food, frolic and festivity we are going to need to bring to our celebration a little shard of faith.

Christmas requires faith in the power of love, the truth of mystery, and the beauty that is inherent in suffering and hardship.  But, in the face of the realities of the world we inhabit, such faith can be hard to sustain.

At the age of 23 Hélène Berr had experienced more horror and seen more of the desperate violence and injustice of which human beings are capable, than anyone should have to face in a lifetime.

Helen Berr JournalBy 1944 Hélène and her family had survived four years of Nazi occupation. They had witnessed the deportation of thousands of Jews from Paris and had survived the systematic destruction of all human rights and privileges they had once enjoyed as French citizens. But time was running out. The Nazi machine, intent on making France judenrein (free of Jews), was closing in on the Berr family.

One month before being arrested in Paris and sent to the Drancy Concentration Camp in preparation for her deportation to Auschwitz  death camp on 27 March 1944, Hélène Berr  described in her Journal her struggle to come to terms with the horrors she had experienced in her young life.

On Friday, 4 February, 1944 in the evening, Berr wrote

Let’s close our eyes. Let’s forget what is, and ask: “Can you imagine that in some other place, evil men are able to slaughter some other multitude of innocent people in their millions, as has happened here to the Jews?” Because when you strip it down to the essentials, in the mind of any decent human being, that is the question, that is what has been done, what the Germans have done.

Yet, despite the horrors she had experienced, the cruelty she had seen, and the inconceivable inhumanity to which she had been subjected, Hélène could go on to write,

Yet I still believe that good is superior to evil. In the present moment everything contradicts my belief. Everything is trying to prove to me that true superiority, real and concrete superiority, is on the side of might. But the mind denies the facts. What is the source of this ineradicable belief? (Berr, Hélène, The Journal of Hélène Berr trans. David Bellos Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2008, 254)

Indeed, in the face of all she knew and all she had experienced, from whence comes “this ineradicable belief” that “good is superior to evil”?

Many other people traveled the same torturous road that led in April 1945 to Hélène’s death in Bergen-Belsen five days before liberation, but did not emerge with an “ineradicable belief” that “good is superior to evil.”

Faith is a profound mystery. There is no rational way to explain the tenacity of trust in goodness in the face of the dark violence that afflicts so much of the world.

Human history is filled with tragedy, horror, violence, and injustice. Again and again human behaviour flies in the face of goodness, truth, and beauty rendering trust and hope almost unimaginable.

But, at the same time, life is full of beauty, truth, goodness, gentleness, and light.The human story contains untold acts of unexplainable kindness, self-sacrifice and transcendent courage.

It appears that horror and beauty are both essential components of life. Why one person’s vision is taken by the darkness and another manages to sustain a sense of the light in spite of the unavoidable brutality of life, is a deep mystery.

I happen to fall on the side of light. I stand with Hélène Berr and affirm that, despite the endless tragedy that litters human history, there is ultimate goodness and beauty at the heart of every human being. I take no credit for the mystery of my faith. I cannot explain how I came to this curious conviction. It is a mystery. And mystery is the heart and ground of the “ineradicable faith” that is the essence of this season.

 

Advertisements