During the recent riots that spawned across England like a Biblical plague, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the intellectual response of Christian leaders. Acts of solidarity were good, calls to pray fair enough, but otherwise there was nothing distinctive in their reflections. In fact, what I read and heard made me make a deep sigh; no wonder the people of England have little time for the Gospel if this is all we can come up with.
As I was mulling over the significance of this rending of our social fabric, I came across this quotation: “When we speak of theology we mean not one thing but at least three: word from God; word to God; and word about God. All theology, and therefore a theology of the Sacred Heart, is more adequately understood in terms of: God's self-revealing word addressed to us; the doxological word of Christ and of the Church addressed to God; and the healing word of the Church addressed to the world.”[i] This quotation is from an essay on the theology of the Sacred Heart in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI gives a clear focus for what we can expect when the Cross encounters our world, when Grace in the Person of Christ enters into the fallen debris of Creation and especially of our humanity.
If the Sacred Heart is a heuristic to open up the full treasure of the Gospel for the peoples of today, then the recent riots in London should be a good test for the icon and how it can do its ‘work’. These riots were a tearing back of a veil that revealed our raw, fallen humanity in need of redemption. The icon clearly shows a humanity in peaceful coexistence with itself and with God, not a static submission but a humanity which soars upwards and descends but with a focus upon God revealed out of the darkness of His Otherness as a Word that speaks of forgiveness, mercy, compassion. He is enthroned but not in a worldly sense of power. He sits with perfect poise; His is not a heart hardened, wrathful, vengeful that lashes out but one which reaches out to bless and pronounce forgiveness as we see in his raised right hand. He is not doing this from indifference, but through a common experience of, a participation in, our suffering. His response is forgiveness, of bringing persons back into a harmonious movement that is drawn by this power of love into a deeper communion with Him and with each other.
In the aftermath of the violence, there were two events which signified this Word alive in our community. The first was the father of the three young men murdered in Birmingham, who pleaded for the angry people in the Black and Asian communities to ‘go home’ so that no more lives were lost and his courageous, selfless words brought peace to life where until that moment there was the chaos of hatred, fear, anger, despair. Secondly there was the Malaysian student whose jaw was broken and who then had his bag rifled by those pretending to care and help him. At the press conference following his release from hospital, he was full of gentleness, smiles and positive words about this country. He had no rancour, no bitterness, do sadness and his smile and words brought the sunshine of the underlying goodness of God’s world back into focus. And both of these were Muslims.
The icon enables us to see these two men as essentially caught up in the energy of love which in exhaustively draws all people and all things to itself. It reveals the mechanism of how the Word goes forth and finds a mouthpiece in our very damaged world. It shows us where to find inspiration, and how to interpret the words we hear in the context of the greater scheme of things, the redemption of the cosmos and the triumph of light over darkness not in a narrow sectarian way, but in one which embraces the whole of humanity and of the cosmos in which we live.