It is hypnotically beautiful. It reminds me of the deep respect we hold for those who have given their lives for others. It gives us a poetic listen to the dead as they beckon us to take up the torch and carry on their varied battles. It is not so hard to get lost in the reverence and noble courage that standing with the dead brings to mind. It is tough to think about friends and family who have died in any battle and not feel some sense of obligation.
The poetic bond we build in our reflection is compelling and powerful, and we do indeed see the graves and crosses--body on body that has been sacrificed to the throes of war and of nation maintenance. The “crosses row on row” stop us dead in our tracks, and they definitely beckon us to action. How can we have anything but pause and deep reverence among so many dead? So many lives ripped from families and friends; from dreams and from expectations. These cemeteries and memorials indeed become places of deepest reverence; places that beckon us into solidarity with the dead and the many causes that ended for them with these burials.
But are we hearing them rightly?
My friend Michael Gorman reminded me of how even some of the most experienced with war became absolutely convinced of its futility. He recalled Dwight D. Eisenhower saying, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” A few years later, Eisenhower went on, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” At the very least, one should recognize that there are many voices to listen to—living and dead.
So whose voice will the Church listen to?
Jesus said it—when times were getting tough for his people, he said, “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.” It takes the Spirit of Truth to recognize that Jesus won’t leave us orphaned. The Spirit of Truth says this war stuff is the orphan maker. The Spirit of Truth says we are hearing our dead quite wrong if we are hearing them tell us to take up the torch of war and keep it all going.
I refuse to not respect men and women who have died giving themselves for others. We must not forget the dead. But we need to hear them rightly if we are the listening living.
As those who are ALIVE in Christ, and those who are becoming his people in his world, the Spirit of Truth can help us hear them much more rightly. The dead would be the first to tell us that peace is what we are to work for, Jesus’ Way is what to work for—to live in and to die in--NOT to simply keep running people over the cliffs of war.
I pray the Spirit of Truth will open our ears to a new verse in Flanders Fields. Maybe it goes like this…
On streets and fields, flags pop and blow
Built on the crosses row on row
Recalling places children die
Marking the dates of tears we cry.
Scarce heard amid the guns below
We are alive, a Way we know
We can’t, about, as usual go.
Remembering these, we must ask, “Why?”
In Flanders fields. In Flanders Fields.
Why do they lie in Flanders Fields?
We’ll not break faith with dead nor Ris’n;
Yet we’ll not take the torch as giv’n.
We’ll gather in our Lord’s grand Way.
And death will cease with us this day.
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Heaven forbid the Church sleep while more and more lives are violently scattered among the poppies.