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Defying the Darkness

The following article was prepared for Roqueta, Menorca’s English language magazine, although the Spring 2022 issue has not been published while an editor is being sought.

William Shakespeare’s historical play, Richard III, begins with these lines, spoken by Richard, while he is Duke of Gloucester:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

This optimistic discourse is, of course, rather ironic, and in fact goes on to reveal Richard’s malevolent intentions, because by the end of the play the “glorious summer” of the house of York has fallen to rebellion and civil war. Richard himself (or at least, Shakespeare’s depiction of him) becomes paranoid and obsessed with his own self-preservation, as indicated by his cry of, “A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” – an exclamation that clearly reveals his priorities. He would trade everything for a horse on which to improve his own chances of surviving the battle, rather than die honourably for his cause. Any parallels with current political leaders are purely coincidental, of course!

In the last issue of Roqueta, I anticipated a winter of discontent, considering those tired of living in Covid World, and their potentially disruptive attitudes and behaviour, along with the phenomenon of politicians who feel that their fortunes prosper more by inflaming conflict than by seeking consensus and cooperation. That feeling of being in a sort of metaphorical winter persists – although in Menorca we have been very fortunate to have weathered the pandemic with what is really quite a mild set of repercussions and restrictions, as seen with hindsight.

Yet we have not quite escaped the feeling of still being in a sort of metaphorical winter. Winter is a time of darkness that has been belied by Menorca’s beguiling weather, albeit with a few incursions of challenging cold spells, wind and storms. But the feeling of wintry darkness goes beyond the weather. It embraces and is characterised by the shadowy clouds of uncertainty and precariousness that derive from both the lingering pandemic and the political and military turmoil enfolding eastern Europe as this is written.

To be honest, while current circumstances tend to receive greater attention, there have always been shadowy times in human life, and if we allow ourselves to become too preoccupied with what is immediately around us, we may fail to pay attention to those serious needs that continue to afflict our fellow humans in this world. There are many who live under conditions of hardship, oppression, poverty and injustice, and quite frankly these are the things about which we should be protesting, rather than whining about whether we have to wear face masks, or receive vaccinations to go into public places. Freedom of choice has to be accompanied by acceptance of the consequences of the choices we make. Meanwhile, the larger, shadowy problems of our world remain.

Recently, I have been reading a book called Rage and Hope: 75 Prayers for a Better World, by Chine McDonald & Wendy Lloyd. Within its pages I found these words: “As we keep remembering the one who embodies God’s love, we may be sure that every protest against oppression, every attempt to serve people enduring injustice, and every prayer is an act of resistance which defies the darkness.”

This requires us to step back and look at life from a point of view that is not self-centred, or self-serving. If we protest against the oppression of other people, if we serve others who endure injustice, if we pray not for ourselves but for the needs of someone else, then these are acts of resistance that cast light into the darkness of others, and which then reflect that light back into our own lives. This is a much more constructive way to defy darkness than to try simply to light up our own lives.

While not wanting to reenact Richard of Gloucester’s apparently hasty enthusiasm, it does seem as though our own winter of discontent may be creeping towards a spring of encouragement and hopefulness. As the brightness of spring starts to revive the warmth and light in Menorca, we will progress towards Easter and its celebration of the triumph of light over the forces of darkness. But the Easter message is not a simple journey towards light. It travels through the dark and sinister aspects of human selfishness, egotism, jealousy, betrayal, injustice, suffering, pain – and death.

It is one of the challenges of Christian faith that it accepts and embraces death, to trust that new and fuller life exists beyond what we can comprehend, rather than, as Dylan Thomas wrote, to: “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” Imagining life in any form other than what has been before is not an easy thing to do, but only through death can new life begin. This is evident in nature and it is intrinsic to human life.

The pandemic really has forced us to deal with the challenge of letting things die, to let death occur, in people we know and love, and in ways of living, loving and being. It has created countless cemeteries full of hopes and dreams. Perhaps one thing that we need to let die, to defy darkness and to allow resurrection to occur, is our need to retaliate, to have the last word, to insist on being right even when it forces someone else into a polarised, opposite position. And if we have to let go of some of the grand, or even not-so-grand designs for our life, and let them die, then we might be encouraged by the idea of resurrection: that through death, we can encounter and embrace something new – and better.

The winter of our discontent may not yet be made glorious summer. But by letting go of what needs to die, by focusing on the deeper and enduring needs of our world, by thinking of the longer term rather than instant gratification, and by seeking the common good rather than our own self-centred desires, we can in fact defy the darkness and open cracks through which the light may shine.

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