The verse for the Canticle of Zechariah in Morning Prayer this morning is: “The world will persecute you, but have courage, I have overcome the world, alleluia.” I began to think: “How are we to overcome the world? How did Christ overcome the world?” The answer that sprang immediately to my mind–and which I trust came from the Holy Spirit–was “By love.” He, and we, conquere by love. So often, I think, other plans and ideas for overcoming the world spring to our minds, but we must carefully test from where they come, for if they are not underpinned and motivated by love, their source is probably not God. Perhaps they come from ourselves or from our Enemy. A story comes to mind from a book I am currently reading, Evidence Not Seen, A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II. It is the autobiography of Darlene Deibler Rose, a young American bride, who with her husband went as missionaries to Dutch New Guinea shortly before WWII. She and her husband were interred in separate Japanese concentration camps. She suffered under horrific conditions and oppressors. Her husband died. Yet her faith remained strong despite her suffering. The story that came to mind has to do with her relationship with the Japanese commander of her camp who would beat the women savagely for any infraction. Many days she had to struggle internally to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies. One day she was called into his office. She boldly asked if she could have permission to talk with him, which he granted. She began to witness to him of Christ’s place in her life, ending with: “He died for you, Mr. Yamaji, and He puts love in our hearts–even for those who are our enemies. That’s why I don’t hate you, Mr. Yamaji. Maybe God brought me to this place and this time to tell you He loves you.” She continues in her book, “With tears running down his cheeks, he rose hastily and went into his bedroom, closing the door. I could hear him blowing his nose and knew he was still crying.”
This all brought to mind an excerpt from a letter written by Caryll Houselander, a contemporary of Darlene, at the beginning of World War II. She, too, was dealing with the suffering of many. She wrote:
When the first days of this agony [WWII] are over, it is going to lead on from suffering to suffering in every way, fear, loss, death–one can’t bear to think of it. Our work is to keep alive, a deep constant awareness of the living love of God, to be, as never before contemplatives of Christ in ourselves and in one another. To keep His passion before us and to keep our faith in His love, never allowing the despair and pessimism which must sweep many hearts.