The Heart of the Black Madonna

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hiroshima and the Feast of the Transfiguration

Russian Icon of the Transfiguration of Christ 15th Century

Growing up in a mostly protestant home, my understanding of the Feast days was minimal at best. I had 8 Godchildren all of approximately the same age, and I took my God Mothering quite seriously. Because I had so many and the nature of modern life made it difficult to spend time with them, I used to write my Godchildren letters about the different Religious holidays from a Christian perspective. I was fascinated by the feast of the Transfiguration, and that it occurred on August 6th. For me as a long time peace activist, and anti nuke person, August 6th was the date when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Three days later, the US bombed Nagasaki, which many people like to think was the ending of World War II.

In the dark days before the internet, I was forced to actually talk to people to find out what the Feast of the Transfiguration was all about so I could write a letter to my Godchildren. I called a couple of my Catholic friends, who could not help me, they did not know what it was. One suggested I call a parish in Los Angeles, near my home in Southern California, which was called "The Transfiguration Catholic Church." The secretary at the office of the Church of the Transfiguration could not give me a good answer, but assured me that the retired priest of the congregation who was still available for consultations and such, could answer my questions. She gave me his number, telling me he had been a Naval Chaplain during the War in the Pacific, and might have some insights that other priests did not.

Highlight of Rafael's Transfiguration of Christ 1516-1520

He and I had a lovely conversation, he told me all about the festival which was when Christ Jesus first revealed his divine nature to Peter, James and John, who saw him illumined as the Christ Being, in between Elijah and Moses. In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, and the setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth

Matthew (17:2) states that Jesus "was transfigured before them; his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light."

I asked the priest if he thought there was any connection between the Feast of the Transfiguration and the American bombing of Hiroshima. He stammered, and basically mumbled, "Well, no, there is no connection." He remarked nervously, that no one had ever asked him that question. This was also quite interesting to me, because I felt there was a connection, not consciously, I am sure the Americans did not plan to annihilate over 100,000 people on a Christian Feast day, I am sure it was just a randomly picked date that fit in with the broader war plan. But that is how evil truly prevails, with mindlessness, the evil adversaries know what they are doing, and require our cooperation by not asking questions, or saying no.




My mother's gift was to raise me with a consciousness geared towards Christian Social Justice. Instead of going shopping for clothes with my mom when I was a teenager, we went to anti nuke conferences, and did freeway bannering for the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.





The city of Nagasaki, which for years prospered as a port of trade with Portugal, was also the window through which Christianity first arrived in Japan.


However, in 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (the daimyo who unified Japan) decreed a ban on Christianity. This resulted in an incident known as "the execution of the 26 saints". 26 Christians were rounded up in the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Sakai, brought to Nagasaki via an overland route in large two-wheeled wagons, and executed at Nishizaka. This marked the first significant incident of martyrdom in Japan and triggered the period of pervasive persecution and martyrdom that followed.


In 1865, after an interval of about 300 years, a community of descendants of the original Japanese Christians was discovered living in the Urakami district. At the time of the US Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these two cities had the largest Christian populations of any Japanese cities.



 
The Head of a Statue of the Virgin Mary from The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Nagasaki


Nagasaki was the first Christian Community in Japan. The bombing of this city according to many scholars and military experts was unnecessary to end the war. Especially since the Hiroshima bomb completely devastated an already crumbling Japan, morally and militarily. What was also of note was that the US Military forced African American soldiers to witness the bombs with no protection to see how it would affect their health. Some would argue convincingly that the atomic bomb was an all around racist attack made by the Americans. It is hard to dismiss.

The head of the statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood in  Nagasaki’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception -– (Urakami in Japanese,) was the only art object of the Cathedral which survived. The cathedral was leveled by the blast, which claimed an estimated 74,000 lives.

Urakami Cathedral After the US Atomic Bomb Blast

Nagasaki was the secondary target on 9 August 1945, which bombers approached only after finding the primary target, the city of Kokura, shrouded in thick clouds. The nature of the bombs makes me wonder why they needed a target at all, it does not seem like precision was needed for this kind of power. The Bombers then went to Nagasaki, but clouds over the Mitsubishi Iron Works, the intended target, compelled the pilot to fix his target over the visible dome of the Urakami Catholic Cathedral. 

I spent New Year's Eve 1999 at a convent in Las Vegas. I had joined a interfaith gathering to pray for peace in the new millennium, and we greeted the New Year at the Nevada Atomic Bomb Test Site near Las Vegas. There were survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that came all the way to this barren center of evil in the Nevada Desert. They prayed and danced with our group which included the Shoshone Nation members who's land had been stolen so these atomic tests and bombs could be made. The rest of the world was worried that the electricity or their computers would not work. We were praying together for an end to armed conflicts, an end to nuclear threat. When I look back on that experience and all the hell that has erupted since then, I wonder, would it have been worse had we not prayed so fervently?

The mushroom cloud over Nagasaki

What is interesting to me is that the atomic bomb is the polar opposite of the Transfiguration. Both involved light, but the Light of Christ was the light of transformative love, life and hope. The first image humanity had of the divine coming towards us. It was the first time humans met the Christ. The light of the bomb is a false and deadly light, the death of everything for generations, thousands of years. Thousands met Christ that day, and millions afterwards from the ravages of radiation sickness and cancer. One event was loving and life giving, the other was mass murder.

It is significant to me that there is a Madonna who survived this blast, she was blackened through the greatest evil known to humanity. Her eyes are gone, but her countenance remains. She is steadfast in the face of evil. She shows that love, truth and beauty can prevail in the face of the greatest horrors.

I have always been struck and grieve heavily when the atomic bombers receive standing ovations for their deeds. In the past, Americans get very upset saying that it was worth it, because the war would have gone on costing so many lives, and well there was Pearl Harbor. Now, people have forgotten the bombs, they are part of history for most Americans.  The Japanese remember, which is why they are so interested in promoting peace. 

I wonder what would happen if we actually did do what Christ asked us to do, turn the other cheek and forgive seventy times seven when it came to war? I guess I am naive, but am I?

I go back to the Black Madonna, in this case she is blackened by experience, by my nations action. I cling to the hope and promise of the Transfiguration, and feel that since this most important of days in the ministry of Christ, he continues to reveal himself, to show divinity to humanity. We must not be distracted, we must be awake, and embody in our hearts and our will, the mission of the Christ.