During the week I met a lady who told me that her father had fought in Gallipoli during the First World War. That was one of the big campaigns fought on the Black Sea where over 20,000 Irish men were engaged. It was one of the truly great military disasters that was ill conceived and doomed to disaster from the beginning. Nearly all the men who fought lost their lives so her father was one of the very few lucky ones who survived, came home and raised a family. Given that background she was very lucky to born against all the odds.
My mind went back about 15 years to when I was acting as chaplain on board a ship I had the chance to visit the area and was completely overcome by the thousands upon thousands of names inscribed on walls around the place and the suffering each one represented. In the museum they showed bullets that had pierced each other in the air so great was the intensity of the fighting. There was quite a good film shown by RTE some time back called Gallipoli, Having been there I really couldn’t watch it as my mind kept going back to the epicenter of the conflict overlooking quite a large bay where the main landings took place and the guide telling us that the slaughter was so great that the sea went red for two miles out and around the coast.
I often think that for those men who fought and for all those who have been caught up in the horrors of war how difficult it must have been to either believe or to hold onto their faith. Yet in the most mysterious of ways it was often in the very worst of circumstances that many experienced an awakening of faith. One example was of a young soldier who having spent the night in a shell hole wrote a prayer that was found on his body a few days later. This was what he said.
‘Look God, I’ve never spoken to you before, but now I just want to say, ‘hello’. They told me you didn’t exist and like a fool I believed them. But last night I looked up at the sky from a shell hole. When I saw the beauty of the stars I thought how big the universe is and I knew they were telling me a lie.
I wonder if you will shake hands with me when we meet? Somehow I feel you will understand all my failures. It’s amazing how I had to come to this horrible hell hole to get to know you. What was I doing before this?
There isn’t much more to say, but I’m sure glad I got to know you today. I feel the zero hour will soon be here. This is going to be a horrible fight. Who knows but I may come to your house tonight.
Now I’m crying. Fancy me crying! I never thought this could happen to me. I have to go now. Strange since I met you, I’m no longer afraid to die.’
In once sense it was sad that the soldier Got to know God so late with just hours left to live and yet it was just so important that he did so.
Many people have an awareness of God in their childhood but lose it later in life. How easy it is to become careless about what is important, like our spiritual life, and to get caught up with the urgency of everyday concerns. One well-known author said that ‘When I was young I was religious in a non-thinking way but now I am not but I am very conscious of that vast space where God was.’
Perhaps the greatest form of human loneliness we can experience is the absence of God in our lives because its then that in relation to the vastness of the universe we are not even a drop in the ocean. Our lives come and they go without even a trace of significance. Yet when we do have a God awareness our lives do have meaning and significance we are here for a purpose and this brief sojourn that we call life is just part of a much bigger picture.
In the absence of the God dimension there is a very definite emptiness in our lives. It’s like a pain that we desperately want to distract ourselves from. So we seek security in wealth, possessions and relationships. All to make us feel good about ourselves and in the end it just doesn’t work. There remains a God sized vacuum in the human heart that nothing apart from God can fill. As one spiritual writer has said, ‘To the one who has God all things are important while to the one who does not have God no amount of things or people will suffice.’ The human heart is restless by nature and in the end it can only find peace in God.