Sunday, January 11, 2009

Transcending Hell on Earth

My favourite book is Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza.

I have seen the after effects of the Nazi Holocaust in my mother's generation of my family. All my life I have interacted with family members who, I recently have come to realize, have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I myself experienced an authoritarian regime when I lived in South Africa during the apartheid era. At that stage, which lasted from my teens to my mid twenties, the most effective response I was able to mount was to emigrate to Canada.

Ilibagiza's experience of the Rwandan genocide fascinates me because it seems that her intense faith in God enabled her to bypass the psychological processes that would have been natural in an extreme situation. The degree to which she felt supported by God in those terrifying months when people were hunting for her was extraordinary.

Furthermore, once the crisis was over, she displayed an exceptional level of forgiveness towards her family members' murderers. Again, her deep faith seemed to enable her to transcend the normal stages of grief.

I read this book during a period in which I was questioning the existence of God and exploring atheism. My reaction to Left to Tell revealed to me that I was, after all, a theist.

Of course Ilibagiza's faith does not, in and of itself, prove that God exists. The visions that she saw while she was hiding from the machete-wielding gangs may have been figments of her imagination. But, even if she was deluded, it just goes to show how resilient the human spirit can be.

This book has inspired me to be more buoyant in the face of my much smaller challenges and to be more forgiving. It was one of the influences that informed me on my long and winding road towards a cohousing community.

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