In 1984, the novelist J G Ballard published a book, ‘Empire of the Sun’, The title is a reference to Japan and though the book is a novel, it is based on Ballard’s own experience of life after the Japanese drove out the British from Shangai during the 2nd World war. The novel was turned into a film
The central character of the film was Jim, a spoiled young British boy – played expertly by Christian Bale. He lived with his wealthy family in pre-World War II Shangai. During the Japanese takeover, Jim was separated from his parents and taken prisoner. Much of the film is shot in a Japanese Concentration camp where Jim grows up from being a boy to becoming an adolescent who learns to survive without a retinue of servants at his beck and call.
Thanks to a meeting with an American who was a bit like Fagin in Oliver Twist, Jim became much more the street-wise kid who knows just how to survive. For him, the Camp is one big adventure playground and he flits and darts between the various groups – American, British and even Japanese.
In 1945, when the Japanese know that the writing is on the wall, the Camp is ‘liberated’ and the inmates are force marched towards Nantow where they are told there will be food. All this is against a backdrop of American planes bombing the airfield near the camp
On the march he is befriended by Mrs Victor who, with her husband, had been kind to him. Now alone after the death of her husband, Jim stayed with her, suggesting that she acts ‘dead’ so that the Japanese won’t shoot her. Unfortunately for Jim, she died in the night and as morning breaks, Jim saw a bright white light in the eastern sky. He thinks it is Mrs Victor’s soul going to heaven. Later he was told that what he saw was the atom bomb exploding on Hiroshima. “I saw it” he said, “it was like a white light in the sky. Like God taking a photograph.”
The day it happened, of course, was August the 6th – the Christian Day of Transfiguration. There is a strange irony that the brilliant light made by that bomb should share its birth with the day when Jesus was surrounded by a brilliant light – transforming him until, as St. Luke tells us, his clothes became dazzling white.”
Since 1945, Transfiguration has been linked It is a day of remembering God’s act of glorifying his Son and also a day when humanity sank to its lowest ebb, using a nuclear force to destroy rather than create.
Here is how one victim of that bomb described the experience:
On the 6th of August, 60 years ago, I was a college student, 20 years old. When the atomic bomb was dropped, I was near the Hiroshima City Hall, about one kilometre away from the ground zero. I’ve seen so many Hibakusha wounded, injured and killed in blood and in burns. It was like hell on earth. I really believed Hiroshima was dead at that time. I was fortunate to survive the instant bombing, but one week later, I fell unconscious. For forty days, I was staying in unconscious so I didn’t know when the war ended. After so many years, I’ve survived, but I have many, many illnesses: A plastic anemia, angina, colon cancer, prostate cancer. Many Hibakusha who have survived the atomic bombings still suffer from many, many difficulties and illnesses, and they have been constantly under medical care. The most cruel damage on human beings by the atomic bomb is that even if you luckily survived you have to continue to suffer from psychological and physical disruption of human beings until your life ends. That’s why we call the atomic bombing the absolute evil.
He ended his speech with the words ‘No more Hiroshimas’ – a cry that has become a clarion call by many. A cry that has, of course been heeded so far because no nuclear or atomic bomb has been used in war since those two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We live however, in very uncertain times just now.
There is always something to be learned through quiet reflection and prayer. On the mountain, Jesus was transfigured – glorified, exalted. In the words that Jim might understand it is as though God was sending a photograph of what humanity could become. For it is within the destiny of humanity to become so filled with the image of God that we are bound for glory. Our world at present does not show this destiny very clearly so we need to be reminded of what the Transfiguration points to in our own lives.
The word Transfiguration means transformation or radical change. In the Transfiguration of Christ this change was to turn outside in and inside out. What I mean is that the inner glory of Jesus became totally visible – so visible in fact that it was dazzling. Not surprisingly Peter tried to capture the moment almost as if he had a camera to capture the scene.
For Jesus, this was not to become a memorial of an historic event. Through the Cross and Resurrection which followed and the descending of the Holy Spirit, the Transfiguration was to be the glimpse of God’s glory which was to lead to the total transformation of humanity in an even more dazzling display of God’s glory. This is real. This is the real moment of transfiguration for us all and it is God’s way of dealing with human frailty, sin and the temptation, ever present to a greater of lesser degree, to choose evil rather than good. Something which we are seeing a lot of us in the world today.
The Japanese survivor told his harrowing story and pleaded ‘No more Hiroshimas!’
In our dark world we cannot guarantee this but what transforms the demonic is Love. It is a powerful, sacrificial love. Only that kind of Godly love can save our world now.
Jesus absorbed all human pain, conflict and hurt and he became the instrument of our transfiguration. He absorbed human sin and nailed it to the Cross and he did so out of sheer love for humanity and the world. God is saying to us . “You can do this to me and yet I will go on loving and you cannot stop me for it is only love that transforms humanity and changes our destiny.” Today, God calls us to this witness where the pain that is in our world can be absorbed and by our love transformed by God. We are no longer standing with the disciples at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration. The Glory of God shining in and through our lives is a kind of living Transfiguration today.
Here’s a prayer which I have found helpful. I cannot remember the source.
Ever loving God,
Thank you for always being a light in the dark places of the world
and the dark places of our lives.
May we always place our hope in you, for you are the light of the world
and you call us to be lights for others.
You tell us your story in many ways, in people in Word, in art and music,
In pain and struggle and in suffering,
But you constantly surprise us with healing and joy,
Compassion and in holding us.
You enlighten our thoughts and nourish our hearts,
But we thank you, most of all, that you lighten our way as we walk
the pilgrimage of life, and love us until we are safely in heaven
May we be, like icons of light and love
reflecting and refracting that joyous vision to all we meet
and so share with you in the transfiguration of the world,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord