- The Color of God1
Each time I am invited to share my reflections, a plain and simple candle accompanies me. While I speak, its flame will burn in remembrance of those who have been tortured, and those who at this very moment are being tortured in more than 150 countries today. At one time, the candle burned only for the people in Guatemala, especially those who were there with me in the clandestine prison.
There was a time when that flame burned for them alone. I could not imagine that the horror I had witnessed in Guatemala was occurring in countries all around this globe. Despite my attempt to blind myself from this truth, a vital lesson I had been taught kept knocking at the door of my soul. My time in Guatemala was certainly short-lived, but during that time, the Mayans were my teachers. One of the most important of lessons I learned from them is that all, not some, all peoples are interconnected—that we are all one. Thus, the blindfold that had limited my gaze to Guatemala fell, and I was able to begin to understand that torture was not restricted to any one country but was rather a world-wide epidemic of terror.
So, lighting this candle has come to extend beyond Guatemala—whose people and land I love—to Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America, and Europe. The intertwined spirits of the living and the dead, their family members, and their communities are present with us, brought together in this simple flame.
In that spirit, I would like to invite you to take a moment of silence to remember all those who have been tortured: those who did not survive, those seeking to rebuild their lives since their torture, and those around the world who are being tortured at this very moment. I also ask you to remember those who are the authors of torture: those who give the orders to torture, those who torture, those who manufacture and profit from the implements of torture, and all others who conspire in this crime against humanity.
I usually try to keep God and torture separate from one another. To speak of God in the context of torture requires that once again, I come face to face with evil—an evil that revealed a silent God at a time when I needed that voice most. Instead, in the darkest night of the soul, everything that makes life worth [End Page 195] living dries up and hope disappears from life. It is what Martin Buber called "the eclipse of God."2
Imagine for a moment: the radiant presence of God. Color that blinding presence what you will. Now imagine a huge dark shadow falling across it, obliterating every sign of it. Hope is gone. Belief is gone. The God you once knew is dead. What color will you assign to that which no longer exists?
Where could such a place be—where God dies? Has your life ever taken you there? Mine has. Let me share with you where it was for me. And as I tell you, please remember that there are others in that place at this very moment, as I speak.
In 1987, I traveled to the highlands of Guatemala to live there, quite possibly for the rest of my life. I went to work alongside the Mayan people. My ministry was teaching children how to read and write in their native language. To me, being a teacher of Mayan children was a dream come true. I loved the Mayan culture. I loved the highlands. Even my periodic bouts with head lice could not discourage me. In Guatemala, I had found myself. I had found my mission in life. I was at one with God, and I was the happiest I had ever been.
Yet, at the very same time, Guatemala was in the midst of a long and cruel civil war. Death threats, disappearances, massacres, and torture were all too common in Guatemala. It was in that beautiful tormented land that I lost myself in the darkness of despair.
It is not uncommon for people...