Are you still wearing that yellow ribbon? A question from a person who saw the yellow ribbon pinned to the clothes of the writer— remembering the Sewol ferry tragedy in which over 300 drowned. The priest writer is working in peace and justice issues and writes in Bible And Life on the need to see pain face on.
People don't like to have painful thoughts come to mind; they have to face the original pain again. But strangely this kind of acute painful memories are often brought to mind and deliberately so. The yellow ribbon for the Sewol tragedy, the yellow butterfly for the comfort women, and the dates that are the signs of pain: 4.3 (Jeju Massacre) 6.25 (Korean War) 5.18 (Gwangju Uprising) 4.16 ( Sewol Ferry Disaster). Why do we want to remember these incidents? Why do we insist on remembering?
We do it to stay healthy. Carl Jung is quoted as saying: "the foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of true suffering." When we avoid facing the terrible memory of pain and we cover it over, close our eyes to its existence, pretend otherwise, it will just give rise to bigger pain. Don't we say those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it? As believers, we know this from our tradition. The Israelites journey in the desert and Jesus' passion show us how facing pain, examining and reflecting on its meaning for us, we participate in our own resurrection.
Moses required the snakebite victims to gaze on the bronze serpent for some time. The Korean proverb: the person startled by a terrapin is also startled by a kettle lid.—Once bitten twice shy— What scared us in the past continues to scare us in the present. When they gazed on the bronze image of the snake that bit them they remembered their lack of trust in God, their murmuring, ingratitude and the love of God reentered their thinking and gave them strength and healing.
When we gaze at length at what gives pain as Christians we remember the meaning of life. We see beyond pain and suffering beyond death to God's love, and find the answer in the paschal mystery. Death is the unavoidable memory of pain: social, mental and spiritual.
Gazing on the cross of Jesus we see the pain and suffering that Christ endured. Suffering and pain is a great obstacle to belief in God and attempts at answers are many but few speak to the heart and to those in pain. We need to gaze at the pain and as Christians remember that life has meaning and in silence allow God to speak to us.