Do I live as though I really believe what I say about God?
During some holiday reading I came across the question: Do you live as though you believe what you say about God? The question stopped me short and had a profound impact on me, and still does. From time to time I find myself coming back to it. Do I live as though I believe what I say about God? And what does it really mean to live as though we believe what we say about God? So this week I thought it would be a most worthwhile and challenging thing to explore this, and I thought I would do this by looking at the life of an ordinary woman whose story was quite extraordinary, and then at a group of monks, likewise living extraordinary lives in faith, as portrayed in the movie, of gods and men. All these ordinary people, in rather extreme situations, lived as though they believed what they said about God. In doing that, they did something extraordinary and have much to say to us.
Etty Hillesum was a young Dutch Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam during the Shoah (the Holocaust) and who was eventually taken to Auschwitz where she died in 1943 at the age of twenty-nine. Etty’s remarkable and short life has come to us through her diary, published as An Interrupted Life and also as The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. In her reflections, which cover the period of the three years before her death, we find the story of her struggle to connect with, and live within, a profound sense of Mystery – an engagement with God, that gradually became her whole way of looking at life and living each moment.
Etty begins by describing herself as ‘the girl who couldn’t kneel’. She had a sense of something greater than herself, something that seemed to draw her, but she held back from being able to really enter into relationship with this ‘Something’. And so we follow Etty’s struggles: she struggled with her own moods, her ups and downs, her relationships, her desire to be what she really felt she was called to be, to give expression to herself, to live authentically, and of course, her struggles with what was happening around her, and ultimately to her, during that time of extreme fear and misery. In one entry Etty says, ‘My heart is a floodgate for a never-ending tide of misery’. But gradually Etty learned to surrender, and what we have in her diaries is a story of remarkable spiritual growth.
The following entry was made not long before she was arrested:
“I was hurrying along at Ru’s side, and after a very long conversation in which we broached all the ‘ultimate questions’ once again, I suddenly stopped beside him in the middle of narrow, dreary Govert Flinck Straat, and said, ‘But you know, Ru, like a child I still feel that life is beautiful and that helps me bear everything’. Ru looked at me full of expectation and I said, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world – and it really is, ‘Yes, you see, I believe in God’. And I think he was rather taken aback, then, searching my face for some mysterious sign, appeared to like what he found there. Perhaps that is why I felt so radiant and so strong for the rest of the day? Because it came out so spontaneously and so simply in the middle of that drab working-class district, ‘Yes, you see, I believe in God’”.
Ms Kerry McCullough
Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator