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“Be still and know that I am God,” Yahweh says to Elijah, prophet and miracle worker huddled in the cave at Mount Horeb. “I’m not to be found in mighty winds, nor in earthquakes, nor in fires,” Yahweh adds.

Like Elijah fearful for his life, I am stressed.

Winds of gibberish, earthquakes of exploding shards, fires of angst still assail my psyche when left unguarded. Left behind are swathes of distortion related to the progression of my terminal illness and the illusion of being trapped in nothingness. Instincts clamor for fulfillment, at any cost while controlling the uncontrollable stresses to the max.

When under siege, I know to wait and grip my crucifix, hard. Within the madness slowly emerges the longed for stillness and I adjust to my new symptoms, awash in the wordless swirl of Creator-Love.

Such is my continuous spiritual growth as I await the deliverance of my old body—something I have to pass through.

So it’s about being still and praying …

 

 

“Sorry I’m late. Got tied up at the rectory, it being Sunday and all—it was the blueberry pancake breakfast for the kids and their families,” he said standing on my front porch, a balmy breeze blowing the boxwood hedges behind him. It was Father Dan, Pastor of the College Church, his Roman collar gracing his long sleeve clergy shirt.

“You’re just on time,” I said escorting him to the dining room table around which we sat. “I’ve been looking forward to this.” I had received the Sacrament of the Sick numerous times before knee surgeries and within healing Masses, but I sensed this would be different— the unexpected pitfalls of my terminal illness, especially the long nights, still cried out for God’s mercy.

“I’m so glad to help you out, Liz,” he said smiling as he withdrew from his pocket the sacred olive oil and the pyx containing the consecrated host. Then he found the place in his worn ritual book and placed it in front of him. Only chirping of tree sparrows enlivened the silence we shared as we waited for the Lord’s fullness to manifest.

Antiphonal prayer followed a reading from the Gospel of Matthew: Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my burden light. Then dipping his fingertip into the olive oil, Father Dan traced the sign of the cross upon my forehead saying in hushed tones, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Then, other crosses upon the palms of my hands, with the prayer, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” It was done—graced crosses resonated within my entire person: body, mind, spirit.

Fragrance like blossoming olive trees seeped into the wiggle-room of my humanness and soothed the rough edges of my terminal illness. I would not lose heart.

 

Listening for the stream of words coursing through the unconscious, then expressing them opens writers to the bedrock of their identity and the resiliency of change.

Such discipline Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) imposed upon herself at the behest of Jungian-trained psychoanalyst Julius Spier whose guidance she sought when twenty-seven years old. He also recommended she steep herself in the Bible, St. Augustine, Rilke, and Dostoyevsky’s novels. Through assiduous study, Etty’s incipient God flamed within her psyche, pried open childhood scars whose bondage had kept her miserable, then empowered her to let them go. Inner freedom smiled through dark eyes onto the world of Hitler.

From 1941 to 1943, Etty filled ten notebooks that tracked this amazing psychic transformation: the Nazi terror in Amsterdam, prayer to her Companion God, humor, sensitivity to beauty, Russian classes to private pay pupils, translations, the ups and downs of relationships with Hans Wegerif and her analyst, and aches in her stomach and head. Within this mix, she learned to embrace the tension between opposites: evil and good, dark and light, disharmony and harmony, etcetera: All find resonance within her God, experienced not as savior but as One to help reverse evils that wracked His world. Loving others patterned her days, despite the ever-tightening noose of the Nazis, intent upon annihilation.

This attitude accompanied her cattle-car transport to the work camp at Auschwitz in 1943 where she died of starvation and typhus.

An Interrupted Life – The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum first appeared in English in 2002, and since has been translated into sixty-seven languages. Her legacy continues, for those inspired to do likewise.

 

 

 

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