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Christ was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. But God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names…

These verses are taken from the Christological hymn that Paul quotes in his letter to the Philippians (56 C.E.) and serve as the leitmotif for Holy Week. Each day’s events underscore the humility of Jesus, beginning with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at Passover seated upon the back of a donkey.

Sensing his earthly mission coming to a close, and in the wake of that, conflict, he orchestrated this bit of drama. He knew his few followers would misinterpret his action in their craving for a political Messiah to rout the hated Romans. Psalm 118’s “Blessings on the King who comes…,” fueled their frenzy and drew the Pharisees’ censure watching this spectacle unfold through streets thronged with pilgrims. Jesus’s intent was to image the peaceful Messiah, only later grasped by his followers after his resurrection.

Years of meditation on this curious story, recorded in the four gospels, have deepened my sense of Jesus Christ, totally other than first perceived. Like his first followers, I still get trapped in expectations of what I want, when I want it, how I want it. My terminal illness, however, casts urgency upon learning to listen, anew, to his Father for direction, to practice humility and obedience, one day at a time.

The future holds my final days before transitioning from them. There’s no preparing for them. They will unfold, as they will.

 

 

Something red flickered, gentling the branch of the viburnum shrub outside my study window: It was the cardinal, its feathered crest bespeaking authority. Mesmerized, I sought its spirit. For a split second, turned inside out in riotous colors, it happened. Then, I was alone, the branch slick with raindrops still trembling from its visitor.

I had been visited. Its import would be revealed. I’d just have to listen.

Earlier in the morning, I wondered whether I was still eligible for hospice, given Medicare’s second benefit period winding down. I was still performing my ADLs, albeit more slowly, still managing with helpers in my home, still content with new learning each twenty-four hours. Yet imperceptibly, I was still losing ground. The steroid, at first helpful with my symptoms, was less effective, rendering me weak and lightheaded. Breathing still limited my endurance, increased my need to pace myself, and messed with coughing up phlegm during the day.

“Of course, Liz, you still meet the criteria for hospice,” Alice said later as she wrapped the blood pressure cuff around my upper arm. “We’ve also gotten to know you these past months—you’re doing very well—and you know to call us whenever you need help with personal care.” Often, she had offered this additional service. I brightened with her words, seeping into vestiges of denial still lurking within my psyche’s depths.

So again it was about acceptance, deeper than previously experienced. I felt its sweet release. This was working out, literally one day at a time. I only had to show up and keep an eye out for the cardinal, my backyard companion and teacher.

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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