“Suffering is not beneath human dignity. I mean: it is possible to suffer with dignity and without. I mean: most of us in the West don’t understand the art of suffering and experience a thousand fears instead. We cease to be alive, being full of fear, bitterness, hatred and despair.” Etty. The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943, Klass A. D. Smelik, p. 459.
The insights of this mystic Jewess in Holland during the Nazi occupation are inspiring. The failure to accept life’s contradictions is the cause of most destructive suffering for ourselves – and for others! “Systems” are notorious for self-preservation and imposing on individuals. Etty’s own prayer gives us energy:
“God, take me by Your hand, I shall follow You dutifully, and not resist too much. I shall evade none of the tempests life has in store for me, I shall try to face it all as best I can. But now and then grant me a short respite. I shall never again assume, in my innocence, that any peace that comes my way will be eternal. I shall accept all the inevitable tumult and struggle. I delight in warmth and security, but I shall not rebel if I have to suffer cold, should You so decree. I shall follow wherever Your hand leads me and shall try not to be afraid. I shall try to spread some of my warmth, of my genuine love for others, wherever I go. But we shouldn’t boast of our love for others. We cannot be sure that it really exists. I don’t want to be anything special, I only want to try to be true to that in me which seeks to fulfil its promise. I sometimes imagine that I long for the seclusion of a nunnery. But I know that I must seek You among people, out in the world.” (p. 154)
Mgr. James MacNeill