Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transparent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~ Sara Ban Breathnach

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Looking Suffering Straight in the Eye

Author - An Interrupted Life
the Diaries and Letters
"It still all comes down to the same thing. Life is beautiful. And I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call 'horror' and still be able to say: Life is beautiful....I don't think I have nerves of steel, far from it, but I can certainly stand up to things. I am not afraid to look suffering straight in the eyes." ~ Etty Hillesum

I had not intended to journal on Macrina's second entry of Etty's, but when I read it, like everything else I've read of Etty's, I stop.

She is on my list of people I want to talk with when I get to heaven! Or I should say, I would so enjoy just sitting down to listen to her share her thoughts without talking.

As if Etty's thoughts weren't enough, Macrina zones right in with her own, hitting me between the eyes.
"I always say that winter is my fourth favorite season. It is not first, to be sure, yet there is something in it that I favor. I need the scourging that it brings. I need its toughness and endurance. I need its hope. I love the way winter stands there saying, 'I dare you not to notice my beauty.' What can I say to a winter tree when I am able to see the shape of its soul because it has finally let go of its protective leaves  What do you say to an empty tree? Standing before an empty tree is like seeing it for the first time. Oh, the things that can be seen when one is empty." (Macrina Wiederkehr, A Tree Full of Angels, p 93)
I read her words and wondered how she knew I had been trying to press all the flowers, the sounds, the warmth of summer into my brain so that I could pull it out when my very very least favorite season barrels down upon me? Still, as much as I hate to admit it, there is a quiet beauty within the winter season...that IF I did not have to venture out into, I might actually enjoy and appreciate!

But what really caught me off guard were the words and the phrases I highlighted in that paragraph.  I have never considered winter as a scourging, yet I often fight depression, fear of falling, more than normal emptiness.  Macrina continues to push me, to challenge me to look deeper:
"Are our lives so very different when we're empty? When we've turned loose our protective coverings, is our beauty any less? In the seasons of life, suffering is my fourth favorite season. I could not place it first, yet like winter, there is something in it that has my favor. It is not easy to be praying about suffering while the sun is rising, but I try not to turn away from what God asks me to gaze upon. My sunrise is someone else's sunset. My cry of joy stands beside someone else's cry of sorry. They are two seasons of the same life." (Ibid)

Joyce Rupp spoke of this in The Cup of Our Life - The Broken Cup.
Love pours out
but the broken cup
cannot receive
too pained
too discouraged
too shamed
too brokenhearted
too burned out
too lonely
too discontented
Love waits to strengthen
Love waits to nourish
Love waits to be received
Love waits to heal
in time
the cup will be mended
in time
the cup will be raised
in time
the cup will receive again
in time
in time ~ Joyce Rupp, The Cup of Our Life, p 90

Macrina writes a wonderful tribute to Etty:
"Etty, my sister, there was something about you that was glorious even before you died. That same bit of glory is in each of us, yet we are so reluctant to claim it as our inheritance. You were not afraid to stand in the middle of what people call 'horror' and still proclaim that life is beautiful. I tremble at your proclamation. My eyes fill with tears...This is the spiritual energy that has the power to heal the world. You were not afraid to look suffering straight in the eye, showing another face...a quiet, knowing strength." (Ibid)

Macrina continues: "There is something about suffering that is ennobling. I've seen it recreate people. I've seen the mystery of suffering unfold people in a way that is sacramental, giving them the face of Christ. I have watched people suffer and I've wondered. I've wondered what it is that gifts people with the courage to suffer so well. What is it that makes some people able to embrace suffering in such a way that they are lifted up rather than crushed? What is this secret and mysterious energy, this seed planted in the heart of the human race?" (Ibid)

Several weeks ago I journaled about the blessing of optimism and how thankful I am to have a source of that, which enables me to get up and try again...and sometimes again and again.

That which gives me the ability to celebrate the smallest of accomplishments....I mean really small.

Yet, that optimism has been within me, it has been something that has given me hope when doctors shook their heads. It has given me the courage to wipe my own tears, and to give it another try.

My optimism has been self-directed.  Etty demonstrated that sense of optimism, that sense of hope watching helplessly as others suffered and that is something else all together! I know....I have felt angry, frustrated, helpless, sad... as I look around and see the children growing up in the shadow of the church who are hungry, mistreated, not being encouraged to read or to learn... I often feel as though I, and my congregation are putting band-aids on a gaping wound.

CORRECTION! Etty did not watch helplessly!

Etty was actively involved with all those who were suffering and even though she could not stop their suffering, she was a source of Love...a source of God.  Where there was hatred...Etty showed a face of love and a heart of hope. Oh, dear God! Even though I nor the congregation can make EVERYONE around us happy and healthy...WE ARE OFFERING THEM YOUR LOVE! We are a ray of sunshine within the bleakness!

I cannot improve on Macrina's prayer: "O God, help me, like Etty, to be able to stand in the thick of suffering still remembering that life is beautiful. Help me to embrace all of life so that I am ennobled, lifted up and changed into Christ. Give me the courage to look all of life straight in the eye. Give me the courage of the saints." (Ibid) And God, help me to recognize what often seems like nothing...when done with you in our hearts and our is never nothing!!!  I say, AMEN and AMEN!

Many Blessings ~ Sandi


  1. That's a really powerful post... thanks for sharing!

    I often like to say that 'it is the purpose of good religion to be a crucible in which our despair is forged into hope'. It is both the greatest challenge to and the greatest gift of spirituality.

    I think that in order to be that crucible, religion should encourage the outpouring of the heart. And that includes anger. We should be able to bring our anger to God like a sacred offering of the heart. God is big enough and strong enough to bear it and any authentic and loving relationship allows space for anger. Life is just as beautiful as it can be cruel. It is part of this broken world, but does not negate the meaning and beauty and goodness of that world.
    It reminds me of Psalm 147:3-4:

    "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name."

    What Etty Hillesum did, of course was beyond remarkable. I doubt many of us would have the strength and conviction to do that. But it is a worthwhile exercise to dwell on!

    This Good Life

  2. making me think about "thoughts" versus "true action"