A few weeks ago I inaugurated my new Beads and Books series with Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. This book is so profound that I found myself thinking about it and rereading passages for weeks after I had finished reading it.
I shared with you some of my favorite quotes from the book, but here is my absolute favorite:
You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue. Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised toward Your heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude. At night, too, when I lie in bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer. (p. 332)
Etty wrote this in her journal from Westerbork (a transit camp), just days before she and her family were loaded onto trains and sent to Auschwitz. Surrounded by the darkest pain, the most visible signs of suffering, and the knowledge of her own impending death, Etty was able to stand in the midst and proclaim her gratitude for God’s rich beauty. She was able to do this because, as she said, her life had become “an uninterrupted dialogue” with God. Her entire life had become a prayer.
That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul was talking about in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 17 when he wrote, “Rejoice always. Pray continually.” At the time of his letter it was illegal to be a Christian. Churches were having to meet in secret, and many followers of Christ were being persecuted. There were definite periods of darkness. To sustain their faith, Paul encourages his readers to pray without ceasing. Doing so would make their entire lives about prayer, enabling them to “rejoice always,” even – and especially – in the hardest of times.
We all face periods of darkness at various points in our lives. I know I’ve had my share. And I can’t say I spent much of that time rejoicing, primarily because my prayer life wasn’t strong. But that is changing. Little by little, day by day, I am learning to make my life about prayer. I’m taking time to pray and listen and read and express my gratitude. I’m looking for signs of God’s presence in the ordinary moments and people and experiences of my life. And I’m reading about the saints, including a Dutch Jew who, in the midst of the Holocaust, was able to proclaim God’s rich beauty.
It’s a process, one that takes time and is not always easy or perfect. But if it leads me to see God’s grace in times of pain, then I will count it time well spent. And I will thank God for Etty and her profound testimony.
Cross: God of beauty,
Invitatory Bead: you are both gracious,
Resurrection Bead: and ever-present.
First Cruciform Bead: You have made me so rich.
Week Beads, Set 1: Use each bead to consider the ways in which God has made you “rich,” and to offer thanks.
Second Cruciform Bead: I want my life to be a constant prayer.
Week Beads, Set 2: Use each bead to consider how your life can become a ceaseless prayer to God, and to ask for God’s help in this.
Third Cruciform Bead: Help me to see your presence – in every place, in every person, in every moment, to understand that you are always with me, and to offer gratitude.
Week Beads, Set 3: Use each bead to see, listen for, and feel God’s presence as your life becomes a prayer.
Fourth Cruciform Bead: Take my life of prayer and use it to proclaim your rich beauty to the world.
Week Beads, Set 4: Use each bead to pray that God will use you to testify to God’s presence in both darkness and light.
Resurrection Bead: For it is by your Son, Jesus,
Invitatory Bead: that we come face to face with you in all your glory,