Dec 12, 2009


In light of the terrible developments in Uganda and the Vatican's own scandalous response, which redefines the terms 'tepidity', 'duplicity,' and 'cowardice,' and raises them to new heights of human mendacity, (see William Lindsey's blog, On Bilgrimage for some particularly brilliant commentary-and for a more tempered view than my own), I thought I would offer this passage for meditation taken from the diaries of Etty Hillesum, the remarkable Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz at the age of twenty nine. Etty underwent a remarkable spiritual transformation in the final years of her life, reaching a level of interior peace and divine union (in the face of great evil and human suffering) which we are accustomed to seeing only in the greatest saints. In fact, one of the qualifications for canonization in the Roman Catholic tradition is the evidence of 'heroic suffering,' borne with patience, equanimity and joy. (Of course, one should add the virtues of prophetic outrage and resistance to evil to the list, and the ability to harmonize these virtues with the one's own interior peace and joy, but prophecy generally makes religious systems uncomfortable, whereas patience and equanimity, especially coupled with respectful obedience, do not.)

Dear God these are anxious times. Tonight for the first time I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me. I shall promise You one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient to itself. I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. And that is all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn't seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. There are, it is true, some who, even at this late stage, are putting their vacuum cleaners and silver forks and spoons in safe keeping, instead of guarding You, dear God. And there are those who want to put their bodies in safe keeping, but who are nothing more now than a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, "I shan't let them get me into their clutches." But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your Arms....And the funny thing is I don't feel I'm in their clutches anyway, whether I stay or am sent away. I don't feel in anybody's clutches; I feel safe in God's arms, and no matter whether I am sitting at this beloved old desk now, or in a bare room in the Jewish district or perhaps in a labour camp under SS guards in a month's time - I shall always feel safe in God's arms. They may well succeed in breaking me physically, but no more than that. I may face cruelty and deprivation the likes of which I cannot imagine in even my wildest fantasies. Yet all this is as nothing to the immeasurable expanse of my faith in God and my inner receptiveness.  

I shall always be able to stand on my own two feet even when they are planted on the hardest soil of the harshest reality. And my acceptance is not indifference or helplessness. I feel deep moral indignation at a regime that treats human beings in such a way. But events have become too overwhelming and too demonic to be stemmed with personal resentment and bitterness. These responses strike me as being utterly childish and unequal to the fateful course of events.

It is not as if I want to fall into the arms of destruction with a resigned smile-far from it. I am only bowing to the inevitable and even as I do I am sustained by the certain knowledge that ultimately they cannot rob us of anything that matters.

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.

I read these passages this morning while celebrating the Eucharist in solitude on behalf of all the people of Uganda, but most especially our Christian/Catholic gay sisters and brothers in that troubled country who must be feeling particularly dispirited and alone at this point in history, in light of the response from Vatican leaders which is really an endorsement of anti-gay violence in disguise. The devil, they say, is the master of deceit and we have just witnessed an example of duplicity of a very high order, though that shouldn't render us incapable of gratitude for very small advances. As William Lindsay says, 

I am grateful for this tiny glimmer of sound moral insight. I am unhappy, though, that the leader of the Catholic church, whose voice could—and should—count when egregious human rights violations are occurring anywhere in the world, has boxed himself into a corner of silence. We’re talking, after all, about a situation in which people had begun to deliberate seriously about instituting the death penalty against those born gay or lesbian!

This is why I was particularly struck by Etty's use of the word demonic in the above passage. Though there seems to be some degree of 'rollback' from the more extremist view of justifying executions of gay persons, one can sense, I think, that this is more a tactical retreat for the moment, rather than a final victory. Dark forces are at work, and they will continue to weave their tangled webs for some time to come. And these demonic forces are at work at the highest levels of the church, and, no, I don't think this is too extreme a word to describe them. We are witnessing some very grave distortions that defy rational explanation, and these moral distortions go deep, very deep, into the psyches of some very dangerous and troubled men. However, to confront them and resist them, we must be grounded in our own interior faith and strengthened by our own spiritual resources of peace and joy which flow from our union with the Beloved within. Only then, can we face these dark forces with equanimity and joy and recognize them for what they are - the dust in the wind from dead men's bones. For all of their power to harm, ultimately they have no reality.

Holiness is the process whereby God changes our attitudes toward our trials and tribulations.  Father Thomas Keating~The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation.