I enjoy reading the works of folks who have lived the problems they address. For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his book on Ethics in part from the inside of a concentration camp where he was imprisoned and executed in 1945 for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The book Alcoholics Anonymous speaks to the direct experience of those in recovery from alcoholism. I am currently reading the diary of Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life, that chronicles the last two years of her life as a Jew in Holland prior to her transfer to Auschwitz where she was executed. A line that stood out to me from her diary is (p. 88):
If you have a rich inner life, I would have said, there probably isn’t all that much difference between being inside and outside of a camp. Would I myself be able to live up to such sentiments?
I have thought of this challenge a great deal of late. I equate the “inner life” as my spiritual/emotional/mental state and the “outside life” as my physical state. There is no denying that my physical existence in line with my eventual mortality and cancer has an unknown expiration date. I know too that I am less physically able than I was one year ago. I have lost some 50 pounds, am a bit anemic, sleep more, have not been on my bike for the past month, have more aches and pains, and so forth.
At the same time, I am aggressively dealing with these physical issues, the results of which I have no assurance.
But today, I thoroughly enjoy my “outside life” events even more than before. I enjoy being able to walk around the block with Emma and Grace as much as a 20-mile bike ride a couple short years ago. Going out to the movies, spending an hour weeding the garden, eating a simple meal, listening to music, all bring me great joy today.
I attribute this joy to my pursuit of a rich inner life. Whether it is Emma and I attending the early morning Sunday service at Rayne, serving meals at Mt. Zion, my Wednesday morning School for Contemplative Living meeting, our Friday dream study group, men’s UMC meetings, and all of the relationships, dinners, conversations with family and friends that flow from these activities, my spirit soars as never before in my life.
In the Universal Christ, Richard Rohr writes (p. 153):
It does not mean you are going to heaven and others are not: rather, it means you have entered into heaven much earlier and thus can see things in a transcendent, whole and healing way now . . . Saints are those who wake up while in this world, instead of waiting for the next one.”
The rich inner life of which Etty Hillesum speaks is certainly part of that being woke and a goal to which I aspire.