“Life may be brimming over with experiences, but somewhere, deep inside, all of us carry a vast and fruitful loneliness wherever we go. And sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inward in prayer for five short minutes.” – Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life (p.93)
I think of this time of year as a big, beautiful pause, similar to what Etty described in her diary written in Amsterdam, before she had to tear away from the life she’d known to work, and then die, in a concentration camp.
I’ve been reflecting on Etty’s beautiful ruminations this week, and couldn’t help but call that excerpt to mind as I contemplate Advent and what it means to me, as well as how I can make the most of it. It’s strange, because so much about our lives centers on doing, plotting, moving, but now, we are called to pause, even if only for two deep breaths, or five short minutes of “turning inward in prayer.”
For the past five years or so, I’ve had a great help in getting Advent aptly launched, having been invited to partake in an Advent by Candlelight event that has been offered annually by several parishes in town. One of the first times, I was a speaker, and several others, a musician. Those times were blessed with the chance to give, but it’s also very beautiful to be a simple recipient, like this year.
The evenings differ each time, but always involve hanging out at a table with other women in a room of beautifully and uniquely adorned tables soaked in an ambiance of candlelight with music (like this), dessert, and an inspiring message and contemplative reflection.
Nothing was going to stop me from being there this year as in the past, and having had a highly tense afternoon with the kids, I was so ready. In fact, knowing this evening was on the horizon seemed about the only thing that got me through that tense hour in the van, a hormonal teenager causing me to grip the steering wheel as a stress headache began to manifest.
And then…in that room, that candlelit place of peace, given the chance to shed it all if only for a while: bliss. Etty has it right. We can hardly avoid the busy, but the moments of reprieve, however slight, mean everything. Without a chance to pause and restore, we have nothing to give.
And we must give. We are made to give. Giving is what God has done for us and, in turn, what we are compelled to do for others in order to live vibrantly.
“This much I know,” Etty later wrote, after learning that someone she cared about had been selected to leave for the dreaded camps, “you have to forget your own worries for the sake of others, for the sake of those whom you love. All of the strength and love and faith in God that one possesses, and which have grown so miraculously in me of late, must be there for everyone who chances to cross one’s path and who needs it.”
Such a selfless statement. Often, I think, the world interprets the pause as selfish, when in reality we need the pause to give ourselves time in between one necessary task and another in order to breathe, and therefore, garner the strength to, once again, give.
I guess what I’m saying is: pausing is not an option. Pausing is an imperative. Etty knew it, even in the midst of an uncertain future, which had her proclaiming, “We now live side by side with destiny…and nothing is how we learned it from our books.”
Indeed, a day longer, and even one more breath, is not guaranteed, so let us pause as we can to have the strength to give when the time for that comes, as Etty did so well.
Q4U: How do you settle yourself to pause in order to give again?