Jasmine and the Clouds of Life

The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days. . . . But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed, just as profusely and delicately as ever it did. And it spreads its scent round the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You, I bring you not only my tears and my forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring you scented jasmine. . . . I shall try to make You at home always. Even if I should be locked up in a narrow cell and a cloud should drift past my small barred window, then I shall bring you that cloud, oh God, while there is still the strength in me to do so.

Etty Hillesum wrote these words in her diary as her life became increasingly restricted under the Nazi occupation of Holland. She speaks to us through her own forebodings, and she tells us to always protect God’s dwelling place within each of us. She and her family were consigned to the internment camp of Westerbork in August 1942, from which Jews and other “undesirables” were deported to Auschwitz every week. She continued writing in her diary many entries and prayers addressed directly to God. Among the last words she wrote before her transfer to Auschwitz was the following prayer:

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 towards Your Heaven, tears sometimes runs down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude. At night, too, when I lie in my bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer.

Etty and her family were deported to Auschwitz in September 1943. She died in Auschwitz on November 30th, 1943. I find myself often returning to Etty as well as that other witness of Nazi horror, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Etty was Jewish, Dietrich was a Lutheran Christian. Yet both spoke with the same intimacy to God. It was a very dark time, a time of great evil. And yet it was also a time of luminous spirits who stood against the darkness. In that great darkness, Etty’s life became “an uninterrupted dialogue” with God, “one great dialogue”! I don’t want to live in a darkness such as the one she lived through, but do I wish that my life could become an uninterrupted dialogue with God? Might I have the strength to bring both the jasmine and the clouds of my life to God?

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