The kingdom of heaven is close at hand.
This is the subtext of all the practices of Lent which are designed to remind us how easily we forget this and how simply we can remember it.
Etty Hillesum was a young vivacious Jewish woman who perished in Auschwitz in 1943. In the midst of the horror of the deportation of the Jews from her native Holland she underwent a personal spiritual awakening that has resonated down the decades.
Sustained by her deep inner world and the new vision of human life and the natural world it gave her, she spent herself in relieving the misery of her fellow sufferers. She refused to hate her persecutors and in the flowers and skies around her she found inexhaustible treasures of beauty and revelation.
One of those she was helping once asked her how she could waste time thinking of flowers in the midst of their ordeal.
She discovered God through the throwing open of her inner world but she did not seem to worry about how religions score points off each other. Once she was expressing some ideas about forgiveness and someone replied ‘But that sounds like Christianity.’ “Yes,” she replied, “ Christianity, and why not.?”
Whatever anxieties or fears we carry with us today – and they must surely be less than those she and her fellow Jews endured in that time of madness – the flower and the faith capable of plunging us into the depths of God are at hand.
Laurence Freeman OSB