When the future intersects with the past

Yet within us is everything.*
(Philip Newell)

It strikes me that when our futures intersect with our pasts what we have come upon is Easter.

Not only life remembering the past and what it has been able to be, but life also imagining and anticipating a better future.

These last few weeks, I’ve been reading about such an “easter-life” in the form of Etty Hillesum. An astonishingly bright life as it was lived in Nazi-occupied Holland and was ended in Auschwitz. At the heart of this for Hillesum was the attainment of the artist life, as Patrick Woodhouse explains:

For Etty, her spirituality, her prayer, was about learning “to live artistically,” a phrase she took from Rilke. For this, she knew (echoing Rilke again) that “patience is all“; patience and the practising of disciplines.**

We each are able to live artistically, a characteristic of which I consider to be the possibility of imagining the future and then bringing it into being in some form or other. After the imagining, it comes down to the hard work of employing the habits and practices that make this possible. Woodhouse continues, laying out Etty’s own disciplines, quoting her as he lists these:

And what were these disciplines?

  • silence – “there is a vast silence in me that continues to grow”
  • solitude – “deep inside us, all of us carry a vast and fruitful loneliness”
  • mindfulness, n being aware of, and dealing with, “the wild herds” of thoughts and feelings
  • the use of images, learning both their powers and their dangers
  • reading the Psalms, taking just one phrase and planting it in the depths of the heart where its meaning can grow […]
  • learning to listen (to “hearken”) to “everything reaching you from without … and … everything welling up from within” – the development of an intuitive awareness of what is “most essential and deepest” in ourselves, in others, in the inter-connectedness of life.”**

Through this story, hope is formed in me: whatever the past has meant for me, there is always more before in the way of possibilities.

(*From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**From Patrick Woodhouse’s Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed.)

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