“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty; to reclaim large areas of peace within ourselves,
more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the
more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
While cleaning my desk and trying to motivate myself into writing a Christmas letter, I ran
across the quote above in a journal I keep of meaningful passages. After months of hearing
news and seeing images of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, the quote gave me pause. Steeped in an era of endless soundbites and social media, my inner cynic had me attuned to hear the words as the eager but self-absorbed thoughts of the naïve, or the manipulative phrasing of some corporate guru or politician looking to stir up followers or raise funds.
But, as I looked at the source of the quote, my cynic was silenced when I found they were, in
fact, the words of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman living in the Netherlands under Nazi
occupation and oppression. Etty watched her friends and neighbors being stripped of their
livelihoods and dignity, removed from their homes and “resettled” in a local transport camp
from which they were eventually deported to Auschwitz. Despite these realities, Etty chose to assist those being transported, continued to write about their experiences and resisted the urge to hate and divide people into the mental camps of good and evil. She chose solidarity with the suffering, refused offers to help her hide or escape, and was transported to Aushwitz in September of 1943 and murdered there in November at the age of 29.
When I think about the violence, oppression and devastation in the land of Jesus’ birth or even the injustices and divisions in our own country, I often feel anger, sorrow, guilt and ultimately, powerlessness. It seems there is nothing that can stop the cycles of violence and oppression, and in many ways that may be as true for me as it was for Etty. But maybe my focus has been in the wrong direction. Instead of focusing on stopping the vicious cycle, what if I focused my mind, heart and actions on a redemptive cycle. What if I believed that the peace I nurture within me has the power to heal, unite and restore while being passed on to others who can now do the same? Jesus, when preparing his disciples for his death and their ongoing work encouraged and confused them saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I donot give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 NRSV)
At the risk of sounding both naïve and grandiose (the cynic in me shudders), I join my voice with Etty’s and the angels who announced Jesus’ birth.
May we all live and act in the hope that the peace Jesus left within and among us has the power to heal our troubled world.