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Reform Magazine | December 5, 2023

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On the pilgrim way: ‘I found myself in good spirits’

Sheila Maxey feels her spirits rising

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I usually find February a difficult, even depressing month, but this year, towards the end of February, I found myself in good spirits. Why? The weather in Essex has been so kind this year. Snowdrops, crocuses and even early daffodils were not desperately poking through snow or bending low to the driving rain and wind. Instead, they danced in the sunshine. There seemed to have been lots of days of blue sky and glorious sunshine. As a result, complete strangers addressed me in the street, exclaiming: ‘What a beautiful day!’

But it was not only the weather that encouraged my spirit. There is nothing so encouraging as someone saying ‘yes’ in answer to your request. Fear of a ‘no’ has often stopped me from asking. I remember the days when asking teenagers to do a job in the house required steeling myself to either a ‘no’ or a painfully reluctant ‘yes’. I often took the line of least resistance and did the job myself.

Our church has had only four serving elders, including the treasurer. February was the month for elections, and I was nervously rehearsing how to ask various members to return to the serving eldership, or be ordained as a new elder. I was truly afraid to ask because I did not want to receive a ‘no’. Three people said ‘yes’ and another one is considering her response! I have been walking around with a silly smile on my face – and even sometimes do a little dance to myself.

At a deeper level, I have been encouraged by re-reading the diary of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch Jew who died in Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. Etty’s zest for life, her appreciation of every tiny piece of goodness or beauty in each day, even as the Nazi net tightened round her, has encouraged and inspired me. She wrote: ‘As life becomes harder and more threatening it also becomes richer, because the fewer expectations we have, the more the good things of life become unexpected gifts that we accept with gratitude.’

Though inspired, I was also challenged by Etty’s approach to downright evil. She wrote, while in the transit camp: ‘I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place.’

Does reading Etty make the question of elders’ elections petty, and the dancing snowdrops unimportant? My old, depressed February-laden self wants to say so – but my encouraged, positive self gives thanks for them both, and gains renewed strength for whatever lies ahead.

Dag Hammerskjold, former Secretary General of the UN, wrote: ‘For all that has been, thanks. For all that is to come, yes.’ Etty would have approved.

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform


This article was published in the April 2019 edition of Reform

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