Archive | January 2015

My interview with Holocaust Survivor Shalom Eilati, author of Crossing The River #NationalHolocaustMemorialDay

This interview first appeared in the Baptist Times online a couple of years ago.

Crossing the River…Again

 

Crossing the river of memories again that make up Shalom Eilati’s story as a Holocaust survivor is still exceptionally painful for him. At least one of my questions he cannot bring himself to answer directly, but refers me to the beautiful book of his story, Crossing the River (The Alabama University Press, 2008). For Shalom as for many survivors the question was, could he look back without being turned into a pillar of salt? Without being destroyed?

Shalom was born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1933. He experienced World War II as a child between the ages of 8 and 12. At the end of April 1946 he arrived in Palestine.

I first met Shalom when he came to speak at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Centre in Jerusalem, last year. I have stayed in touch with him because these stories of ordinary people caught up in what has been called ‘the second original sin’ need to retold and remembered

I did a long interview with him via Skype on his 79th birthday and we have also corresponded. This is something of his story for you to read on Holocaust Memorial Day.

How did it begin for you, the war, where there was nowhere to escape to and no way of escaping?

 

It was like being overwhelmed in a flood. It was blow after blow. It was bad news and worse rumours one after another. It took a while to realize there was nowhere to escape to and no way of escaping.

You were soon showered with salvos of regulations as Jews in Lithuania: what were some of them?

We weren’t allowed military equipment, radios or any other electronic equipment. We couldn’t leave lights on at night, have newspapers or literature that might inform us. We couldn’t leave the city or make telephone calls. Only a few shops were left open to the Jews, and we were only allowed in the streets during certain hours. And even then we could  only walk on the street, not on the pavement. If we passed a German soldier we had to remove our hats and bow. Jews continued to be shot daily in the streets, in the doorways of houses, through lighted windows. All of those decrees and orders as well the same  from on now were worded with the same brutal ending:” Violators of this regulation will be shot” – wird erschossen werden –  plain and simple.

When did your childhood end for you?

 

There are words that still freeze my blood if I hear them, like Achtung, or Aktion. Aktions occurred regularly in the ghetto, when men, women and children were rounded up, sorted and taken away to be executed. For a short while I guess I lived in make-belief. But then I realized as an eight year old, Germans were really killing Jews. I realized it was only a question of time when that would be what would happen to me and my family. It was like a slow suffocation.

Some of these experiences came back to haunt you many years later?

In my dreams the feelings of being chased, of being sorted out as a candidate to be shot or gassed, still haunt me 70 years later. These feelings are familiar but unwelcome visitors still in my mind. Even in my waking moments something can act like a trigger and take me back. Crowds, queues of people walking in the same direction, or a row of busses that wait to collect children from school……

Loss followed loss, beginning with your Father being taken away?

 

The losses for me began with the executions of my acquaintances. The father of my close friends Arke and Maimke ( who were later gassed in Auschwitz) was among the first of thousands that  were collected  and shot in Fort VII, during the first 2 weeks of the occupation. Later it was repeated by our nearest friends, relatives and neighbors that were sent to the IXth Fort  in the Big Aktion, in which a third of the ghetto imprisoned people, 10,000 by number, were sorted out and shot in 2-3 days within walking and hearing distance of the ghetto. It just went on and on. Relatively the evacuation of my father to Riga had another kind of impact. My mother was left alone to take care of her two children, me ( 8 ½ ) and  my little sister Yehudith ( (4 ½ ) during the next two years, while she had to go daily for work. Still we were lucky to receive  casual letters and messages from him. We had hope to be reunited – which almost happened during the last phase of our ghetto. But in the end he was sent to the concentration (Kz) camps of Dachau, in Germany. Somehow there he survived.

The story of your sister leaving: can you share that with us?

This is the story Shalom cannot bring himself to retell. In the book it reads as a lamentation. There is no other word for it. He talks about his three years in the ghetto as always being on the verge of being forced into one of two deaths – to stand at the edge of a pit or be carted to the gas chambers. The children were being targeted. His mother planned a way out , by placing her children with local Lithuanians. His sister was the first to leave.

 Perhaps unable to face the parting he lost himself in games with his friends. Suddenly realizing he might miss saying goodbye, and unable to bear that either he ran to the gate of the ghetto, but he was too late, he had missed the leaving. He never saw her again, as the Lithuanian family who hid her for several months gave in to fear and handed her over to the Gestapo.

This is what he writes.

‘And I came too late. Dear little sister. I cannot pardon myself for not coming on time to part with you; I cannot forgive myself for being the one of us two who remains alive. I would crawl on my knees like a pilgrim, I would go to the end of the Kola peninsula for solace and forgiveness.’ (p. 109)

Choiceless choices.

 

You were a diminishing population in an ever-tightening noose. How did you escape?

During the children’s Aktion, the deepest of the horrors that I have experienced, we found out that  children were torn from their mothers’ arms, clawing and wailing.

Shaun Dear, who among the prey could dare to observe visually the hunt?…eyes closed, we listened, heard,  were later told…

Children dug out of cellars. Some in shock didn’t hide, and were collected like abandoned eggs. The dread and terror was beyond telling. The children’s Aktion continued for three or four full days, until the numbers that were known to the Germans were hunted down.  Somehow I survived those mad terrifying days, each of them by a sole miracle that I’m not able to explain or understand. After that my mother arranged my escape, hidden in a work group, crossing the river that separated the ghetto from its surroundings,  and then walking out of the group to a planned point of meeting. “ON THAT MORNING I DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE AT ALL. I REALLY DIDN’T want to go. But I had to”. (p.135)

Once you had escaped what was it like to live with the constant fear of being handed over to the Gestapo?

 

I could not believe this world outside the ghetto was real. I was filled with an immense and constant anxiety, deeper even than I felt in the ghetto. I poured it all into daily letters to my mother, and sorting out again and again my stamps collection that I took with me. These letters to my mother enabled me to continue. One day in my hiding I had a final meeting with her when she slipped out of the work brigade. I also hoped, as did she, we would meet ‘after the storm’. We never did.

When liberation came Shalom’s questions to those he met where ‘ have you seen my sister? Have you seen my mother?’ When his father finally tracked Shalom down the young boy was met by a ‘Mussulman,’ a wreck of a man. Even that meeting was, therefore, bittersweet.

 At the end of April 1946, still just twelve, Shalom found himself in Palestine. This is what he says.

 

I wasn’t evacuated. That term doesn’t fit the situation. I was raised from my youngest years to think about Palestine as our final goal. Magnified by the grim experience of the Holocaust years , the image of the promised Land became a source of longing and hope. A source of security, warmth, intimacy, national  identity, and pride of belonging to what became a flourishing pioneering society.

You describe writing about your experiences much later was like removing old bandages that had long since merged with living flesh…

 

 I struggle to find words to describe it. It was a painful cleansing process. I was overwhelmed and surprised by how much memory of it all I contain… sounds, smells and sights. It was like living the whole thing over again.

 

Looking forward what would you like to say to us?

 

I would like to say that hatred and animosity do not lead to any good results. That the ancient holy sixth commandment, ‘thou shalt not kill’, is still the right way to act. I would like to say that every nation deserves a safe corner in the world for its entity and existence.

As I write this with Shalom I am struggling with the right words to end. Yad Vashem as a site is built on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. The name is taken from Isaiah 56:5, ‘And I shall give them in My house within My walls a memorial and a name (a ‘Yad Vashem’)…that shall not be cut off.’

Of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust 1.5 million were children. They are trying to record all the names and personal details of the victims in the Hall of Names before it is too late. They currently have recorded 4.2  million names. A famous Jewish rabbi called The Baal Shem Tov once said, ‘in memory lies the secret of redemption.’ That is my hope and prayer as we seek to build bridges today.

You can buy Shalom’s book on Amazon, here is the link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crossing-River-Shalom-Eilati/dp/0817316310/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422347475&sr=1-1&keywords=shalom+eilati+crossing+the+river

Relating & Parenting #Mindfully, Mindful Church Cafe at Costa Stanmore After Hours from 25th Feb

Relating & Parenting Mindfully

Mindful Church Café

What is ‘Mindfulness’?

  • Mindfulness is our universal human capacity for awareness and attention, and interest in mindfulness is growing exponentially.
  • It is being introduced into health, education, work and many other areas including parenting and relationships, although its roots are spiritual, with all the great faith traditions having some version of mindfulness.
  • Mindfulness can be enhanced through meditative and other practices, both secular and spiritual.

Relating & Parenting Mindfully

Mindful Church Café is a five week introduction to  relating & parenting mindfully, psychologically & spiritually.

Venue: Costa Coffee Stanmore (24-26 Church Road, Stanmore, HA7 4AW)

Time: 18:30 -20:00

Date: Starts February 25th(Session 1)

It is being run by Shaun Lambert who is a trained counsellor and psychotherapist, as well as being Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church. He is in great demand as a speaker, teacher and lecturer in the area of mindfulness.

If you want to find out more or sign up for the course, please contact Shaun via this website.

Session 1: How Stress damages our relationships

Wednesday 25th February 2015

6.30 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

 

Session 2: How to relate well in a hectic world

Wednesday 4th March 2015

6.30 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

Session 3: Transforming our relationships

Wednesday 11th March 2015

6.30 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

Session 4: Mindful parenting in our over-stimulated world

Wednesday 18th March 2015

6.30 p.m. to 8.15 p.m.

Session 5: Mindful parenting in our over-scheduled world

Wednesday 25th March 2015

6.30 p.m. to 8.15 p.m.

The bell that rings out silence – Worth Abbey Church #mindful

Worth Abbey

Worth Abbey Church hangs like a bell in the sky, ringing out…silence. This sense of being in a bell that is all to do with silence increases when you sit inside – even more you get a sense of a giant bell hovering above you.

Back in 2006 a phrase of 5th century Bishop, Diadochus of Photike, pioneer of the Jesus Prayer, also rang me like a bell. The energy of that phrase has stayed with me ever since, motivating and directing me. He said, ‘Let us keep our eyes always fixed on the depths of our heart with an unceasing mindfulness of God.’[1]

Within the vast  bell-like space of Worth I have been inspired to cultivate that mindfulness of God. The space and the silence invite you to indwell such mindfulness in your heart.

I have just led a retreat at Worth over the weekend on watchfulness and mindfulness of God. The experience did something which one translation from the Prologue of the Rule of St Benedict calls running ‘with hearts enlarged.’ The experience made my heart bigger. It was not just the space, the silence, the rhythm of prayer – it was the people. Those who were on retreat and the monks who offered us hospitality.

Now as I am home and I believe for weeks afterwards, if previous experience is to go by, that bell church that rings out silence will still ring in my life. I will still hear the echoes of the silence drifting to me on the wind.

[1] Quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (London: New City, 2002) p.204.

Paul Hammond of UCB’s interview with me – finding grace in the ordinary mindfully

This is Paul Hammond’s interview with me via UCB National Christian Radio – finding grace in the ordinary mindfully.

You can find out more about UCB via their website: http://www.ucb.co.uk/listen.html

#Mindfulness, Incarnation, Grace & the Ordinary

MIndfulness, Incarnation, Grace and the Ordinary

 

The grace of the Incarnation means we can look for the incarnation of grace in the embodied world in which we live. This grace is incarnated in different ways, including the embedding of wisdom into the natural world.

Grace is often incarnated but unlooked for in the ordinary. It wasn’t until the ordinary was temporarily under threat in my life that I rediscovered this truth.

Earlier in November a joint in my back jammed, causing a band of muscles to go into spasm and probably pinch a nerve momentarily. For two days I couldn’t sit up or walk without help. I needed help to get dressed and to wash. Every time I tried to sit up or stand up, my back would spasm again, and I would be literally screaming with the acute pain. I later discovered that I had also suffered an annular tear in one of the discs in my lower back.

Suddenly, in the moment, those ordinary, taken-for-granted experiences, such as sitting, walking and taking a shower, seemed to be wonderful, mysterious things filled with grace and glory. I longed to be able to do them without pain, and to really appreciate them.

How can we remember to appreciate the grace that dwells in ordinary things?

By indwelling our grace-given embodied awareness. This embodied awareness is called ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness is our universal human capacity for awareness and attention and needs to be distinguished from the mindful awareness or meditative practices that enable us to become more mindful.

The gravity of awareness and attention – gravity because it is central to our life and as invisible to us as gravity – is one of the central gifts of grace that is incarnated in our embodied living.

How might we define mindfulness? The most well-known definition is by Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally’.[1] This definition can be broken down into three main components, of intention, attention and attitude.[2]

The purpose of intention is very important. For example, I use secular mindful awareness practices to face my anxiety. I use Christian mindful awareness practices to come into the presence of God, in whose love my fear dissolves. Jesus put intention at the heart of the attentive life, ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33, emphasis added). Out of our intention comes the motivation to keep seeking, to keep meditating. Bernard of Clairvaux also puts intentio, intention, at the heart of the life of prayer. At the heart of intentio is the idea of ‘looking closely’ with what Bernard called ‘the face of the soul’.[3]

The second key element of mindfulness is attention, which is how we use our awareness. Awareness is ‘attending to experience itself, as it presents itself in the here and now.’[4] Jesus also commands us to clearly focus our attention. He does this through stories where we fail to pay attention to the detail: ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them’ (Matthew 6:26, emphasis added). This is not a casual glance but involves looking with attention and awareness for the wisdom embedded in the life of these small birds.

Shapiro et al suggest that the third axiom of mindfulness is attitude. The authors explain that ‘persons can learn to attend to their own internal and external experiences, without evaluation or interpretation, and practice acceptance, kindness and open-ness even when what is occurring in the field of experience is contrary to deeply held wishes or experiences.’[5] Very importantly, they say that this enables us to develop ‘the capacity not to continually strive for pleasant experiences, or to push aversive experiences away.’[6]

Jesus tells us to face the reality of our internal attitudes: ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3). He also commands us to be non-judgmental and to practise being non-judgmental in a continuous way: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ (Matthew 7:1). What he commends is clear seeing: ‘First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye’ (Matthew 7:5).

Clear seeing through cultivating watchfulness became the intention of the early Christian contemplatives. The aim of watchfulness was to achieve diakrisis – ‘the seeing clearly into oneself.’[7] Diakrisis could lead to diorasis, or discernment, and one could become a diaratikos, a ‘Discerning One’ – or one could say a ‘Mindful One.’[8]

With this came a new centre, which was a mindfulness of God. This phrase was used by a fifth-century bishop, Diadochus of Photike. The Greek phrase Diadochus uses, which was translated as ‘mindfulness of God’, was mneme theou, literally ‘the memory of God’, or ‘the remembrance of God’. It was a living, embodied memory.

Mindfulness helped relieve my acute pain in the moment, and it also helped me stop the pain becoming suffering. I was able to catch undermining thoughts such as ‘My back is always going to be like this now,’ and let them go.

It also reminded me of the grace of the Incarnation. As I sit here just before Christmas I can better resist the siren calls of the false Christmas of the adverts, incarnated in emptiness and ultimately disappointment. I will savour every ordinary moment, considering each one, until I see the grace incarnated in them.

Shaun Lambert is a trained counsellor and psychotherapist as well as being Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church.

The second edition of ‘A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness’ is published by Instant Apostle and is available in paperback and electronic formats.

 

For trade, it is available from Lion Hudson c/o Marston and from CLC.

[1] Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life (New York: Hyperion, 1994), 4, quoted in Zindel V. Segal, J. Mark G. Williams & John D. Teasdale, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (New York: Guilford Press, 2002) 40.

2 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology 62, no.3 (2006): 374, accessed 18 July 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20237.

3 Michael Casey, Athirst For God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1988), 117.

4 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 376.

5 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 377.

6 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ 377.

7 Mary Margaret Funk, Thoughts Matter, New York: Continuum (1998) 89.

8 Irenee Haussher, Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East (Cistercian Publications, 1990), .91.

 

 

[1] Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life (New York: Hyperion, 1994), 4, quoted in Zindel V. Segal, J. Mark G. Williams & John D. Teasdale, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (New York: Guilford Press, 2002) 40.

[2] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology 62, no.3 (2006): 374, accessed 18 July 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20237.

[3] Michael Casey, A thirst For God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1988), 117.

[4] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 376.

[5] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 377.

[6] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ 377.

[7] Mary Margaret Funk, Thoughts Matter, New York: Continuum (1998) 89.

[8] Irenee Haussher, Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East (Cistercian Publications, 1990), .91.