Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Edith Stein

Seventy years ago on this day, the 9th August, Edith Stein died at Auschwitz alongside many Jewish people. One theologian said after the war that talk of God is impossible after the death camps. I suggest that another way of reflecting is to ensure that philosophical and theological conversation occurs always with an understanding of the cheapness of human life and the efficient ways human beings have developed to kill others. It's also to remember that behind genocide lie a series of ideas that grow into beliefs. Edith Stein was a brilliant phenomenologist who worked with  Husserl and is still highly regarded today although phenomenology has become more the investigation of lived experience as it has met post modern trends of thinking. Edith converted to the Catholic faith, entered Carmel and took the name Benedicta of the Cross. The embrace of the cross was an embrace of a vocation to be a bridge builder with the Jewish people and as part of offering her life  in solidarity with the suffering. Before her conversion while she was searching she visited a Cathedral.

"we went into the cathedral for a few moments, and as we stood there in respectful silence, a woman came in with her shopping basket and knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. That was something completely new to me. In the synagogue as in the Protestant Churches I had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was somebody coming into the empty church in the middle of a days work as if to talk with a friend. I have never been able to forget that" (page 63 Edith Stein by Waltraud Herbstrith)

As a Carmelite nun she was encouraged to continue her work as a philosopher while living a life of prayer, worship and work. She wrote of God; 'You are the space embracing all my being, hidden in it. Loosened from you I fall into the abyss'  She died in the abyss but for her as for many others this was precisely the abyss where the love of God was present since she brought always a hope into every conversation which went beyond shallow optimism and pessimism. Living at a time when shallow optimism is almost an expectation of all right thinking people so called Edith Stein shines still as a star of faith, hope and love. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on this anniversary of your death when like the grain of wheat you died may new hope spring up where silence is a place of listening and hope and not the silence of paralysis.

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