At the end of 1942 Janina David was a twelve-year-old only child living with her mother and father in the Warsaw ghetto.

Her parents had spoken often of smuggling Janina out of the ghetto to the non-Jewish side of Warsaw. The prospect filled Janina with horror. But life in the ghetto was becoming increasingly untenable. Every day Jews were being swept up in massive Nazi actions and transported to the Umshclagplatz in preparation for deportation to the Treblinka death camp where nearly one million Jews and Sinti Roma people were eventually  executed.

Escape for Janina’s parents was impossible. But there was a chance that a twelve-year-old Jewish girl might be successfully taken from the ghetto and hidden among the Gentile population of Warsaw until the end of the war. Janina was horrified at the prospect of leaving her parents and being abandoned to an uncertain and terrifying future among strangers.

But in December the decision was made and early one morning Janina left the ghetto hidden in a truck full of slave labourers, including her father, going to work in Gentile Warsaw. In her memoir A Square of Sky: A Wartime childhood: from ghetto to convent, Janina David describes the early morning as she passed through the gates leaving the ghetto:

As we drove through the empty streets the day was slowly emerging from the shadows. It seemed to me that the snow was whiter on this side of Warsaw and the air cleaner. The houses breathing quietly behind darkened windows were full of life. It was beginning to snow, a fine powdery mist, thickening imperceptibly. At a large crossroads the truck slowed, then stopped, the motor ticking loudly. Father lifted me over the side and set me down on the pavement. For one moment I saw his face above me – the thin sallow cheeks, the dark eyes brilliant with tears. He was saying something but I could not hear. There was a sudden roar in my ears, a clamour of bells, I was drowning again and the sea was filling my chest with unbearable pain. The truck began to move away. For one more moment I felt Father’s hands on my shoulders, then they were stretched towards me from the swirling snow, then the white curtain fell before my eyes and the truck disappeared.

I stood motionless in the blizzard, unable to move or think. Early passers-by were appearing from the snow on their way to work. They jostled and pushed me, throwing surprised glances in my direction. Somewhere in my numbed brain an alarm ran, an instinct told me to move on. I took a few blind steps… 232,233

At twelve-years-old Janina was suddenly an orphan, forced to exist in an unfamiliar, unfriendly and dangerous world. There was no safe place for her, no place where she could for one minute let down her guard. She could trust no one and could never relax.

The disciples of Jesus must have felt a similar sense of disorientation, foreboding, and uncertainty when Jesus told them about his impending departure.

It cannot have been easy to hear Jesus’ words when he said,

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ (John 13:33)

His disciples had come to experience Jesus as the embodiment of love, goodness, truth, and beauty. Everything for which their hearts longed seemed to have found its resolution in this man. They had discovered in his presence a spirit of compassion and beauty that gave them meaning, purpose, and deep peace. Now he was saying he was going to leave them and they would not be able to follow where he was going.

To some degree we all experience this uneasy sense of aloneness. We know the feeling of being abandoned in a strange and unsettling world, uncertain about the best way forward, not sure that the world is an entirely safe place.

We long to hear the words Jesus said to his disciples as he prepared them for his departure,

18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. (John 14:18)

But so much of our lives seems to parallel Janina’s experience, dumped over the side of a truck in the midst of a blizzard, surrounded by unfriendly and unpredictable forces. The best we can do is to take “a few blind steps.”

What might help us sense the presence that, even in his absence, Jesus promised his disciples they could experience? How do we stay connected with the force of love and light that is our true nature, even when we find ourselves overwhelmed with the difficult realities we often face?

According to Jesus it all depends upon what we love and where we are looking. Jesus said to his disciples,

If you love me, you will keep my commandment. (John 14:15)

And,

In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. (John 14:19)

To love Jesus and to see Jesus is to love and see goodness, truth, beauty, kindness, gentleness, generosity, compassion, peace, and love.

I feel orphaned because I love the wrong things. I love getting my way. I love my comfort, belonging, safety, and security. When I don’t get my way and life is awkward and uncomfortable, I feel abandoned. When I feel that I don’t fit and that life is threatening and insecure, I feel “orphaned.” I look at the world and all I can see is the darkness, the uncertainty, and the confusion.

When I let go of needing things to go the way I had planned, and accept the frequent awkwardness, disorientation, pain, and loneliness that accompany life, my eyes open and I begin to see the goodness, truth, beauty, kindness, gentleness, generosity, compassion, peace, and love that are always present in even the most difficult circumstances.

There is nowhere that Jesus is absent. When I love the goodness he embodied, my heart opens to an awareness of the presence of love and beauty in every circumstance. When I let go for a moment of my obsession with the external circumstances of my life, I discover within myself the presence of truth that Jesus promised his disciples when he said,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.
This is the Spirit of truth… You know him, because he abides with you,
and he will be in you.

(John 14:16,17

The goodness, truth, beauty, kindness, gentleness, generosity, compassion, peace, and love which are the presence of Jesus and for which my heart longs, live within my being. I do not need to seek these qualities outside myself. I do not need my circumstances to be a certain way in order to find the goodness, truth, beauty, kindness, gentleness, generosity, compassion, peace, and love that are the presence of Jesus.

The promise Jesus left with his disciples extends down through all time and is equally true for me today:

remember, I am with you always,
to the end of the age.
(Matthew 28:20)

Goodness, truth, beauty, kindness, gentleness, generosity, compassion, peace, and love are always present. These qualities live inside me as my true nature. I need only to open my eyes, see who I truly am, and allow my life to be conformed to the presence of love. Then I will know that this presence permeates all of life. I am never alone. I have never been abandoned.

Advertisements