Did you hear about the guests at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom who were stuck for over an hour on “It’s a Small World”?
If you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom with children, you have undoubtedly been on this ride. You board a boat that travels slowly along a serpentine waterway while animatronic children in a variety of cultures sing “It’s a Small World After All” in a variety of languages.
I’m hearing the song in my mind right now and hope it leaves me quickly. Every time I’ve been on this ride, I was ready for it to end long before it did. Listening to the song for more than an hour would have been a bit challenging, indeed. One person who was stuck on the ride called it “torture,” in fact.
Here’s a story from the opposite side of the threat spectrum: the US has reportedly lost at least three nuclear bombs that have never been located. The article tells their story, concluding that they may never be found but are still potentially dangerous.
Here’s something else to worry about: the earth is spinning faster for some reason. July 26 lasted 1.5 milliseconds less than usual. On June 29, midnight arrived 1.59 milliseconds sooner than expected.
This sounds like a tiny problem to me, but it’s actually not. At this rate, a negative leap second may be needed, but this would wreak havoc on software that relies on extremely precise timers and schedulers.
A martyr and a hero
In a world filled with stress, finding serenity is both more difficult and more urgent. The less we can look to our circumstances for the tranquility our souls need, the more we need to look beyond ourselves.
This fact was brought home to me today in reading the remarkable story of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable and tragic women.
Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, and died on August 9, 1942. She was born into an observant German family but became an atheist by her teenage years. She began studying philosophy under the famous Edmund Husserl at Göttingen, but her work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. She then served as a volunteer wartime Red Cross nurse in an infectious diseases hospital.
In 1916, she completed her dissertation and graduated summa cum laude, but because she was a woman, she was refused an academic chair. From reading the works of Teresa of Avila, she was drawn to the Catholic faith. Stein was baptized on January 1, 1922, into the Roman Catholic Church. She wanted to become a nun but was dissuaded by her spiritual mentors, so she taught at a Catholic school of education.
However, because of her Jewish background, the Nazi government forced her to quit her teaching position in 1933. She was admitted to the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne the following October, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
In 1938, she and her sister Rosa, also a convert and member of the Order, were sent to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands, for their safety. However, in July 1942, the
Reichskommissar of the Netherlands ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts who had been previously spared.
Along with 243 baptized Jews living in the Netherlands, Stein was arrested by the SS on August 2, 1942. Five days later, 987 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. It was probably on August 9 that Stein, her sister, and many more of her people were murdered in a mass gas chamber.
From Potiphar’s prison to Pharaoh’s palace
From Edith Stein’s remarkable and tragic story, we are reminded of two biblical truths.
One: God is sovereign over circumstances and uses them for his redemptive purposes.
From Judaism to atheism to Catholicism to martyrdom, Edith Stein shows us that where we are does not necessarily determine who we are. Joseph learned humility in Potiphar’s prison which positioned him to be used in Pharaoh’s palace. Paul’s various imprisonments gave him time to write letters that changed the world. John’s exile on Patmos was no barrier to the risen Christ and the impartation of the book of Revelation.
If you’ll ask God to redeem your present moment for his eternal purposes, he will answer your prayer and you’ll find serenity in the storms of your life.
Two: Our present story does not determine our eternal legacy.
Edith Stein died at Auschwitz with no possible way to know that many in the Christian world would remember her faith on this, the day of her martyrdom. Or that an evangelical theologian like me would be writing about her. Or that you would be reading about her.
Most of those people whose lives changed history had no idea at the time that their lives would change history. Stay faithful to your present calling while trusting your eternal legacy to your Father, and you’ll find serenity in the storms of your life.
A prayer for our day
In responding to Edith Stein’s martyrdom, the Book of Common Prayer offers this prayer: “Pour out your grace upon your church, O God, that like your servant Edith Stein we may always seek what is true, defend what is right, reprove what is evil, and forgive those who sin against us, even as your Son commanded.”
If we’ll make these words our prayer for ourselves and for each other, we’ll find serenity in the storms of our lives, to the glory of God.