Well-known Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, died July 2, 2016. He was a prolific writer with thirty books to his credit. His first book, Night, chronicles his experiences after his family was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.
I found a copy of Night for a dollar at an antique store one day. Night is a description of Elie Wiesel's time in two concentration camps, Auschwitz (May, 1944 to January, 1945) and Buchenwald (January, 1945 to April, 1945). Stories of beatings, lack of food, extreme exercise, marching for hours, and humiliation in other forms, made me wonder how he survived. Most of the prisoners did not. His mother, and younger sister, died in May, 1944, and his father in January, 1945.
Practicing His Faith
Elie was a devout Jew. As a young boy he was devoted to the study of the Talmud. His interest in Jewish law centered his life. He continued to practice Jewish rites even when he was in Auschwitz.
Shortly before being transported to Auschwitz, Jews were told to place clothing and items they wanted to save in backpacks. All of the Jewish families in Elie's hometown, Sighet, Transylvania, left their homes and gathered in ghettos created in the center of town. They stayed in the ghetto until the day the cattle cars came to take them away.
Walking by his home the day he left, Elie commented:
"I looked at my house in which I had spent years seeking my God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later. Yet, I felt little sadness. My mind was empty." (page 19)
I was taken by his words, "... seeking God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later." Jews do not believe their Messiah has come. They are still waiting.
Reading Night and portions of another book Elie Wiesel wrote, All Rivers Run To The Sea, his devotion to prayer, study of scripture, and Jewish tradition impressed upon me his urgent desire for the coming of the Messiah and for what life would be like when that happened. He persevered with hope that practicing his faith would bring about the Messiah's arrival.
Christian Prayer and Jewish Prayer
Reflecting on Wiesel's life prior to the Holocaust caused me to think about the purpose of our Christian practice of prayer. When we pray for peace do we have faith that our prayers will result in peace? When we pray for love, do we believe that love will come?
I am reminded of a passage in Mark 11:24, where Jesus tells the disciples, "When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it." Jesus is saying, if you desire peace, pray using these words, "Thank you God for the peace I feel." You may not feel peace immediately, but praying with a grateful will bring comfort until peace comes.
Elie Wiesel believed that fasting would hasten the coming of the Messiah. His heart believed that through fasting the Messiah would appear. He was praying as Jesus directed, "believing that he had already received," a prayer of faith, trust and gratitude.
Jesus, the Messiah has come. We do not have the urgent desire for his coming as Elie Wiesel did. Do we take Jesus for granted? Do we live the fullness of life in Christ as Wiesel anticipated would happen if the Messiah came?
What do we believe we can hasten through completing prayer, study of God's word, fasting and acts of love and service? How can we hasten God's kingdom with all people we encounter?
Elie Wiesel's faith sustained him through life in two concentration camps. When he was barely alive, beaten to the core, his life with God remained strong - I think it is because he prayed, believing and God strengthened him to make it thorough.
Prayer: Loving and caring God, you have given us an example of a young man deep in faith who believed that he could hasten your coming through fasting and devotion to your word. Let us believe, too, that as we pray with faith, trust and belief, we can hasten your kingdom and mold us more completely into your image. Amen.