A while back I said that I was interested in reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, as I was fascinated to find out how this man was able to find meaning in the midst of one of the most degrading, dehumanizing and cruel situations a person could endure in a Nazi concentration camp. I did go and pick up the book and am now just some 40 pages in. Last night as I was reading I was struck by his vivid, inside description of what it was like to live inside those camps day to day, week to week, year to year. It makes anything that I endure pale in comparison!
I was particularly struck by what he said about those who had some religious faith or sense of spirituality. They ultimately were able to endure much better, for they were able to go to a place inside themselves which nothing or no one could take from them. This is what he says about such people:
“In spite of the all enforced physical and mental primitiveness of life in the concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was much less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature.” (Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston, 1959, 1962, 1984, 2006 p.36).
As I read this last night I was so grateful, despite its many faults, for my religious upbringing. It gave me a sense of hope, a place “of inner riches and spiritual freedom” to retreat to in the midst of difficult times. As a boy growing up in an alcoholic war zone of a home, because of the stories of faith that were instilled in me, that boy had someplace to go in the midst of his hell – and that place saved his life! And it continues to bless me in ways that I am unaware.
Perhaps today we could be grateful for a sense of Spirit that we have which gives us this place of “inner riches and spiritual freedom,” despite painful circumstances in our lives. It provides for us a way of dealing with these circumstances and rising above them and not collapsing under their weight. The seeking of a spiritual path, whatever it may be, indeed does make a concrete difference in our lives and, through us, the lives of those around us! It’s worth the time and effort we put into it.