Etty Hillesum (1914 - 1943) saw God in the depths of her own soul and in other people. She was born in a Jewish family whose members suffered from some kind of nervous condition that resulted in illness and bouts of depression. Hillesum graduated from the University of Amsterdam with a master's degree in law. She became a patient of Julius Spier, a German psychoanalyst who at one time was her lover; he was the spiritual teacher who set her on a quest for inner transformation. As part of her therapy, she began to keep a journal where she registered her practice of listening to her soul. In 1942, Hillesum began working at a transit camp for Dutch Jews. It was a time of growing anti-Jewish measures. On September 7, 1943, she and her family were placed on a transport train to Poland. She died in Auschwitz on November 30 at the age of twenty-nine.
This collection of the writings of Etty Hillesum has been edited by Annemarie S. Kidder, a Presbyterian pastor and assistant professor at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, and is part of the Orbis Books Modern Spiritual Masters Series. True to Hillesum's mystical spirit, the excerpts from her diaries are divided into sections on The Self, The World, and Self and World as One. Themes include listening to the soul, attending to the present moment, the purpose of prayer, the cultivation of solitude and silence, the value of the single life, simplicity of speech and lifestyle, the virtue of humility, suffering as a school of patience, the importance of an ethic of love, an acceptance of death, and trust in the cosmic unity of all things.
Here are some quotes that give a sense of Etty Hillesum's spiritual literacy:
• "The inner world is as real as the outer world. One ought to be conscious of that. It, too, has its landscape, contours, possibilities, its boundless regions."
• "My ideas hang on me like outsize clothes into which I still have to grow. My mind lags behind my intuition."
• "It is sometimes hard to take in and comprehend, oh God, what those created in Your likeness do to each other in these disjointed days. But I no longer shut myself away in my room, God; I try to look things straight in the face, even the worst crimes, and to discover the small, naked human being amid the monstrous wreckage caused by man's senseless deeds."
• "That is probably the hardest thing a person can learn, as I so often find in others (and in myself as well in the past) to forgive one's own mistakes and lapses."
• "I am ready for everything, for anywhere on this earth, wherever God may send me, and I am ready to bear witness in any situation and unto death that life is beautiful and meaningful and that it is not God's fault that things are as they are at present, but our own."
• "Through me course wide rivers and in me rise tall mountains. And beyond the thickets of my agitation and confusion there stretch the wide plains of my peace and surrender. All landscapes are within me. And there is room for everything. The earth is in me, and the sky. And I well know that something like hell can also be in one, though I no longer experience it in myself, but I can still feel it in others with great intensity. And that is as it should be, or else I might grow too complacent."