The Inspiration of Etty Hillesum

I’m just back from co-presenting a retreat day for volunteers and friends of City House, a nonprofit organization on whose board I sit that provides spiritual listening for people on the margins.  The theme of today’s retreat, which I co-presented with Janice Andersen, Director of Christian Life at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, was Hope in a Suffering World.

In a world groaning with pain, how do we, as people of faith, create hope?  How do we model life and love in the midst of suffering?  How do we help heal a suffering world.  As a way to think about such questions, we focused on two women who, albeit in different ways, model hope-filled responses to suffering: Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day.  I thought I’d share here a few words of Etty’s, who Janice shared so beautifully about this morning.

Etty Hillesum’s writings were composed in the shadow of the Holocaust; yet her words are poignant ones for us given current events.  (“German” here stands for every group toward whom one is tempted to bear bad thoughts.)

It is the problem of our age: hatred of Germans poisons everyone’s mind…I had a liberating thought…if there were only one decent German, then he should be cherished despite that whole barbaric gang, and because of that one decent German it is wrong to pour hatred over an entire people.

Etty knew, as Dorothy Day knew, that

Love is the only solution.  Every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place…thus I believe childishly perhaps but stubbornly, that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love the Jew Paul described…Paul presents love as the ultimate condition for human redemption.

Love is the only solution.  It was true when Etty wrote those words in 1943, and it is true today.

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One thought on “The Inspiration of Etty Hillesum

  1. “if there were only one decent German, then he should be cherished despite that whole barbaric gang, and because of that one decent German it is wrong to pour hatred over an entire people.”

    Holy Mother Church would do well to head Etty’s words as ‘she’ continues to pour out potions of exclusion over entire peoples. . .

    Are all fallen away Catholics, those of other faiths, and those without spiritual homes incapable of loving and being loved inclusively?

    Are all remarried Catholics incapable of loving and being loved inclusively?

    Are all same-sex couples (and their children) incapable of loving and being loved inclusively?

    During Jesus’ public ministry, when He opened his arms to welcome and embrace all of His Father’s children, He had no litmus test of inclusion for those drawn (attracted) to His Love and message. He knew their hearts. . .

    Are we all not called to be magnates for Christ?

    Hope is one ‘seed’ nurtured at a time – a single ‘pearl’ strung one to the next as example exemplified in life by Etty Hillesum, Dorothy Day, many others and hopefully each of us.

    At day’s twilight end, when reflecting upon each of our personal encounters, we need recall the experiences when The Holy Spirit was invited and present – Love and Hope most often overflow naturally during each of those encounters.

    Walking with the Lord each new day and able to exclaim, “I see you,” ensures another seed of Hope has been planted.

    Creating and sustaining Hope is not a process of germination only. The bloom on the blossom shines and continues to radiate only when nurtured with tender Loving care. Continually exclaiming lovingly, “I see you.”

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