Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Joy of Etty's Life

This is the second collection of the writings of Etty Hillesum I have read, the first being An Interrupted Life. Etty was a young Jewish woman living in occupied Holland during World War II.  In 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered.  

In this collection of her diaries (and some letters), Etty Hillesum: Essential Writings, editor Annemarie S. Kidder culls passages from Etty’s diaries that fit into a Christian mold.  She divides each set of writings by topic, “The Self”, ‘The World’,  “The Self and the World” moving the diary entries out of chronology order.

This collection, in highlighting Etty’s spiritual struggles, provides a strong dose of her mystical tendencies, which we see growing stronger as she approaches what she knows will be her death.  This is the collection’s strong suite:  the closer Etty gets to death, the more she feels God’s presence within her.  Her union with God is directly related to the suffering and pain she sees around her.  God and death become twin companions, and her prose soars and we, the reader, get the full visceral picture of this woman, her life, and ultimately, her death.  Etty is moving toward a point where she will not return, and her joy in the munificence of the presence of God  within overwhelms her.

The problem with this collection is that it cherry picks from the larger body of the diaries.  From what I have read, Etty was an eclectic searcher; she was Jewish, but had Christian leanings, mainly through the lens of her mentor, Julius Spier, and her reading of Rilke and Jung.  Certainly, those are treated in this volume, but by subdividing them into nearly monastic categories, the impression is given the Etty was something that she was not: a Christian adept.   From my reading, she was spiritual eclectic.

Her voice was unique.  She does not fit into any tradition with any degree of comfort.  Even mystic fails to encapsulate the beauty and truth her diaries convey.

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