Several years ago Rowan Williams introduced me to Etty Hillesum who was born 15th January 1914 in the Netherlands and died at the age of 29 on the 30th November 1943 in Auschwitz. She was a young Jewish woman whose letters and diaries, kept between 1941 and 1943, describe life in Amsterdam during the German occupation. They were published posthumously in 1981 under the title: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.
A helpful introduction, for the general reader, one that approaches Hillesum from the perspective of the quest for spiritual maturity, was published in the magazine Psychology Today (September and October 2011 issues). The article was titled Spiritual Maturity: The Case of Etty Hillesum and was written by psychiatrist Larry Culliford in two parts – part 1 and part 2.
Excerpt from part 1
“…Intent upon self-development: At the age of twenty-seven, Etty was already independent-minded, preferring to think things through for herself; but she was only superficially confident. In her first diary entry she wrote, "Deep down something like a tightly wound ball of twine binds me relentlessly, and at times I am nothing more or less than a miserable, frightened creature."
Intent on self-development in a troubled world, she is searching for love and wholeness, aware that she is growing as a person and eager to do so. Her quest for personal integrity led her to consult an unconventional Jungian analyst, Julius Spier. Etty described him as, "A fifty-four year old in whom the struggle between the spirit and the flesh is still in full cry". Burdened by inhibitions, a sense of shame and a tremendous fear of letting go, she wants him to, "Bring order to my inner chaos, (and) harness the forces now at loggerheads within me."
Spier advises engaging in spiritual practices: reading philosophy, poetry and scripture, meditating, reflecting and praying. Etty reads the New Testament of the Bible as well as the Old, the words of Gustav Jung, and the wisdom of the poet Rilke, taking to heart his advice in particular, from his ‘Letters to a Young Poet', "To go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise."…”