Etty Hillesum - Sorrow, Grief, and Felling it

A few months ago I was doing some daily reflection, reading Richard Rohr's - A Spring Within Us Daily Mediation, when he brought up thoughts on "communal shared sorrow" from Etty Hillesum. Something about this woman struck me and I dove deep into studying her life. I found out she lived during the Holocaust and was murdered by Nazi's at a concentration camp, but a journal she'd been keeping was discovered and eventually published. I rented her book from the library and did my best to trudge through it, making it about halfway through before returning it. It's a tough read. One of the ironic things about her book is that she never meant for it to be read by others, and acknowledges herself her deep need to write because of the sense within her, yet her frustration at her ability to articulate her thoughts and skills to write proficiently. Now, 78 years later, her unintended book impacts readers as she tells of the real life struggles of romance, artistry, community, oppression, sorrow, and also trying to live a life of wholeness, connection and rest that God desires for us, in the midst of mass genocide.


Her process inspires me and encourages me to continue writing about, engaging with, talking about grief and loss. As unique as it is to want to talk about death, and how often I make apologies for myself as I talk about something most people want to avoid, I know it's imperative and needed. So, I wanted to impart this writing from Hillesum for others to read and reflect on as a way to help encourage you to begin or continue your process, wherever you are at.


Lastly, as many of you know, I'm working on producing my own book on grief that initially stemmed from a dream and loss of my dog, Baron. From it, I'd like to add alongside Hillesum's writing to give support to your process as you reflect on it. I want to admonish you to allow yourself to be affected. Let your brain wrestle with presentness. Feel the sensations within yourself that want to run away, hide, blame, shame, discredit... whatever it is. Don't punish yourself or condemn others (the masses), rather find yourself within it. "For it may be grief and you have to feel it in order to move forward." - Jonathan Hillis


Etty Hillesum states in her journal: "And you must be able to bear your sorrow; even if it seems to crush you, you will be able to stand up again, for human beings are so strong, and your sorrow must become an integral part of yourself; you mustn’t run away from it.

Do not relieve your feelings of hatred, do not seek to be avenged on all Germans, for they, too, sorrow at this moment. Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. But if you do instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge—from which new sorrows will be born for others—then sorrow will never cease in this world. And if you have given sorrow the space it demands, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich. So beautiful and so rich that it makes you want to believe in God."



Etty Hillesum Monument in Deventer Netherlands


In conclusion, if you haven't already listened to Rachael Hillis' podcast episode with Living Waters Rogue Valley Podcast, take an hour to listen to hear interview and story. Click HERE to go to the webpage. You can also find it on GooglePlay, iTunes and Spotify.

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