Guest speaker series:
Etty Hillesum

For our next two online talks, a dear friend of mine, Fr Larry Kaufmann, will offer a series of reflections on the modern mystic Etty Hillesum.

Fr Larry Kaufmann is a Catholic priest and a member of the Redemptorist order. He has a master's degree in systematic theology and a doctorate in contextual and social ethics. He is currently the director of Redemptorist Pastoral Publications. Larry travels frequently, both locally and internationally, leading group retreats and parish missions. He also has a wonderful sense of humour!

 

Talk 1: Meet Etty Hillesum

Opening music:

As an opening prayer, listen to the following song: 

etty-hillesum.png
 
Oh God, You Are My God (Psalm 63)Fernando Ortega
00:00 / 02:14

Song lyrics:

 

Oh God, you are my God
Earnestly I seek you
My Soul thirsts for you,
And my flesh yearns for you,
In a dry and weary land
Where there is no water.

I remember you at night
Through the watches of the night

In the shadow of your wings
I sing because you help me
My soul clings to you
And your hand upholds me
You alone.

Time: 20 minutes

Quiet Prayer:

This image of the inner well is a beautiful analogy for quiet prayer, where our part is simply to recognise the grit and stones that block the opening of the well, gently letting go of our thoughts and distractions, and allowing the prayer of the Spirit to rise within us and seep into our beings, like fresh cool water from the depths of the inner well. So I invite you into a time of silent prayer now (you can choose between a 10 minute timer and a 20 minute timer below, which each have a gong at the beginning and three gongs at the end).

Ten minute silence timerSilence
00:00 / 10:25
Twenty minute meditationSilence
00:00 / 20:28

For further reflection:

Below are some of the quotes from Etty Hillesum that are used in the talk for you to reflect on further. Larry has organised the quotes under themes:

Well

  • There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then he must be dug out again.

Psalms

  • Faith is “living one’s life with God and in God and having God dwell within.”

  • Those psalms which have become part of my daily life were excellent fare on an empty stomach.

Gender

  • Women too often view a man as their source of strength, an attitude as distorted and unnatural as it possibly can be.

  • Perhaps the true, the essential emancipation of women still has to come. We are not yet full human beings; we are the “weaker sex.” We are still tied down and enmeshed in centuries-old traditions. We still have to be born as human beings; that is the great task that lies before us.

Personal exercise:

We’ve seen some of the blockages to be removed, notably around race, religion, gender and personal life. Perhaps reflect on your experience of these in your own life until we return for the next talk. Apply Etty’s words to yourself:

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then he must be dug out again.

Ending music:

This song by Leonard Cohen resonates beautifully with Etty Hillesum's response to her situation, "Hineni Hineni (Here I am) - I'm ready my Lord".

 

 

Talk 2: The Evolving Soul of Etty Hillesum

Opening music:

As an opening prayer, listen to the following song, which Larry says he can imagine Etty praying: 

Song lyrics:

 

Salva
Salva
Salva (Domine deus miserere mei)

Carry me away
From the dark I fear
When the storm is near
From the endless night
From my blinded sight
To a sky of light

Free me to fly away


Salva me

Salva (Domine deus miserere mei)
 

Carry me away
From the things that harm
On a sea of calm
From the endless night
From my blinded sight
To a sky of light

Free me to fly away
Salva me

Free me to fly away


Salva me

Salva (Domine deus miserere mei)

Quiet Prayer:

Spend some time of silent prayer now (you can choose between a 10 minute timer and a 20 minute timer below, which each have a gong at the beginning and three gongs at the end).

Ten minute silence timerSilence
00:00 / 10:25
Twenty minute meditationSilence
00:00 / 20:28

For further reflection:

Below are some of the quotes that are used in the talk for you to reflect on further.

Aurobindo:

The evolving soul passes through a slow development and formation, cracking the outer nature and breaking down of the walls of inner separation. The inner light gets through, the inner fire burns in the heart. Nature and consciousness refine to a greater subtlety and purity; the soul begins to unveil itself; the psychic personality reaches its full stature.

ETTY:

Slowly but surely, I have been soaking Rilke up these last few months: the man, his work and his life. And that is probably the only right way with literature, with study, with people or with anything else: to let it all soak in, to let it mature slowly inside you until it has become a part of yourself. That, too, is a growing process. Everything is a growing process. And in between, emotions and sensations that strike you like lightning. But still the most important thing is the organic process of growing.

Rilke:

I want to unfold

Let no place in me hold itself closed,

for where I am closed, I am false.

I want to stay clear in your sight.

 

ETTY:

How terribly important this is for me, being in touch with my inner self! I don’t go on losing my balance or tumbling from one world into the next. Something is being consolidated within me, I seem to be taking root instead of continuously drifting, but it is still no more than the fragile start of a new and more mature phase. You must keep watching your step, little one, but I am well pleased with you all the same, you’re pulling through, truly, you are pulling through.

Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight, for the first time, I lay in the dark with burning eyes, as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me. I shall promise You one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow, although that takes some practice… I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, and we must help You to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be too much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You, and defend your dwelling place within us to the last.

Living and dying, sorrow and joy, the blisters on my feet and the sweet-smelling jasmine behind the house, the persecution, the unspeakable horrors - it is all one in me, and I accept it all as one mighty whole.

And finally, ought we not, from time to time, open ourselves up to cosmic sadness?  One day I shall be able to say to my friend Ilse: ‘Yes, life is beautiful, and I value it anew at the end of every day, even though I know that the sons of mothers, and you are one such mother, are being murdered in concentration camps.  Even if your sorrow 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 through hatred, do not seek to be avenged on German mothers, for they too, sorrow at this very moment for their slain sons. Give your sorrow the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears her grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.  But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve the space inside you for hatred and revenge - from which new sorrows will be born for others – then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply. But if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: Life is beautiful and rich… so beautiful and so rich that it makes you want to believe in God.

Ending music:

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