Sacred Wilderness – St Thérèse and Etty

As we move into July we think of two women who were different models for people engaged in following the spiritual life.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux who lived in the 19th century (1873-1897) was a remarkably popular Carmelite Sister whose spiritual journey, which she called the “little way”, gained world-wide following.  In a time of much warfare throughout the world, she was the quiet presence of prayer that moved many to follow her “little way” of devotion to God.

Thérèse wrote “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”

 Thérèse died of tuberculosis saying on her death-bed, “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretense”, 

As a Doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse of Lisieux is surely a privileged expression of the “Little Way” for our times. Yet, there is another Little Way, that of a twentieth century Dutch Jewish woman and Holocaust victim, Etty Hillesum (1914-1943).

Etty wrote her diaries during the times when the Jews were being sent from the Netherlands to Auschwitz.  Her diaries focused on finding a solution for her own internal struggles rather than the events of World War II raging around her.  She eventually found a way out through spirituality and a highly personal interpretation of faith.

Etty wrote ‘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, that 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.’ (12 July 1942)

Etty was murdered in Auschwitz on 30 November 1943.

The world came to know about Etty through her diaries “Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life the Diaries, 1941–1943 and Letters from Westerbork” which were published in 1981 and are now translated into 18 different languages.


Comments are closed.