Although she died cruelly at Auschwitz at the age of twenty-nine, Etty Hillesum left a lasting legacy of mystical thought in her letters and diaries. Hillesum was a complex and powerful witness to the openness of the human spirit to the call of God, even under the most harrowing circumstances. Her life was as much shaped by Hitler’s regime as was that of philosopher Eric Voegelin, and as Meins Coetsier reveals, her thought lends itself to interpretation from a uniquely Voegelinian perspective.
Etty Hillesum and the Flow of Presence analyzes the life and writings of Hillesum from the standpoint of Voegelin’s views on consciousness—especially his philosophy of luminous participation in the transcendent ground of being. Through a careful reading of her letters and diaries, Coetsier reveals the inner development of Hillesum’s mystically grounded resistance to Nazism as he guides readers through the symbolism of her spiritual journey, making effective use of Voegelin’s analytics of experience and symbolization to trace her path to spiritual truth.
Intertwining the lives, works, and visions of these two mystical thinkers, Coetsier demonstrates his mastery of both Voegelin’s philosophy and Hillesum’s Dutch-language materials. He shows how mystical attunement to the “flow of presence”—Voegelin’s designation for human responsiveness to the divine—is the key to the development of Hillesum’s life and writings. He displays a special affinity for the suffering and grace-filled transformation that she underwent as she approached the end of her life and gained insight into the ultimate purpose of each individual’s contribution to the well-being and maintenance of the human spirit.
Retrieving one of the lesser-known but most compelling figures of the Holocaust, Etty Hillesum and the Flow of Presence is an original contribution to both Voegelin and Hillesum scholarship that reflects these writers’ strong valuation of the human person. It presents Hillesum’s life and work in an original and provocative context, shedding new light on her experiences and their symbolizations while further broadening the application of Voegelin’s thought