• David McNitzky

The Thinking Heart

Recently I learned of a powerful metaphor in the diaries of Etty Hillesum. She was a 29 year old Dutch Jew sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis in 1943. She kept a record of her thoughts and prayers from 1941 through her time at the Westerbork concentration camp. Eventually she was transferred to Auschwitz where she was murdered on November 30,1943. Her writings display a person of deep faith, gratitude, and joy in the midst of terror. She, like Victor Frankl, knew that no one can take away what is on the inside. So she worked to create a space for God in the interior of her life. She remained devoted and peaceful in the terrible conditions of the concentration camp.

What attracted my attention recently was when Yale theologian Miloslav Volf referenced a prayer of Etty’s. She asked God to let her be the “thinking heart” of both her barracks and the whole concentration camp. What an appropriate metaphor for our polarized and challenging days! May we not lose the compassion and hope which springs from our heart; yet may our love be educated so that we demonstrate that love for people today in the most helpful, beautiful, merciful and just ways possible. May our hearts be ever soft and our heads be ever wise.


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