Friday, June 26, 2015


    “...I am also thinking of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch girl of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. At first far from God, she discovered Him looking deep within her and she wrote: “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” (Diaries, 97). In her disrupted, restless life she found God in the very midst of the great tragedy of the 20th century: the Shoah. This frail and dissatisfied young woman, transfigured by faith, became a woman full of love and inner peace who was able to declare: “I live in constant intimacy with God"...”
      Pope Benedict XVI, 13 February 2013  in his first general audience on Wednesday after his resignation

I decided to read her diary and letters which give us the fullest possible portrait of this extraordinary woman in the midst of World War II. In the darkest years of Nazi occupation and genocide, Etty remained a celebrant of life whose bright intelligence, compassion, heroism were themselves a form of inner resistance.

Certainly the adult counterpart to Anne Frank, Etty testifies to the possibility of  courage and a deep spirituality in the face of the most devastating challenge to one's humanity. She died at Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of twenty-nine.

“God is not accountable to us, but we are to Him. I know what may lie in wait for us.... And yet I find life beautiful and meaningful."

With her Family
From the day when Dutch Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star up to the day she boarded a cattle car bound for Poland, Etty endeavored to bear witness to the inviolable power of love and to reconcile her keen sensitivity to human suffering with her appreciation for the beauty and meaning of existence (shades of Viktor Frankl). For the last two years of her life Etty kept a diary, recording her experiences and her interior response. Published four decades after her death, this book was quickly recognized as one of the great moral documents of our time.

Esther (Etty) Hillesum was born in 1914 in  Middelburg, where her father Levie (Louis) had been teaching classical languages since 1911. In 1928 he became headmaster at the gymnasium in Deventer. He remained there until his dismissal, in 1940, ordered by the occupation government imposed by Nazi Germany following the invasion of The Netherlands.

Unlike her younger brother Jaap, who was an extremely gifted pupil, Etty's marks were not particularly worthy of note. At school she studied Hebrew and for a time attended the meetings of a Zionist young people's group in Deventer. After completing her school years, she went to Amsterdam to study law. In 1935 she took her bachelor's exams in Amsterdam.

Not much is known about Etty's university years. She moved in left-wing, anti-fascist student circles and was politically and socially aware without belonging to a political party. Her acquaintances from this period were amazed to learn of her spiritual development during the war years, a period in which she adopted clearly different interests and a different circle of friends, although she did maintain a number of her pre-war contacts.

In  early 1941 Etty entered into therapy with Julius Spier- who himself underwent instructive analysis with C. G. Jung in Zurich. It was Spier who encouraged Etty to begin a diary.  Spier had a very great influence on Etty's spiritual development; he taught her how to deal with her depressive and egocentric bent and introduced her to the Bible and St. Augustine.

C. van der Heyden-Ronde
In the diaries, one can clearly see how the deepening anti-Jewish measures
affected Etty's life. One also sees her determination to continue her spiritual and intellectual development. She found work providing  a bit of support for the Jews as they were preparing themselves for transport at Westerbork. It  was due to this work that Etty consistently turned down offers to go into hiding. She said that she wished to "share her people's fate."  “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”

Etty's departure from Amsterdam on 6 June proved definitive, for on July 5, 1943 an end was put to the special status granted to personnel at the camp she worked at. Half of the personnel had to return to Amsterdam, while the other half became camp internees. Etty joined the latter group as she wished to remain with her father, mother, and brother Mischa. On September 7 the Hillesum family were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz.

Etty's father and mother either died during transport to Auschwitz or were gassed immediately upon arrival. According to the Red Cross, Etty died at Auschwitz c. November 30, 1943. Her brother Mischa remained in Auschwitz until 7 October 1943.

Fortunately, before her final departure, Etty gave her diaries to Maria Tuinzing. Etty asked her to pass them along to the writer Klaas Smelik with the request that they be published if she did not return. Klaas Smelik's attempts to have the diaries published in the 1950s proved fruitless. They were published posthumously in 1981. Her diary and letters have been translated into dozens of languages and  there is now
The Etty Hillesum Research Centre (EHOC) of Ghent University, which provides opportunities for research and exchange for scholars world-wide working on Etty Hillesum's writings.

That Etty Hillesum could rise above hated in the midst of the horrors of her people reveals a tremendous inner strength.  I would recommend this book to all who love the diary of Anne Frank. It is an inspirational reading experience.
Our world needs the example of this Jewish woman who achieved a transformation in her life in so few years. Food for thought for us all!

“Sometimes I long for a convent cell, with the sublime wisdom of centuries set out on bookshelves all along the wall and a view across the cornfields--there must be cornfields and they must wave in the breeze--and there I would immerse myself in the wisdom of the ages and in myself. Then I might perhaps find peace and clarity. But that would be no great feat. It is right here, in this very place, in the here and the now, that I must find them. ”

Friday, June 19, 2015


Today and next week I will present two modern women who suffered greatly due to the crises of WWII. One defended the Jews and the other was Jewish.  ST. MARIA SKOBTSOVA  (1891-1945), known as MOTHER MARIA of PARIS was a Russian noblewoman, poet, nun, and member of the French Resistance during World War II. She has been canonized a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

She was born (Elizaveta) to an aristocratic family in  Riga, Latvia, then part of the Russian Empire. Her father died when she was a teenager, and she embraced atheism. In 1906 her mother moved the family to St. Petersburg, where she became involved in radical intellectual circles. In 1910 she married an Old Bolshevik by the name of Dmitriy Kuz'min-Karavaev. During this period of her life she was actively involved in literary circles and wrote poetry. By 1913 her marriage to Dimitriy had ended.

Through a look at the humanity of Christ, she began to be drawn back into Christianity. She moved with her daughter, Gaiana, to the south of Russia where her religious devotion increased.

Furious at Leon Trotsky for closing the Socialist-Revolutionary Party Congress, she planned his assassination, but was dissuaded by colleagues, who sent her to Anapa. In 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution, she was elected deputy mayor of Anapa in Southern Russia. When the anti-communist White Army took control of Anapa, the mayor fled and she became mayor of the town. The White Army put her on trial for being a Bolshevik. However, the judge was a former teacher of hers and she was acquitted. Soon the two fell in love and were married.

Soon afterwards the political tide was turning again. In order to avoid danger, she, Daniel, Gaiana, and her mother  fled the country. Elizaveta was pregnant with her second child. They traveled first to Georgia (where her son Yuri was born) and then to Yugoslavia (where her daughter Anastasia was born). Finally they arrived in Paris in 1923. Soon Elizaveta was dedicating herself to theological studies and social work.

In 1926, Anastasia died of influenza. Gaiana was sent away to Belgium to boarding school. Daniel and Elizaveta's marriage was falling apart. Yuri ended up living with Daniel, and Elizaveta moved into central Paris to work more directly with those who were most in need.

Her bishop encouraged her to take vows as a nun, something she did only with the assurance that she would not have to live in a monastery, secluded from the world. In 1932, with Daniel  permission, an ecclesiastical divorce was granted and she took monastic vows. In religion she took the name Maria.

Mother Maria made a rented her "convent" in Paris It was a place with an open door for refugees, the needy and the lonely. It also soon became a center for intellectual and theological discussion. In Mother Maria these two elements, service to the poor and theology, went hand-in-hand.

After the Fall of France in 1940, Jews began approaching the house asking for baptismal certificates, which the chaplain, Father Dimitri, would provide them. Many Jews came to stay with them. They provided shelter and helped many to flee the country. Eventually the house was closed down. Mother Maria, Fr. Dimitri, Yuri and Sophia were all arrested by the Gestapo. Fr. Dimitri and Yuri both died at the Dora concentration camp.

Mother Maria was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945, she took the place of a Jewish woman who was going to be sent to the Gas Chamber, and died in her place. (Just like St. Maxmillian Kolbe)

In July, 1942, when the order requiring Jews to wear the yellow star was published, she wrote a poem entitled "Israel":

    Two triangles, a star,
    The shield of King David, our forefather.
    This is election, not offense.
    The great path and not an evil.
    Once more in a term fulfilled,
    Once more roars the trumpet of the end;
    And the fate of a great people
    Once more is by the prophet proclaimed.
    Thou art persecuted again, O Israel,
    But what can human malice mean to thee,
    who have heard the thunder from Sinai?

Friday, June 12, 2015


Born in Santiago, Chile, SERVANT of GOD FRANCISCO MAXIMIANO VALDES SUBERCASEAUX , joined the Order of the Franciscan Friars Minor Capuchins in Germany, in 1930, and was ordained to the Priesthood at 25 years of age, on March 17, 1934, in Venice, Italy, after successfully undergoing studies at the Pontifical Latin American Seminary and the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Back in Chile in 1935, he was assigned within the Apostolic Vicariate of Araucanía, where he served as Professor of Philosophy at the Major Seminary of San Fidel, in San José de la Mariquina, and furthermore as Vicar Coordinator of the Parish of Boroa, and Spiritual Director of the Congregación de las Hermanas Catequistas de Boroa.

 A prish Priest of Pucón between 1943 and 1956, he erected the Monastery of Saint Clare for women Capuchin Religious.

Meeting Pope Paul VI

At age 47, Pope Pius XII appointed him as the First Bishop of the newly erected Diocese of Osorno, receiving his Episcopal Consecration on September 16, 1956, from Archbishop Sebastiano Baggio, assisted by Bishops Manuel Larraín Errazuriz and Guido Benedetto Beck de Ramberga OFM. Cap.,

A remarkable figure, the Bishop spent his last months with the Capuchin Friars of Araucanía, after being diagnosed with gastric cancer. He died at the San Francisco de Pucón Hospital, on January 4, 1982, aged 74. His last words were: "I offer my life to the Pope, to the Church, to the Diocese of Osorno, to the poor, to the peace between Chile and Argentina, and to the triumph of Love"

Monday, June 8, 2015


OLR Chapel at Pentecost

I have been asked to do a blog or two on our daily life in the monastery here on our small island.
But sometimes it seems there is no set schedule in our life- except for the prayer- that is a constant. Our mission is to pray for the needs of the Church, especially in the Archdiocese of Seattle and to meet the needs of those who come to us.

The Chapel

We are contemplative in that we center our lives on liturgical prayer and do not hold jobs “in the world”. But we are actively involved in the “outside world” in numerous ways, especially with our island community.

Mother Prioress feeding turkeys
We fulfill St. Benedict’s call to ORA (prayer) in our peaceful chapel in the woods by inviting all to join us as we daily carry out the Divine Office (eight prayer services) and Mass in the ancient Gregorian chant. Our prayer is the first and foundational element of a life lived in total consecration to Christ. From prayer the rest of the day flows, finding its vitality, its strength, its purpose, and its apostolic fruitfulness. 

At Our Lady of the Rock we strive to uphold the traditional values of Benedictine life in the modern world. This means that we follow the Rule of St. Benedict as closely as we can in this contemporary world, so we wear the traditional habit, we live by the labor of our own hands, raising as much of our food as possible and participating in the work needed to fulfill both our daily and long-term needs, and we make hospitality an essential part of our work.
Intern with the sheep

Bringing in the hay
Hospitality is an essential part of our work, and we welcome guests of all faiths to find peace and stillness amidst their busy lives. Individuals and groups stay in our retreat houses and are invited to partake in the work and prayer of our community and farm.

Our work is fulfilled by supporting ourselves and serving our neighbors and guests with a variety of works all focused around our 300 acre farm. We try to be loving caretakers of the land and the environment. We raise rare breed farm animals, run one of the few raw milk dairies in Washington State (Mother Prioress is back to making cheese), we create and sell products from our farm and the talents of our community, and we offer internship programs for both students and adults in holistic farming.

Spinning Retreat

On paper this all looks good, but things change from season to season and sometimes from week to week or even day to day. As I write this one of our elders is hospitalized (she does all the laundry).  Another broke her humerus in three places (she is a multi-tasker) and a third is in Europe for a month.  So we who are left standing must take over jobs we never did, as Mother Dilecta (head of the farm) doing our white laundry.

It is not all that grim: sometimes when the weather is especially fine we will say ”let's go to the beach with the dogs, the weeds can wait!”

Our beach

Monday, June 1, 2015


To celebrate the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero I thought I would seek out some art of that country and found a delightful artist  in FERNANDO LLORT who is the national artist of El Salvador. He is a painter, sculptor, muralist, composer and performer. He is a much beloved interpreter of the best of El Salvadoran life. His work is a joyous, whimsical celebration of the Salvadoran life and people.

He is known for teaching the citizens of the small town of La Palma, Chalatenango, how to make a living through art. His style is colorful and often childlike, of cubist forms and can be compared to that of Joan Miró and in some instances to that of Picasso.

He moved here in the small village of La Palma some 30 years ago and is well known for being the founder of the artisan and pictorial movement of that village. In 1977 La Semilla de Dios foundation was born here. He got involved, teaching and inspiring the small town how to make a living through art. Now, 75% of the people  in La Palma make a living from painting and artisan manufacture.

He was born in San Salvador in 1949.  he displayed an artistic inclination at an early age, and after graduating from high-school he obtained an architecture degree from the University of El Salvador.

A restless thirst for new experiences led Him to pursue his studies in France. This was an important time for the development of his art, as being abroad strengthened his sense of cultural identity with El Salvador. After France, he studied theology in Lovaina, Belgium. This religious bent can be seen in the symbols present throughout his work - one can almost always see a church, a dove or an all-seeing eye. Later he went to study art in the United States at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge.

Upon returning to El Salvador, Llort found a tense climate of political and social unrest in the early rumblings of the Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992). To escape this instability, in 1971 he and other young artists moved to the town of La Palma in the northern region of El Salvador, close to the border with Honduras. The simple life he lived in the mountains was a refuge from what was happening throughout the rest of the country, and the daily contact with nature and with the people of La Palma greatly influenced his art.

Images of the rural life of the campesino predominated: animals, birds, flowers, and simple adobe houses, with red tile roofs. Later the themes shifted as the war progressed, and the consciousness of the poor deepened: themes such as the value of women, the importance of community, and the Salvadoran face of God became common.

Llort and the other young artists formed a commune and utilized their artistic skills to earn income, carving objects in wood and drawing intricate designs on them, as well as on copinol seeds. Their activities inspired the local handicraft movement as they started the first local workshop, called the Semilla de Dios (Seed of God). This was incorporated as a cooperative in 1977, providing employment for people to learn and develop their skills. Gradually, more workshops formed, each contributing to the artistic atmosphere in the town.

Today La Palma is renowned for its native artists and handicraft artisans. Once the civil war began, however, he left La Palma in 1980 and moved back to San Salvador, but still maintained his connections with the mountain people.

In San Salvador, he married Estela Chacon and had three children. Here he founded a gallery called El Árbol de Dios (God's Tree) where he displays and sells his art.