Nella Last, author of Nella’s War, was not a religious woman.

She describes herself in her diary saying,

Wednesday, 29 November, 1939 I wish sometimes I was a religious woman and could find comfort and faith in bombarding God with requests and demands. I think people must be born like that, though.

But this does not mean Nella Last was not a spiritual woman. She goes on in the same entry to describe her personal life of prayer and to conclude with a humorous dig at those whose prayer life she cannot comprehend.

I try sometimes to pray that Cliff will not have to go to France – will come out of the Army – but feel in some queer way presumptuous, and just ask for comfort and help on his journey. My next-door neighbour has every religious service on at all hours, and finds comfort in it. I wish I could do so – I would only find irritation at the loud noise. She says she prays God to strike Hitler dead. Cannot help thinking if God wanted to do that he would not have waited till Mrs. Helm asked him to do so. 15

Indeed, after suffering through three years of war, Nella Last reveals the depth of her spiritual insight when she writes,

Sunday, 11 October, 1942 – It’s good to think of quiet places where trouble and strife, hurt and pain have not gone. Yet, when I’ve been on the bus and seen women who live in the quiet villages Coniston-way, their faces look almost as strained and harassed as any others. Perhaps the old ones are right – it’s the ‘peace within’ that matters, and all other kinds are myths and shadows. 214

The only real peace is the peace we carry within ourselves.

Another woman, this one much younger than Nella Last, who suffered through the war in a setting very different than Mrs. Last, also understood the necessity of finding peace within.

Etty Hillesum wrote in the same year as Nella Last, just weeks before being imprisoned in Westerbrok concentration camp,

Saturday June 1942 – True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself; when we have all vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings of whatever race – even into love one day, although perhaps that is asking too much.

Three months later, writing in Westerbrok, Etty claimed that

Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world. (28 September 1942)

We will never manage to bring the circumstances of life under control. The best we can hope for is to “reclaim” peace within ourselves “more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others.”

I cannot begin to count the number of times I have stood in front of various groups of people, made the sign of the cross and said,

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.

A peace that “passes all understanding” is a peace we cannot manufacture on our own; it is a peace that transcends reason and exists independent of circumstance. We can only receive such a peace by choosing to open our heart to the deeper reality of love and goodness that beats at the centre of life. This “peace within” is the deepest longing and hope of every human desire.