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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Dietrich Bonhoeffer


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  • from D. Bonhoeffer's, The Cost of Discipleship:


"... during political trials ... men ... ten or twenty were sentenced to death by a military court every week in 1943 and 1944. Some of these (among them a British soldier), charged with sabotage, were saved by [Bonhoeffer] from certain death. We have heard that his fellow prisoners were deeply impressed by the calmness and self-control which Bonhoeffer displayed even in the most terrible situations. For instance, during the very heavy bombings of Berlin, when the explosions were accompanied by the howling of his fellow prisoners, who beat with their fists against the locked doors of their cells clamouring to be transferred to the safe bunkers, Bonhoeffer stood, we have been told, like a giant before men.

"But this is only the one side of the picture. The other side is that Bonhoeffer was a man who lived in, and loved, this world. He, a giant before man, was but a child before God. While he was in the body, the fight between flesh and spirit, Adam and Christ, was going on in him. Sometimes he seemed to have become a riddle to himself. One day he gave expression to this conflict in his soul in a moving poem written from the prison-cell and entitled:


Who Am I?

Who am I?  They often tell me
I would step from my cell's confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a country squire from his country house.

Who am I?  They often tell me
I would talk to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I?  They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I know of myself,
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I?  This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I?

They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.



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