A Pearl from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statue is one of ten to modern martyrs, unveiled in July 1998, which stand above the west entrance to Westminster Abbey. The sculptor was Tim Crawley.

On this day, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred – aged 39. His life, teaching and death are constant reminders of the cost of discipleship and the need for political engagement. Here is one of his pearls:

God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof.

Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it.

Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in.

He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas


Praying Hands
Thank you C Jill Reed for this photo of Praying Hands: a 30 ton 60 ft tall bronze statue at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The praying hands are just so huge that they make our own hands puny in comparison. Surely these are the hands of Christ, through whom our prayers are heard and minded by God.  He is the great High Priest whose love blesses the universe.

All Christians are called to be intercessors with responsibilities to pray for our enemies as well as our friends.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the importance of intercessory prayer in Life Together:

A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed.

I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they case me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others.

As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.

The Church’s Lectionary prompts us to read two passages which talk about table manners. The passage from Hebrews (13:1-8) reminds us to entertain strangers (“for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it”) and to remember those in prison (“as though you were in prison with them”). The Gospel passage (Luke 14:7-14) Jesus turns the tables on our normal manners by telling us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” when giving a banquet, rather than friends, family and people who do us good.

These are extraordinary and good table manners. What we are supposed to do at our tables we are also supposed to do in our prayers. In our prayers we are entertaining people in our hearts and minds. And we have to stretch our minds and hearts so that we pray for those who are at the margins of our consciousness – we prepare a place for the stranger, the poor, the prisoner.

In praying for them we bring them centre stage in an act of remembrance, as if we were in prison with them. We pray for those for whom life has gone wrong, for those who don’t know what peace is, or family is. We pray for the unlovely and the lost as if we are unlovely and lost with them. This is a sympathetic (or empathic) position, but it is not about identification, because, as Oswald Chambers reminds us, intercession also puts us in God’s place. He writes: “People describe intercession by saying, “It is putting yourself in someone else’s place.” That is not true! Intercession is putting yourself in God’s place; it is having his mind and his perspective.”

These are deeply healing processes. When we pray for others we are at the very least remedying neglect and overcoming fears and divisions. And we are, at the very most, putting ourselves “in God’s place” of overcoming evil with far better table manners and prayer.

>Life Together

This is from a graphic novel of Bonhoeffer I found on bonhoefferblog.

Bonhoeffer wrote a book called Life Together laying down guidelines for communal living in the 20th century. He was a vehement opponent of the Third Reich. At a time when Nazi policy was to eliiminate the weakest (Jews, gays, gypsies, mentally ill et al) Bonhoeffer was arguing for small family-like units to protect the smallest and the weakest. He used the image of chain links as in this quote from Life Together:

In a Christian community, everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the fellowship.

While reflecting on this I have been reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (film clip below). This is a very powerful – and very simple – story of two boys who strike up a friendship either side of the wire fence of Auschwitz. A different sort of story of Hitler’s Germany. Another story is told in the film Defiance – a film of four Jewish brothers from Poland who escape the Nazis to fight back to rescue fellow Jews – (on my list of films to see).