Monday, February 4, 2013

Who Am I?

The vibrant theologian, courageous pastor, and soon-to-be martyr wonders, after all, "who am I?"

It was a long way from teaching openly at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and boldly confronting the Nazis and his complicit church leaders as the Third Reich devolved into deadly dictatorship to the confining prison cells in which Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent his last years--locked up as a traitor for conspiring to try to assassinate Hitler.  But from those cell blocks echo moving reflections on Christian life and faith and fellowship. Collected by his brother-in-law, Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison takes a prominent place among spiritual classics.

This prison poem by Bonhoeffer, "Who Am I?", reflects both sorrow and joy, resignation and determination. Finally, it reflects the confidence we all, in faith, may have.

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly,

like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself 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,

Tossing in expectations 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 contemptible 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!

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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