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Archive for December, 2017

I am 75 years old, have lived a long, full, rich life, despite my own personal shortcomings (all by the grace of God), and am now the recipient of the news that there are no further treatments available for my cancer. Ever hear a word that sounds more terminal than “terminal?”

I have been sustained throughout these past five years by several Bible verses which have become extremely important to me. “This is the day the Lord has made; I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” (Thanks to my friend Ray Anderson at Fuller for this.) “To live is Christ; to die, gain.” “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

Also important to me has been an observation from Bonhoeffer which, though a bit lengthy, I quote:

29 May 1944 DBWE vol. 8, pp404ff

“I hope that despite the air raids you both are enjoying to the full the peace and beauty of these warm, summerly days of Pentecost. Inwardly, one learns gradually to put life-threatening things in proportion. Actually, “put in proportion” sounds too negative, too formal or artificial or stoic. One should more correctly say that we just take in these daily threats as part of the totality of our lives. I often notice hereabouts how few people there are who can harbor many different things at the same time. When bombers come, they are nothing but fear itself; when there’s something good to eat, nothing but greed itself; when they fail to get what they want, they become desperate; if something succeeds, that’s all they see. They are missing out on the fullness of life and on the wholeness of their own existence. Everything, whether objective or subjective, disintegrates into fragments. Christianity, on the other hand, puts us into many different dimensions of life at the same time; in a way we accommodate God and the whole world within us. We weep with those who weep at the same time as we rejoice with those who rejoice. We fear – (I’ve just been interrupted again by the siren, so I’m sitting outdoors enjoying the sun) – for our lives, but at the same time we must think thoughts that are much more important to us than our lives. During an air raid, for example, as soon as we are turned in a direction other than worrying about our own safety, for example, by the task of spreading calm around us, the situation becomes completely different. Life isn’t pushed back into a single dimension, but is kept multidimensional, polyphonic. What a liberation it is to be able to think and to hold on to these many dimensions of life in our thoughts. I’ve almost made it a rule here for myself, when people here are trembling during an air raid, always just to talk about how much worse such an attack would be for smaller towns. One has to dislodge people from their one-track thinking – as it were, in “preparation for” or “enabling” faith, though in truth it is only faith itself that makes multidimensional life possible and so allows us to celebrate Pentecost even this year, in spite of air raids.”

So here I sit. There are tears but my wife can still bring laughter from way down inside me. I feel badly that I’ll not get to see my grandchildren even through Jr. Hi., yet already my spirit is beginning to anticipate the joy that lies before me. I have a wide range of emotions and not one of them compromises the others. Thank you, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for articulating the “multidimensional life.”

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Looking over some of the poetry of John Milton (1608-1674)  yesterday evening, I stumbled over one I hadn’t read in many years. It has no title or date so far as I know but obviously comes from near the end of his life.

The lines that grabbed my attention were:

I am old and blind; /Men point at me as smitten by God’s frown; /Afflicted and deserted of my kind; /Yet I am not cast down.

I am weak, yet strong; /I murmur not that I no longer see; /Poor, old and helpless, I the more belong, /Father supreme, to Thee.

John Donne (1572-1681), whose life barely overlapped with that of Milton, wrote a short poem which is both amusing (as a play on his own name) and yet profound. I’ve long found it a delight.

A Hymn To God The Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I fear no more.

A good many years later Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) sat in prison and wrestled with the question of which was the real Dietrich, the frightened or the brave. He built his question into a poem but could not really answer the question. He concluded the poem, entitled “Who Am I?” with these solemn words:

Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am thine.

As I ruminate on those odd words from my doctor (“There are no more treatment options for your cancer”) I find a variety of Bible verses rise to the top of my consciousness for a few days, only to be supplanted soon by others. These past few days it has seemed  I can summarize what has been or at least has been intended as my life story: “Here am I, Lord.”

The rest is detail.

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