Posts Tagged ‘Dying’

As many of you know, the days of this blog are numbered. I’ve exhausted all the options for cancer treatments and am now on a fairly (very?) short time table. I’m not really ill yet, just always tired. But I’m not tired of Bonhoeffer! Looks like my book (“Dietrich Bonhoeffer: a Biblical Appreciation”) should be in print by March. I am deeply indebted to John Matthews for his great encourage and extensive practical help.

At this particular stage in life, one’s thoughts return often to memories and often to some of the fundamental issues of life. Much on my mind recently has been Bonhoeffer’s poem called “Who Am I?”

Fellow prisoners looked at him and said he is a man of strength, poise, confidence, and faith. He looked at himself and saw a very different person.

“Or am I only what I know of myself? Restless, yearning and sick, like a bird in its cage, struggling for the breath of life, as though someone were choking my throat; hungering for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds, thirsting for kind words and human closeness, shaking with anger at capricious tyranny and the pettiest slurs, bedeviled by anxiety, awaiting great events that might never occur, fearfully powerless and worried for friends far away, weary and empty in prayer, in thinking, in doing, weak, and ready to take leave of it all.”

The answer, of course, is that both were true. As he said elsewhere in LPP, he could hold multiple emotions and perspectives simultaneously.

In the end, however, his questions about identity really didn’t matter much. We cannot establish our identity by cataloging our various personal qualities.

Remember  Moses asking the Lord, Who am I that I should have this Egypt assignment? And the Lord answered, I am with you. That’s the key!

“Who am I?” asked Bonhoeffer. “They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am thine.” That’s the key!

So here I sit, having just experienced my last Christmas surrounded by a beautiful family, knowing that 99.9 per cent of my life is now nothing but memories. And the memories are covered with tears, most of joy, some of sorrow. The tears have been tucked away all along, awaiting this time when I cannot hold them back any longer.

One of those memories long cherished is of the time shortly after giving my life to the Lord in 1962. I “saw” Jesus standing about 20 feet before me with arms outstretched as if to welcome me. But I didn’t know how one walks toward a vision. So for 55 years I’ve wondered if someday I might find myself wrapped in his loving arms.

Somehow in the last few weeks I’ve discovered that my head is leaning hard against my Lord’s chest. And for the first time I’ve called him Daddy. And I’ve dared to say, from deep in my heart, I am a beloved child of the Lord. Until now, to claim to be anything but a servant was just too audacious for me.

And I can say with Bonhoeffer, Whoever I am, you know me O God; You know I am thine.”

And the rest is detail.


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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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