Sunday, December 9, 2012

Who Am I?

Hanukkah started yesterday, the day of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic tradition. My thoughts are taken up with Hanukkah currently as I reflect on the class I had the opportunity to co-teach this semester, "The Theology of Leadership." During these months I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian and pastor who stood against the Nazi regime and the Reich Church during World War II. He preached against the atrocities of anti-Semitism and tried to gather support for those being confused by the Nazi agenda and those who were suffering at the hands of a corrupt system. He was executed April 09, 1945 at the Flossenburg concentration camp (he was transported there after a long-term imprisonment at Tegel military prison).  Boenhoffer's life was informed by the message of the Beatitudes and I am moved by how this translated into his committed activism. Last Monday, as a class, we spent time journaling with the poem Who am I, written by Bonhoeffer prior to his execution on April 09, 1945. I share the poem with you today:

"Who Am I?"

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 all 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 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, 0 God, I am Thine!

March 4,1946

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