Friends! Don’t you love it when one book leads to another because you want to find out “more of the story?”
I immediately ordered one of her recommendations. It has cut me to the core, but in an inspiring way. If any of you hear me complaining about anything from here on out, you have my permission to bonk me over the head with this very book!
The book? Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison compiled by Edward Bethge
These letters are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his family and friends, along with letters in return from them, plus Dietrich’s notes on various topics such as books, types of music, favorite hymns, as well as lessons he learns and occasional poems. His dear friend, Eberhard Bethge, put all of these together in book form. A mere 436 pages, we readers simply cannot rush thru’ these gems. (Don’t miss the two important words in the title, “from prison.”)
What’s evolved for me (you may prefer to read it differently) is I’m only reading a few of the letters each day, devotional-style. Because Bonhoeffer references so many Scripture verses, it’s nice to look them up and figure out where he’s leading us. There are more pearls hidden in these letters than one can count.
What’s terribly convicting, yet in a positive way to grow our own faith, is Dietrich’s deep contentment and joy in spite of being imprisoned, treated unfairly, many times starved (although he said, “The mind’s hunger for discussion is much more tormenting than the body’s hunger for food.”), all the while enduring air raids, bombing, etc. His faith never wavered.
As time progresses, Dietrich befriends some of the prison guards as well as the inmates, often helping in the sick bay. Fellow prisoners look up to him, many times seeking his thoughts and wisdom. We readers gain a beautiful visual of why he was also known as Pastor Bonhoeffer.
His correspondence with family and friends obviously helps him cope with his circumstances. He once told his fiancé, Maria, that their engagement was a source of strength to him. He was able to convert “his annoyance at the limitations of our relationship, into a hopeful and eager expectation and challenge.” Maria was allowed monthly visits.
Dietrich said of his relationship with Maria, “I believe our union can only be a sign of God’s grace and kindness, which calls us to faith.” And in regard to trusting in the future, he said, “This is where faith belongs. May God give it to us daily.”
Often Dietrich reminds himself about the importance of worshipping God, praying to God, and doing so every single day. His resolve and exuberant love for the Lord is the most beautiful aspect of these letters. I kept asking myself, “HOW does he go on? How can he stand this?” And yet, he never complains. Ever.
One of my favorite discoveries is the sincerity with which he closes each letter, always personalizing it for the recipient. In a letter to Dietrich’s friend, Eberhard, from 7/21/44 in Tegel prison, he closes with,
Eberhard organized Dietrich’s letters and papers into four parts in the book:
Knowing of his death in April of 1945, as that date approaches in the book, I found myself getting nervous for Dietrich. From his letters, of course he has no idea, although more than once he directs Eberhard to feel free to use any money of his needed and how to dispose of his things should he not make it out of prison. He also sought out an attorney to prepare his will.
In October of 1944, Dietrich was moved from Tegel, to the Gestapo prison. It became impossible to visit him there. We’re told there was an air raid in February and the prison was badly damaged, so Bonhoeffer was moved out of Berlin. Maria goes looking for him, at three different prisons: Dachau, Buchenwald and Flossenburg. She could not find him. Upon his death, it took months for Maria and Dietrich’s parents to find out. So, so sad.
On a happier note, one of my favorite entries by Dietrich comes from May of 1944, entitled: “Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm Rüdiger Bethge.” Eberhard and Renate named their first born child, a son, for Dietrich. Dietrich tells young Dietrich his three names bear reference to three houses “with which your life is, and always should be, inseparably connected.” Dietrich continues, “I look forward to your future with great confidence and cheerful hope.”
Dietrich’s sermon teaches young Dietrich about many things such as the security of a good home. He calls it one of the greatest gifts saying his home “will be a bulwark against all dangers from within and without…”
Children will be drawn into their parents’ protection, and they will seek refuge, counsel, peace, and enlightenment,” adding ,”your parents’ home will be a storehouse of spiritual values, helping dissolve your perplexities and purifying your character and sensibility, and in times of care and sorrow will keep a ground-bass of joy alive in you.” (Ground-bass is a musical reference the families would’ve understood given their musical talent.)
And this phrase Dietrich adds can be prayed for, for all of our homes:
“The piety of your home will not be noisy or loquacious, but it will teach you to say your prayers, to fear and love God above everything, and to do the will of Jesus Christ.”
Then we’re gifted with Proverbs 6:20-22
This is but one of many, many verses Dietrich includes for little Dietrich. It’s the dearest piece of writing and one I’m sure little Dietrich and his family cherished. Additionally these few quotes I’ve included from other letters are a mere minutia of the gold you’ll dig out of this book.
Eberhard Bethge, who assembled these many letters for Letters and Papers from Prison, also wrote a biography on Bonhoeffer. You know where I’m going with this…Here’s the cover:
Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and grab any of these three books! My Dearest Dietrich by Amanda Barratt, Letters and Papers from Prison from Dietrich Bonhoeffer compiled by Eberhard Bethge, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge.
Please fill your car with friends and come join us at Branches Book Club on Monday, September 23rd, at Middletown United Methodist Church from 6:30-8:00 p.m. when we discuss My Dearest Dietrich. Amanda Barratt, while she lives in Michigan, is going to send us a video message you won’t want to miss!
‘Til next time!