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!
Friends! Don’t you love it when you finish a book and want to learn more about its subject? Such will be the scenario when you dive into My Dearest Dietrich: A Novel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Lost Love by Amanda Barratt.
I recently heard an interview with our author, Amanda Barratt, and Eric Metaxas on the Metaxas Talk Show. (www.metaxastalk.com) One could argue over which of the two knows more about Bonhoeffer given Amanda’s research for her novel and Eric’s tome…
Not having learned much about Bonhoeffer’s fiancee, Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, I was delighted to learn of Amanda’s new novel, My Dearest Dietrich, especially since Branches Book Club will open their season with it come Monday, September 23rd. (Mark the date on your calendar! 6:30-8:00 p.m., at Middletown United Methodist Church! Load up your car with friends and come!)
Hearing the interview further fueled my desire to read Amanda’s book, promptly causing me to order it. The Living Word Bookstore currently has lots of copies for you book clubbers! Call to reserve your copy: (502) 253-8220.
The most astonishing discovery of this talented author is her age. Wait for it: Amanda is only TWENTY-THREE YEARS OLD. Huh? You’ll flip even more once you dive into her book, her words wrapping around you like a warm blanket.
Gaining a peak into Dietrich and Maria’s relationship is delightful. We readers must remind ourselves this book is a novel, yet we feel as if we are right there with them, almost afraid to disturb their privacy.
For me, seeing this side of Bonhoeffer, my eyes were opened to a much, much different man. While I’ve always respected him as a ten-talent theologian who continues to inspire thousands, I’d never considered the softer side of him. Additionally, I knew of his close ties with his family, and still didn’t ponder exactly how close they were.
Finishing Amanda’s novel only made me want to learn more. Bless her for listing suggestions for further reading at the end of her book, one book of which, I’ll be reporting on soon! (Letters and Papers from Prison by Bonhoeffer, compiled by Dietrich’s dear friend, Eberhard Bethge.)
The other kicker for me, was, since I knew the outcome of Bonhoeffer’s life (Spoiler alert: he was hung in prison the morning of April 9th, in 1945.), somehow I still hoped we’d see him freed from prison, and see them married off. Nevertheless, My Dearest Dietrich is the quintessential page-turner.
The novel opens in June of 1942. We get to see how Dietrich and Maria meet, his involvement with the Abwehr, his writing habits, along with snippets of his resume which intimidate Maria. For example: She calls him “a thoroughgoing academic, earning his doctorate in theology at the age of twenty-one, going on to pastor in Spain, complete a postdoctoral degree, study in America, lecture at Berlin’s University, and actively participate in maintaining ecumenical communication between foreign churches. He also became one of the foremost leaders in the Confessing Church—a group that fought desperately both to counter the false teachings of the Reich Church and to keep alive a church founded on Scripture’s doctrine rather than Herr Hitler’s.”
Dietrich, in his 30’s, and Maria, a mere teenager, become engaged much to the chagrin of her mother, insisting they wait a full year to date including no letters and no visits. Thankfully this changes once Dietrich becomes imprisoned. Soon letters become exchanged and Maria gets to visit him once a month. Reading about their visits is simply breathtaking. They’re also frustrating given the officers who feel compelled to be present.
We see through Maria’s eyes both a serious side of Dietrich as she recounts hearing him preach, counting sixty-eight times his use of the word, “God.” As well as a lighter side: in the same afternoon she witnesses him “trounce everyone at table tennis.”
Another element I particularly enjoyed was the musical influence over his entire family, Dietrich included. Often they play classical pieces together, everyone playing a different musical instrument, Dietrich at the piano. This was their way of life.
Their family meals seem perpetually challenging intellectually. I find this fascinating as time around the table is not a part of our way of life today, sadly. Although we can certainly aspire to such! (In a perfect world, a round table is my favorite with our family, you?)
During the frightening times of the Hitler regime, never knowing when one could potentially be arrested, the Bonhoeffer’s made the most of their time together. Maria said Dietrich’s words were always “full of purpose, clarity, and even rarer, hope.”
Dietrich shared a revelation about his faith with Maria. He told her what he enjoyed most about his visit to America was in the Abyssinian Baptist Church. He said,
As time marches on, the intensity of the war builds, the conspirators remain on edge, yet standing firm. Their ultimate goal was to assassinate Hitler. Black-out curtains are hung in all the windows. Cars begin stalking them and we readers find ourselves on edge as well. Amanda’s skill at foreshadowing is key.
One of many favorite quotes comes from November 11, 1942, in Berlin: “The time might come when Dietrich would be among those reduced to starvation rations, and as his gaze traveled the table, the faces of his parents, he committed it all to memory, storing up each scene like an art collector locking away his beloved masterpieces.”
While many of their friends become arrested, others die either from war or suicide. Dietrich learns of many soldiers suffering, “the young men who had once been his students, the lifeblood of his illegal seminary…”
Dietrich declares in a meeting of the conspiracy, “Above all, these concerns must be taken to God. His is the only authority to which we can rightfully answer. Seek Him, He will not fail you.”
Many fellow prisoners and guards, after becoming acquainted with Dietrich comment on his remarkable peace and tranquility he exhibited. His steadfast faith and trust in the Lord is wonderfully inspirational. You find yourself reading with your jaw open in astonishment over his ability to stay calm, forever seeking the Lord in prayer, day, after day, after day.
Don’t miss all the beautiful details of Dietrich and Maria’s relationship as well as their inspirational faith. More than once I asked myself, “Could I, and would I react like this? Would my faith hold true?”
Now you know what I’m going to say, “Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and grab My Dearest Dietrich.” You’ll be so glad you did.
And don’t forget to save the date: September 23rd to join us at Branches Book Club, Middletown United Methodist Church from 6:30-8:00 p.m. when we discuss this excellent novel. You won’t want to miss this! We’re hoping to hear from Amanda via a video message (I’ll confirm this closer to our meeting) and of course, we’ll have apple strudel among other German delights!
‘Til next time!
Last week we discussed the importance of friendships and what a beautiful picture of Community they are. We’ll get to a different aspect of Community in just a minute…
There are a couple more Scriptures, as well as a jewel of a quote from Melanie Shankle, in her book we talked about last week: Nobody’s Cuter than You, pointing us to a very close friendship in the Bible.
I Samuel 20:42 has Jonathan talking to David, but since we’re talkin’ about girlfriends, we must use the below picture for this poignant verse:
Melanie closes her book with, “…God has given us the people He has placed in our lives as He knits our souls with theirs:
It’s a Miracle…
May we never lose the wonder of it all.”
Think of all of your relationships and savor I Corinthians 13:4-7 with me from The Message:
“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first’,
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.”
Long, deep, close-knit friendships love unconditionally. When you do have bumps in the road (and we all have), consider your friendship’s history….you know his or her character…Is the bump consistent or inconsistent with their character? Extend grace and move on…
It’s important to keep and care for your Community.
Communities are not just found from long-term friendships… Many times they develop and grow out of Bible Study Small Groups, or Small Groups from your church. Some are actually called “Community Groups”.
While I’ve been talking about groups of girlfriends, Small Groups can also be composed of married couples or couples engaged to be married. It’s healthy to build friendships with other couples.
Our boys are blessed to all be in Small Groups of married couples they love doing life with. Best-case scenario is when your Community Group helps grow your faith.
An excellent resource to help you with this comes from author extraordinaire, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His book, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community is for all of us. (It’s also a nice, short, quick read.)
Bonhoeffer wrote this pertaining to the unique fellowship he experienced in an undergound seminary during the Nazi years in Germany. His indescribable joy he had in the Lord, even during such harsh and frightening times, including his later imprisonment in the concentration camps, defines inspirational.
He was martyred by the Gestapo near the end of World War II. He’d been plotting to assassinate Hitler. Fellow prisoners have told countless moving stories of their encounters with Bonhoeffer and his evangelical, compassionate ways toward each of them.
He begins with Psalm 133:1 which tells us:
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (NIV)
He tells us, “We shall consider a number of directions and precepts that the Scriptures provide us for our life together under the Word .” Envision an umbrella of protection. He includes beautiful Scripture verses in each of his five chapters: Community, The Day with Others, The Day Alone, Ministry and Confession and Communion.
Let this sink in for a minute: “For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it.
All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night RETREAT before the clear light of Jesus Christ and His wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety FLEE before him.
Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to Him to whom our whole life belongs.”
Powerful! In short: No whining. Just praise!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention and recommend Eric Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Total tome, but well worth your time! Beyond fascinating.
Finally, if you’re not in a Small Group or Community Group and would like to be, call your church or ask a friend about one. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss and will be the best thing worth adding to your calendar!
‘Til next time!