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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Simply ourselves, and totally present

As I said in my last post, I have recently been reading a little Bonhoeffer.  That is always good to stir the thoughts and the heart.  One thing I have been learning from Bonhoeffer and others in the last year or so is how ardently, how passionately, God loves this world -- not some spiritualized version of it, not some "oh-if-only-my-people-would-get-it-right" remake, but this imperfect world.  This passionate love is why God calls his people to be involved in this world, to make an impact here, to lose their lives here.  We are not called to make ourselves something we're not, but rather to bring everything we are into the real situations, the real relationships, the real lives, that fill this world.  We are to spend ourselves here as Jesus spent himself on the real people and situations that confronted him.  Jesus was totally present in the moment, in the place where he was.  Whether he stood in front of Pilate, the Gerasene demoniac, or the apostle Peter, Jesus was totally present.  That is his call to us as well -- we are called to be simply ourselves, and totally present in this world.

I've been pondering these paragraphs from a letter Bonhoeffer wrote from prison.  I hope you will take the time to ponder them as well: 

During the last year or so I've come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man — in contrast, shall we say, to John the Baptist. I don't mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection. I think Luther lived a this-worldly life in this sense.
I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor.3 We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives. He said he would like to become a saint (and I think it's quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I didn't realize the depth of the contrast. I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it. I suppose I wrote The Cost of Discipleship as the end of that path. Today I can see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by what I wrote.
I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world — watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian (cf. Jer. 45!). How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?
I think you see what I mean, even though I put it so briefly. I'm glad to have been able to learn this, and I know I've been able to do so only along the road that I've travelled. So I'm grateful for the past and present, and content with them.
You may be surprised at such a personal letter; but if for once I want to say this kind of thing, to whom should I say it? Perhaps the time will come one day when I can talk to Maria like this; I very much hope so. But I can't expect it of her yet.
May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.

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