O God, I Am Thine!

Earlier this week was the seventieth anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Nazi Germany.  Although Bonhoeffer is someone whose writings I have found enormously beneficial and someone whose faith and courage I greatly admire, I was not aware of this poem of his until I saw it on my friend Neil Willard’s blog.

Bonhoeffer wrote this poem while imprisoned.  It is titled, Who am I?  Its ending provides the only answer we need to have to that question.

Who am I? They often tell me
I step out from my cell
calm and cheerful and poised,
like a squire from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak with my guards
freely, friendly and clear,
as though I were the one in charge.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear days of calamity
serenely, smiling and proud,
like accustomed to victory.

Am I really what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird,
struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled,
starving for colors, for flowers, for birdsong,
thirsting for kind words, human closeness,
shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult,
tossed about, waiting for great things to happen,
helplessly fearing for friends so far away,
too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work,
weary and ready to take my leave of it all?

Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!

Neil’s post also has a clip from a film about Bonhoeffer I showed to my Heroes and Heroism seminar students this past January: Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.  Take a look at the clip if you have a chance.

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