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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Trees

(Zone by Philip Guston, 1913-1980, American Abstract
Expressionist painter)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister and theologian, was a pacifist in Nazi Germany. However, after a long and serious examination of his conscience, he decided the regime was so evil that he joined a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943. He spent months in solitary confinement, with no contact with his family and friends. Then, just before Christmas, his last, he was finally allowed by the Nazi SS to write a letter to Maria, his fiancée.

He was hanged in 1945, only weeks before the end of the War in Europe. He was 39 years old.

19 December 1944

My dearest Maria,

I’m so glad to be able to write you a Christmas letter, and to be able, through you, to convey my love to my parents and my brothers and sisters, to thank you all. Our homes will be very quiet at this time. But I have often found that the quieter my surroundings, the more vividly I sense my connection with you all. It’s as if, in solitude, the soul develops organs of which we’re hardly aware in everyday life. So I haven’t for an instant felt lonely and forlorn. You yourself, my parents — all of you including my friends and students on active service — are my constant companions. Your prayers and kind thoughts, passages from the Bible, long-forgotten conversations, pieces of music, books — all are invested with life and reality as never before. I live in a great unseen realm of whose real existence I’m in no doubt. The old children’s song about the angels says “two to cover me, two to wake me,” and today we grownups are no less in need than children of preservation, night and morning, by kindly, unseen powers. So you mustn’t think I’m unhappy. Anyway, what do happiness and unhappiness mean? They depend so little on circumstances and so much more on what goes on inside us. I’m thankful every day to have you — you and all of you — and that makes me cheerful. . . .

I embrace you.




Bonhoeffer in his skylit cell
bleached by the flares’ candescent fall,
pacing out his own citadel,

restores the broken themes of praise,
encourages our borrowed days,
by logic of his sacrifice.

Against wild reasons of the state
his words are quiet but not too quiet.
We hear too late or not too late.

~ Geoffrey Hill, born 1932, English poet

1 comment:

Judy Fardig said...

Very moving letter to his "Maria". It certainly stirred up a lot of different kinds of feelings.