Bonhoeffer, Alone with the Others


I.                         A thousand years may be beyond me,
                   but I can turn this morning into forever.
                   T’ao Chíen
Name the belief poem about belief in a manner
that opens belief to its ambiguities.
It's snowing at High Camp
and there's honey in my peanut butter.

Bonhoeffer looked to the other from his beginnings.

These are lines from High Camp on Monday
in January. T’ao Ch’ien in my backcountry backpack.
Rain. Wet and windy, but everybody’s back
at work and the notebook’s open. I work
my way here on skis. Remind myself,

Skiing’s only partly about powder snow
and sunshine. Skiing’s only partly about skiing.
Bring five meatballs in a baggy from home.
Heat in the microwave oven. Pine table
to myself, an office desk. Windows
are temples of light to the wild. A ski patrolman
and his girl friend before me, along with luxuries
of notebooks and Parker pens. The monks I’ve loved
are the monks I love. Johnny asks,
"Did you come up here to write?" So much

music coming at me. David Hinton tells me
T’ao Ch’ien lived during the time of the great
transformation, earth’s process of whatever occurs
coming from itself. I leave Bonhoeffer behind
in the passenger seat of the car, knowing
any page can trigger my pride. I wouldn’t
be here without a broken heart. Twenty-two
years ago today I renounced the world
to follow the seizure that arrested me.
This wild time given, no questions asked.

II.   ...your cause committing to stronger hands…
      Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Stations on the Road to Freedom”

Ski to the office, bag of Satsumi's in my hand
for lift operators. At Hogback, exchanging greetings,
I hand two small oranges to patrolman,
shouting into wind, Snow Sculpture,
and he responds, Sustrugi, a Russian word
learned from Bulgarians: snow feature,
condensed layers of snow dusted with powder.
Bonhoeffer or his biographer in my head.
My old pastor, 95, hands me his copy
of the German theologian and says,

"Mark it up. Underline it so I can read it."
Here I am in snow again. Sigmar,
a light for 45 years. When I’d shout down
his church as a young man, he gave me
Bonhoeffer’s Black Church in America,
Soulful, other, up against the wall of America,
like me, cost of discipleship. And later,
another pastor, liver cut out for the cost
of his ministry, hands me Our Life Together,
If you can’t live alone, you’ll never live in community.

Ron Moen gives me Sittler, Brueggeman & Bonhoeffer.
Says, "Poetry never gave me a thing," and walks me
into County Jail, to talk to young men
who’ve lost their wife and kids. Eric Metaxas
has this part right. On his last journey, Bonhoeffer’s

loaded into a wood-fueled man with prisoners
and guards, taken from Buchenwald.
I find no certainty in Bonhoeffer. None.
Bonhoeffer. Who knows what young men know:
It’s got to be different this time, who looks

at the other and finds it there: African-Americans,
blues, England. A community of solitaries.         
Subversive only in this. Along with a mother
who won’t let her son’s back be broken
by schools or military. Radical in his root search.

III.             “There are no ready-made answers, or ready-made indulgences, prepackaged and       ready to use. And the answers themselves are traps: give up your freedom in order to gain tranquility. God’s name is tranquility. But the tranquility will dissipate and freedom will be wasted.  What then?” 
             Jews & Words, Amos & Fania Oz

Driving into Ish River Country. Myth rivers
of Robert Sund: “Be the one walking/ for whom the trail turns/
revealing/the grand vista.” Our friend Ann guides us
on the water, Karen piloting. Embracing his blessing,
Sund says, “I own nothing,” And the entire world 

courses through him becoming text. Turning around,
Back on land, I step into mud with a camera
that leads me to a graveyard of boats, one—
partially revealing itself, ish, named Prophecy
true shack, never to disappear in its vision.

My old friend, in his mid-90s, hands me Kierkegaard’s
biography. “Mark it up, Jim. Write in the margins
the places you want me to find and know. I’ll never
get through it any other way.” Writing this from prison,
“Nothing that happens to me is meaningless,”
Bonhoeffer talks down death in letters.
“Pain is a holy angel, God is in the facts themselves,
this is the uninterrupted richness of experience,
time belongs to death and the devil,
what we don’t thank God for, we reproach him for."

I click into my skis too,  an old man
given children and mountains and wilderness,
one given only to the listening, given holy men
for friends. “Bonhoeffer thrives on what the rest
of us finds burdensome…  are we enamored with him

wanting to finding commonality…
find him in ourselves, our own egos, and needs?”
Alongside the pastor sending me Kierkegaard,
“Keep me unsure,…fear and trembling of unsureness,
save me from deceiving any other person…”

Bonhoeffer sits in the wood-fueled van, choking
on fumes, guards and prisoners alike. A mixed-up bunch,
coughing together, traveling hungry
from Buchenwald to Flossenburg, beauty of woods,
last pastoral scene from Achilleus’s shield.
My granddaughter, age 5, asks me again,
“Why do we have to be human.” She is the one I follow,
turning on the mountain. Her brother, 7, shows me
how to stick a straw up my nose. Nothing is level.
I listen as children repeat river sounds the body makes.

Jim Bodeen
January-February, 2013







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