"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, July 18, 2011

Who Am I?

I was cleaning out my desk at the Hospital and looked up again at the poem I have over my desk. This past year of my life as a Chaplain has been one of considering anew my calling and role as a pastor. Bonhoeffer, when in his cell imprisoned by the Nazis, asked himself the question "Who am I?" Times of transition, of which I am in one, are often times of self-evaluation, self-doubt and reorientation. The poem particularly speaks to me now, both in the uncertainty and anxiety of change as well as the certainty within changes in life.

“Who am I?”
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (March 4, 1945)

Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I would talk to my warden
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though they were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.

Friday, July 08, 2011

On Grief

I've worked as a Chaplain in a Hospital for about a year and have been present for, by my count, about 50 deaths. In processing and attempting to glean some spiritual fruits from the contemplation of death and the finitude of life I have not found very many good resources. I do have a new appreciation for the book of Job, Psalms 13, 22 and 88 and Ecclesiastes. The one exception of a good book outside of the Bible is "Facing Grief." This book was originally titled "A Token for Mourners," written by John Flavel. This English minister experienced the death of a child and his first wife, second wife and third wife. Flavel is one of the few to capture what I have seen with parents: "To bury a child, any child, rends the heart of a tender parent; for what are children, but the parent multiplied? A child is a part of the parent made up in another skin."

Flavel was a man acquainted with grief and so a man whom those in grief can expect not only a true and faithful voice, but one that is appropriately gentle. "Facing Grief" both affirms the necessary place for grief in the lives of believers as well as warning against excessively entertaining grief. As a person experiences the death of a loved one, Flavel gives comfort to the believer and warning to the unbeliever. It took me a while to find something, but if one is looking personally or has been asked for a book on grief, Flavel's book is a great one, especially after the shock has passed and the heavy-hearted reflections begin.

The first paragraph:

"To be above the stroke of passions is a condition equal to angels; to be in a state of sorrow without the sense of sorrow is a disposition beneath beasts; but duly to regulate our sorrows and bound our passions under the rod is the wisdom, duty, and excellency of a Christian. He who is without natural affections is deservedly ranked among the worst heathens; and he who is able rightly to manage them deserves to be numbered with the best of Christians. Though when we are sanctified we put on the divine nature, yet, till we are glorified, we put not off the infirmities of our human nature."

Facing Grief - John Flavel - wtsbooks.com

Facing Grief - John Flavel - Amazon.com