Staying Awake in Gethsemane – Bonhoeffer today

In an essay entitled “Bonheffer’s Christological Take on Vocation” Lori Brandt Hale writes
“In July 1944, one day after the conspiracy’s failed attempt on Hitler’s life( but unbeknown to Bonhoeffer) Dietrich wrote an important letter to his friend and confidant Eberhard Bethge : “Later on I discovered , and am still discovering to this day , that one only learns to have faith by living in the full this worldliness of life…. This is what I call this~ worldliness; living fully in the midst of life’ s tasks, questions, successes and failures, experiences, and perplexities~ then one takes seriously no longer. One’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane.And I think this is
faith; this is metanoia. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian”

( cf ” Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture” edited Keith Johnson and Timothy Larsen).

Elsewhere Bonhoeffer suggested that “The renewal of the Church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time people banded together to do this.” Notably it is a collective task as much as a personal one but Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on ” this~ worldliness” ensures that we become earthed in the daily realities of those who in our midst are suffering.
This immersion in the everyday world is at the heart of his spirituality. He insists that we do not neglect going through “Good Friday realities” and hold to them and do not rush to Easter Sunday too quickly in order to feel saved and through it. The liberation theologian Ignatio Ellacuria a Jesuit priest martyred in El Salvador spoke passionately of the need to take the crucified people down from their crosses and not nail more up. Moreover as we move too quickly into the Easter season we too readily forget that we too collaborate in daily crucifixions by metaphorically holding the nails and hammer or cutting the wood. Bonhoeffer’
s lifetime insistence is that there is no ” cheap grace”.
Having the strength of character to stay wake with Christ in Gethsemane, something his closest disciples failed to do cannot come easy. Interestingly the daily core of monasticism practices in Cistercian Monasteries such as Kirkstall Abbey from 1132-1534 centred around prayer, work and the Lectio Divina, regular practices spelt out in St Benedict’s “Rule”. When asked what was ” contemplation” Abbot Ralph replied that it was about developing the capacity to take a long loving look at reality” rather that escaping from the world. Notably the poet Thomas Hardy writing in the wake of the First World War pointed out that we needed to develop the capacity to ” look the west in the face” and remain human. It was T S Eliot who later reminded us in his “Four Quartets” : “Go,go” said the bird, human beings cannot bear too much reality”. Developing that capacity to take a long loving look at reality ( as opposed to a passing glance at a news bulletin) is an invitation to find the face of the crucified Christ in the every day world we are actually inhabiting.

Do we find the face of the crucified Christ in the faces of those who are poor in our society who now regularly abused and excoriated in the media in a culture that has shifted from the empathy of ” Cathy Come Home” to the judgemental condemnations of ” Benefits Street”. For the first time in recent British history a recession has not increased our society’s compassion for the poor, the vulnerable and unemployed it has amplified an insistence that they are personally responsible for their plight. Listening to, accompanying and taking sides with the poor, with migrants, the imprisoned , those suffering addictions and mental health problems, in fact relating to all those we are asked to associate with and support in the Sermon on the Mount is today to take an unpopular option but it is what Bonhoeffer leads us to do not just to become faithful Christians but real human beings.



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