Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
- Lamentations 5:1-5
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
- Romans 3:21-24
“Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cells confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself 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,
Tossing in expectations 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 contemptible 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!”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Who am I? from a letter dated 16 July 1944 while in prison, Letters and Papers from Prison
I have visited prisons and jails as research for future mission opportunities, but I have never stayed the night.
I do not wish to know what it is like, but we often have this question pound inside our heads. We often want to know who we are.
Sometimes we wonder if “who we are” will be remembered more than a moment after we are gone. We all seem to have one more thing that we need to do before God takes us. Have you ever noticed that? When you get to that point of desperation in your life, you look to heaven and say, “God, I am ready. Take me now.” And as soon as the words come out of your mouth, you remember the doctor appointment you have next week, and you are trying to back out of what you just said.
But think about it! If you died right now, would you need to go to the doctor next week? What difference would it make?!
But we back out of that “I am ready” mode for silly things that do not matter.
Even Bonhoeffer was planning his wedding and his life after the war was over, up until the time that they loaded the political prisoners in a bus to outrun the advancing armies on either side, just to kill these people that had dared to disagree with them.
Hmm. Today we think that we are harmed by people who disagree with us, at least the “progressives” think that way. Will it be much longer before that “harm” carries the death penalty as it did in Germany about 80 years ago?
But I digress, as I often do.
Bonhoeffer had been in prison for more than a year, but even without the prison, we might yearn for color, flowers, the voice of birds, but be honest, when is the last time you heard a kind word from a stranger? Rev. Bonhoeffer’s words from prison match what many of us feel who have the right to go as they please, but not to live as they please as restrictions abound at every turn.
Who am I? Bonhoeffer answered that with words from a Fannie Crosby hymn, I am Thine, O Lord.
I have written about singing this hymn in a little Indian church in Jamshedpur. Jharkhand, India. The church organist was slow, but he was determined. The “nearer” that is repeated in the chorus turned into a ten-fifteen syllable word, mostly because we were singing it so slow that we needed that many breaths. But otherwise, it is one of my favorite hymns.
Regardless of what else I might think I am or what others think of me… I am thine, O Lord.
This is a recording of Lynda Randall singing the Fannie Crosby hymn.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.