• "Who We Are Is God's Dying: The Real Presence of God's Absence in Bonhoeffer's Prison Poems"

    Steven Schroeder (see profile)
    GS Poetry and Poetics
    Literature, Literature and philosophy, Religion
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    Book chapter
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    The scraps and orts that survived Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment and execution by the Nazis played an influential role in theologies of the second half of the twentieth century, and that influence continues unabated in the twenty-first. Of particular interest has been his speculation on “religionless” Christianity in “a world come of age,” speculation that was formed in correspondence with his friend and colleague Eberhard Bethge. Despite Bethge’s best efforts, that fragmentary speculation has often been read as a systematic treatise, with those doing the reading making Bonhoeffer a systematic theologian in their image by filling in the gaps to complete what he left undone. But the gaps are perhaps the most salient features of the paradoxical hope Bonhoeffer articulated throughout his life, with particular intensity after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Silences are as critical as sounds for the articulation of this hope, and I believe that points us to two particularly important sources relevant to the questions posed by this conference. First is the lost treatise on time that may have been intended as a prologue to his ethics. This is a gap that would, perhaps, have been filled had the treatise survived, but its absence may prove more fruitful. Second is the turn he made to “creative writing,” first drama and fiction and then lyric poetry, during his imprisonment. That lyric poetry is the “final” form calls Socrates (who, if we are to believe Plato’s account, was also writing lyric poetry while he waited for his execution) to mind. Bonhoeffer’s reflection “after ten years” suggests a turn from chronos to kairos that calls for lyric poetry, a turn, we might say (paraphrasing good news at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s faith), because the time is right. This paper is a close reading of the ten poems that survived Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment and are included in Letters and Papers from Prison. I read them for their insight into paradoxical hope at the end of time, which, I suggest, is exactly where we are and always have been.
    “Who We Are is God’s Dying: The Real Presence of God’s Absence in Bonhoeffer’s Prison Poems,” in Hope and the Longing for Utopia : Futures and Illusions in Theology and Narrative, Edited by Daniel Boscaljon. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014, pp.157-179. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. www.wipfandstock.com.
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