Memorial and Place of Encounter Bonhoeffer-Haus Berlin
PENTECOST: “In a way we accommodate God and the whole world within us.”
Letters and Papers from Prison, DBW, volume 8
June 8, 1943, Karl Bonhoeffer to Dietrich in the Prison (DBW vol. 8,100)
We had actually hoped to have a letter from you yesterday or the day before. Since none has arrived today, I decided to write to you without waiting any longer: we hope that the delay is not caused by any health problems on your part. We cannot complain about our own health. Our life essentially goes in thoughts of you and Hans [v. Dohnanyi].
June 10, 1943, Paula Bonhoeffer to Dietrich (DBW vol. 8,101)
My brief note added to Papa’s letter should not be the only Pentecost greeting from me. I firmly trust that, even in your solitude, you will be able to celebrate a beautiful Pentecost, for you are, of course, not alone. You do know that all of us are gathered around you in our thoughts. Together let us remember the old Pentecost hymn that says: “Descend on us in fullness, until comfort may return, and all harm be overcome.” [O Holy Spirit, enter in] In the garden a peony [Pfingstrose] is actually about to bloom for Pentecost, the first time ever.
The letter of the fourth [Ascension Day] has just arrived. We had been awaiting it eagerly. It is al-ways a joy for us to see how your inner calling as a pastor and theologian is being confirmed for you, even in these hard times.
April 2, 1944, Dietrich to Eberhard (DBW vol. 8,337)
So Easter too will come and go without our being home and seeing each other [ E.B. was with the Army in Italy at that time) But I’m not putting off our hopes any further than Pentecost. What do you say to that?
May 24, 1944, Dietrich to Eberhard and Renate Bethge (DBW vol. 8,400)
I don’t know how to express my wishes to you for Pentecost except by using a word that I seldom speak. I wish you a blessed Pentecost, celebrated with God and with prayer; a Pentecost in which you feel the touch of the Holy Spirit; a Pentecost that will be for you, in the coming weeks and months, a rocher de bronce [rock of bronze] of memories. You need days you can look back on, not with the pain of having been deprived, but as a source of strength from something that en-dures. I’ve been trying to write you a few words on the ‘Daily Texts’, some of them today during the air raids, so they are a bit sketchy and not as well thought through as they should have been … Eberhard, does remembering Pentecost mornings in Finkenwalde still feel so good and signifi-cant for you too?
May 29, 1944, Dietrich to Eberhard (DBW 8,404)
I hope that despite the air raids you both are enjoying to the full the peace and the beauty of these warm, summery days of Pentecost. Inwardly, one learns gradually to put life-threatening things in proportion. Actually “put in proportion” sounds too negative, too formal or artificial or stoic. One should more correctly say that we just take in these daily threats as part of the totality of our lives. I often notice hereabouts how few people there are who can harbor many different things at the same time …Christianity, on the other hand, puts us into many different dimensions of life at the same time; in a way we accommodate God and the whole world within us. We weep with those who weep at the same time as we rejoice with those who rejoice. We fear (I’ve just been interrupt-ed again by siren, so I’m sitting outdoors enjoying the sun] for our lives, but at the same time we must think thoughts that are much more important to us than our lives …
Life isn’t pushed back into a single dimension, but is kept multidimensional, polyphonic. What a liberation it is to be able to think and to hold on to these many dimensions of life in our thoughts … One has to dislodge people from their one-track thinking – as it were, in “preparation for” or “ena-bling” faith, though in truth it is only faith that makes multidimensional life possible and so allows us to celebrate Pentecost even this year, in spite of the air raids.
June 8, 1944, Dietrich to Eberhard (DBW volume 8,424)
We had put off seeing each other again from Christmas to Easter to Pentecost, and one holiday after another passed by. But the next holiday will certainly belong to us; I no longer have any doubt about that.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer learned from his family how to organize celebrations. So his mother is con-vinced that he will also succeed “in the loneliness” of the prison cell in Tegel: “For you are, of course, not alone. You do know that all of us are gathered around you in our thoughts. Together let us remember the old Pentecost hymn that says: “Descend on us in fullness, until comfort may return, and all harm be overcome.” This ‘knowledge’ also accompanies him in his last poem “By Powers of Good”.
The festivals in the church year not only structure church liturgy; for Bonhoeffer they are also sta-tions in his personal hope for release. After almost a year in prison, he wants to postpone his hope of returning home and seeing his friend Eberhard Bethge not “any further than Pentecost”.
A “blessed Pentecost”, he wishes Eberhard and Renate Bethge in his letter of May 24,1944, that it will be a “rock of memory” for the coming weeks and months. At the same time, he reminds Eberhard of Pentecost mornings in Finkenwalde.
“One learns gradually to put life-threatening things in proportion.” – this idea seems surprisingly topical to us in times of the pandemic. Even if, unlike Bonhoeffer in custody, we do not have to count on being exposed to the threat. But what does Bonhoeffer do with this thought? He uses the term “proportion”, which sounds “actually too negative, too formal or artificial ore stoic”, to con-structively: “We just take in these daily threats as part of the totality of our lives.”
Bonhoeffer notices in the prison “how few people there are who can harbor many different things at the same time” In contrast, he sets the Christian faith in which “life isn’t pushed back into a sin-gle dimension”, ” but is kept multidimensional, polyphonic”.
“In a way we accommodate God and the whole world within us.” And: “One has to dislodge people from their one-track thinking” — for me these two sentences illuminate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work in the light of the events of Pentecost. And in prayer and action they point the way to a non-religious understanding of the Christian message.
When God creates his world anew, the Church becomes then wide,
his power works spiritually, prepares us for the fight
for peace and justice in the world, let kindness, understanding be,
for unity-diversity, for miracles that we will see. (G.B., 2015)