Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes of the faith, and this poem is one of my favorites. I love its poignant honesty and its final confession of faith. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who led an underground seminary in Germany during the Nazi period, and was executed in 1945 for his role in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler. This poem is from the book, “Letters and Papers from Prison,” compiled by his good friend, Eberhard Bethge, after Bonhoeffer’s death. It is a collection of the letters and papers that he wrote and received during his two-year imprisonment and is considered one of the spiritual classics of the twentieth century.

Opening Prayer

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. In you, O God, I place my trust. Help me now to quiet myself and listen, that the thoughts and prayers of my heart might be pleasing to you. Amen

Psalm 8

O Lord, our Sovereign,
  how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
  you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
  to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
  the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
  mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
  and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion
  over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
  all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
  the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
  whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
  how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Scripture Readings

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. – Isaiah 43:1

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. – Romans 14:7-8

Devotional Poem: Who Am I? by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me
I step out from my cell
calm and cheerful and poised,
like a squire from his manor.
Who am I? They often tell me
I speak with my guards
freely, friendly and clear,
as though I were the one in charge.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bear days of calamity
serenely, smiling and proud,
like one accustomed to victory.
Am I really what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird,
struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled,
starving for colors, for flowers, for birdsong,
thirsting for kind words, human closeness,
shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult,
tossed about, waiting for great things to happen,
helplessly fearing for friends so far away,
too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work,
weary and ready to take my leave of it all?
Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!

Closing Prayer

Who am I, Lord? Created in your image, crowned with glory and honor, but so often in my own eyes, a “pitiful, whimpering weakling.” When I struggle with this, Lord, help me remember the great truth of my life, that whoever I am, O God, I am thine! In the name of your son, Jesus. Amen

8 thoughts on “Who Am I?

  1. Thank you for this post. I have the book in my book case but have not read it yet. I had a thought a year ago that it would be interesting to compare his letters from prison with the letter of Dr. Martin Luther King written from a Birmingham Jail, but did not do it. Anyway, as late as I have read these words, that were exactly on time for my heart. Thank you. Advent blessings, Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankful to hear that, Michele. Yes, Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. both wrote letters from their respective cells that continue to inspire me and you and so many others. They were both martyred at the age of 39, but their words live on. I would love to read a comparison of them if you ever find the time to do it! In the meantime, blessings to you in your ministry.

      Liked by 1 person

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