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Savoring My Passage - the monthly journal of A. C. Gray

November 2010

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I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new. Ralph Waldo Emerson

                              Autumn in the lyrics of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appears like a goddess boldly spreading benedictions on the land:

“Thou comest, Autumn, heralded by the rain,

With banner, by great gales incessant fanned,

Brighter than the brightest silks of Samarkand.” 

That line of verse conjures Tamerlane’s famed city on the Silk Road where Marco Polo stopped to sell his wares and where seven centuries later I too would go via Tashkent, Uzbekistan on a Peace Corps mission.   Then as now Autumn would be a season of fullness and fertility, marking celebrations of the harvests with tables there in the open market filled with whatever you care to think of: exotic aromatic spices, brooms, baskets, oriental carpets, ceramics, traditional medicines, fresh vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, traditional sweets, honey, dairy products and wonderful freshly baked bread.  Fast forward today on this side of the globe the Autumn harvest fills barns and silos with grain, apple orchards are ripe for picking, and roadside wagons are loaded with pumpkins and assorted gourds.  Almost every small community here in the Shenandoah Valley celebrates the harvest with a festival of some sort or fund raisers for one or more worthy cause.

            Autumn in America rightly concludes with this great festival of gratitude.  It also reminds us of the inevitability of our passing.  And here, there is a thanksgiving of another sort. Robert Louis Stevenson chooses an autumn day for his trek to a cemetery in his essay “An Autumn Effect”. Enroute, he delights in caroling larks, the gray-painted woods, the bustle of school children, stout ploughmen, and shepherds leading flocks.  And he takes time to pause, to be thankful for stillness, for lives well spent, for love that endures beyond the grave. So November on our side of the planet becomes nature’s “elegy” as the woods yield to chilly nights, the first frost, scarlet and golden leaves, and the last sunset before the first snowfall.

 

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.  Melodie Beattie  

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 “In life with Jesus Christ, death as a general fate approaching us from without is confronted by death from within, one’s own death, the free death of daily dying with Jesus Christ.  Those who live with Christ die daily to their own will.  Christ in us gives us over to death so that He can live within us.  Thus our inner dying grows to meet that death from without.  Christians receive their own death in this way, and in this way our physical death very truly becomes not the end but rather the fulfillment of our life with Jesus Christ.  Here we enter into community with One who at His own death was able to say, “It is finished.”  Quoted in Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy  by  Eric Metaxas. 

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Get your attention on that Jesus, and He will get you – your surrendered, obedient attention.  Then all that is in Him is transferred to you, all His forgiveness, grace, love, power, compassion, health – His everything….”Changed into His likeness.”  Was there ever such a destiny and such a reward?  Changed into the likeness of the most wonderful Character that ever lived upon this or any other planet – that is the highest and noblest destiny and reward that has been offered or can be imagined.  I who have been made in the image of sin am now being made in the image of the Savior.  That puts back my shoulders, makes my blood run faster, gives a sense of dignity, even royalty, to life.  That spoils me for the little, the base, the low; the big, the high, the magnificent grips me.  And I follow – tremblingly at times, for this puts me into the highest heaven and the deepest humility at one and the same time.  I am beholding the “Glory,” and I become filled with “Glory.”E. Stanley Jones, in his autobiography, A Song of Ascents…theme taken from Psalm 121.

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Our meditations should become every day deeper and more interior. I say deeper, because by frequent and humble meditation upon God's truth, we penetrate farther and farther in search of new treasures; and more interior, because as we sink more and more to enter into these truths, they also descend to penetrate the very substance of our souls. Then it is that a simple word goes farther than whole sermons.  Francis  F. Fenelon, The Inner Life

Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,  by  Erik Metaxas, Thomas Nelson, New York, 2010.

Reviewed by Adriel C. (A. C.) Gray

I became aware of the existence of this book via an interview between Stuart McAlister and the author, Eric Metaxas, on a RZIM radio broadcast.   Having read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship during my college years (and several times thereafter), I determined then to purchase and read the new book.  Having done so, I have been richly rewarded.

Living in Wiesbaden during the early 1970s for three years as an Air Force officer, I had toured central and southern Germany extensively and had come to know the German people as intelligent, friendly, and peace-loving people.  During those years, I had to ponder the enigma of the portrait of the country that had been portrayed to me during and before World War II.  Even after having toured Dachau, I found it incredulous that the German people would willfully send millions of Jewish citizens to the ovens.   Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer, provides an explanation;  the atrocious crimes emanated from and were carried to fruition by a relatively few satanic possessed persons, all under the guise of deceit and propaganda.  For the greater part, many Germans themselves were kept uninformed of the scope of the brutality of the Nazi regime.  This was particularly true with the Confessing Church as distinguished from the Reichchurch…or complacent state church of the Nazis.  Few in the outside world knew of the Confessing Church.

The book has informed my knowledge of Bonhoeffer and revealed the heroic and tragic figure that he became.  Raised in a privileged and prominent family, he was apparently encouraged and given great opportunity to develop his intellect and education.  With a sensitivity for art, literature and music, he became an accomplished pianist, an attribute that enhanced his popularity as a youth.  That talent would be put to use often as he taught young seminarians after he obtained his PhD in Religious Studies by his twenty-ninth birthday.  His brilliant intellect caught the attention of theological giants in the early 1930s….people like Karl Barth, Reinhold Neibhur, and others.

Metaxas’ book makes clear that Germany’s rapid descent into Socialism following World War I was abetted in large part through the failure of the German church to recognize and combat the evil intentions of the Nazi party.  Bonhoeffer was in the vanguard of those who split from the state church and eventually were forced to go underground to remain faithful to their core beliefs in the Christian faith.  Metaxas portrays the mainstream German “Christians” of depression-era Germany as apathetic in church attendance and lukewarm in their understanding of Scripture and basic tenets of traditional Christian beliefs.  The book is an eye-opener to the parallel of a broad section of the American Catholic and Protestant ecumenical community today for whom Bonhoeffer’s definition of “easy grace” might be applied.  Bonhoeffer’s conviction about the evil of the Nazi regime led him to join a conspiracy to rid Germany of Hitler and resulted in his martyrdom.   This account of his imprisonment and suffering at the hands of the Gestapo discloses the rich spiritual gifts that were his in the final short years of his life and the wisdom that came from his writings while incarcerated.    These include his books Letters and Papers from Prison, Ethics, The Cost of Discipleship, and Life Together. Several biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life are in print.  However, the reviews of this book indicate that none of the others are as thoroughly researched and complete as this one.   

A reader reviewing the book in BetterWorldBooks.com commented: Time and again I was surprised and delighted reading Metaxas’ accounts of the events that shaped Bonhoeffer’s character. For example, while attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City during the 1930s, Bonhoeffer, a bespectacled, patrician German, attended an African-American church in Harlem where he discovered spiritual depth and powerful worship. He came to love African-American spirituals. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it for you. Suffice it to say, by the time I reached the account of the concentration camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s final moments of life and his execution, I loved this man and was heartbroken by his martyrdom yet inspired by his tremendous faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a new hero for me, thanks to Metaxas’ book. To be honest, it has shaken me up, and inspired and challenged me to examine my faith and life. Many thanks to Eric Metaxas for the remarkable job he has done bringing this extraordinary man’s story and legacy to life in a way that applies to each and every one of us today.

I can say “Amen” to that….acg