I was doing a "My Documents" clearout on the computer. I came across this post that I had written but never posted onto the blog.
Who am I?
I bought myself yet another book the other day! This is despite the fact that I have a bookshelf of books that I have not thoroughly read! It seems that I have discovered lately that not only do I enjoy writing poetry, but I also enjoy reading it. The book, “Who am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is based on a poem of the same name that he wrote while in prison.
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s 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
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all 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 expectation 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 contemptibly 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, 0 God, I am Thine!
The first three verses are about how other people see him. They remind me of a scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” in which one of the prisoners, Red, is trying to describe the main character, Andy. He talks of the way he walks around the prison exercise yard, not as a prisoner, but as someone taking an afternoon stroll in the park. Andy does not take on the spirit of the prison but remains untouched by the cynicism and defeat that clouds all the other inmates. It is the kind of thing that the prison guards say about Bonhoeffer – yes, he is in prison, but he has not taken on the spirit of the prisoner.
The rest of the poem is about how Bonhoeffer sees himself – and it is so different. To others he is calm and composed, smiling and cheerful. Peeling back the surface, he admits to feeling caged and unquiet, worrying about his friends, weary and unable to pray.
As much as I would like to write a poem like his, I am not sure that I could be that honest with myself, or be prepared for others to see that kind of rawness. I think I spend a lot of time protecting people from the pain that I often feel. They have enough on their plate, and they need to be encouraged, so I present them with someone who triumphs over adversity, someone who determines to see a glass half full – someone who always has a the unmoving rock of Christ beneath her feet.
But the truth is, like Bonhoeffer, peeling back the surface reveals a very different kind of person. There is an unmoving rock beneath my feet – I see it in faith, not always in reality. There is someone who triumphs over adversity - but the adversity hurts big time and sometimes the fight is a lonely one. The glass isn’t just half full – but overflowing – but sometimes I am too tired and too bruised to drink.
Just as I am not always who I am, sometimes I don’t think I really allow God to be who he is. He longs to peel back the surface too and be Himself – someone much more impressive, more vibrant, more involved that I allow. He is not the silent partner in the business, but the initiator of all that happens.
If I had a resolution for the year it would be for me to be who I am, consciously living in the company of the God who is who He is!