I am still reflecting deeply on Krista Tippet’s interview with Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry Magazine. In the interview, Wiman references a few familiar passages from Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison.
From p. 281, “I often ask myself why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood’. While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people – because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) – to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course. Religious people speak of God when human knowledge (perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think) has come to an end, or when human resources fail – in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene, either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems, or as strength in human failure – always, that is to say, exploiting human weakness or human boundaries. Of necessity, that can go on only till people can by their own strength push these boundaries somewhat further out, so that God becomes superflouous as a deus ex machina.”
The interview also mentions the longing for a new language of worship. They mention that people are hungry for this new language. I’m not sure that they mention in the interview that Bonhoeffer also addresses this issue a few pages later.
From pg. 300, “In the traditional words and acts we suspect that there may be something quite new and revolutionary, though we cannot as yet grasp or express it. That is our own fault. Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action among men. All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action.”
He then suggests that one day, a new language will come. In the meantime, we have to wait because our language is dead. But one day…”It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming – as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom.”
Of course, we already know what that language will be like, because T. S. Eliot told us what it would be.
“…every phrase /And sentence that is right (where every word is at home, / Taking its place to suport the others, / The word neither diffident nor ostentatious, / An easy commerce of the old and the new, / The common word exact without vulgarity, / The formal word precise but not pedantic, / The complete consort dancing together)”