Dietrich Bonhoeffer – A Prayer for Lent

This Lent, I have decided to learn a little bit more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ve read only snippets of his writings and am vaguely familiar with his story. I happened across this prayer online, purportedly written by Bonhoeffer. I found a few variations of it, most pointing to a secondary source (other blogs, actually) rather than an actual publication or archive with Bonhoeffer’s name on it. Hopefully I can learn more a bit about where Bonhoeffer was in his remarkable journey as he wrote this. If I do, I’ll make sure to share here. (NOTE: See Andrew’s comment below for some background. MT)

Scholarly responsibilities aside, let’s proceed supposing Bonhoeffer actually did write this:

I cannot do this alone
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me.
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.
Lord whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
Amen

My ‘struggle’ (if you can even call it that) doesn’t look like a whole lot when put in perspective, but I certainly got something out of this prayer. It’s interesting to think about what Bonhoeffer may have been thinking as he put pen to paper here. A few lines that got me thinking:

Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;

How do we pray? By now I’m sure most have us have figured out that there isn’t a checklist or systematic 10 step plan for praying effectively. It’s hard. Happily, we have all of Lent (…and the rest of the year, and indeed our lives. The Christian liturgical calendar is a useful tool to keep things interesting, but sometimes we need to be wherever we are) to wrestle with it. At St. Bede’s we have a wonderful community that forces itself to ask interesting, difficult questions. We pray together. This is something that is easy to take for granted, but let us also keep in our thoughts and prayers (or attempts at prayer!) those who reflect in solitude, and those who are not part of a community such as ours.

In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;

I read these lines a few times, but I’m not so sure what to say about them. Often meditation and reflection doesn’t feel very fruitful. I hope we can turn our reflection and dwell on God.

I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;

Ah, the bitterness. There’s plenty to go ’round. After all this struggle, surely we are entitled to some understanding, insight or inner peace? Perhaps, but I’m not sure if any such promise was made. I hope we can all find the strength and patience to continue in our reflection.

And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.

Wow. That got pragmatic quickly. What a powerful idea – that we answer to both God and our fellow sisters and brothers. Emmanuel – God is with us! Our ministry – our journey is here and now and very real. Not merely a set of ideas and thoughts.

Lord whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
Amen

Amen!

Mohan T

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3 comments on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer – A Prayer for Lent

  1. Mohan,

    Thanks for that very thoughtful blog on a prayer purportedly by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think it is genuine. Most of it (some phrases slightly differently translated) appears at pages 448-449 of Eric Metaxas, “Bonhoeffer; Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy” (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

    Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo on April 5, 1943 and taken to Tegel Military Prison in Berlin. At Christmas time that year, one of the prison chaplains asked him to help write a sheet that would be distributed to the other prisoners: the prayer you quote was one of the prayers that Bonhoeffer composed for distribution to his fellow prisoners.

    Bonhoeffer was eventually executed for his opposition to the Hitler regime on April 9, 1945.

    I find the fact that the prayer was composed in such circumstances adds significant depth and meaning to the words.

    Thanks for finding and blogging about it.

    Andrew B.

  2. Laurie says:

    Mohan – the poem was wonderful! I feel so connected to it. Thank you for sharing

  3. Mohan what a great poem is it!

    prayer online

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