By David Taylor
I want to share with you a poem entitled Sorrow and Joy, written in 1943 by a young German pastor named Dietrich Bonheoffer. He was monitored by the "Homeland Security" of the day, which means he reported to the Gestapo. Ultimately, he was arrested for "Failing his people and nation in his duties as a German" and "…damaging the war effort..." His crime? He gave sermons about working with communists and Jews to bring relief of suffering through the church.
The cost of his discipleship and evangelical ethics was his life. The Nazis executed him in 1945 for conspiracy charges.
Even today, seventy percent of Federal felons (including me) are charged with, and in prison for, conspiracy. It’s the “catch-all” charge when nothing else fits. It’s a charge that begins from a place of fear, and not necessarily fact. Dietrich thought he was exempt as a church pastor for preaching love and compassion toward each other as humans.
Bonheoffer was also a deeply contemplative man. Wise beyond his years, during his incarceration he struggled with his faith. However, it was his own inner strength that gave him the ability to overcome the suffering and loneliness that comes with prison and living inside your own head.
I deal with these issues as a prisoner myself each and every day.
The following poem is as courageous and pertinent now as it was 73 years ago. If you have friends or family in prison, pay close attention to the last stanza.
Sorrow and Joy
By Dietrich Bonheoffer
Sorrow and Joy:
startled senses striking suddenly on our
seem, at the first approach, all but impossible
of just distinction one from the other:
even as frost and heat at the first keen contact
burn us alike
Joy and Sorrow,
hurled from the height of heaven in meteor fashion,
flash in an arc of shining menace o'er us.
Those they touch are left
stricken amid the fragments
of their colourless, usual lives.
ruinous and compelling,
Sorrow and Joy
--summoned or all unsought for--
Those they encounter
they transfigure, investing them
with strange gravity
and a spirit of worship.
Joy is rich in fears:
Sorrow has its sweetness.
Undistinguishable from each other
they approach us from eternity,
equally potent in their power and terror.
From every quarter
mortals come hurrying:
part envious, part awe-struck,
swarming, and peering into the portent;
where the mystery sent from above us
is transmuting into the inevitable
order of earthly human drama.
What then is Joy? What then is Sorrow?
Time alone can decide between them,
when the immediate poignant happening
lengthens out to continuous wearisome suffering;
when the laboured creeping moments of daylight
slowly uncover the fullness of our disaster
Sorrow's unmistakable features.
Then do most of our kind
sated, if only by the monotony
of unrelieved unhappiness,
turn away from the drama, disillusioned,
o ye mothers, and loved ones-then, ah, then
comes your hour, the hour for true devotion.
Then your hour comes, ye friends and brothers!
Loyal hearts can change the face of Sorrow,
softly encircle it with love's most gentle unearthly radiance.
Time is the most precious thing that we have, because it is the most irrevocable. The thought of any lost time troubles us whether it’s sorrowful or joyful. Time lost is time in which we've failed to live a benevolent life, gain experience, learn, create, enjoy, and suffer; it’s time that has not been used to its fullest, but left empty.
Could there be a bigger human waste than to be left empty?
Angelica says: "Loyal hearts can change the face of sorrow, and bring joy to those doing time."