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Bonhoeffer in Love
Love Letters From Cell 92, edited by Ruth-Alice von Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz (Abingdon, 368 pp.; $24.95, hardcover.
Wait with me, I beg you! Let me embrace you long and tenderly, let me kiss you and love you and stroke the sorrow from your brow. No this is not an excerpt from a Harlequin romance. These are the impassioned longings of the champion of radical discipleship himself, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he wrote from a Nazi prison camp to his young fiancee, Maria von Wedemeycr.
These sentiments—and more like them—written during his imprisonment from 1943 to 1945 present a new aspect of Bonhoeffer, showing him to be surprisingly amorous, but in a way altogether consistent with his theology of costly grace. Such love for Maria was "costly" because Bonhoeffer was forced to relinquish it; it was "grace," because after 37 years of heady bachelorhood, he tasted of the wellspring of romantic possibility.
Maria von Wedemeyer has been duly acknowledged as the true love of the gifted German theologian. But never before have Bonhoeffer's devotees been given such a glimpse of the force of this relationship and the passion this man felt, and sublimated, during his hard years in prison.
He loved her, longed for her, and she for him. And the tenderness and optimism behind this collection of letters is what drives the book. The reader languishes with them as week after week, unto months, unto years, the couple anticipates the time when they will sit together on the couch at Patzig (Maria's family estate) and hold hands. The reader also knows the tragic ending to this tale, while the writers themselves do not. A constant theme echoes throughout: "Don't get tired and depressed, my dearest Dietrich, it won't be much longer now."