I shared Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Stations on the road to freedom” with an old friend this week.
I bought a copy of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, when I was searching for a famous quotation – which is actually by Martin Niemöller. Niemöller was arrested in 1937 by the Nazi authorities and survived first Sachsenhausen and then Dachau concentration camps.
Niemöller’s famous statement, reminds us that sometimes if you don’t take a stand, there may be no-one left to stand up for you:
“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
Bonhoeffer didn’t survive the war. His ‘Stations on the road to freedom’ were written in Tegel prison before his death at the hands of the Nazis.
His words really speak to me. But they have a few bits where God intervenes as the ultimate answer. Those bits aren’t for me. So with a gentle edit, here is my secular version of Bonhoeffer’s four stations.
Secular “Stations on the Road to Freedom” after Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses, for fear that your passions and longing may lead you away from the path you should follow. Only through discipline may a man learn to be free.
Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you, valiantly grasping occasions, not cravenly doubting – freedom comes only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing. Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action, trusting in those commandment you faithfully follow; freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.
A change has come indeed. Your hands, so strong and active, are bound; in helplessness now you see your action is ended; you sigh in relief; so now you may rest contented.
Come now, thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom eternal; death, cast aside all the burdensome chains, and demolish the walls of our temporal body, the walls of our souls that are blinded. Freedom, how long we have sought thee in discipline, action, and suffering; dying, we now may behold thee revealed.
As I said in an email to my good friend:
“I’m doing ok on 1) Discipline and 2) Action, haven’t a huge amount to complain about on 3) Suffering by global standards, and I’m still in the prime of life – albeit number four will get us all in the end.”
“That and the greater number of protons which have cascaded across membranes in my body than there are stars in the observable universe in the time it has taken to write you this, are my thoughts for the day.”
I’m somewhere between half and two thirds down the ‘road to freedom’. Important, amid all the ‘action’ to remember that; and enjoy the ride.