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Mysticism and Resistance

by Renate Wind Monday, Oct. 03, 2005 at 3:17 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

Mystical experience cannot be separated from social relations.. The land that was once home became a place of homeless-ness, a land of culprits that saw itself as a victim and only rarely accepted responsibility for what happened.

MYSTICISM AND RESISTANCE

Dorothee Soelle as Trailblazer

By Prof. Renate Wind

[This address at the 30th Evangelical Church Day in Hanover, May 27, 2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.kirchentag2005.de/presse/dokumente/dateien/MDT_27_561.pdf]



1. COMPANERA DOROTHEE SOELLE PRESENTE!

Less than five years ago we celebrated Dorothee Soelle’s 70th birthday. At that time I had the task of appreciating the contemporaneousness of Dorothee Soelle’s theology. It was important for me to emphasize these were not nostalgic remembrances for a memorial. The refractory Dorothee Soelle was still too young and simply not long removed.

Now she has left us. Many of us cannot even imagine that she is really gone. In some regards, she is still among us. In Latin American base communities, there is the praxis of calling the deceased or violently killed sisters and brothers by name in the assembly in the expectation that some of those present will answer in their place: Presente! Here am I!

Her spirit lives. This means the praxis of those who are not immediately with us is continued by those who live and act as they did. In this sense, Dorothee Soelle is a trailblazer in what we take along from her and what drives us in our remembrance.

This was also her approach at the beginning of her book “Mysticism and Resistance.” She pointed out that mystical experience cannot be separated from social relations. This experience is communicated by people and must occur in political events. “The relation of mystical experience to social and political conduct has hardly been investigated. The social-historical question has always receded in favor of a way of thinking focused on God and the soul alone elevated over time without social analysis. This seems like a reduction to me. How mystics of different times related to and in their society interests me. Were escapism, detachment and seclusion really mystical conduct? Weren’t there also other forms of mystical consciousness?

To me, mysticism is a twofold process: the discovery of mystical traditions and their appropriation. Appropriating means remembering. When I read how mystics thought, dreamt, spoke and loved, my own life becomes more mystical and more marvelous. It is as though other ears and a third eye grow, wings of the dawn. I understand myself better because I learn a language in a free spirit through these sisters and brothers that bring my own experiences closer and make them glisten. Reading mystical texts means recognizing my blocked nature. My interest is not to admire the mystics but to be reminded by them and see the inner light as clearly as possible. This light is also hidden in me.” (1)

In this way, I want the mystic Dorothee Soelle to be present among us today. Remembrance of her becomes a “dangerous and liberating remembrance.” The religious and political socialization of women and other persons of my generation can hardly be ignored. Her books have accompanied us through different stations of life. We heard her at very different events. We often admired her at a distance. She was avant-garde and a beacon, a symbolic and identification figure. She championed the political night prayer and the blockade action before the military base in Mutlangen. She set signs of hope for all who wanted to set off for the promised land of freedom, equality, sisterliness and brotherliness and instead often found themselves in the wilderness. She accompanied our processes of liberation and emancipation in their contradictoriness and gave a spiritual dimension to resistance against the structures of violence and exploitation beyond the successes and defeats of the day. With us, she made an exodus from the church of men and the powerful and brought us new versions of biblical texts. Whoever heard her at mobilizations and discussions, church days and demonstrations will remember the resoluteness of her addresses and the infectious power of her words. She was a witness of accusation and an advocate of liberation. Whoever witnessed her in this role will not forget her pleas against men’s power and a bomb logic or her calls to solidarity with the demonstrating mothers of the disappeared in Chile and the men and women from El Salvador’s church of martyrs.

Still she should not only be seen as the epitome of women’s power and charismatic militancy. In personal encounters of the last years, I first came to know her differently than as a person aware of her own conflicting nature whose life had been one great search: for justice, meaning and the future, for the unconditioned, God and God’s reign of Shalom. She described this movement in her recollections. Afterwards I read many of her texts with different eyes. In them, I discover our hopes and struggles and also our questions and inner conflicts, experiences that we have long repressed from our perception. I would like to read some of these texts here and at the same time descend from the plane of great words into the lowlands of our contemporary existence. The theologian Dorothee Soelle is bound inseparably with the contemporary Dorothee Soelle who took seriously Karl Barth’s demand that good Christians open the Bible with one hand and the newspaper with the other every morning. The Bible taught her to speak for God. The newspaper confronted her with a world of violence in which speech for God has to stand the test. Mystical watchfulness is the prerequisite for speaking about what is hidden, for the spiritual dimension of everyday worldly reality, of God behind and in all things. Finally, this mystical attentiveness leads to the insight of Rosa Luxemburg that is still burning, that the first and decisive revolutionary act is to describe reality clearly!

2. HOW DO WE SPEAK FOR GOD?

How can one speak for God in a world of violence? Dietrich Bonhoeffer meditated over this question in a world of violence and entangled himself in different ways in the history of violence. In his baptismal address from prison, he said: “We are thrown back to the beginnings of understanding of Christian proclamation… Reconciliation and redemption, rebirth and the Holy Spirit, love of the enemy, the cross and resurrection, life in Christ and discipleship of Christ are all so difficult and distant that we hardly dare speak about this. In traditional words and deeds, we discover something very new and revolutionary without being able to grasp and express it. Our church that has only fought for its self-preservation in these years as though it were an end-in-itself is unable to be a bearer of the reconciling and redeeming word for people and the world. Therefore earlier words must become weak and fall silent. Our Christian existence today consists in only two things: in prayer and just deeds among people. All thinking, speaking and organizing in the things of Christianity must be reborn out of prayer and these acts. It is not our task to predict the day but the day will come when people will speak God’s word again and the world will be changed and renewed. It will be a new language, perhaps very unreligious but librating and redeeming, the language of a new justice and truth, the language that proclaims God’s peace with humankind and the nearness of God’s reign.” (2)

Dorothee Soelle knew how to proclaim God’s word in a new way. In the time of her life, she was a freelance “theology worker” as she called herself for whom there was no preaching or teaching office in Germany or in the German church. She created an unmistakable circle of readers and hearers outside the institutions of church and university. Many people who turn away from the traditional church and its language find new hope and knowledge in her texts and addresses. These Christians want to give their church an open face turned to the world and humankind. In connection with her interest in art, literature and her own literary gifts, she created a language form with which speech for God could be recast in a secularized society. This language includes elements of mysticism because, as she said, “the sound of a streetcar can be something that concerns us unconditionally.” In her 1971 theses on theology and literature, she said:

“Theology finds a non-religious interpretation of religious terms in the language of art.”

Theological terms address the person in his or her totality and refer him or her to eternal or authentic life, for example sin, grace, death, resurrection, justice and peace.

Theology’s non-religious interpretation is not satisfied with reduction to a theological nomenclature or with vague possibilities of poetic and theological descriptions. The content of terms congealed in religious nomenclature can be rediscovered along with heir present concretion. “Sin” and “grace” are empty theological terms whose only value is in helping us to questions answered by non-religious worldly concretion. The predicate first says what the subject is.

What opens a new organ in us (Goethe), what takes us out of the security of the known, what confronts us with our own clichés, what unmasks us and what changes our relation to the world and ourselves is theologically relevant.” (3)

That Dorothee Soelle could speak credibly of God in a world of violence has to do with her readiness to change relations to the world and herself. Her language arose out of protest against the world of violence and was bound with doing the works of the just among humankind. Again and again she pointed out that new words for the old gospel are first found from a new personal and political praxis. The priority of orthopraxy before orthodoxy emphasized by the theology of liberation took form in her thinking and acting and in the knowledge that praxis again and again becomes the place of knowledge. “One cannot think what one does not do!” The first and second acts of interpreting the gospel formulated by Gustavo Guiterrez are the characteristics of theological existence today. The meaning of scripture and the gospel is discovered in conscious life for and with others, in partisanship and solidarity. New ways and words of proclamation appear. Dorothee Soelle entered in this experiment with her whole existence. This made credible her speech for God.

3. SPEAKING OF GOD AFTER THE `DEATH OF GOD’

How can one speak of God in a time of God’s hiddenness and of the experience of God’s apparent non-existence? The thinking process that flowed in Dorothee Soelle’s political theology and reflected political reality, a reaction to the catastrophes of fascism and war, began with this question. Her oldest brother Carl died on the truck bringing him home from Russian captivity. “When we learned this, I knew there would be no Christmas and no “dear God,” Dorothee Soelle wrote in her recollections. (4) In her autobiographical notes, she spoke in great honesty about her own youthful lack of orientation in view of the collapse of values mediated by her revered teachers. She wanted to believe in these values herself. “The darkness of a German, romantic, middle-class educated youth” and the “fog of a tragic irrationalist Germanism” (5) gradually cleared up. However the question about meaning and new orientation was not yet answered. On the contrary, enlightenment about the true character of fascism and the pictures of the unparalleled crimes against humanity intensified the sense of an ominous foreignness in a country where so much was possible.

The land that was once home became a place of homelessness, a land of culprits that “saw itself as a victim after war, captivity, hunger and bombs and only rarely accepted responsibility for what happened.” There was no simple answer to the question how all ethical standards could be so completely annulled and how the “great masquerade of evil” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described in 1943 could relativize and make all traditional ethical concepts dubious. For Dorothee Soelle, this question and the experience of the hiddenness of a “dear God” led to the study of theology, the experiment of faith and the question about this God. For the daughter from a good house that wasn’t marked by church socialization, the decision for theology was joined with the necessity of finding an answer to the question how Auschwitz could have happened and what conclusions should be drawn for the question about the responsibility of persons for their actions.

Existentialism and nihilism gave the first possibilities of identification. Through the writings of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre and finally Kierkegaard, she was encouraged to take the “leap” “in the passion for the unconditioned and God’s reign.”

The introductory sentences of her first book “Representation. Theology after the Death of God” (1965) show how much this leap was allied with a search for a new identity and a new home:

“This book starts from the question how a person can become identical with him- or herself and relates this question with the other question, what Christ means for our life.

Who am I? How do I come to myself? How do I love so I can live this life? The person in the society that binds, forms, damages and distorts him or her asks this question, not only the subjectivity worried about itself. Blinded by the retrogressions of the enlightenment in this century, that unheard-of decline to homemade underage existence, afflicted by the ever-new diverse forms of failure of every possible identity and alarmed by the neuroses in which civilization sacrifices itself and cannot fulfill what it promises: humanization, we yearn for a world in which it may be simpler to be identical with ourselves.

Every vision of a more habitable earth must be measured in the greatest of visions that we know: God’s reign.” (6)

Did the study of theology and the church in the Germany of the 1950s and 1960s fulfill what they promised this seeker of home? Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s farsighted criticism from prison was true for the church in church in Germany: “Every new organizational development would only be a delay of its conversion and purification.” For people who sought a new identity and certainty, it was not enough that the churches restored their buildings and structures. The purification and conversion admonished by Bonhoeffer, the confrontation with its own failure toward a criminal dictatorship, was just as little honored as the summons “to be a church for others,” “to share in the worldly challenges of human community life, helping or serving and not dominating or ruling.”

Dorothee Soelle recalled: “Neither the church that I experienced as a stepmother nor the spiritual adventure of a post-enlightened theology enticed me to the lifelong attempt to think of God. The mystical element will not let me go. It is God’s love that I want to live, understand and spread. This love seems hardly sought in these two institutions. What is called the `gospel’ within evangelical theology and preaching best articulates that God loves, protects, saves and makes us anew. That this process is only really experienced when this love is mutual is rarely heard. That people love, protect, save and make new God sounds megalomaniac or mad to most… However the mystics live from this madness of love.” (7)

For a growing number of people, the church in its traditional form could not dissolve the experience of God’s non-existence. Rather, according to Soelle, the “experience of the end of an objective and general certainty or subjective, private and immediate certainty” is the experience of the `death of God’, theologically expressed. (8) This experience can only be remedied when Christ fills this blank space: as God’s representative before people and as a representative of people before God. In a later commentary on this first “chapter of theology after the death of God,” Soelle wrote: “The answers that are sought here are connected with Jesus of Nazareth, the `man-for-others,’ as Bonhoeffer called him. I carry out the `christological reduction’ characteristic for the theology of our century. God can no longer be assumed as a certainty of the heart or as socially represented in the church… Rather we begin at the divine zero-point that the developed middle class society represents.

The one encountering us in many brothers and sisters lived differently than us. Jesus is the brother both understandable and distant to me with whom I cannot advance without an immediate naivety about God… If there is a theological-political continuity for me, it lies in this beginning with the powerless, the suffering and the indigenous. A victor Christology cannot arise from this awakening. Christ is crucified every day. Being with him, bearing his image in our hearts and following him means adopting a life perspective that is in an unbridgeable conflict to the society in which we live.” (9)

The creed formulated by Dorothee Soelle (1969) proclaims:

I believe in Jesus Christ

who rightly said

`an individual can do nothing’

who like us

worked and died in changing all conditions.

Measured by him, I know

how our intelligence is disabled,

our imagination suffocated

and our effort useless

because we do not live as he lived.

Everyday I am frightened

that he died in vain

because he is buried in our churches and

because we have betrayed his revolution

in obedience and fear of authorities.

I believe in Jesus Christ

resurrected in our life

so we become free

from prejudices and arrogance,

from anxiety and hatred

and drive his revolution

to his reign.

4. POLITICAL NIGHT PRAYER

This whole confession referring to Christ, this desire to be “like Jesus” and “like Christ” is the real core of a resistant mysticism. The text carries out the “prayer and works of the just among people.” At the beginning of 1968, evangelical and catholic Christians founded the “Political Night Prayer initiative” in Koln that was a model for other groups and similar actions. With this activity directed to social change, Dorothee Soelle was a well-known and controversial personality in the church and society. Political night prayer was an original idea for a new Christian self-image to overcome the separation of the gospel and politics.

Shortly after the genesis of the political night prayer, a group of demonstrators against the war in Vietnam marched through downtown Koln in April 1968. The banner they carried caused sensation and excitement: “Vietnam is Golgotha.” Dorothee Soelle recalled:

“I thought I knew what it meant when I said: I am a Christian. I expressed a relationship to a person who lived two thousand years ago and said the truth. I tried to take this man seriously because I thought his history has consequences even today.

I could not find any real difference between a crown of thorns and these tear gas compounds that with an unfavorable wind direction led to crying, vomiting and suffocation. I did not see any noticeable distinction between the new shots and poisons and the older way of killing people by nailing them to a cross.

The Vietnam War did two things for my generation: It unmasked capitalism like nothing before. At the same time, the Vietnamese people gave us a new vision of life, future life.” (10)

That the crucified can be found in Vietnam and not in a sacred separated world of our churches was the message of the political night prayer and a discovery that seized more and more Christians in the struggles of this time in many countries of the earth. Camilio Torres, Colombian priest and sociologist, was the spokesperson of a mass movement against hunger and violence. “The revolution is a Christian command,” he said at the 1964 conference “Pro Mundi Vita” in Lowen. “Christians argue with communists whether the soul is mortal or immortal and know hunger is mortal.” A short time later, the Colombian popular unity movement was shattered. A unit of the Colombian military shot Camilio Torres who escaped to the guerillas in the mountains. In a call to Christians, he had written, “I renounce on the rights of the clergy but I have not stopped being a priest. I believe that I have decided out of love for the revolution. When my brother has nothing against me any more, when the revolution is realized, I will celebrate mass again if God is willing.” (11)

That God is a partisan God and advocate of the weak and oppressed and that the option for the poor is part of the message of the gospel was clear to Christians in the solidarity movements. The form of the crucified Christ was concrete in the crucified campesinos, victims of the military and the death squads. This cross has nothing to do any more with the cross as a salvation event in the middle class world of our churches. Julia Esquivel from Guatemala wrote:

“God wanted to reveal his Son in the damned of this earth. With our hands, we understand your misery in their misery. We share your tears in their broken sobbing and their unbearable grief. Their lament confuses our quiet life and revives the roots of our faith. We awaken to true life, to crisis, conflict and the way of hope. The Spirit passed through our conscience and purified our eyes, darkened by cheap grace guaranteeing heaven and promising satisfaction on earth.”

Christian existence gained another dimension in the encounter with the excluded, those living in the periphe3ry of poverty produced by the rich centers. The discovery that the biblical texts arose in the periphery, in the huts of foreign workers, in the shadows of the prestige projects of the mega-cultures, not in the centers of power led to a new biblical perspective. In his powerlessness, the murdered and resurrected Jesus the Messiah embodied the suffering and strength of the weak.

Ernesto Cardenal wrote to Monsignor Casaldaliga, the father of the Amazon Indians threatened by genocide: “We know the body of Christ is where the helicopters circle.” Dorothee Soelle, engaged in the solidarity movements for Latin America and in the base communities of these countries wrote retrospectively:

“The theology of liberation taught me to understand the Bible as a call to do God’s will in a world of injustice and as a call to accept discriminations, difficulties and martyrdom. Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. This means consciously taking the chance of resistance. Resistance is necessary against the way our foundations of life are destroyed, the poor are handed over to death and a peace is built on the rule of madness. One can only become a Christian and grow in Christ by growing in a movement of resistance. Liberation theology says again and again the poor are teachers. That sounds insane. We imagine ourselves as the great teachers and exporters of prosperity. However we can learn much more from them in spiritual matters, from their ability to hope, begin again and make new attempts.” (12)

The spirit of the 1970s is reflected in Dorothee Soelle’s texts in different ways. These years were bound with great hope for change and great revolutionary enthusiasm. The Latin American liberation movements were persecuted and shattered with enormous force. The face of the martyrs’ church in El Salvador and their bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the “dirty war” in Colombia and Guatemala – all this is reflected in the poems, comments and “legends of the saints” with which Dorothee Soelle expressed her solidarity with the sisters and brothers of this continent. The suffering and crucified Christ can be rediscovered in these texts.

A new aspect of Christology is also developed. The solidarity Christology in which Christ is the one suffering in solidarity who needs and hopes for solidarity himself replaces representation Christology. Discipleship is redefined in this solidarity with the suffering Messiah. Bonhoeffer wrote in the prison cell of Tegel: “Can you not watch one hour with me? Jesus asks in Gethsemane. That is the opposite of everything the religious person expects of God. Sharing in God’s suffering in worldly life makes the Christian, not the religious act.” (13) This Gethsemane motif was rediscovered by Dorothee Soelle. When Elisabeth Kasemann disappeared in the torture centers of the Argentinian military junta like thousands of others and was miserably killed in 1977, Dorothee Soelle wrote her poem “Report from Argentina.”

The motif of suffering and the necessity of finding a meaning in this suffering are taken up and reconsidered. In the encounter with the theology of liberation, the question about the meaning of the resurrection arises again. This idea is formulated very cautiously in the poem “Arguments against Powerlessness”:

We have the longer breath

We need the better future

The people with the terrible grief

The victims of capital

Are part of us.

A bread was once distributed among us

that was enough for everyone.

We have the longer breath.

We build the human city.

Allies of the outlawed in the prisons are with us

and the landless in the cities.

The dead of the Second World War are part of us

who at last want to have justice to eat.

Once one rose from the dead

among us.

5. THE GOD OF LIBERATION

The encounter with the theology of liberation changed Dorothee Soelle’s political theology in another respect. In the past systematic reflections on a new Christology predominated and her theological thinking was largely reduced to this Christology. The Bible as a whole came into view through the “re-reading” of scripture. If she radically relativized God’s significance in favor of the “christological reduction” in the theological beginning of “Representation,” the God of Israel and the liberating traditions of both testaments were now seen clearly. New theological perspectives arose from the peace- and solidarity movement and the new social movements in western countries. Feminist- and socio-historical exegesis uncovered the blocked women’s history and opened the view for the “God of little people.” In this time, Dorothee Soelle first became a Bible student. Together with her friend Luise Schottroff, the profiled and engaged exegete, the two women filled large church day halls with their creative Bible interpretation. “The earth belongs to the God” was the motto of their Bible study at the 1983 Hanover church day. This motto became a biblical-theological orientation point for the conciliar process of justice, peace and preservation of creation. A joint text in the foreword to the first edition of this Bible study declares:

“The foundation of our Bible study is a liberation theology hermeneutic, an historical and theological method connecting liberation theology and feminist theology. The Bible plays a great role in the liberation movements of Christians. Liberation theology hermeneutic takes seriously the situation of people in the Bible as well as the people of today who learn from the Bible what it means that faith in God and Christ can move mountains. Another perspective on one’s own social situation arises. The biblical texts and testimonies express the unadorned truth about social situations and make clear the practical meaning of faith and hope in God and the steps of liberation in everyday life joined with faith. Thus biblical interpretation has to consider two contexts, one’s own context and the context of the people speaking in the Bible. For both contexts, faith cannot be separated from everyday reality, from the situation of people usually defined by the economy, politics and the military. God’s word is encountered in this situation… the political and social conditions must be named by name where faith is spoken.” (14)

How do the political and social conditions appear in this century? Anxiety over peace and security in Europe was missing in this phase. In the peace movement of the 1980s, countless people came together who were separated from each other in the years before. Different leftist shadings joi9ned together: Christians and socialists, solidarity-, peace- and ecology movements forged an alliance for the first time. The occasion was the so-called Nato-double resolution on installing a new generation of intermediate range missiles to make the nuclear exchange of blows between the superpowers winnable for the US. A new round in nuclear armament began. Europe’s existence was consciously put at risk as the nuclear battlefield of American military strategists. The goal of a targeted nuclear blow against the “kingdom of evil” was often formulated in the strategy papers of the pentagon. The new round of the arms race should induce the Soviet Union to arm itself to death. “Star Wars” was another stage of escalation in the American military strategy.

The last poem of the terminally ill Volker von Torne described the mood of many people:

At the beginning of the 1980s

Horror goes along with new weapons

Fear has wings and anger is cold…

Volker von Torne, Outlawed in the Land. Collected Poems, Berlin 1981




Dorothee Soelle embodied the voice of hope and resistance in the time of cold anger and threatening resignation. The actualization of the word from the Book of Jeremiah is inseparably bound with her: a people without vision perish! She lived another understanding of God and humankind against those politicians and church leaders who tried to explain nuclear armament and the state of the world theologically as the world’s depravity of sin. She asserted another understanding of god and humankind.

“God who sets a new beginning despite sin is not taken seriously, even if God’s name appears occasionally. Here God has already become a fate. This theology that rules us is a theology of death without God. Its most important content is the subjective sin and the objective powerlessness of persons. Its most important praxis is adaptation to sin with or without weapons, with or without arms exports and with or without arms profits. But the God of the Bible is the power of life that changes our heart… This God does not even appear in the theology of death. Sin obviously rules over us in a society that systematically educates to lies and with the help of the media to denial of reality, systematically makes love relationships into consumer articles for sale and passes off murder on command and nuclear first-strike as defense. The question is only whether sin is understood in a godless way without liberation as in the conformist church or whether it is conceived from God’s covenant with us and from liberation.

As in the question of peace, Dorothee Soelle referred directly to the biblical traditions in the question of social justice.

“No one can tell us our tradition consists of only beautiful utopian dreams that theologians like to call eschatological, referring to the end of times – as though the great visions of the Bible like release of debt slaves, land to the landless and swords to plowshares were legal decrees and pictures without relation to reality. They are concrete social-historical projects of a better order. The economic order of the covenant that God concluded with Israel and assumed real social form in the Sabbath is based on equality in the use and distribution of goods.” (16)

A people without vision perish. Given the loss of these visions and hopes, reviving the power of vision and pictures is the first and most important challenge today. In the famous anonymous address attributed to Indian chief Seattle, the question is raised: What dreams do we pass on to our children and what pictures do we implant in their souls “so they long for a tomorrow?”

Fulbert Steffensky proposes rereading the stories of the Bible, “the old stories of dignity and rescue. We owe pictures of life to a society that has become picture-less.”

6. MYSTICISM AND RESISTANCE

Dorothee Soelle wrote in her last book “Mysticism and Resistance”:

“Since 1989 we have lived in a standardized globalized economic order of technocracy that claims an absolute control of space, time and creation. The machine driven by the pressure to produce more is confirmed by inconceivable technological successes. It is programmed for more speed, productivity, consumption and profit for 20% of humanity. This program is more effective and violent than all historical empires with their Babylonian towers.” (17)

The violence of this system of globalized capitalism appears above all where whole groups of people and countries are excluded and threatened with becoming `superfluous’. There are enough examples. There will be no end of violence without the production of justice. In view of this reality, the question about changed forms of resistance and the question about new sources of power and motivation are urgent.

Woe

when experiences

triumph over hopes.

Without hopes

there are no experiences any more

and where experiences end

faith begins.

That is also the place

where

the future begins.

Heinz Kahlau, Life Stages for Angels

This faith has become indispensable and is no longer confessionally bound. The glorious powers and their Babylonian towers will collapse. Only ruins will be left as with the tower of Babel. The sighs and cries of those who slaved away in building the pyramids and in the quarries of Flossenburg and Maulhausen soared to heaven and moved God to intervene. Living and acting in this faith means ceaselessly describing the meaning of utopia and vision, search for home and longing for peace even if these terms are suspect as ideology. The elites of the “global players” fear nothing more than the new search for other life possibilities for all who doubt whether this world is the best of all worlds or the only possible world. Erich Fried wrote in one of his last poems.

Before I die

Still speaking

Of the warmth of life

So some know

It is not warm

Before I die

Still speaking of love as some say

Love exists and love must exist

Still speaking

Of the happiness of hoping for happiness

And asking

What was that

When will it come again?

Erich Fried, Poems, Munich 1998

Dorothee Soelle was especially called to speak about what keeps us alive and hoping. For many years, she accompanied our dreams and our sorrow. With us, she asked what has come out of the awakening of the conciliar process for justice, peace and preservation of creation. In a world that threatens to resign to the right of the stronger in the economy and society, she reminded us that a people perishes without the vision of justice. With this prophetic word, she accompanies us in the uncompromising question about ways of liberation for the whole human community. This is directly connected with the promise that the unceasing and passionate search for god is part of this way of liberation that will reach its goal: “If you seek me with your whole heart, you shall find me.”

One last time she searched for the meaning of suffering, Christ and the `distant-near God’ at the end of her life. These sentences are part of her legacy:

Suffering does not necessarily separate us from god but can connect us to the mystery of reality. Following Christ means sharing in his suffering… Compassion or compassion arises in view of the real situation of other innocent sufferers out of solidarity with them… Without compassion, there is no resurrection… It is not dolorism that seeks and chooses suffering but a mystical relation with reality that comes out of voluntarily sharing in the suffering of the humiliated and insulted… Acceptance rescues from the icy senselessness of power because it holds to “God’s warmth” even in suffering. In this context, sacrifice does not mean ascribing a salvation quality to suffering. Rather the term implies the participation of people who do not resign but in a mystical defiance insist compassionately that nothing be lost.” (18)

The vital source of inspiration and strength was clear for her at the end. This source is the “despite everything” of the Jewish faith that establishes the resistance tradition of both testaments. In the Jewish-Christian dialogue, in attempting to speak for God after Auschwitz,” she rediscovered the liberating God of Israel like Jesus, the “Jewish proletarian” who as a messianic prophet and teacher of justice was a victim of the Roman Empire. With that is bound the rediscovery and adherence to God’s directive, the Torah taken along through the centuries in banishment and exile, rescued from the flames of the Warsaw ghetto and to be brought into the Promised Land. This is the special gift that we could bring into humanity’s dream of a new tomorrow. The other tradition to be rediscovered is resistant mysticism that goes beyond the biblical tradition and joins us with the seekers of God, seekers of truth and seekers of hope in all peoples and cultures.

In Dorothee Soelle’s description of the mystical experience of a female American student, I find something that could comfort and encourage us. The experience of being sheltered under the starry sky as in a mammoth demonstration in a whole that no power of the world can share, a whole in which the individual person is infinitely important and at the same time merges in this larger whole without reaching the end. Perhaps. this is the real secret of the movement that appeals to the messiah Jesus: the farewell to the idealistic notion that the salvation of the world depends on the individual and his activity. Rather being part of a centuries-old movement that does not abandon the vision of the messianic Shalom, that sees the perspective of the victim and opens its mouth for the dumb and silent, that in the discipleship of Jesus and uninterested in the redistribution of power and privileges breaks through demarcations and annuls separations.

In this vision, the acts of the just are preserved, the acts of those whom we may survive, Elisabeth Kasemann and the martyred bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rosa Luxemburg, Sophie Scholl from the White Rose and Hilde Coppi from the Red Band. The remembrance of their violent deaths and the sufferings of countless unnamed victims of injustice and violence could not be endured without the hope that the seed of the martyrs will rise and the dreams of our dead will awaken to new life, that what was good and just in the dreams and struggles of Dorothee Soelle and ourselves is not lost but has a continuing effect. This hope has nothing to do with the retreat into inwardness, into the warm religious corner that we like so much in a world becoming cold. Rather this hope is joined with the readiness to be converted and recognize that the Messiah whom we confess belongs to the excluded and not to the market leaders and opinion-makers. This movement can only be critical of rule in a world that trusts in power and privileges. Only this movement preserves something of the messianic hope that in the words of Pablo Neruda “the people go to meet a great tenderness. This hope is unrelenting!”

Mysticism has to do with this hope and this relentlessness. “Mysticism is the experience of the unity and wholeness of life,” Fulbert Steffensky writes. “Mystical interpretation is also the relentless perception of the splintering of life. Suffering in the splintering and finding it unbearable is part of mysticism. Finding God splintered in the poor and rich, in the above and b4elow, in sick and healthy and in the weak and powerful is the suffering of mystics. “Resistance grows out of the perception of the beautiful. This is the most long-term and dangerous resistance born out of beauty” (19) and out of protest and violation and endangerment. It is kindled by that light described in the Gospel of John that came into the darkness and despite everything the darkness could not overcome it. The raging anger over the powers of darkness and the defiant determination not to let the darkness become master over the light in the world and in their life belongs to those in whom this light burns.

Mysticism has nothing to do with religious wellness but with holy anger and rage. “Her life was a raging against the dying of the light,” Dorothee Soelle’s American friend Beverly Harrison (20) recalls. With this challenge from a poem by Dylan Thomas, I conclude this remembrance of the mystic Dorothee Soelle:

“RAGE, RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT!”







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