“A great disillusionment”… A brief report from one of the book groups so far By Kathryn Rickert, Ph.D.
[This article pertains to a book group reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We have met once, and there will be two more meetings at St. Augustine’s in the Woods, Freeland, WA. You are welcome to join us.]
“On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life [Zusammenleben – living together] should be and they will anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. … Only that community which enters into this experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community the better for both.” (from Life Together, pp 9-10)
One of the differences between “reading (perhaps for school or work) and “spiritual reading” is that here in spiritual reading we aren’t required to get the whole idea of some book. Rather, it is more than enough to come away from a spiritual reading with something we can use– with one very good idea, something to chew on, something that feeds our souls, and calls us into the depths of life and faith that we seek. We can always go back to that book again later on and learn even more.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together offers many such moments. The one about the “great disillusionment” is continuing to speak to me.
“Disillusionment” is not exactly the kind of thing that we expect to come across in a community of faith. It sounds more like something we are fleeing from in the world “outside” the church. Yet, as Bonhoeffer wisely recognizes– learning to live into, through and then coming out of disillusionment is precisely what we must experience, if we want to be part of an authentic Christian community.
As with our Baptismal vows, this dealing with disillusionment is not something we do by ourselves, alone, or apart from each other. And most certainly, our response here must include some version of, “I will, with God’s help.” and, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
I doubt that anyone needs to seek or set out to face disillusionment; it seems to come to all of us eventually. The important thing might be not to resist it, but rather to attend carefully, prayerfully to each other as we make our way through it. Not fleeing when the going gets rough is what we are called to learn here. It is perhaps related to that part of the Rule of St. Benedict about stability. If God has not yet given up on us, then let us seek to do the same for and with each other.
The group reading this book met for the first time on Jan 6th, and will meet two more times, once from 1:30 – 3:30 pm in the Fireside Room on Jan. 26th to read Chapters 2 -3, The Day Together, & The Day Alone. On Feb 3rd the final gathering will take on Chapters 4 -5, Service, and Confession and the Lord’s Prayer. (Same time and place) Please join us.