Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well known for his resistance to Nazism and subsequent martyrdom. Less is known about the influence on his thinking by a small community of disabled people called Bethel. Bonhoeffer spent significant time among these castaways as German society moved toward creating a “super race” by eliminating those with perceived genetic defects rending them as “life not worth living.”
The people who were considered “defective” because of their physical, psychological, and intellectual disabilities helped to shape Bonhoeffer’s basic principle for understanding reality.
In a world that worships at the altar of the hyper-cognitive and physically dominant, we would do well to hear Bonhoeffer’s call to learn “from below.”
“It remains an experience of incomparable value that we have once learned to see the great events of world history form below, form the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short for the perspective of the suffering. . . .That we come to see matters great and small, happiness and misfortune, strength and weakness with new eyes: that our sense for greatness, humanness, justice, and mercy has grown clearer, freer, more incorruptible; that we learn, indeed, that personal suffering is a more useful key, a more fruitful principle than personal happiness for explaining the meaning of the world in contemplation and action.”
Until we hear the voices “from below,” from “the least of these,” we will not hear the voice of God!
After all, God’s eternal Word became flesh in a helpless baby born of an unwed peasant teenager, who became an immigrant fleeing politically motivated violence, lived in obscurity for thirty years, and was executed as a convicted criminal.
Perhaps we would do well to turn off the television, get off Facebook, silence talk radio for a while; and visit a homeless shelter, holding center for migrant families, the local jail or prison, nursing home, Alzheimer’s facility, hospital emergency room, or attend an AA meeting.
Yes, God’s voice may come “from above” but most often it comes “from below,” from the vulnerable, the powerless, the silenced!