After the chapter titled “The Day Together” comes the chapter “The Day Alone”. Bonhoeffer doesn’t see these as two compartmentalized areas of life but rather as life itself, as life together; for we cannot have one without the other. This presents a challenge for those of us who compartmentalize life because we are not accustomed to seeing life holistically – when we think of “balance” we tend to think in terms of life’s compartments being balanced against one another rather than in terms of ourselves living in holistic balance – as individuals and as a people. The “shalom” of the Bible is holistic.
Compartmentalization has sealed off areas of life from one another and has provided us with rationales why we cannot witness to others, why we cannot obey Jesus Christ in some compartments (such as work and profession and politics), why we can engage in entertainment that is not holy, and why life need not be integrally interwoven with the people of God. It is as if we pass through “air locks” as we move from one compartment to another lest one area of life contaminate another. We are losing (have lost?) our holistic humanity, we are machines and not men, a bank of computers and not humanity.
But to return to Bonhoeffer; he begins this chapter with a point and counterpoint and we can only understand his holistic approach as we walk with him through the chapter and through the book.
Because blog posts are short I’m going to begin reflecting on this chapter by reaching a few paragraphs into it and then in future posts drop back to the beginning and work up to where we are beginning – otherwise I think too many questions will go unanswered for too long and that we will jump to incorrect conclusions about what Bonhoeffer is writing.
“Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 57.
Bonhoeffer wrestles with this thought throughout the chapter and the chapter cannot be understood apart from this statement. In the preceding chapter we focused on the Day Together, in this chapter the focus is on the Day Alone, but we cannot think about the Day Alone unless we also think about the Day Together – and so Bonhoeffer addresses the Day Alone in the context of the Day Together, just as in the Day Together he speaks to our individual participation in life together. Everything we do in the Day Alone affects our life together – there are no compartments, no air locks, no firewalls – we are members of one another.
In Galatians 6:1 – 5 I think we see Paul working through this same dynamic:
“Brethren, if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.”
We are to examine our own work, and yet living in community we know one another’s work to the point that if one of us is caught in a trespass that we can restore our brother or sister. We are to bear one another’s burdens but each one of us must also bear our own load. We are in one of Bonhoeffer’s chapters (The Day Together) and then we are in the other (The Day Alone) – we are in both at the same time, they cannot really be separated – they are holistic. Our challenge is to go beyond thinking about one and then the other into thinking about both together and living both together until we cannot think about them separately – until we live them in unity.
“Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone.”