(Bonhoeffer’s Love Letters (from Time magazine on December 1, 1967)

Picking Furniture. Jailed as an enemy of the Third Reich, in 1943, Bonhoeffer was allowed to receive visits by Maria, who took him books, laundry and food. She once arrived lugging a huge Christmas tree, causing considerable laughter among the guards. Bonhoeffer “remarked that maybe if he moved his cot out of his cell and stood up for the Christmas season he could accommodate the tree comfortably.” Although suspected of treason, Bonhoeffer retained the hope that he would eventually be freed, encouraged Maria to plan ahead for their marriage. “It helped him to envision a specific piece of furniture in our future apartment,” she says. “He enjoyed talking about details of our wedding; he had chosen the 103rd Psalm as a text.”*

His letters to her, often smuggled out by a sympathetic guard, contain several impressive statements of his Christian conviction. On Aug. 12, 1943, he wrote: “You cannot imagine what it means in my present situation to have you. Our union can only be a sign of God’s grace and kindness, which calls us to faith. And I do not mean the faith which flees the world, but the one that endures the world. Our marriage shall be a yes to God’s earth. I fear that Christians who stand with only one leg upon earth also stand with only one leg in heaven.”

As the prospect of freedom dimmed, Bonhoeffer suffered moments of discouragement. “Slowly it gets to be a waiting whose outward sense I cannot comprehend,” he wrote to Maria. “Your life would have been quite different, easier, clearer, simpler, had not our paths crossed.” But the majority of his letters reflected overwhelming courage and inflexible faith. In his last message to Maria, written at Christmas time, 1944, he said: “What is happiness? It depends so little on the circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person.” Four months later he was hanged at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria.

*Its most famed excerpt:

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone . . . But the steadfast lore of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.