Essaying – on Learning from Corrie ten Boom

For symposium this year, my public story class put together a podcast on appearance & reality. (Some of you came and told stories.) We all wrote essays about moments in our lives that touched the theme at different angles.

I got thinking about how sometimes pretending or acting As If can be a way toward truth, a way into feeling it.

Sometimes you don’t feel like praying, or saying thanks, but you do those things anyway and end up feeling grateful. Sometimes you don’t feel like loving your spouse, but you do—and then you do. Sometimes you really don’t want to love your enemy, or pray for them, but when you bring them before the throne they become a person, not just a name–historied and complex as you are, with things you can try to forgive, the way you hope to forgive yourself.

Besides Peter jumping out of the boat acting as if he could walk on water, the best story of this kind that I know is Corrie Ten Boom’s.

She’d been a prisoner in Ravensbruck concentration camp. After the war she traveled the world speaking about God’s forgiveness. At one such event a man approached her whom she recognized as having been one of the cruelest guards in Ravensbruck.

He told her he’d become a Christian—and then he put out his hand and asked her to forgive him for the things he’d done as a guard.

She couldn’t do it. Here’s what she writes:

‘Help, Lord!’ I prayed silently. ‘I’ll lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’


Here are three of your colleagues, Nate Youndt, Sarah Henkels and Katherine Allison, to read excerpts from their essays—to tell stories from their lives. In Nate’s, he tries something similar to what I’ve been saying, but ends up with more truth than he’s ready for. In Sarah’s, a cousin’s reality is almost too hard for a family to bear. And for Katherine, one chance encounter changes the whole kingdom forever after.

All these stories bear out what we know, which is that truth is better than semblance, even if it’s hard, and hard to get to.

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