BOOK REVIEW: DOROTHEE SOELLE: MYSTIC AND REBEL by Renate Wind. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012, 203 pages. Cloth $ 25.00
Reviewed by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry
Through Renate Wind’s compassionate, truthful telling of the life of Dorothee Soelle we truly begin to know the woman who at twelve in 1941 had not yet felt the terrors of the War in the affluent suburbs of Cologne. This woman at seventy was celebrated ecumenically and globally as theologian, poet, and activist for peace and justice. Soelle sought the truth, so she studied theology and believed it must be lived and experienced in relationship. Wind writes, “She was such a living witness of an exciting love for God and the world that many of her friends remember her as if she were still with them.”
Wind’s book is compelling drama. Soelle in post-war Germany searched for a way to move from German humanist culture, without bypassing repentance, toward a radical Christianity. She became student, writer, wife, mother, instructor in a girls’ high school, all acceptable roles for a woman in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. And then catastrophe for that time: separation, divorce, a woman on her own; but also new communities, new challenges and “Political Evensong.” Soelle’s deep theological inquiry, prolific writing, speaking and activism led her to become world-renowned and controversial. She was invited to discussions, conferences, organized actions and teaching assignments, including a professorship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Dorothee Soelle became one of the most highly regarded theologians of her time, yet never received a teaching appointment in Germany.
She believed the only way one can really grow into Christ was to grow into the movement for resistance. Wind writes of Soelle, “She was a path-breaker and a torch carrier, a symbol and a role model with whom many identified…She placed signs of hope along the way for all who wanted to set out for the promised land of freedom, equality and brother-and-sisterhood.”
Renate Wind, professor of biblical theology and church history at the Evangelische Hochschule in Nürnberg, is author and peace activist. English-readers will not be able to put down this edition, translated from the German by Nancy Lukens and Martin Rumscheidt.
Renate Wind describes herself as a younger contemporary of Dorothee Soelle, entrusted with this biography by Dorothee’s second husband, Fulbert Steffensky, and friend, Luise Schottroff. Each of us will connect with this book in our own way and find our own questions. Mine: How does one deal with the contractions of wanting to believe in the superiority of one’s country, living a relatively privileged, calm life and the realities of violence, injustice, and death? How am I inspired to do theology sensually, poetically, and politically?