Immersions are experiences that move us beyond the realms of comfort, safety, and certainty. They are moments of displacement that generate within us theological and existential crises. If navigated humbly, these are the experiences that move us beyond “What do I do?” to the more important question: “Who must I become?”
Immersions are the portals through which we cross the threshold into disorientation and discomfort and begin a pilgrimage through them. These are the experiences that, if we are open to them, have the potential to simultaneously undo and remake us. The Spirit seems to inhabit immersions, even roaming untamed within them, substantively altering who and how we are as human beings.
In a journal entry in 1928, young Bonhoeffer spoke of being grasped by God. He had the sense that God was leading him and imagined that the God who led would, at times, lead him where he didn’t want to go. At the time of this journal entry, the young theologian was discerning his first substantial immersion outside of Germany. Barcelona would become the first immersive incubator for Bonhoeffer’s transformation.
That city, then and now, was an epicenter of Spanish culture. It would have simple for Bonhoeffer to acclimate to the culture, develop relationships with German ex-pats, and remain relatively unmoved by the experience. Yet that is not how Bonhoeffer immersed. Instead, he chose to walk off the beaten trails of privilege and tourism and got proximate with those in pain. Far from the masquerade of elitist German Christianity, Bonhoeffer wrote that it was in proximity with the desperate, the impoverished, and the criminals that he began to see more clearly. Immersion created seismic shifts in his theology from wrath-oriented to grace-oriented.
In immersing off the road of comfort and into reality, Bonhoeffer’s heart for the first time awoke to the plight of the poor and the outcast.” As we’ll soon see, a heart for the marginalized became a central theme in his life, theology, love, and leadership.
Let me highlight a progression of four ideas and practices as it pertains to Bonhoeffer’s experience of immersion:
- Transformation as being formed into the image of Jesus is the Spirit’s priority, is usually uncomfortable, and often requires immersion. It involves being led where we may not prefer to go.
- Because many dominant culture Christians have been groomed to prioritize and preserve our comfort (even equating both as evidence of God’s favor), we often ignore the promptings of the Spirit whenever we sense that she may be lulling us away from the familiar. When we miss her voice, we miss the transformation.
- Beginning with this Barcelonan immersion Bonhoeffer began to grow familiar with the whispers of the Spirit. He began to discern that hers was the voice that invited him to rebel against his preference for comfort.
- It wasn’t a true immersion for Bonhoeffer to simply enjoy a new culture while remaining entrenched in German privilege. He had to make a concerted effort to edge further and further away from the familiar and toward the “foreign.” It was there that Bonhoeffer was found and formed by God. It was while immersed that God began to heal his sight.
 Metaxis, Bonhoeffer, 70.
 Ibid., 79.