Frau Beckstein lived in Austria at the fag end of the 19th century. She was a noble and idealistic school teacher and she loved poetry, novels, opera and painting. To say that Frau Beckstein was cultured would be an understatement. She loved the life of the artist and she swooned when she pondered the inspiring story of the eccentric, poverty-stricken bohemian living in a rat-infested garret.

How many times had she fallen in love with Richard Wagner, Goethe and Novalis? Very hard to say. These Great men of Genius inspired her and moved her to tears of joy. How grateful she was to the divine spark that indwells this temporary bodily kit. This electric spark of the divine was wonderfully manifest in these very superior artists.

And now the summer had arrived and Frau Beckstein was looking forward to the camping holiday. All her young boys were excited and enthused. ‘Camping is so much fun’ was a popular conviction and Frau Beckstein could not hide her delight when the tents finally arrived.

The young Austrian lads were so looking forward to the Spartan simplicity of the late 19th century camping scenario. No showers. No toilets. No insect repellent. A total negation of comfort and luxury. But it was this very fierce attack on our bodily cravings that filled the young bloods with such zeal and anticipation. In some sense mystical experiences of our inner identity with the cosmos were almost inevitable in the camping milieu.

Finally they had arrived and Wolfgang and Heinrich, two elderly but jovial men, supervised the erection of the tents. Old Willi rushed about the camp site waving his mallet in comical mode. How the boys laughed!

In the evening all the happy campers swarmed around the blazing log fire. Delicious Austrian ginger beer was quaffed with titters, gurgles and sighs of inner refreshment. The three elderly gents imbibed excellent Austrian lager beer. Twiglets, unfortunately, were lacking; they had not yet been invented. A dark and sombre feature of this historical period.

Frau Beckstein was nervous and jittery. She refused all offers of fizzy pop and the ubiquitous sausage was spurned. How she longed to bring this year’s work to a satisfactory and spiritually-sated conclusion. She knew that she had to speak but would the boys respond to her deepest longings?

With much trepidation and foreboding, the young Frau stood up and begged leave to speak. There could be only one response. Total silence descended upon the merry throng.

“Boys, we have learned so many facts this year and you have worked so hard. We have studied Austrian geography and your German grammar is beginning to impress me. All of you have grasped Newton’s theory of gravity and Boyle’s theory about gases. Well done! But meine liebchen what does this mean?

“All these facts are really nasty, grubby things which hide the true essence of the world. You cannot see the divine in man and nature if you focus only on these boring, brutal facts! There is a higher world and a better world that will never be discovered by the scientists and the vulgar men of commerce.”

“If only you could journey into your hearts and touch the eternity of your deepest longings. There you will discover rumours of glory. There is a spark of God in each of you and as the poet Goethe remarked: “everything is feeling.”

“Boys, I want you to follow your hearts and put your faith in this inner spark of divinity. Follow your dreams! Do what your heart says is right! If you long to write great novels, write great novels. If you long to compose beautiful music, compose beautiful music. If you long to be a great architect, follow your heart. The artist participates in the divine life and this is the highest and best life. Again I beg you – follow your hearts and become great men of destiny.”

By now Frau Bechstein was weeping and sobbing with raw, pure emotion. The boys were pensive and hushed. This sweet serenade had moved and touched them in the deepest recesses of their manhood. Young Adolf was not the only one who wept that day; even Wolfgang and Willi could not hide their tears. Adolf made a secret inner vow. Some day he would follow his heart and the world would change forever.

Mark Roques
Categories: RealityBites

Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.


Hugh Grear · July 10, 2023 at 12:07 pm

The writing is inventive and gripping, clearly Frau Beckstein is deeply romantic. I assume Young Adolf will grow up and change the world forever, but I don’t really get it. I think I may be thick and lacking in knowledge, subtlety and panache, but I really don’t get it. Enlighten me, O great one…

    Hugh Grear · July 17, 2023 at 7:28 pm

    Thanks Bruce. I get it now! Mark, you are amazing!

Bruce Gulland · July 10, 2023 at 2:26 pm

If I may jump in Hugh, I think Mark is suggesting that a stirring call to romanticism, which sounds so lovely, actually in the heart of one young boy let to Nazism. So romanticism isn’t enough. We might need the gospel.
I particularly enjoyed the Twiglets bit 🙂

Mike Burkett · July 10, 2023 at 4:08 pm

Great article Rocky…loving your eloquence and ninja skills to dismantle hollow worldviews.

Evan · July 10, 2023 at 7:25 pm

Brilliant imagery and well put, Mark. It’s quite a rabbit hole!

Dr Philip Thomas · July 20, 2023 at 9:41 pm

Well done. A very rich and vivid piece of creative writing, Mark. Thank you for sharing it.

No doubt Frau Beckstein surely had good intentions for her pupils. But I myself also think – somewhat as the German Romantics did – that our feelings and emotions are indeed linked to the spark of divinity within each of us. After all, it is perfectly normal to reflect on works of visual art, music or literature and experience a whole array of almost other-worldly emotions. In fact, I can have similar feelings when I think about quantum mechanics or the inner workings of a unicellular organism!

It seems to me, the Creator has been revealed in any number of different ways throughout all of creation. But as your story suggests, Mark, it is not enough to “feel” the inner beauty of all that is human and divine. Rather, we must aspire to LIVE this life by way of the standards God has provided to us through His Word, not least by way of the living example of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Sadly, however, the Gospel message was lost on the individualistic thinkers of the Romantic era and indeed many others before them and many others after them – and this has been to the detriment of all humanity.

We can only now wonder, retrospectively, what would have been had Adolf Hitler received the love of Christ into his young and troubled heart; no doubt, and at the very least, much of the immense agony and bloodshed of the 1930s and 1940s would have been avoided.

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