The Silences of “Silent Night”

It was two hundred years ago tonight, on Christmas Eve of 1818, that Joseph Mohr’s poem came together with Franz Xaver Gruber’s guitar music and the song “Silent Night” was born. I couldn’t let that anniversary go by without writing about it. We talked about it at church tonight, where my husband played it on guitar for our candlelight communion service. I thought about my visit to Salzburg, Austria years ago, where I saw the house where Joseph Mohr was born, an unassuming old house on an out of the way street. He was born in poverty, to an unwed young woman who worked in textiles. To become a priest, Mohr had to obtain special permission from the pope because of his “illegitimate” birth. I was moved by that story, how someone from such humble beginnings could earn a place in history because of the words he wrote, and when we were in a Christmas shop in Salzburg later the same day, I bought a fragile egg shell ornament painted with the first line of the song in its original German. It has hung on my Christmas tree every year since, in my many different homes across different states and different countries.

“Silent Night” itself has traveled far and wide, too. I read today that it has been translated into over three hundred different languages. Twenty years ago, I caught a beautiful glimpse of the universality of the song. I was finishing up my semester of study abroad in northwestern France, along with hundreds of other students from all over the world in our university’s international program. The Catholic university hosted a Christmas program to close out the term, and we were all invited to participate by sharing some ritual or tradition of Christmas in our home country. (The only one I truly remember is when the girls from Sweden walked in wearing lit candle wreaths on their heads and singing about Santa Lucia.) At the end of the program, one of our professors asked us to join in singing “Silent Night,” each in our own language. There were dozens of countries represented in the room, but we all knew the song by heart. I remember well the beauty of joining in the singing in so many languages, and especially the beauty of the silences between the lines. We were all singing different words, but the silences were where we met. That was when the tears came for me. I think because, in my experience, the silence is where God most often meets us now. In the midst of all the joy and noise and chaos of Christmas, may you also find time for silence, to wonder again at the mystery beyond words that God came to us as a tiny baby on that holy night.

Merry Christmas! 

 

 

Waiting in Advent

A lot of waiting happens in hospitals. I get to be chaplain to people who are waiting for an organ transplant, waiting for a baby to arrive, waiting for their discharge orders to go home, waiting for test results, waiting for the medication to work, waiting for death, their own or a loved one’s. Often they don’t know how long they will have to wait, and that makes the waiting harder. And no matter what they’re waiting for, they know that things will be different when the waiting is over, in ways that they may not even be able to anticipate. 

Continue reading “Waiting in Advent”

Looking for the Helpers

loveneverfailsIt’s been a week since Orlando. It’s been a year since Charleston. Anniversaries of tragedies can resurface all the feelings of shock, anger, and grief that we initially felt. The grief of public tragedies lately has been overwhelming for me. Through the combination of clinical depression, a deep sense of empathy, and a vivid imagination, I get stuck imagining myself over and over in the place of the victims when I hear the horror stories in the news. I had to stop listening for a while. But still again and again my mind returns to the Pulse nightclub a week ago, and Mother Emanuel AME church a year ago. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is to do what Fred Rogers said his mother taught him to do when he saw horrible things on the news: “Look for the helpers.”  Continue reading “Looking for the Helpers”

Thoughts from the Via Dolorosa

In 2007, I spent two weeks in Israel and Egypt as part of a group from my divinity school. It was the trip of a lifetime, one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever received. Being there, seeing the places where so many stories I’d read in the Bible actually happened, was overwhelming. Sometimes I go back and read my journal from that trip. I filled almost the entire book in those two weeks. During Holy Week, my mind takes me back to the places Jesus walked, where I got to walk, too. I shared my experience of the Garden of Gethsemane two years ago. On this Good Friday, I’ve been re-reading some of what I wrote after walking the Via Dolorosa:

via dolorosa 1 Continue reading “Thoughts from the Via Dolorosa”

The Last Thing I Expected

IMG_2476

Last week was pretty terrible. It started with a death that was particularly tragic even by the standards of someone who works as a hospital chaplain, and it would have ended with a funeral, except that I could not bring myself to go. So much of my own emotional baggage resurfaced in the wake of this situation that I knew I would be no good as a caregiver if I went. The sadness weighed so heavy on me that I could hardly get out of bed. And then, mercifully, there was the weekend, and a friend’s birthday to celebrate, and unexpected moments of grace. Yesterday morning was good, in real and simple ways that I don’t want to lose. Continue reading “The Last Thing I Expected”

More Illustration Than I Wanted

Anne-Lamott-copy-450x360

Today I began teaching a Sunday School class on Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. My pastor, Don Flowers, asked me if I would do a six-week course to go along with a summer sermon series he wanted to do on the psalms. Having liked the book (and heard the author speak about it when it was first released), I agreed without hesitation. Last night I spent some time going over the introduction and Help chapter one more time, making notes and preparing, before I walked my dog and went to bed early. I am housesitting and cat-sitting for some friends of mine, and knew that it would probably take me longer to fall asleep in a bed not my own. But I was exhausted, and drifted off quickly. A couple of hours later, Hurley, my dog, woke me up to let him out to “go potty.” This is unusual for him, especially since he had just gone before bedtime, but I obliged. Continue reading “More Illustration Than I Wanted”

Up In the Air

photo

I’m typing this at 30,000 feet. Actually, that’s a guess; I’m not sure what our cruising altitude is. But anyway, I’m on an airplane somewhere between Charlotte, NC and Boston, MA. Since I have a window seat, I’ve been passing my time peering out at winding rivers and geometrically plotted parcels of land and cars the size of ants making their way to somewhere important. The rest of the time, I’ve been reading Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. A Lutheran pastor with an irreverent wit and punch-in-the-gut honesty, Nadia makes for a great traveling companion. She is just what I need, as I look down on the world and think, inevitably, about God. Continue reading “Up In the Air”

My Birthday Wish

photo

It’s my birthday. I will celebrate with friends today, and tomorrow as well. But to be honest, I have mixed feelings about birthdays the last few years. I know it has something to do with not being where I am “supposed to be” at this point in my life, as I was reminded by a list a friend posted to Facebook the other day about differences between your 20s and 30s. At least half the things on the list assumed that everyone in their 30s has a spouse and children. And I always thought I would. But now I’m nearing the end of my 30s, and the likelihood that I will be a wife and mother before I’m 40, if ever, seems smaller all the time. Continue reading “My Birthday Wish”

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

photo

Sometimes I get to the point where I think I’ve seen it all. And then I walk into a patient’s room to see several leeches on him. I’ll admit, I got a little woozy. In theory, I knew that leeches are still used in modern medicine, but I had never actually seen it until recently. I’m guessing this is not what the patient expected when he checked into a Western hospital in the year 2014. But healing can take some unexpected, and rather uncomfortable, paths. Continue reading “Do You Want to Be Made Well?”

Falling

falling

Here we are about halfway through Lent, and it feels like I have skipped right over to Good Friday and the darkness of the tomb. This has been a really, really tough few weeks. I won’t pretend to know how much of that I caused, how much God caused, how much was coincidence, and how much was a result of the changes I chose to make for Lent this year. There were a few doozies. And by far the most difficult Lenten discipline has been doing one thing. Just one thing. The idea came to me a week or so before Ash Wednesday, when I was thinking about what I needed to give up for Lent, what would really challenge me and help me make space in my life for God to fill. At the moment I had this thought, I was on the couch, “watching” The Daily Show, while I played Candy Crush, in between texts with my best friend, checking Facebook and email every time my phone buzzed with a notification alert. Continue reading “Falling”