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! 

 

 

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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”

Loosing Hope

This can be a tough time of year for hospital work. As a chaplain, I often see the most tragic situations, and they take on an even sadder air around the holidays. Nobody wants to remember Christmas as “the day Dad died” or “the anniversary of Gramma’s stroke.” But it happens. It’s easy to get pulled under by the seemingly hopeless situations. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw a dear friend and fellow chaplain post her status update on Facebook: “Christmas Eve in a Level One Trauma Center may cause me to loose all hope.” Continue reading “Loosing Hope”

Advent Conspiracy Week 3: Give More

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It sounds like a trick. Last week’s theme in Advent Conspiracy was Spend Less. Now we’re supposed to Give More? Wouldn’t that involve spending more?? True, the way we usually do it, with fancy things wrapped up in pretty boxes, it would mean shelling out more money, spending more time in the store or online. But the idea here is not to give more stuff; it’s to give more of ourselves. Where is your passion? What do you care most about? Continue reading “Advent Conspiracy Week 3: Give More”

Advent Conspiracy Week 2: Spend Less

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Oh, I’ve been dreading this one. Ever since I saw the posters for Advent Conspiracy going up at church a few weeks ago, and I saw that the second week’s theme was about money, I knew that would be the hardest one for me. I’ve never been good with money. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t go on crazy shopping sprees for Jimmy Choo shoes or plasma screen TVs bigger than me or beluga caviar or anything like that. But I do find myself often paraphrasing Captain Jack Sparrow and wondering, “Why is the money always gone?” Continue reading “Advent Conspiracy Week 2: Spend Less”

Advent Conspiracy Week 1: Worship Fully

icn-worship-fully Last year was my first Advent on this blog, and I wrote about the four weekly themes of Advent (well, three of them anyway – I got too busy one week). This year, since I already wrote about hope very recently in my ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy series, I decided to do something different. Our church is one of many this year participating in Advent Conspiracy, a countercultural movement to focus on the real meaning of this season and not get so caught up in all the “stuff” that goes along with the holidays. I don’t mean writing out Christmas instead of Xmas (which doesn’t bother me since the Greek letter X was an early abbreviation for Christ), or wishing people Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays (which also doesn’t bother me since people of other faiths have holidays at this time of year and I want them to be just as happy). It’s about much more than what we write or what we say.  Continue reading “Advent Conspiracy Week 1: Worship Fully”

Ambivalence and Joy: Advent 3

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I have such mixed feelings about the holiday season that, I’ll admit, when one particular Christmas song comes on the radio, I change the words a little and sing, “It’s the most ambivalent time of the year!”  I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong.  I’m usually the first in my neighborhood to put up Christmas lights, and I look forward all year to my annual holiday party.  But the past few years especially, I’ve been feeling kind of left out of Christmas.  I hear all the songs on the radio, and watch all the movies, and see all the commercials, and walk past the greeting card aisle, and I get the impression that Christmas isn’t for people like me.  It’s for people surrounded by big families, not for those of us who live alone with a dog and have family living hundreds of miles away.  It’s for people whose gloriously romantic (and ridiculously wealthy) significant others buy them diamond jewelry and new cars with huge red bows on them, not for those of us without a significant other and living paycheck to paycheck.  Most of all, it’s for people who are happy, and there are plenty of days that’s just not me. Continue reading “Ambivalence and Joy: Advent 3”

Fear and Peace: Advent 2

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Israel made me nervous.  In all my international travels, I had never been anywhere that I felt so unsafe.  Before entering any of the shops in downtown Jerusalem, we had to have our bags searched for weapons, and it seemed every shopkeeper had a story to tell about a bombing that his or her business had managed to survive.  One of my friends said that she felt protected because everywhere we went, there were teenage Israeli soldiers with guns.  Their presence made me feel just the opposite.  And yet every day, we heard “Peace.”  Shalom, the Hebrew word for “peace,” is the common greeting there, and it was in our ears and on our lips at each stop along our journey.  Shalom.  Peace. Continue reading “Fear and Peace: Advent 2”