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! 

 

 

T is for Trauma

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

There are not many places you’ll still see a pager in 2018, but the hospital where I work is one of them. I have the small black beeper clipped to my lapel or in my pocket (if I’m lucky enough to find an outfit with pockets that day) at all times when on duty. The tones of my hospital pager are as familiar to me as . . . well, as any sound you’ve heard almost daily for over ten years. I always set mine to “Pleasing Alert” and that particular series of beeps is the most pleasing of all the options, it’s true. There are some times, though, when the Pleasing Alert is not what I hear. If the beeps instead are jarring, tapping out the same rhythm that in Morse Code means “S-O-S,” then I know that this is a trauma call. Continue reading “T is for Trauma”

3. Do Back-to-School Shopping for a Child in Need

(This post is part of my year-long series 40 New Things at 40.)

I love shopping for school supplies. As a child, I looked forward to it every year. If I close my eyes, I can still clearly picture my very first school bag, bright red with silver buckles, emblazoned with the logo of the 1981 movie version of the musical Annie. (It looked kind of like this, except I don’t remember the main image being cartoon Annie and Sandy.) It helped me through the difficult first day of kindergarten, when I was homesick and missed my mom and a mean boy told me I had a fat belly. Pretty much every year, I would get a new backpack (except when my grandparents got my brother and me L.L. Bean backpacks, which lasted and lasted) and a colorful assortment of notebooks, folders (I still miss my Trapper Keeper), pencils, erasers, and other supplies. When I grew up, I looked forward to going back-to-school shopping with my own kids. Continue reading “3. Do Back-to-School Shopping for a Child in Need”

This Body of Dust

If you ever feel like you don’t have enough insecurities about your body, try looking through some bridal magazines. And then go to a store and try on dresses like the ones in those magazines. Look in the mirror and notice that your body looks so different in the dresses from those women in the magazines that you might as well be two different species. Voilà! Instant body insecurities! It sure worked for me, anyway. It doesn’t help that while cleaning out my closet the other day, I came across a picture of me from the time just over a decade ago when, for about a year, I was as close as I will ever come to my ideal weight. That picture tortured me maybe even more than the pictures of models in magazines. My eyes filled with tears looking at it as I thought, That’s the body I want to get married in. Why couldn’t I have had my wedding then?! I obsessed about how much better that body would look in my wedding dress (and my wedding night lingerie) and in all the hundreds of photos that will be taken of me on that day. But instead, I will get hundreds of photos of this body I have now, the one that is regrettably far from ideal. Continue reading “This Body of Dust”

What Can We Do?

It has been a hard year so far, for a lot of us. When I read about what’s happening in the news so close to home, it breaks my heart. And I feel powerless to change anything. I don’t know of anything I can say that hasn’t been said, nothing that I can add to all the noise. I read again last night in Psalm 46 that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. And I ask myself as one who claims to follow God, as one ordained to Christian ministry, what can I do to help those in trouble, those in need of refuge? I’m not a politician with the power to make policy decisions. I’m not a billionaire with the resources to provide for the physical needs of the multitudes of refugees fleeing danger. I’m not a celebrity with a worldwide platform for spreading the word. And if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re not either. Maybe you feel small and insignificant lately, like I do. Continue reading “What Can We Do?”

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”

Losing the “Single” (part 2)

(If you missed part 1, you can catch up here.)

After being single for the first 21 years of my adult life, will I still be me when I get married?

That’s the question I asked at the end of my previous post, and it’s an important one. I love my fiancé and I’m very, very happy when I think of being his wife. I also know that life will be very, very different for me a few months from now. And that’s a bit frightening, to be honest. I know without a doubt, no matter how happily married I am, that there will be days when I miss my single life. Continue reading “Losing the “Single” (part 2)”

Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues

extremisThis week, a short documentary premiered on Netflix. In less than half an hour, Extremis follows several different patients and their families facing end of life decisions, as well as the doctors caring for them. These people were very brave in allowing the film crew to capture such intimate and heart wrenching moments. Everybody dies. We all know that on an intellectual level, but for most of us it doesn’t become real until we are faced with the undeniable fact that we or someone we love is dying. And with the medical technology available in 21st century hospitals, death can often be postponed. The documentary raises many questions, but perhaps the most crucial one is, What counts as life for you? Continue reading “Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues”

S is for Self-Care

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

You’ve probably heard the saying that doctors make the worst patients. I’m here to testify that in many cases, caregivers are the very worst at taking care of ourselves. It took me years as a chaplain to learn how important it was to care for myself so that I could care for other people. And still sometimes I let it slide. Prioritizing self-care is hard for a lot of us. We live in a society that encourages and praises workaholism, so when we speak up for own need for days off from work, for example, we risk falling behind or being seen as less dedicated than our peers who happily take on extra hours.  Continue reading “S is for Self-Care”

“I’m Sorry for Your Loss, and Congratulations.”

FullSizeRender 10On Tuesday morning, my boyfriend’s mother died. No warning, no easily determinable cause of death. She just up and died. He and his family were in shock. So I went with him to stay at his sister’s house, while the whole family tried to absorb this news and begin adjusting to their new normal. Time seemed to slow down. The grief in the house was palpable. On Wednesday morning, I sat with Will and his family around the kitchen table as his sister Ginny read us the obituary she was writing. And that evening, Will, his sisters, and their father spoke with the funeral director to plan their mother’s service. A few minutes later, Will invited me to take a walk with him down to the dock on Lake Murray, where he asked me to marry him.  Continue reading ““I’m Sorry for Your Loss, and Congratulations.””