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! 

 

 

Q is for Quiet

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

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Working in a hospital is sometimes enough to make you superstitious (though, like Michael Scott, I try to be only a little stitious). Full moons really do seem to bring out more of the crazy stuff. If someone mentions that we haven’t had a gunshot wound all day, ER staff members would bet that one will arrive within the hour. And whatever you do, don’t say anything to the effect of, “It sure is quiet around here.” In my book, I tell the story of how I got on a nurse’s bad side by jinxing her shift with the Q word. Continue reading “Q is for Quiet”

P is for Prayer

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

“Why do we look down?” I asked my grandmother one Sunday after prayer time in church. “Isn’t God up in heaven? How come we don’t pray looking up?” My childhood question was a sincere one, but I don’t worry so much now about the right posture for praying. As a hospital chaplain, I have seen and participated in countless forms of prayer. I no longer think that God would be more likely to hear us if we looked in the right direction. Anytime we pray — and I believe we all do, whether or not we call it prayer — we are somehow looking for, reaching out for God.  Continue reading “P is for Prayer”

#BlessedAreTheCrazy: No Longer Protecting Secrets

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This is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and I’m proud to be participating in this synchroblog to celebrate the launch of Sarah Lund’s new book, Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and ChurchI come from a family in which mental illness — especially depression and anxiety disorders — and addiction have had a huge impact. As a little girl, I remember the great lengths my family went to in order to protect the secret that my mother had been hospitalized for depression. I felt the shame of it, even before I understood what it meant. I was afraid other kids at school would laugh at us if they knew, and any time a group on the playground was whispering, I was sure it was about me and my family.  Continue reading “#BlessedAreTheCrazy: No Longer Protecting Secrets”

Falling

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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”