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The Night Will Soon Be Ending

12 Dec

Over the past few years, Advent has crept its way past Lent, then Easter, as my favorite season of the church year. I still love the penitence and sorrow of Lent and the joy and celebration of Easter. But Advent captures my heart in a way that other seasons simply don’t. Advent is about patience and waiting and preparation, and while Lent touches on those, it’s the theme of hope around which Advent is situated that speaks to me so deeply.

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is often a joyful one, with family gatherings and holiday parties and wrapping up carefully selected gifts for loved ones. But for some, it’s the opposite of joyful. For the ones who have no family or approach such gatherings with a sense of dread. For those who sit at home under the weight of depression and anxiety, unable to eat, drink, and be merry with friends. For those who have lost the recipients of past gift-giving efforts or who have to choose between putting food on the table and purchasing presents. For those who flock to brightly decorated malls or file into elementary schools and instantly become victims of senseless violence.

Advent provides a safe space for these people, and plenty of others, who simply do not resonate with the oft-manufactured “joy of the holiday season.” The season of Advent reminds us that a dark and hurting world was lit by a Savior. Not a light-wrapped tree or a shiny new gadget, but the one who still loves us and redeems us today and every day. And the hope of Advent isn’t reserved for the four weeks leading up to December 25th. It is for every “dark night of the soul,” when we wait to feel the peace and joy that only our God can deliver.

This week, in chapel, I was particularly struck by a hymn we sang and its accompanying story. Below is the story of Jochen Klepper, and then the text of his hymn. My prayer is that it might become a narrative of hope for those who struggle during this season, and that we all might be reminded of what we truly wait for at this time of year.

This text was written in German by Jochen Klepper, and translated into English by Herman G. Stuempfle. Jochen Klepper, German poet, hymnwriter and journalist was born March 22, 1903 and died December 11, 1942. The son of a Lutheran pastor with Moravian roots, Klepper began a course of theological study at the University of Breslau which he discontinued to work as a radio journalist. By the late 1930s, Klepper had difficulty sustaining work as a journalist because of his marriage to Joanna Stein, a Jewish widow with two daughters. In 1942, after attempts to acquire visas and leave Germany failed, and with deportation of the family to a Nazi death camp looking certain, Klepper, his wife, and one of their daughters ended their lives. Klepper wrote in his diary that night, “Tonight we die together. Over us stands in the last moments the image of the blessed Christ who surrounds us. With this view we end our lives.”

The Night Will Soon Be Ending

(sung to the tune Haf Trones Lampa Färdig, also used for Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers)

The night will soon be ending; the dawn cannot be far.
Let songs of praise ascending now greet the Morning Star!
All you whom darkness frightens with guilt or grief or pain,
God’s radiant Star now brightens and bids you sing again.

The One whom angels tended comes near, a child, to serve;
thus God, the judge offended, bears all our sins deserve.
The guilty need not cower, for God has reconciled
through his redemptive power all those who trust this child.

The earth in sure rotation will soon bring morning bright,
so run where God’s salvation glows in a stable’s light.
As old as sin’s perversion is mercy’s vast design:
God brings a new creation — this child its seal and sign.

Yet nights will bring their sadness and rob our hearts of peace,
and sin in all its madness around us may increase.
But now one Star is beaming whose rays have pierced the night:
God comes for our redeeming from sin’s oppressive might.

God dwells with us in darkness and makes the night as day;
yet we resist the brightness and turn from God away.
But grace does not forsake us, however far we run.
God claim us still as children through Mary’s infant son.

Amen.

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Ten years gone

11 Sep

I watch the news as regularly as I can. In college, friends and roommates may have thought it was weird or boring, but it was a part of my life growing up. When my parents got home from work the television in the kitchen would be switched over to the news (first the local, then the national) as my mother prepared dinner and my father sorted through the day’s mail.

On anniversaries of major events, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Challenger disaster, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., or John Lennon, the national news would be flooded with original video footage and interviews with those who were there or vividly remembered the events of the day. People would say, “I remember exactly what I was doing when it happened,” but I never believed them. I mean, there had been so many days, so many hours between then and now. Surely events of the day had gotten fuzzy in that time, and they were just embellishing for the sake of a worthwhile news story.

Ten years ago today, I was sitting in Mr. Michocki’s ninth grade Pre-IB Biology class. It was a large lab room, filled with expansive black tables that allowed us to do a variety of experiments, or spread out our oversized bookbags and brick-like textbooks. We thought that morning was just a regular Tuesday, a beautifully sunny day in September, grasping onto the last legs of summer while ushering in the first signs of fall.

We were learning about pollution. About the ways that contaminants are distributed, and the damage they do to the environment. Another science teacher, the one who occupied the room across the hall, ran into our room and, in hushed tones, urged Mr. Michocki to turn on the television to a news station, any news station. A room full of 14-year olds who had just begun high school a few weeks earlier took this as an opportunity to enter into idle chatter, discussing the cutest upperclassmen or and potential homecoming dates.

At one point, my classmates and I turned to face the television as we heard the voices of newscasters come through the speakers. We saw a building, what could have been any building, with smoke billowing out of it. One of us, maybe it was even me (as it turns out, some details do fade away), cracked a pathetic joke about how that couldn’t be good for the environment. There was a general consensus that somewhere, what had once been an important building was being imploded to make room for something new. Then we heard what the newscasters were saying.

That the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane.

They weren’t concerned with specifics at this point, so several of my classmates began panicking. Their parents worked in the World Trade Center in Baltimore, and were they okay? There was a stunned silence as more details came to light. No, it wasn’t in Baltimore, it was in New York City. The audible sigh of relief that resonated through the room was soon replaced with gasps as we realized that another plane had hit, but the South Tower this time. This wasn’t an accident, a miscalculation of the plane’s navigation system.

We could not have imagined the enormity of what happened that day, but we knew it was world-changing. An hour or so after that first glimpse of live footage, the school-wide announcements began. Name after name after name was read, alerting us as to whose parents were waiting nervously in the lobby, pacing back and forth until they could hold their children just a little bit tighter than they had that morning. I think the county ended up closing schools early that day, but my mother had already come to take me home. We didn’t have any family or friends in New York or western Pennsylvania, and we didn’t know anyone who worked in the Pentagon. But we wanted to be together.

By the time I got home, every news outlet was reporting that this was a terrorist attack, and everyone was pointing fingers at al-Qaeda. In the following weeks, some classmates would report that students of Middle Eastern origin in our school ran through the halls that Tuesday, shouting about victory and the fall of America. I still have my doubts.

My last memory from that day is sitting on the couch in my basement and watched Ashleigh Banfield begin to interview a young mother as 7 World Trade Center unexpectedly disappeared from the skyline. I think I just went to bed after that, unable to process any more of what was going on.

So now I understand all of those people who can speak so precisely about what they were cooking or reading when they found out that our 35th President had been shot and killed. I don’t doubt their stories. Because on a day like December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2011, every single moment is crystallized as you realize that you are living through history. When you can’t understand why something so terrible is happening, you cling to what you know, to what you can understand.

Last night, my friends Kelly and Luke invited friends and family to come celebrate the baptism of their youngest daughter. It was a beautiful service of welcoming a sweet little girl into the life of the church, centered around lectionary texts that lift up forgiveness. In proclaiming the Word, the pastor challenged us, that when we remember the events of September 11, 2001, we also remember the events of September 10, 2011 and the hope that this baptism represented. Then, during the prayers of the people, he prayed that God would help us “to forgive our enemies, regardless of their repentance.”

Regardless of their repentance.

I don’t know if I can say it any better. In the midst of a lifetime of not being able to fully understand grace, we can cling to what we do know: that God’s grace is offered freely and without condition. We can continue to grieve the loss of life and security the nation experienced that day, but we can also begin to move forward in hope. A hope that begins with forgiveness, and looks not toward forgetfulness, but toward reconciliation.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

24 May

I’m a terribly negligent blogger. In the past year, I’ve composed approximately 24.5 new blog posts in my head, and how many have I actually sat down to write and publish? Five. Shameful, I know.

So, I don’t pretend that this blog will be any different, that I will suddenly begin to wax philosophical on a regular basis. Why, then a new blog?

My former persona was the Sassy Seminarian. And, well, I am no longer a seminarian, so that blog is now obsolete. So it was time for something new, and moving up to a more professional blogging platform seemed only natural, since I am moving on to a more professional…life platform.

I’m the new Associate Director of Admissions at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the place that has shaped me and formed my continued theological education over the past two years. You can read a little bit about my journey to this call in these posts from the aforementioned hub of sass.

So, what will you find in this blog? Maybe it’s easier to list what you won’t find: rants about co-workers, digs at the institution, or “generalized pissing and moaning” (a phrase I have come to love, thanks to a certain Old Testament professor from Texas) about my job. This isn’t a place for gossip, bad-mouthing, or whining. There will be plenty of anecdotes and observations from the life of a mid-twenties girl living in the ultimate tourist town, interaction with the surrounding world, and (probably overwhelmingly) reflections on what it means to follow God’s call in one’s life today.

But don’t worry, it’ll still be plenty sassy.