With this image of the moon rising over the Sacred Heart Chapel at Saint Benedict's monastery, MN on New Year's Eve we greet you one last time in 2017.
Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen (By gracious powers wonderfully sheltered) is a much-loved hymn that is widely sung in German speaking lands at the turn of the year. The theologian, church leader, and resistance member Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these inspiring and melancholic words as a poem toward the end of his 2-year imprisonment by the Nazis. He sent it to his family as an encouragement and profession of faith in December of 1944, a few months before he was executed. Bonhoeffer’s life, witness, and death give the song special resonance at the turn of the year.
In a year filled with worry and anxiety, where people have felt burdened and frightened by their personal or political situation, where people have felt the spirit of repression and idolatry creeping upon them, I cannot think of a more comforting text. A text that allows us to walk into the night cradling hope.
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning
and never fails to greet us each new day.
By gracious powers faithfully embraced
Comforted by Him so wonderful and dear
I’ll live those days with you and in his grace
And enter with you into this New Year
Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear.
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.
And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good, and so beloved, a hand.
Yet when again, in this same world, you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.
Now, when your silence deeply spreads around us,
O let us hear all your creation says -
that world of sound which soundlessly invades us,
and all your children's highest hymns of praise.
D. Bonhoeffer. Dec 1944
Back in my little village in East Germany, behind the Iron curtain, when church attendance was sparse and life for any Christians was one of constant repression, it was the courage of the philosopher-theologian Bonhoeffer and this song which gave me hope. His New Year song was always part of our end of year church service, when the little flock met in our house church on New Years eve to receive the last blessing of the old year.
At midnight we went outside to ring the big bells in the bell tower on the cemetery, where the church once sat before the Second World war destroyed it. We older siblings took turns pulling the ropes of the two heavy bells, to ring the village from the old into the new year. The villagers always waited until the bells turned silent to begin their fireworks - the official way Germans welcome the New Year.
So at the end of this year, whether you find yourself distracted or alone, worried or hopeful, we want to send you forth into the night and into the unfolding of the New Year with the lyrics and tunes of Bonhoeffer's song. Do listen.
May this song comfort you at the threshold and may God's gracious powers embrace you and enter with you into this new year.
With love, Almut with Chuck