Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary Blog

Bleak Mid-Winter Lament

January 09, 2014

Deutsche Fotothek, Baume in winterlicher Gebirgslandschaft 1847 (Wikimedia Commons)

Deutsche Fotothek, Baume in winterlicher Gebirgslandschaft 1847 (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the recent long days of snow and extreme cold in northern Indiana, Chanticleer’s “In the bleak mid-winter” held me in its grip. Not sure why. I turned to it over and over again for solace as I read through several dark chapters of our church’s history—files that have been off limits because they tell a story we would rather not have to remember.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long, long ago.

There is much about our history, whether personal, familial, congregational, institutional or denominational, that any one of us wishes would be different. Reading through dark chapters of things we regret about our story is anguishing work, but I did it as a labor of hope. I long for us as a people to learn to be more honestly transparent with each other, to name our fears, confess our failures, and awaken to the gift of grace freely given.

“The truth will set you free…but not before it’s done with you.” That’s what Nadia Bolz-Weber says in Pastrix: The cranky, beautiful faith of a sinner & saint. “Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit.” And she continues, “The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.”

The stories I was reading tell of seminary and church leaders’ painful, costly effort to work with integrity amid enormous pressures. There is much that witnesses to their faithful commitment and firm resolve. And there is much to lament with deep sorrow for how we as a people failed each other. Why were we blind to the true nature of the evil being perpetrated and deaf to those who knew the Body was being seriously harmed? Why? Why? Why?

The more I’ve read about others from years gone by, the more I am drawn to reflect on our own times. How open to scrutiny am I? What are our blind spots as a learning community? As a church? In what ways will our children and grandchildren look back and wonder why we couldn’t see what will seem so obvious to them in hindsight? The conflicts that threaten to tear us apart now—whether about sexuality, economic disparity, environmental justice, race, biblical interpretation, will no doubt look starkly different when held up in the light of painfully learned historical perspective.

Tears of lament give way amid Chanticleer’s exquisite harmonies to renewed confidence that the truth when spoken may crush us, but will also put us back together.

In the hours before dawn, the prayer of the psalmist became my prayer for all of us: “Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities. Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us. Do not cast us away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and sustain in us a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:8-12, adapted).


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Thank you so much Sara for this, for returning us to this beautiful poem ---so relevant for this time. And I just read Bolz-Weber's "Pastrix" over the holidays. Lots of hope in her words. Immense blessings to you as you continue to go where others fear to tred.
Barbra Graber 2:04PM 01/22/14
We have a probem of not listening to what the Bible says and follow what the culture says is OK.
Vernice Bixler 8:48PM 01/16/14
Thanks for the encouraging words. The image of the baby for whom "a stable place sufficed" glows with warmth (amid the bleakness). There is solace to be found in unsuspected places. Thanks all for sharing the warmth.
Sara 4:13PM 01/16/14
Thanks, Sara. The quote about the truth will make you free but not until it's done with you is so helpful. The Psalm and the song are consoling, too.
Dawn Nelson 11:26AM 01/16/14
Thank you, Sara, for expressing your poignant lament. As you know, lament helps us move forward with authenticity.
Rachel Nafziger Hartzler 11:06AM 01/16/14
Lovely. Thank you, Sara.
Greg 9:45AM 01/10/14
A beautiful reflection. Thank you.
Jerry Kennell 9:09AM 01/10/14
The lines from Chanticleer’s “In the bleak mid-winter” are so taut and express the bleakness you write of so well. Whenever we sing those lines I always think, this is not a cheerful song but it connects us with those who've gone before to know they too felt cold and disheartened by the literal winter or the spiritual winter. What you said. :-)
Melodie Davis 9:04AM 01/10/14
Thank you, Sara, for this poignant reflection and for your willingness to walk with us into the dark. May God be merciful and may healing grace abound.
Carolyn Holderread Heggen 10:15PM 01/09/14

This blog is hosted by Sara Wenger Shenk. While Sara is president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, she writes as a practical theologian trying to make sense of everyday life—in light of God's reconciling mission in the world.

The views Sara shares here are not the voice of AMBS. As a woman, mother, author, educator, lover of God, Sara is a restless scout—searching out ways that lead toward God’s shalom. She doesn’t assert answers so much as pose questions, test assumptions, resist labels, play with possibilities, experiment with integration, practice wholeness. She hopes this blog will provide a spacious forum for thoughtful discernment around sometimes contentious issues.