Tag Archive | Covid-19

“Now Thank We All Our God”

I’m almost done writing the first draft of my next book. My first two books in this series about the stories behind hymns were focused on hymns on a particular theme. My first book was a small book about the stories of 31 hymns that were based on the Psalms. My second book had 51 stories about hymns based on the theme of peace and comfort.

My current book is about seasonal hymns – the stories behind hymns written to celebrate the seasons of the church year from Advent and Christmas, through Easter and Pentecost, and ending with Christ the King Sunday. I’m also including hymns written to celebrate national holidays, like Thanksgiving. Of the 120 hymn stories in this book, I just finished drafting the story of the 114th hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”

The pandemic has provided me an atmosphere that’s very conducive to writing. If I’m supposed to stay at home and avoid seeing people I don’t live with, sitting at my computer to research the history of hymns is the perfect thing to do. I started writing this book in March. I’ll admit, it was a little hard to focus on Advent hymns during Lent, and Lenten hymns during the beautiful sunny days of summer. I’m finally caught up, and am now in sync. I’m writing about Thanksgiving hymns just in time for Thanksgiving.

Which leads me into why I’m writing this blog post today. Not only is “Now Thank We All Our God” a hymn of thankfulness that is appropriate for this time of year, the hymn was written in 1636, during the peak of the plague that spread throughout Europe – a time we can somewhat identify with this year, the year of our own pandemic. Because the parallels between 1636 and 2020 are so notable, I decided to share the story on my blog.


“NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD”

I’m writing this on Sunday, November 15, 2020, less than two weeks before Thanksgiving. This is the year of the Corona Virus, COVID-19. Public Health officials are urging us to stay home for Thanksgiving – to NOT gather with friends and family. The risk of spreading the virus is too great. It’s easy to feel disappointed or depressed by the havoc the virus has wreaked on our country and the whole world this year. This Thanksgiving is not a time that many of us are inclined to feel very thankful.

Almost 400 years ago, the world was in a similar predicament. The Thirty Years War was raging and the plague was spreading throughout Europe. In 1636 Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in the walled city of Eilenburg, Germany, wrote the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” Throughout the Thirty Years War, Eilenburg, as a walled city, was flooded with refugees seeking safety. That resulted in overcrowding, widespread hunger, and disease. Also, the city was sacked three times during the war, once by the Austrian Army and twice by the Swedish Army.

By the mid 1630s, Rinkart was the only pastor still alive in the city, and he was left with the task of officiating at the funerals of everyone who died – sometimes as many as 50 funerals in a day. One was for his wife.

Despite this horrible situation, Rinkart regularly invited refugees into his home for meals, even though he barely had enough food for his own family. He wrote “Now Thank We All Our God” as a prayer to be sung before a meal. The first verse expresses gratitude to God for his “countless gifts of love.” The second verse is a petition for God’s continued care. The last verse praises God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – “the one eternal God.”

During his ministry, Rinkart wrote 65 other hymns, but this is the one that is still in wide use. Even today it is one of the most frequently sung hymns in German churches.

In the 1850s, Catherine Winkworth, an English hymn writer and educator traveled in Germany and became very interested in German hymns. She selected about 400 German hymns, translated them into English, and published four hymn books of German hymns in English. She is the person who brought “Now Thank We All Our God” to the English-speaking world.

This year may be the perfect year to sing or read “Now Thank We All Our God” before we eat our Thanksgiving dinner, just as the author intended it to be sung – as a prayer before a meal.

Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms, has blest us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us,

and keep us all in grace, and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all harm in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
the Son, and Spirit blest, who reign in highest heaven,
and one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Is Mim Going to Jail?

fullsizeoutput_200fAs usual, I was sitting at my computer, working on my next book. Floey walked over to me, sat down right beside me, and looked up. She waited for me to finish the sentence I was typing. “What’s up, Floey?” I asked.

“I’m worried, Mom.”

“Are you worried about the Corona Virus, Floey? I don’t think dogs can get it, and Mim and I are being really careful to stay away from people so we don’t get it.”

“No. That’s not it, Mom. Well, maybe I’m a little worried about that. But so many good things are happening because of the virus. Mim’s cooking almost non-stop in the kitchen. We had a chicken dinner. Then she cooked up chicken soup from the carcass. We had a roast beef dinner, and then pulled beef sandwiches. A pork roast dinner, followed by pulled pork sandwiches. Chili. Barbecue. I can hardly keep up with doing the pre-wash of all the pots and pans she’s using! And then we go for long walks every day, all three of us together. I couldn’t be happier, except I’m worried about something else.” A tear rolled out of her eye.

I wiped the tear from her cheek and put my hand under her chin. “What’s worrying you, Floey?”

“Remember, a few weeks ago you were doing your annual catch up of accounting for the year to get your business files ready to take to the accountant to do your taxes?”

“Yeah. I remember. I hate that time of the year. But that’s all done now. We dropped off the files with the accountant a couple weeks ago. Why are you worried about that?”

“I overheard you say something to Mim while you were working on the accounting. I think you said, ‘I’m afraid we may have to pay taxes this year instead of getting a refund.’ And Mim said, ‘Oh, no! I hate paying taxes to the government! I really disapprove of how they are spending the money! I don’t want to pay for wars I don’t agree with! Maybe we just shouldn’t pay the taxes!’ And then you said something about going to jail. Is Mim gonna go to jail??? That’s what I’m worried about!” Another tear fell from her eye.

“Oh, Floey.” I got up from my desk chair and sat on the floor beside her. I gave her a big hug. “No, Floey. Mim is not going to jail. We’ll pay our taxes whether we agree with how the government spends the money, or not. Mim was just frustrated. Did you overhear the rest of that conversation between Mim and me, Floey?”

“No, Mom. I was so scared when I heard the word JAIL that I went into the closet to hide.”

“Well, let me tell you the story I told Mim. Do you remember a couple years ago I used to go to the Dane County Jail a couple times a month to play the piano for the women’s worship service?”

“Yeah. I remember. You used to tell us about the conversations that happened at each service.  I remember you said that God was always there. Right?”

“Yeah. I did say that. On average, we had about ten women in each service. For security reasons, the jail limited the number of women who could be in the chapel at once, because no guards were present inside the chapel. The guards escorted the inmates from their cells to the chapel, and then they locked the chapel door and left us all together inside. 

52b21b2c62fef-image“Before the women arrived, Chaplain Julia and I arranged the chairs into a circle. The inmates, the chaplain, and I all sat together in the circle (except for when I left the circle to go to the piano). The chaplain started the service by introducing the theme for that particular service, and then we sang a hymn. Much to my surprise, the women always sang enthusiastically. Then we usually went around the circle, each person reading a verse or two of the selected scripture.  After the reading, we went around the circle a second time, each person saying what that scripture meant to them, or whatever else was on their minds, such as an upcoming court appearance, concern for their children, what might come next after their jail time, and so on. That time was followed by a time of silent prayer when the women could write down their specific prayer requests to give to the chaplain. During this time I played soft background music on the piano, whatever hymns came to mind, based on the conversations we’d just had. Then we went around the circle again, each of us praying specifically for the person who was sitting on our right. The service ended with us singing another hymn, and a final blessing.”

Floey smiled at me. I still had my arm around her as we sat together on the floor. “Those were good times of sharing, weren’t they, Mom.”

“Yes, they were. I played for the women’s worship service for about five years. During that time I got to know some of the women fairly well. Although county jail is intended for short-term incarceration, less than a year (prison is for longer terms), some women stay in jail for longer than a year as their cases wind their way through the legal system. I remember one woman in particular, Gloria (not her real name). She was in jail for about a year, and then she went on to serve her sentence of several years in prison. Her crime was not paying her taxes.”

“Really, Mom? Several years in prison for not paying her taxes?”

“Yup. She was a nice, fairly quiet woman, probably in her 30s. Both she and her husband were in jail, although they couldn’t see each other. And they had a special needs child, that we often prayed for in our worship service. Gloria didn’t want her little girl to be placed in the state foster care system. She was afraid that her daughter’s special needs would not be adequately met if she was bounced from foster home to foster home throughout the duration of Gloria’s incarceration. Fortunately, a long-term friend of Gloria’s, who lived out of state, finally was approved to care for her.”

“Wow, that must have been a real relief for Gloria.” Floey was listening intently to every word I was saying.

“Yes. The fact that a friend would be taking good care of her daughter really put her mind at ease. Shortly after that happened, the time came for her to leave jail and move on to serve her time in federal prison. I remember well what she said at her last women’s worship service. She had quite a testimony.”

“What did she say, Mom?”

“She said…

I’ve changed a lot over this past year in jail with all of you. When I first came here, I thought I was better than every one of you. My “crime” wasn’t like yours. I didn’t steal anything. I didn’t hurt anybody. I didn’t do drugs. My “crime” was white collar, and it was a statement of conscience. I was simply standing up for my beliefs. I didn’t pay taxes because I didn’t think I should pay taxes to fund things I didn’t believe in, like an unwarranted war. I was a good, church-going, responsible member of my community. 

But over this year, getting to know all of you, and others who are no longer in jail, I’ve learned that we’re all alike. Our specific circumstances in life may be different, but we’re all doing the best we can with what life has given us.

I’m glad for this year in jail I’ve had with all of you. Thank you for helping me learn that we’re all in this life together.

Floey put her paw on my hand. “That’s quite a testimony, Mom. I wonder how Gloria is doing in prison now. And how her daughter is doing.”

“I don’t think we’ll ever know, Floey. Obviously, I’ve lost touch with her. But she sure has given me a lot to think about. That’s why I told Mim this story a couple weeks ago when she said she didn’t want to pay taxes because she doesn’t approve of how the government is spending her tax money. Gloria felt the same way, and is spending years behind bars, isolated from her family and friends, because of acting on her beliefs.”

“Speaking of isolation, Mom, I guess we need to respect what the government is telling us to do now, even if we don’t completely agree with it.”

“I think you’re right, Floey. I’d rather spend some time alone, thinking about how I should be living my life, than going to jail to think about it there, like Gloria did.”

“You know, Mom, it’s good that God can help us gain insights wherever we are. Let’s go for a walk. I’m hearing lots of birds chirping this morning. Let’s go listen to them down by the marsh. Maybe that’s where God has something to tell us today.”

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