Silent Night – a pastoral idyll? (#8)

In the last blog we “targeted” the moralists.

Today, with the sixth and last vers of Silent Night, we strike a gentler note again: Silent Night – A pastoral idyll?

Literal translation from German:

Silent Night! Holy Night!

Shepherds first made known

Through the angel Hallelujah

Does it sound loud at far and near:

Jesus the Savior is here!

Jesus the Savior is here!

An idyllic shepherd’s poem?! No! Just imagine: Joseph Mohr, at Christmas 1816, alone in the cold rectory in Mariapfarr! At this time it is usually particularly cold in the Lungau. A time for romantic pastoral idyll? Impossible! So what? His situation was probably similar to that of the shepherds near Bethlehem 2000 years ago: completely on their own, quiet all around! Lonely? I don‘t think so! Because no one firmly anchored in life is alone, like the shepherds – the angels, they proclaim with a loud „Hallelujah“: „Jesus the Savior is here!“. How to understand where this happiness comes from – out of pure joy in life!

If you feel bad, your situation seems hopeless, if you are desperate, if you stand in front of the ruins of your past, then you may see only fog – everything gray on gray. But when it gets quiet and you come to rest, then you too will hear angels singing, the fog will clear and your ears will be open to soft sounds! Everything that you have repressed all your life, that torments you today, will be forgotten tomorrow, then you too will sing profusely „Hallelujah“. Joseph Mohr saw the shepherds with their flocks of sheep – far away from the mighty temple in Jerusalem, far from ruling structures – but in the middle of life!

Simplicity and modesty, in the middle of life, these are power factors! They tear down walls and open doors for the meeting of ME and YOU! THERE life happens! THAT is what changes the world! Shepherds, on the fringes of established society, cheer on the way to a newborn child in the stable – and meet a family who had not found a home, homeless people, refugees, asylum seekers – a divine encounter that simple shepherds experience! Would such an encounter also be possible in Salzburg Cathedral?

The Catholic Church is Joseph Mohr’s spiritual home, as a priest its representative. But in his Christmas poem Silent Night he makes no reference to her. How’s that? Doesn’t it matter to him? Wouldn’t he have to stand up for them again and again, defend them or revolt against all kinds of grievances? Joseph Mohr does not use the church for his Christmas poem, is not dependent on it, but the CORE of the Christian message that makes up the song is in the church, sometimes buried deep under structures of power. But it has always remained “capable of germination” and again and again pushes unrestrainedly into the light and produces fruits like Silent Night.

Each of the 6 verses begins with Silent NightHoly Night! Isn’t there everything that makes up the song? There is nothing threatening about the night. It radiates much more intimate security. She is the womb. It protects life from the glaring daylight. Daylight is only there for the hustle and bustle. Life happens in the lap, in silence. That is sacred.

In the next blog we look at the life of Joseph Mohr. Perhaps there we will discover the core of the Christian message – in Silent Night?

Foto Max Gurtner in Argentine 1971

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