by Ken Rolheiser

Language, culture and forever faith

Recently I was awake in the wee hours, and in an attempt to return to peaceful rest I started to recall Christmas carols. Suddenly their magic inspired me with deeper realizations.

I had a faith-filled childhood. I was born into a German Catholic culture and actually spoke German as my first language. The language was part of a rich culture that had survived 148 years in Russia before my grandparents moved their family to Canada in 1912.

As a child you don’t argue with your cultural and religious roots. You accept truth and meaning as a soul-inspiring blessing. You wear the secure, warm and sheltering blanket of Faith.

Language has an inseparable connection to our experience of meaning as it applies to our encounter with reality and in turn, soul. Suddenly I was gathering meaning from those lyrics I heard and sang as a child.

The words of “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) enter the heart at the level of meaning and soul. The shepherds are back in the rich inner landscape of childhood’s imagination. The Angels whisper heavenly peace just as himmlischer Ruh of “Silent Night” expressed it so long ago in that small village church with the broken organ.

The shepherds awake from the slumber of night in another hymn. The children, Ihr Kinderlein kommet, are invited to Bethlehem in yet another hymn from the musical landscape of my childhood.

My childhood German hymns leave no room for doubt or debate. The spiritual realities of first language and culture reassure the soul just as the loving embrace of parents enflesh the meaning of Divine love come to earth.

Dashing through the snow in a sleigh sharing Christmas wishes gave flesh to the love shared in family and community. That was the physical embrace of metaphysical realities.

The dreamland of childhood is embodied in the physical memory of family and neighbours and cultural celebrations. This was as real as Grandfather and Grandmother Rolheiser and their prayerful journey to the new land of Canada. The domestic church they built in their home is as real as the country church they built with their neighbours.

The old stone church still stands, as does the spiritual house built on the rock foundation that wind and rain and storm cannot destroy. (Matthew 7:24-27)

My early childhood reminiscences gradually moved to popular English carols that I have shared not only with family and faith community, but with friends and colleagues at work and with strangers in the mall.

The same magic works with everyone. The common elements of culture and faith are alive and rekindled in many. Such is the magic of Christmas and the blessings of Faith. Faith is forever! Along with our values it lingers near the surface of the heart, waiting to be awakened by the familiar strains of soul-animating music.

St Augustine said, “He who sings, prays twice.” The impact of music on the soul is as obvious and powerful as a cathedral pipe organ. The magic of “Silent Night” was born in that small country church, in the simple hearts of the peasants in Oberndorf, Austria.

The first magic of God’s love incarnated was echoed by Angel choirs in that heavenly night among the shepherds in Bethlehem of Judea.

(549 words)