Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Morning Thanks--Thanksgiving

It may be difficult to imagine a war as destructive as the Thirty Years War, largely fought in Germany in the early 17th century. Starvation, disease, and out-of-control armies literally destroyed the countryside, and thousands and thousands of people died, mercilessly. Here’s a snapshot from Cicely Wedgewood’s history of that brutal war.

At Calw the pastor saw a woman gnawing the raw flesh off a dead horse on which a hungry dog and some ravens were also feeding .... In Rhineland[city magistrates] watched the graveyards against marauders who sold the flesh of the newly buried for food .... Acorns, goats' skins, grass, were all cooked in Alsace; cats, dogs, and rats were sold in the market at Worms ....
Political and religious hatred (Calvinists versus Roman Catholics versus Lutherans) went to war viciously, as Austrians and Swedes and just about anyone else looking for power on the continent took turns thrashing the life out of the German people and countryside. For Christian believers, the Thirty Years War is still a wound.

To those who lived through it, the steel wheels of that horrific war must have seemed to grind on endlessly. Thousands deserted farms and homes for protection in the old walled-in cities. But, soon enough, there was no room. 

At Strassburg, Ms. Wedgwood says, the living shut their windows to death groans just outside. In winter, people stepped over dead bodies left lying all over the streets. Finally, when the city knew it could do no more, the magistrates threw out 35,000 refugees to the terror and death that would stalk them outside the walls.

Spring came in long days of warm rains that kept the earth moist and rich for disease that flourished in the hot summer sun that fol­lowed. Plagues swept through the streets riding the gusts of warm wind. Out­side the gates, law and order crumbled.

At the end of this Thirty Years War, Martin Rinkert was a preacher in his own hometown, Eilenberg, Saxony. In 1637, at the height of the destruc­tion, thick in the swamp of life-draining disease, the only clergyman left in the city, Rinkert held funerals for up to fifty people per day, if you can believe it. Even his wife died of disease.

But sometime during those years--amid the groaning persistence of war's evil--the Reverend Martin Rinkert sat and wrote a magnificent, stately tribute of thanksgiving to his God, the ruler of a world that was crumbling all around him.

Thanksgiving. In the middle of all that horror.

"Now thank we all our God," he wrote, his nostrils full of the stench of death. 


Yet, as we all know, real thanksgiving somehow miraculously arises, even in the worst of times--always has, still does, always will.

Today, almost 400 years later, thousands will sing Martin Rinkert's famous, powerful hymn, wrung from the sheer horror of war’s desolation, a hymn with an unforgettable story--for which I'm thankful, this Thanksgiving morning.
This famous Virgil Fox rendition of Rinkert's thanksgiving gift to all of us is only half of this you-tube recording.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You come up with the most amazing stories of contrast, old war/death and Thanksgiving today mostly peaceful in our country. I look forward to your creative pieces!