- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Paul J. Dovre
- Anna Rhode â€™09
- Arland Jacobson
- Larry Papenfuss
- Polly Kloster
- Roger Degerman
- Stephanie Ahlfeldt
- Susan Oâ€™Shaughnessy
- Kristi Rendahl
- Dr. Heidi Manning
- Roy Hammerling
- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Jan Pranger
- Nikoli Falenschek '11
- Bruce Vieweg
- Dr. Paul Dovre
- Whitney Myhra '11
- Bruce Houglum
- Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad
- Dr. Paul Dovre, Interim President
- Nick Ellig
- Virginia Connell
- Per Anderson
- Vincent Reusch
- Larry Papenfuss
- Carl-Martin Nelson
- President William Craft
- Dr. Olin Storvick
- George Connell
- Robert Chabora
Dr. Polly Kloster, NursingChapel Service:
November 2008 Homily
Moments ago we sang, “Listen…listen God is calling.” Do you hear him in this holy place? Do you hear him in the voices of these Maasai women? Do you feel God’s presence in this holy place? In song, we have asked that God abide with us throughout our days and nights…in every passing hour…in darkness, gloom, and when earth’s joys grow dim and its glories pass away. In Psalms, David acknowledges that we can go nowhere to flee God’s presence. The priest Jeremiah, who also lived in a time of uncertainly and turmoil, declared God’s words, “Who can hide in secret places so I cannot see them?” acknowledging God’s ever-presence. My experiences this past summer in places beyond the ordinary awakened in me a new sense of God’s presence.
2008 included a summer of travel abroad for me…first to Germany and then to China. The purpose of the former was for spiritual growth…a journey to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther. In preparation for the Spiritual Heritage Seminar, the group (fellow faculty, staff, and administrators from Concordia) was provided reading assignments to prepare ourselves for the ten day, whirlwind venture of Lutheran discovery. One of the readings that resonated with me the most was a book by Leonard J. Biallas, entitled, Pilgrim: A spirituality of travel.
Biallas sets the stage for his book in the forward, in which he reminds the reader of the mythical story of Parsifal and the Quest for the Holy Grail. His synopsis reads:
Parsifal leaves home and goes into training to become a knight. He has been instructed that when he visits the Grail Castle he should ask “Whom does the Grail serve?” This question, when asked in all innocence, will deliver the infirm Grail King and his kingdom from a curse of sterility. When Parsifal chances upon the castle, he is so dazzled by what he sees that he forgets to follow through on his quest. For much of his adult life thereafter, he performs bravely as a knight, yet still has an unhappy side…After wandering for decades, Parsifal finally visits a hermit for advice on how to bring spiritual meaning to his life. The hermit tells him to return to the Grail Castle and to ask the question this time. He does not waste his second opportunity, and as soon as he speaks the words, the Grail King is healed and the kingdom restored to fertility. Parsifal has finally found the inestimable Grail, which turns out to be not a magical dish or cup, nor indeed any earthly treasure. In fact, the Grail is the joy and happiness that comes from being of service to others; it is – in the traditional Christian interpretation –the unfailing eternal presence of God…Through much struggle and travail, his life is fulfilled.
What Biallas hopes to convey through his text, which is a travel log of his own life’s journey, is that like Parsifal, we have to seek the sacred in our own travels, thereby expanding our own conscious vision of the world and transforming our own lives in the process.
Biallas’ text was certainly well-suited for the purpose of my travel experience to Germany. Our itinerary included visits to sites across Germany to study Martin Luther’s legacy as well as stops at the Buchenwald concentration camp and Berlin to witness the past and present in the memorials and rebuilding around the wall that separated the East from the West in Germany. My previous visit to East Germany was in 1981 when I walked through Checkpoint Charlie, keenly and uncomfortably aware of the armed gunmen in their towers overlooking the fence, field, barbed wire, and river that separated the East from the West. My return visit was emotional as I was able to walk freely across the wall now merely a brick outline imbedded in the road, creating the effect of a “scar” that reminded me of the past and yet a sense of the healing that has occurred in a future of freedom for these people. God’s presence was palpable in so many places during this seminar. It was not difficult to find the sacred in the midst of an open border; an empty concentration camp; and in the many ornate cathedrals we visited. I had expected this. After all, it was a Spiritual Heritage Journey. What I didn’t expect was to find it on my next venture, to China.
Dr. Tammy Lanaghan, a professor of Religion here at Concordia, my 13-year old son, and I headed off to China about a week after returning from Germany last summer. The purpose of this trip was to plan for our May study summer coursework to be taught in China in 2009. We had connected with a non-profit Christian organization out of St. Paul, MN called China Service Ventures (CSV) and would be meeting up with them and with Dr. Tom Mausbach, a pediatrician from Fargo, to participate in health assessments at several elementary schools in the Henan province, an area that is among the poorest in China. And so, our journey began. We arrived at our hotel in Hong Kong at midnight their time and checked in to the room to go to bed for the night (1 in the afternoon our time). I was severely jet lagged, still recovering from the backlash of coming and going from the Germany trip. As I lay awake, I thought about being in Germany just one week before and pondered the differences I knew I could expect coming off of a travel experience in a country filled with God’s fingerprints on each site we visited to one in which God is regarded as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s hold on political power. I remember lying wide-awake in bed, finding some humor in the challenge of looking for the sacred behind the Great Wall of China. And so it began…my search for the Holy Grail.
It was at about one week into the trip that our little entourage would be taking the night train from Guangzhou to Xinyang where we would meet up with CSV and participate in the health assessments. It was the rainy season and bucketed down rain. I had done the unthinkable and packed two very large suitcases for the trip. In my defense, the second was filled with gifts for the children at the elementary school and health assessment equipment that would be donated to community health clinics. Good intentions aside, rivulets of sweat poured down my face and into my waistband as I trudged through the train station with my son dodging the masses well ahead of me to get to our platform. The thought of knowing we would have our own private travel car with 2 sets of bunks located near the Western toilets propelled me forward. I kept thinking….I will collapse into bed and sleep for the 12 hours until we arrive, refreshed and rejuvenated in Xinyang.
But alas, this wasn’t to be. Once on the train, we jostled our way down a two-foot wide hallway filled with people and their luggage to arrive in our private sleeping quarters. My shoes literally stuck to the floor as we entered, the curtains hung askew on the window, the mattresses looked as if they had seen better days, the bedding was questionable, and a limp, brown, artificial flower hung over the vase on the lower bunk table to greet us. It should come as no surprise that the conveniently located Western toilet was not functioning so we needed to travel through the masses to the end of the car to use the nearest facilities (an Eastern toilet), which meant squatting over a hole in the floor while jostling along the tracks. Hot, tired, a bit crabby, and hungry, since the guard dog at the station sniffed out our sandwiches resulting in their confiscation, I left my shoes stuck to the floor and hauled myself into the upper bunk across from my son. I zipped my jacket up to my neck, tucked my pant legs into my socks to cover every inch of my body as a protective measure, and laid down on my own travel pillow listening to the whir, clunk, whir, clunk of the rusted fan as it oscillated inches above my head. To add insult to injury the aroma from the conveniently located but nonfunctioning Western bathroom next door and cigarette smoke from the hallway mingled and rose to the upper part of the cabin, creating a noxious potpourri. I put in my earplugs, took two nighttime Tylenol, and recall having a little chat with God. “Where’s the sacred in this journey?”…I challenged.
About 8 hours later I woke up having slept through the night. My attitude had changed. I found God right there in that smelly, rundown, cramped car as we sped through China. My son, Tammy, Dr. Mausbach and a Chinese nursing student who was acting as our guide and translator, sat on the lower bunks playing cards and laughing. As I looked down at them from my bunk I really felt like God was there laughing with us.
That was just the beginning of a string of events in which I knew God was right there in the every day with us in China. I discovered that when I would take the time to sit and contemplate the moment I could feel God’s presence. God was found in the midst of poverty in rural elementary schools where the children ran to meet the CSV team surrounding us with laughter and shouting in their well-rehearsed English, “Well-e-cum to China!”
One day we walked from a school on a dirt path past rice paddies to visit the home of a young 6-year old student who was living with his grandmother. His father and grandfather had been killed in a severe snowstorm in their village this past winter and his mother had returned to her own mother’s home to give birth to her second child. Without a husband or son, this elderly grandmother had no income. One of the CSV team members, a Chinese nurse named David Du, had brought a wallet with a gift of money for the family. The silk wallet, given to David by his 13-year-old daughter, was embroidered with the words peace and love. As we stood in this cramped, dark, sparsely furnished home, next to the shrine of a dead husband and son, the grandmother took the silk wallet from David, cupped his hands in hers and wept. God was there…in rural China!
I found God in an orphanage where severely disabled children were cared for, some who had been adopted and were awaiting the arrival of their American parents to take them home. I sat on the floor and rocked one child who was 6 months old and weighed 6 pounds, born blind and deaf. I held and stroked the cheek of a two-year-old child, blind, rigid and paralyzed, that giggled and smiled at being touched. Before I left I was moved to touch each child on the forehead, making the sign of the cross. I just knew that God was there with these caregivers, comforting these children.
I found God in a church among hundreds of Christians who worship within the confines of a government approved denomination. God was there, behind the gated walls, beyond the bicycle parking lot, and among the people who sat on backless wooden benches in the heat to hear God’s word preached in their language in an hour-long sermon. In that same church on a Wednesday evening, God was present in a dimly lit room on the third floor, among college students struggling to learn how to live as Christians in their everyday lives outside of the gated walls of the church. They had so many questions of us, eager to know what it was like for Tammy to grow up as the daughter of a pastor and to hear my son talk of going to a Lutheran school, a place where he can be a Christian openly every day. God was there abiding with us as we sang Amazing Grace together, the Chinese students in their language and the CLV group in ours.
I could go on and on about where I truly felt God’s presence in China. However, I realized that I don’t have to search for Him just as Parsifal didn’t have to search for the Holy Grail. This is what Biallas intended; that we seek the sacred in everyday travels, not just in those journeys that take us far from home. Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist, known for his Hierarchy of Human Needs, stated, “The great lesson is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard.”
It doesn’t take a Spiritual Heritage trip or a journey to a country that prefers to keep God within the confines of approved churches to find God. If I take the time to ponder God’s presence, I know He is with me every weekday morning at 7:30 am when I walk through Offut Concourse into the middle of campus and see the campanile lit up just ahead; I have felt God’s presence in my car as the Maasai women sang songs in Swahili to rehearse their music on the way to the World Vision Step into Africa event; and I am reminded of His presence with the nursing students in clinical when I walk onto a unit and watch them care for patients and their families.
I challenge all of us to be reminded of the presence of God today, in the ordinary and mundane, and extraordinary and exotic, not just in the time of David and Jeremiah. Listen…listen, God is calling…in Hebrew, English, Chinese, and Swahili…He is always here.