December 31, 2018

The Seventh Day of Christmas

The desk in Bonhoeffer's cell in Tegel Pris-
on where Von guten Mächten was written
While confined to an SS prison in Berlin, the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer composed a poem that in English we call By Gracious Powers. Bonhoeffer was executed in a concentration camp less than four months later.

The UCC has its own tune for this song (called Bonhoeffer), which is a nice one indeed. But here's a wonderful arrangement of the German tune (with the text in the original language—see translation following). The song as we sing it is relatively generic, using the final stanza as the opening, and omitting the reference to the new year. But Germans sing it this way, and so on New Year's Eve, I'm posting it as a sign of hope for the coming year. The people of faith must never let go of that which defines us. 


By good powers, faithfully and silently surrounded, wonderfully protected and nurtured, I long experience these days with you, and go with you into a new year.

By good powers wonderfully sheltered, we confidently await what may come. God is with us by evening and by morning, and most certainly into a new day.

Yet the old year still torments our hearts, evil days still press upon us their heavy load. O Lord, give our frightened souls the wholeness for which you prepared us.

By good powers wonderfully sheltered...

And when you pass the heavy and bitter cup of suffering to us, filled to the brim, we will take it thankfully and without trembling from such a good and beloved a hand.

By good powers wonderfully sheltered...

But should you wish once more to grant us us joy and sunshine in this world, then we'll remember the past, and our whole lives will belong to you.

Interlude

When the silence deepens, let us hear the full chorus of the world expanding invisibly around us: the high song of praise of all your children.

By good powers wonderfully sheltered...

By good powers wonderfully sheltered, we confidently await what may come. God is with us by evening and by morning, and most certainly into a new day.
__________________________________

Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben,
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.

Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelen
das Heil, für das Du uns bereitet hast.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen...

Und reichst Du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern,
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus Deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen...

Doch willst Du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann woll'n wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört Dir unser Leben ganz. 

Interlude

Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all Deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen...

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.
_____________________________________

Omitted from this arrangement was this stanza:

Laß warm und hell die Kerzen heute flammen
die Du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen!
Wir wissen es, Dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

Translation: Let today's candles burn brightly which you have brought into our darkness; Bring us, if possible, back together! We know that your light shines in the darkness.


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