A Gift from the Danish West Indies to New Jersey and New York

My old seminary roommate Gary is a pastor in metropolitan New York, along with several other classmates of mine from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. As I sit in the midst of an ongoing drought in Kansas City, Gary and the others who were soaked by Hurricane Sandy have been much on my mind. When I spoke with Gary earlier this week after Sandy had come and gone, he had no electricity, but was otherwise fine, as were — to his knowledge — the people of the parish he serves.

For the people of New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere along the northeast coast, hurricanes are not usual. Traffic jams are usual. Blizzards are usual. Hordes of summer tourists are usual. Hurricanes are not usual. Hurricanes are a part of life in Louisiana, not Long Island. The island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic gets hurricanes every year, not the island of Manhattan. As Lutherans gather for worship in the path of Sandy, more than a few will probably be receiving a gift from their brothers and sisters to the south who are much more familiar with hurricanes.

In the 1870s, a Lutheran missionary in the Danish West Indies named Emile Valdemar Lose prepared The Lutheran Manual of Hymns, Liturgy, and Prayers for use in the Lutheran churches in the Caribbean. Two local commemorations in Pastor Lose’s calendar were Hurricane Supplication Day on July 25th and Hurricane Thanksgiving Day on October 25th. In 1999, the ELCA published This Far By Faith, a resource for African-American worship, which included a number of Lose’s hurricane-related prayers. Lose walked a fine line with these prayers, seeking to affirm God’s presence with God’s people both when hurricanes miss them and when hurricanes hit.

In the aftermath of Sandy, I suspect a number of parishes will be using this prayer from Lose’s compilation:

O merciful God and heavenly Father, you asked us to call upon you in all our need and distress, and moreover, you promised to hear our prayers and to help us, thereby causing us to give thanks. During this past perilous season, we have felt nature weigh heavily upon us. Keep us from anger, that we might turn our hearts to you, as the ruinous gale passes over us and the earth trembles.

We give ourselves to you with humble hearts, and pray that you will graciously grant by your Holy Spirit, that we are found thankful, not only in word, but also in deed and in truth, that our lives may give glory and praise to you, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one true God, forever and ever. Amen.

Words of wisdom from 19th century hurricane veterans of the Caribbean, offered to the bewildered hurricane rookies of the northeast coast of the United States.

We of the United States are much more apt to think of ourselves as the gift givers when disaster strikes, be they hurricanes or famines or tsunamis. This Sunday, the tables are turned wherever this prayer is used, as the givers are those faithful Christians from the poorer 19th century Danish West Indies. Truly, this is one culture learning from another, one culture helping to wipe the tears from the others’ eyes — what a gift for worship on All Saints Sunday.

See, the dwelling place of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. [Rev. 21:3-4, NRSV]

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2 comments

  1. Wonderful prayer.

    Especially, “keep us from anger.” and “grant… that we are found thankful.”

    At Mass here (NY) on All Saints Day about half the congregation was without electricity at home. One woman stood up and said she received a blessing in this, and I know it was sincere, while outside, not a mile away, police had to guard the filling station because fistfights were breaking out.

  2. Speaking of hurricanes, Mary Stommes of Give Us This Day gets the award for “most prescient editor.” For those who follow that publication, note the quote from a poem by Jessica Powers, that was the meditation for Saturday, Nov. 3:

    “It is to have a place to hide,
    when all is hurricane outside.”

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