“Shall we who have it no light let them borrow?”

(I found the picture.) The land of the 2 AM sun. Rauma, Finland.
(I found the picture. Yes, really, 2 AM in Rauma.)

Being in the land of the midnight sun is a truly disconcerting experience for those of us from warmer [at least more southern] climes. Somewhere on a flash drive I have pictures I took at 2 am on a morning late in June, 2013, from my room on the campus of Eurajoki Christian College near Rauma, Finland. I wouldn’t say it was light as day out, but it was light enough that I was having trouble adjusting—as were others of our Texas group.

The opposite effect would be, of course, the day that never quite gets light. I’d rather be awake taking pictures at 2 am than unbearably gloomy at noon. I would be, I think, suicidal in Rauma in January. No, it’s not ‘think.’ It’s ‘know.’

On the other hand. I also think Finland is the most civilized place I’ve ever been—and, if I knew how to support myself there, I’d go back in a minute to stay. So there you have the kind of contradictions that play themselves out in my mind always. Everything is a contradiction.

As the organist for a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (please take it out of your mind that this progressive church has anything in common with the fundamentalist Christians in America who mistakenly call themselves ‘evangelicals’) I learned many Scandinavian hymns. One of my favorites is the Finnish folk hymn, ‘Lost in the night.’ I discovered it inadvertently in [I think] 2002—give or take a couple of years—when the new pastor of the church was installed. That service took place on the First Sunday in Advent, and I found the hymn inadvertently looking for special music. The hymn is not in the Advent section of the old Lutheran Book of Worship, so I’m not sure how I discovered it. The people of my congregation had not known it before that service.

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. When I was professionally and emotionally involved in the church, Advent was my favorite time of the year. It is contemplative without being penitential. And some of the greatest music of the church is written for Advent. We are told that J.S. Bach, when he was a teenager, walked halfway across Europe to attend the Advent Vespers presided over by Dietrich Buxtehude, and that experience helped shape his musical vocabulary.

Bach’s own Advent Cantata No. 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (“Wake, awake for night is flying”) includes one of the two or three best-known of his cantata movements. Bach himself transcribed the movement for organ, and all organists drag it out to play sometime during Advent.

Apropos of little. The near Rauma into which our party jumped after the sauna.

Apropos of little. The lake near Rauma into which our party jumped after the sauna.

Frederick Buechner, is an American writer and theologian, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and the author of more than thirty books. Quite frequently someone will send me a quote from his writings that they think will help me in my “spiritual” quest. The most recent came in my email this morning.

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.

I guess I qualify on all counts here. I don’t know whether my faith is in God or in no God, but, whichever it is, I doubt not only the proposition but my own reaction to it.

This morning very early I was aware that today is the First Sunday in Advent. I haven’t thought seriously about the Sundays of the Church Year for quite a long time. But this morning I wanted to observe (for want of a better word) the beginning of Advent. Not necessarily in any religious way, but at least musically.

Because I am very limited in the range of motion of my left hand (my physical therapist told me I should not do anything that requires me to hold my hand flat with palm down), I thought I’d find something I could play on the organ mostly with my feet and right hand. The Finnish hymn “Lost in the Night,” because it is a simple folk melody came to mind. I discovered I could play it easily enough to make one of my ridiculously non-professional recordings of it.

As I was playing, I began noticing the words and realized they say much of what I feel about religion, about our vitriolic politics, about the economic plight of 99% of the world, about pollution and global warming, and about my own—and, I think, nearly everyone else’s—loneliness.

So I offer this little recording and the words of the hymn. I don’t have to figure out for sure what I mean or what the hymn means. Buechner has probably said it best. Whatever you believe, if you’re absolutely certain of it, you are kidding yourself or are asleep. We have time for Bach’s “Wake Up!” later, perhaps. But for this moment, “lost in the night” seems to me to be an apt metaphor for my life.

Lost in the night do the people yet languish?
Longing for morning the darkness to vanquish,
Plaintively heaving a sigh full of anguish:
Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?

Must they be vainly awaiting the morrow?
Shall we who have it no light let them borrow?
Giving no heed to their burden of sorrow:
Will you help us soon? Will you help us soon?

Light o’er the land of the people is beaming,
Rivers of life through its deserts are streaming,
Millions yet sigh for the Savior redeeming:
Come and save us soon! Come and save us soon!
—Finnish folk hymn, Tr. Olav Lee, 1929