Signs, Signs

Signs, signs. Which way should I go? On the way of St. James, I normally followed the yellow shell on blue.  But here my attention was drawn to the brown sign in the middle. The shell is there, but different.

I read, “In the midst of life we are embraced by death.” Originally a Latin antiphon (Media vita in morte sumus), this text is attributed to Notker, the stammerer, a famous monk of St. Gallen (840–925), which used to be a famous Abbey not far from the place. According to legend, Notker wrote this poem when he was watching builders building a bridge over a gorge; perhaps it was a predecessor bridge to the present one over the gorge there.

Far better known is the hymn Martin Luther wrote to this text:

In the midst of life, behold
Death has girt us round.
Whom for help then shall we pray,
Where shall grace be found?
In Thee, O Lord, alone!
We rue the evil we have done,
That Thy wrath on us hath drawn.
Holy Lord and God!
Strong and Holy God!
Merciful and Holy Saviour!
Eternal God!
Leave us not to sink beneath
These dark pains of bitter death;
Kyrie eleison!

That life is finite, I had painfully experienced a few months earlier when my husband died. The song describes a deeply human experience and distress, especially in the pandemic and now in Ukraine. Martin Luther found his own questions in the song. What gives the last hold to life? Thus, this song often sung at funerals has become a “hymn” of salvation.

It is as if death, which is usually behind a curtain, suddenly comes forward. A terrible diagnosis, pandemic, war…

The song does not stop at this statement. Faced with the experiences of death that can break into a life, it asks the question of where to go. The answer: “to you Lord Christ alone.”

So I want to trust that his life also receives mine. That my death is preserved in his death. For this comfort I can only pray and trust that in the midst of death I am embraced by life.

The ultimate promise of life is given on Easter.

Annerose Schlaudraff, OblSB

Photo: The many signs to follow, taken by oblate Annerose Schlaudraff