Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Words I Don't Know

It is not very often I hear words or phrases I don't know, so to be confronted with the same, strange phrase two Sundays in a row was too much for me. I couldn't even remember it after the first Sunday. Then, Pastor Steve said it again and I quickly pulled out my notebook and wrote down "sterm and drang."  Granted, I got so caught up in the newness of the phrase that I missed the context... but it sure seemed like the hubbub and the repetitive minutia of daily life. (In hindsight, this was pure projection.)

The phrase is actually sturm und drang. German for "storm and stress." Dictionary definition as follows:
a style or movement of German literature of the latter half of the 18th century: characterized chiefly by impetuosity of manner, exaltation of individual sensibility and intuitive perception, opposition to established forms of society and thought, and extreme nationalism.
It seems like, of all people, I should have known it was a literary movement that began with playwrights, the foremost of whom was Goethe. The writers of the time sought to combat Enlightenment and rationalism with a more personal expression of extreme emotions, or proto-Romaticism, as the Encyclopedia Britianica definition called it.  (The Wikipedia article was the first place I turned and might be a better source than my brief re-cap.)

The Sturm und Drang literature aimed at "shocking the audience or imbuing them with extremes of emotion." Whereas rationalism was en vogue before, now subjectivity and emotional roller coasters were popular.

Ah, perhaps this is why the term came up: our popular and political culture does seem to be more concerned with individual perceptions, extreme emotions, nationalism, and subjectivity than rational thought or thoughts of the larger, global, society.  

But honestly, I don't remember the context of the phrase very well. If it is used again, a third Sunday running, I will finally get it!

What I did get on a superficial level was the message taken from the Thessalonians reading: May God strengthen your heart. It was much later, upon reflection on the metaphor, that a greater understanding of what that might mean unfolded.  I always enjoy pushing a metaphor to see what else might be revealed, so let me explain how I unpacked this one.

What makes a heart stronger? It is not building a wall around it. It is not closing it off. A strong heart, quite literally, is one that is wide open. Wide open to all the depleted, un-oxygenated blood.  On the other side, a strong heart does not hold on to the blood too long, but lets it go. In fact the heart propels it, re-energized, out to the body to do good work.  (As someone who might have a slight mitral-valve prolapse, I know it is the regurge, the retention of blood, which could lead to the heart's infection--a most dangerous proposition.)

A heart is strengthened through use, through exercise, through practice. Just as one can have a couch-potato belly, one can have a couch-potato heart. 

So, if our prayer this week is 
God, strengthen my heart.
we should expect to exercise our hearts, to take in the depleted, and send them out renewed by our love -- by God's love.

Then, just this morning, I was confronted by this quote by Dorothy Day:

I know enough to know better than to be overly swayed by the reposted memes on facebook, as they are in constant contradiction to the advice preceding and following it on my feed. Yet this one seemed to balance the sturm und drang, the storm and stress, and echo in my cardiac chambers the challenge
May God strengthen my heart.

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