by Susanna Bertelsen

SB - winter light

On October 31, 2016, Pope Francis and Bishop Dr. Munib Yunan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed the joint declaration at the Cathedral in Lund, Sweden for continued work toward unity between the churches. Watching this during a special viewing event at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN were Archbishop Hebda and local Lutheran bishops Patricia Lull and Anne Svennungsen.

Three months later, at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, on January 22, 2017, Archbishop Hebda, Bishop Anne Svennungsen and Bishop Patricia Lull presided over an evening prayer service modeled after the service in Lund, Sweden, following the theme “from Conflict to Communion.”  In his sermon, Archbishop Hebda read from the pope’s and Yunan’s joint statement: “all Lutheran and Catholic parishes and communities to be bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us.  Rather than conflicts of the past, God’s gift to unity among us shall guide cooperation and deepen our solidarity.” (excerpt CatholicSpirit, January 25, 2017)

This service introduced a number of Lutheran-Catholic events which served to look objectively at what occurred during the Reformation, to acknowledge faults on both sides, to affirm ways in which the Lutheran-Catholic communities have moved closer together toward greater unity.

My husband, a Lutheran layman, and I, a Catholic laywoman, attended that prayer service at Central Lutheran in Minneapolis and heard Archbishop Hebda’s sermon.  It was a beautiful service with inspiring liturgy and music. Archbishop Hebda challenged us all to pray, study and participate in the many commemoration events planned throughout the coming year.  My husband and I were able to attend several meaningful presentations and discussions.   Like the morning light in the above photo, these extraordinary events broke through the darkness of past divisions.  We wanted to learn more.

Our learnings included a trip to Wittenburg, Germany in July where we visited many of the Reformation historical sites of Martin Luther and the early days of the Reformation. The experience caused us to ponder the 500 years of painful division and recognize the extraordinary significance of the movements toward forgiveness, reconciliation between the Lutheran and Catholic communions, from the Second Vatican Council to the present.

Then, on January 21, 2018 my husband and I attended a prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Paul to close this year of prayer and conversation.  At this service, ELCA Bishop Patricia Lull offered an uplifting reflection in which she challenged all present to carry on the dialogue to find ways to continue working together as advocates for justice and peace, pointing to several areas of joint ministry.

These events were unimaginable 50 years ago! We are grateful for the opportunities this past year has given us to appreciate our common ground.  It is clear that we have more in common than we have differences.  The 2016 – 2017 Commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was truly extraordinary in bringing forth both light and energy from five centuries of challenges.

We drove home that evening from the Cathedral just before the blizzard, which dropped a record 12-18 inches of snow across the entire Metro area. The snow continued all through the next day, causing our large metropolitan area to slow down and stop most activity to recover from the storm.  The weather news announced that it was the biggest snow-storm in 7 years!  Truly an extraordinary event of weather history in Minnesota.

SB - winter light with cabin

Later, Tuesday,January 23, 2018, about an hour after sunrise, when looking out over our backyard with 12 + inch snow-fall, I was compelled to record the photo image above. I was struck by the pristine beauty of the bright fresh snow from the blizzardly snow storm the day before.  What I saw out my dining room window was nature’s way of demonstrating both her power and her beauty.  It forced me to slow down, stop and ponder the beauty of it all.  I noticed the gentle shadows of dawn being slowly replaced by the brilliant rays of Minnesota winter sun!  And I was warmed by the peaceful atmosphere and the new light the post-storm brought to my ordinary Minnesota January day.  I pondered how this weather event resembled the recent “weather report” between the Lutheran-Catholic communities, 500 years after the stormy Reformation and 50 years from the “dawning” of Second Vatican Council.

Indeed, my morning photo reflection brought out the lo-o-o-o-ong shadows of mid-winter. Yet, the same reflection reminded me of the new light on cold snow, patiently waiting for the transforming power of spring. Nature awakened me to the light of hope for Christian Unity which is beginning to break through the past darkness of division, from “Conflict to Communion.”

Moving forward, I plan to focus on the light and not the shadows.  Like winter, I wait…with patient perseverance…for the power of spring’s transforming Spirit.  Our weary 21st century world could use some hope-filled transforming “light.”  Do you agree? How might the “light” be breaking through your “shadows” this Minnesota winter? 

I offer an open invitation to continue the conversation for Six Lenten Tuesday Mornings for Prayer and Reflection, beginning Feb. 20 – Mar. 27 from 9:30 to 11:30 am, in the library at Loyola. We will explore Joyce Rupp’s “The Cup of Our Life – a guide for Spiritual Growth” as we enhance and deepen our faith lives this 2018 Lenten Journey.  For more information and to register online:  Questions?: