I am a stone’s throw away from the Wartburg Castle, famed for hosting two giants in the Christian faith: Elizabeth of Thuringia and Martin Luther. The former is renowned for her love of the poor, and the later for his witness to the message of Justification by Grace. (I should note that Goethe, too, wrote a love letter or two from this same castle.) I am in Eisenach to participate in a conversation hosted by the Lutheran World Federation on the topic of the Psalms in the life of the church. In and of itself, this is an interesting topic, but it is made doubly so in this instance because this is a gathering of people from around the globe. Together we discuss what it means to read the Bible in our contexts. The context of Eisenach, where we are staying, is especially potent because it was in the Wartburg that Luther translated the New Testament into German and in one stroke made the Bible available to a broader audience and in so doing consolidated many German dialects into what would become standard Hochdeutsche. To be here with people from around the globe is an incredible gift.
Part of the gift of being here is hearing different languages spoken. Chapel every day includes praying the Lord’s Prayer; each in their own language. Although English is the language of papers etc., it is in prayer that we fully hear the diversity that we are. There is something profound in this experience: gone is the rhythmic cadence of all praying together, and we hear instead a kind of murmuring, or perhaps one could call it a bubbling, a kind of effervescence that reflects the beauty that happens when diversity dances with unity: many voices praying the same words in different languages. We are gathered together as one, but a “one” that celebrates multiplicity in Luther’s heartland.
It is important to note that Luther didn’t translate the Bible into the language of his heart with the intention that all should learn German in order to read his translation. He felt that the Bible should be available to people in their mother’s tongue. In so doing he invites us to consider that every tongue, every culture, every people have an inherent dignity. Unfortunately too many of us live in cultures that worship uniformity over unity – cultures obsessed with the cult of efficiency. It isn’t efficient to speak across cultures and so uniformity pummels the richness that is unity in diversity. At one level, it isn’t too surprising that we trade unity for uniformity. It is, after all, hard work to enter into the thought world of people who live a different reality than mine, but to refuse that challenge is to forfeit a moment of grace: a moment I am reveling in this week. And so I invite you, too, to take time this week to reach across a divide – whether it be financial, racial, or political – to encounter difference. As you do so, accept the otherness of the other even while you hold hands in whatever small way might be possible. You will be glad you did.