Academic journal article Magistra

The Enduring Strength of Traditional and Recovered Stories

Academic journal article Magistra

The Enduring Strength of Traditional and Recovered Stories

Article excerpt

"But what are our stories if not the mirrors we hold up to our fears?"1

"Martyrdom is never an affair of weakness, but rather of strength. Only a hero is able to walk the path of martyrdom."2

For several centuries, Anabaptists3 have been called "die Stillen im Lande" (the Quiet in the Land)." Julia Kasdorf points out that this phrase may have been borrowed from Psalm 35:20, "For they do not speak peace, but they devise deceitful matters against those who are quiet in the land."4 Legend has it that while Anabaptists were certainly not quiet in the lands from which they originated, they learned this character trait through hard experience. After fleeing persecution in their homelands, Anabaptists found refuge in lands around the globe. To be quiet and uninvolved in the political dynamics of the surrounding societies meant survival.

In 1995, this character trait took on a satirical twist in a musical/dramatic work based upon the writings of women of Mennonite, Conservative Mennonite, and Amish background. Several productions were staged of Quietly Landed?, telling stories of women of Anabaptist background, compiled by Carol Ann Weaver, Carol Penner, and Cheryl Nafziger-Leis.5 The authors of the writings and musical scores, actors, and director share backgrounds in the Mennonite religious tradition(s) and provide dramatic proof that Anabaptist female scholars are participating in the recovery of their histories. The drama is an eclectic production of Gregorian chants, blues, rap, poetry, and stories.

One night in a small Canadian schoolhouse-tumed-theatre, the educated, mostly Mennonite audience sat in darkness, listening closely for the beginning of the evening's dramatic performance. To their surprise, the first act was preceded by a recording of the Lobsang, also known as O Gott Voter, wir Loben Dich ("O God, Father, We Praise Thee").

Written in 1590 by Lenhardt Clock and printed in the Ansbimd, the hymnbook of sixteenth century Anabaptists and contemporary Amish groups, it has several prescribed uses in the Amish church today. It is the second song sung at every Amish worship service. It is used at many Amish gatherings as a song of comfort, hope, and guidance and, where this hymn is located, (page 770), a special paper will be found in the Ambund during the choosing of a new Amish preacher, God's chosen servant.6 It is sung in the traditional manner, with one man singing out each line and the rest of the singers joining him to repeat the line.

As the powerful voices of these Amish men filled the room during this dramatic production, suddenly, over these strong male voices, the audience heard the faint whisper of a woman's voice: "I can hardly talk." Over and over she repeated the phrase, and each time her voice grew louder and stronger, yet remained in a whisper: "I can hardly talk," "I can hardly talk," "I can hardly talk."

Finding Voice

Kathie Weaver Kurtz, the voice used in the drama, writes:

When I was three years old my father borrowed a wire recorder. Those were the days before tape recorders, and recording was still a novelty. I watched, fascinated, as he turned knobs, spoke into the strange contraption in his hand, rewound the wire and then listened to himself speaking. Finally, not able to contain my eagerness, I blurted out boldly, "I want to talk through that." He smiled and held out the mike to me, but suddenly I was overcome with self-consciousness and could not think of a word to say. My mind was blank. In panic I responded with a voice that literally faded away, "I can ... I can hardly talk." My father silently took back the mike and proceeded to recite the poem he was practicing once again. I remember standing there feeling empty and disappointed and somehow deficient. The reason I remember the incident is that it was recorded - the whole thing, my bold request and then my voice fading away to complete inaudibility - if that's a word. The incident became a living metaphor for me in finding my voice as an adult, first in preaching and then as a pastoral counselor. …

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