Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A September Pericope from Kretzmann's "The Pilgrim"

Holy Cross Day marked the 40th anniversary of the "final crossing" of O. P. Kretzmann (b. 1901), gifted speaker, writer, educator, and president of Valparaiso University for nearly 30 years (1940-68). An East-coast Lutheran, Kretzmann was a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1922). He also studied at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago. Prior to his Valpo years, "O. P.," as he is still affectionately called, was an instructor at the LCMS's "practical" seminary in Springfield, Ill. (1923-34), and then the executive secretary of the synod's youth organization, the International Walther League (1934-40). In this latter role he co-edited The Cresset, the WL journal that was devoted to critical commentary on the arts, literature, and matters of public life. (Since 1952 this journal has been published by Valparaiso University.) Each issue contained Kretzmann's own column, "The Pilgrim," which set forth his spiritual/theological musings and observations on timely issues. ("All the trumpets sounded for him on the other side." -- Pilgrim's Progress)

The bulletin at yesterday's morning prayer in the Chapel of the Resurrection informed the gathered few of the significance of the date: President Kretzmann died on Sep. 14, 1975. All around us stood the most visible reminder of O. P.'s presidency, the Chapel itself.

I couldn't help but think of how he and so many other relatively "progressive" LCMS churchmen from his generation had made such a positive difference in and beyond the LCMS and its circles. For example, O. P. and his equally gifted brother, A. R., were among the initial signers of the "Statement of the 44," a much maligned document in the post-1975 LCMS but one that had encouraged a greater openness in the synod toward ecumenism, secular learning, liturgical renewal, active engagement with social issues, etc. during the decades after WWII. While the majority of the synod's membership was not directly impacted by the "moderate" moves that O. P. and his kindred spirits made in those decades (ca. 1935-75), those moderates set an evangelical tone, they provided crucial leadership, and they established several important means/venues by which subsequent change would come to the LCMS, especially among many younger pastors, Walther Leaguers, and graduates of Valparaiso University.

As if to underscore the occasion, late tonight (actually very early on Sep 15th!) I happened to come across a much smaller Kretzmann monument. As I was unpacking two boxes of books that have been in home storage among 40 other tubs for nearly eight years, what should appear but O. P.'s Cresset meditations from the WWII era: The Pilgrim: An Anthology of Articles which have appeared in The Cresset, published by the Walther League (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1944).

One of its final entries caught my eye, "September Leaf" (pp. 101-6). Parts of this meditation (including the original ellipses that were a typical feature of all of O. P.'s "pilgrim" reflections) will thus serve as our pericope this week:

I wonder if anyone has ever been fully prepared for the coming of autumn.... Perhaps as little as we are ready for the end of anything in life.... July and August meander along in apparent endlessness, one bright or sullen day after another.... There seems to be no change.... The crickets grow louder, the dust lies dreaming on the trees and bushes, the thunder comes with every other twilight.... Only when I look across the fence into my neighbor's yard and see the apples turn red can I tell that summer is waning and the time of harvest is near.... Then, inevitably and suddenly, there comes a morning when everything seems changed... From my window I observe that the maple has a few leaves which are brown.... Others are already on the ground.... The crickets chirp in a lower key, and a new note of melancholy appears in the whistle of the train down the valley.... The leaves begin to fall, at first lazily and alone, but then faster and faster as the wind rises and the travail of change comes over the earth.... The order and logic of inevitability are in them as they lie in their seemingly haphazard places....

[MB: And then comes a long quote from Thoreau, who "knew what their rustling and whispering say to us who walk through our autumn world..."]

This, then, is the season of the elegy and the mourner.... Certainly, however, there are meaning and purpose and knowledge, year after year, in the falling of a leaf from a dying tree.... Once more we see the great paradox of life and time: To live well and greatly, our journeying through the world must be a repeated experience of death.... We die, as the leaf dies, to the immaturities of childhood to be reborn for the responsibilities of maturity.... We die to selfishness to live for others.... We die to resentment against life for not giving us everything we desire to the glad acceptance of its hard discipline of sorrow.... We die to sin to live to God.... We die to the noise of time to live for the whisper of eternity.... Surely this is always and forever true: If we have not learned to die, we have not learned to live....

...Our watchwords are "here," "now," "today." The September leaf drifting quietly to the earth in its good time tells the whole story of all the names and tears of our dark age.... They, too, shall pass away.... Their hour is as definite as the hour of the September leaf.... No, there is nothing new in all this, but it is desperately worth repeating in an hour when we are living only for the hour and looking for the man of the hour and fear what the next hour will bring....

...The lesson of the September leaf is, of course, not complete.... It speaks of change and death, but not of immortality.... Slowly but surely we move from the hollow in which the leaf rests and the graves of the great to the high altitudes of faith.... Nothing which I observe in spring or in autumn tells me anything about the intimations of immortality which lie deep in the human soul and in divine revelation.... Between them and human reason hangs an immovable veil.... "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard." ...As far as my mind can reach, the end comes down when the curtain goes down... All that begins when the curtain goes up again lies on the other side of visibility... Beyond the nature of the existence which alone can be the object of scientific and reasonable knowledge there may be something in the human soul which desires deep eternity, but this desire is no proof for it.... For that assurance I must turn to Easter... The Christian faith would have died long ago if a miracle had not daily repeated itself--a miracle which remains as great and incomprehensible as it was 1,900 years ago.... The miracle is that a human soul in the face of death, loaded down with guilt which it can never make good, finds rest and immortality in an Eternal High Priest who loved the dying world even unto death.... This is the one unshakable foundation for our faith in immortality and eternity.... The September leaf is not homesick for the earth from which it came.... We, however, are, and ought to be, because the warm, silent cradle of the grave is the open door to our home....

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing OP's words from The Pilgrim, Matt. He was a remarkable leader. I was privileged to be a student in his senior seminar one of the last times it was offered. We literally sat at his feet, crammed together in the chancellor's office, listening to his musings about the Christian and the social order and how we who were about to graduate should keep the VU motto before us -- in thy light we see light. He stressed the value of the laity to the church. No wonder the trumpets sounded 40 years ago.