It feels criminal, like I might wreck something. But I do this anyway:
I lay the suede-covered book — The “Ministerialbog” — on my kitchen table and run my hands along its cover, 123 years old. I lean over with eyes closed and hold my nose just above the binding. I breathe in a musty cologne.
The scent of ancient pages stays on me.
These are bound pages that hold names of the forefathers and the foremothers, who drove horsedrawn carriages over snow-encased roads to baptize their bundled babies.
I open the front cover of the book slowly, afraid I might tear something sacred. Someone dipped a pen in an inkwell 123 years ago and wrote inside the front cover: Vor Frelsers Menighed. That’s Norwegian for, Our Saviour Congregation.
These are my people.
There are two books, and the first one is dated 1888. That was the year Louisa May Alcott died, and the year Vincent Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear. A deadly blizzard swept through Iowa that winter, and mamas buried their babies in tiny wooden boxes.
The book is on my kitchen table in 2011, pulled from the fireproof safe for just a few days, before we transfer these archives to another safe.
I look out my kitchen window, and see how January has pulled up a white blanket snug against this land, their land. Over the white-shrouded field, I see my church. Their church.
It’s a different building now, yes. The first house of worship burned to the ground in 1996. But this newer one? It’s theirs, too. Perhaps as much theirs as it is mine, or maybe more? I think of their sacrifices.
I repeat a childhood rhyme, lace my fingers: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Look inside and see all the people.”
Church is people.
And Hope is the cord that ties the people. Hope is the thread that weaves through souls to make one Body. I’m part of this now — this one Body.
I feel it when I turn the first yellowed page, fragile like onion skin. I try not to tremble, and my fingers make a shushing sound on the pages. On papers with torn edges, I find names of the first babies — Barnets Navn.
These names are not new to me. I’ve seen them on the graves across the road from my church. I roam that patch of land sometimes — a repository of bodies — and I wonder where they’ll put mine someday. United in baptism, united in death, united in resurrection. The thread weaves through, and we’re a part of each other’s stories.
I think about this when I sing their songs, our songs: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and “Children of the Heavenly Father.”
My Anna comes to see the pages. I let her touch a page, a name: another Anna from a century ago.
These two Annas and I, we share the Habit of Hope — an acquired pattern of reaching for the same unseen One who gives us timeless promises and practices, so that we might know Him more and find our place in the Story. We baptize. We dip bread in wine. We sing. We weep at the altar. We find glory in a mystery — Christ in us, the hope of glory.
I close the book on decades of names — anchored by ink and hope.
And we found ours among them.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul,
firm and secure.”
— Hebrews 6:19
Most Wednesdays, I join Ann Voskamp for her Walk with Him Wednesday series. Today, she asks us to consider “The Practice of Making a Habit.” And I can’t stop thinking about those who came before … handing down this Habit of Hope.