This is a favorite–the words speak to me deeply.

The Spiral Procession by Susan Palo Cherwein

They lived.

Their lives vibrate in our bones.

Their memories reside in our cells.

They lived.

Their footsteps ring beneath our feet.

Their voices are alive in the walls.

Their light lights our way.

We are not alone.

They lived.

The procession

spirals and winds before us

They, the vanguard

Their songs on our lips

their poems in our hearts

their wisdom, our guide

their failings our warning

we do not travel alone

the procession winds

and spirals

around us



into God.

They, the forerunners



into God —

the procession


Remembrance lights, Stadtkirche, Wittenberg November 6, 2011

All Saints Day, one of the great holy days in Scandinavia, is observed in most  Lutheran churches in our country on the first Sunday in November–this year November 4th.  I love this holy day because of the deep connection it brings to all the people who have walked their journey ahead of mine, and for the journey that we share together.

In Norway and Sweden, the first day of November is a public holiday, one of dignity and reflection. Late in the afternoon, families visit the cemetery of their family graves, and on each grave they place a lit candle in a jar–one that will last 24 hours, perhaps a small spray of autumn flowers.  In the evening the families return to see the entire cemetery aglow with lights.  Just imagine the sacred scene.

My own tradition on this day is to visit the graves of my family at Norseland.  With the refrains of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ hymn For All the Saints ringing through my ears, I walk through the small rural cemeteries where members of my family rest from their labors–the oldest of them born in Norway in 1825.  And I visit the graves of the people whose lives still influence mine–my beloved parents and grandparents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, 4-H leaders, family friends and neighbors.  I bring nothing but my thanks.

“This is the time to give thanks and wave to one’s balcony people”, the preacher Carlyle Marney once said of All Saints Day.  Balcony people, he said, are those individuals who cheer us on and who have changed our lives. Our lives would be forever different without those people who helped us along the way.

Through these doors….

October 15, 1881.
Place: Bethany Lutheran Church, Lindsborg, Kansas.
Time: the fresh hours of morning.
The mood: anticipation.
Waiting in the Sacristy this morning, were Pastor Carl Aaron Swensson and Professor J.A. Udden–waiting to see who would come to the first day of class of Bethany Academy. They had made careful plans. And with Alma’s urging, Bethany Academy would be open and welcoming to young girls as well as the young boys of the community.

There is a rustle. Young voices are heard! Here they come–John Johnson, Eric Olsson, Fredrik Carlson, Nora Lind, Lovisa Olson, Jenny Carlson, Andrew Cedarholm, Oscar Hobbart, Johanna Falling, Otto Hakanson. They may be hesitant, of course, but their faces are eager. They begin their education. Udden teaches arithmetic, geography, English reading, swedish reading, penmanship, orthography. Carl taught Bible and religious history. And Alma–she would see to it that the children who attended this school would know music–music that would inspire their lives.

ImageThe unadorned or softened faces I see carry their own congenital experiences of mother and grandmother, pioneer wives and mothers. Women who walked down the trail west with their men behind wagons and team that carried all that was left of home, knitting together East and West to shape farm and range with their step, to create homes, raise children, bury their dead.  They were creating America and Americans.  Their faces already were sculpted from granite.  Their should have been the faces on Mount Rushmore.  …..Betsey Brodahl (1923-2012)

Alma Christina Lind Swensson stepped into the landscape of Lindsborg, Kansas in the autumn of 1880–just about this time of the year.  She was twenty years old, musically gifted, and newly married to Carl Aaron Swensson, the pastor of Lindsborg’s Bethany Lutheran Church.  Like countless thousands of women of her time, she followed her husband west. Like a patient potter, would shape this frontier village and farming community into a culture that would sustain its people through times of difficulty and times of great joy.

To learn about the life of Alma Swensson, read my book, Grace Faith, and the Power of Singing:  The Alma Christina Lind Swensson Story.

Last Sunday afternoon, September 23rd, a crowd of worshippers at Normandale Lutheran Church experienced the musical richness of the  old Augustana Synod liturgy–a heritage brought to America by Swedish Lutherans.  First, a hymn sing through the church year–Advent (When Jesus Comes in Glory), Christmas (When Christmas Morn is Dawning), Lent (Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing), Easter (Praise the Saviour!), Pentecost/Trinity (Jesus, in My Walk and Living), Trinity (My Jesus I love Thee), Trinity (Nearer, Still Nearer, Close to They Heart), Last Judgement (When He Cometh, When He Cometh).  Then the singing of the opening sentence :  The Lord is in His Holy Temple, the Lord is in His Holy Temple, Let all the earth keep silence, Let all the earth keep silence before Him.  Keep silence, keep silence, before Him*.  and the opening hymn.  And then the liturgy began–the rich liturgy, in four part chorale–music from the mid-sixteenth century.  The Kyrie and the Gloria in Excelsis are from Bjurakers Handskrift, prior to 1550.  Such a gift of musical richness through all these centuries to Lutherans gathered in worship.  It is, indeed, singing the faith–from generation to generation to generation.

This is the music Alma Christina Lind Swensson played on the organ for the congregation at Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg, Kansas. Like hundreds of organists who played the Augustana liturgy throughout this country beginning in the 1850’s, Alma was a partner with the pastor as he intoned the liturgy, and with the congregation in singing their response.  Such a heritage of musical richness.  From generation to generation to generation.  Thanks be to God!

It was in the time of morning glories that Alma Christina Lind and Carl Aaron Swensson became husband and wife.  Their wedding took place the evening of September 15, 1880, at the Swedish Lutheran Church, Moline, Illinois.  All day, Alma’s dear friends decorated the church with flowers and greenery.  In front of the altar, her friends fashioned a wreath of myrtle, arborvitae, and flowers that encircled a picture of two hands joined together with the motto, “What God has joined together let no man put asunder.”

Pastor Henry Oliver Lindeblad officiated at the 8:00 p.m. ceremony. At the bride’s home, a reception was held for more than two hundred guests.  There it was that a poem from the congregation was read to the bride and groom.  In part, the poem reads “May your lives flow quietly, like a calm stream among the flowers, and the lovely flowers tied into a wreath around your tender holy union. May the angels of peace guard your home.”

Soon the young couple would be at home in the parsonage of Bethany Lutheran Church, Lindsborg, Kansas.  There they would live all the rest of their days.  In so doing, they changed the world.

At Zorngarden

In the time of morning glories


Three generations of a family living under the same roof gives one a sense of place, a sense of understanding about extended family, a sense of continuity–and a sense of tradition.  That’s how I grew up at Lake Park Farm, Norseland, Minnesota.  And that’s where I learned to listen to the stories of my grandparents, born in the last decades of the 19th century, and how I became enamored with history at the age of eight.

The year I was eight, 1958 (it’s easy for me to remember how old I am), Minnesotans were celebrating the Centennial of Statehood.  Because our farm was a century farm even then, my grandparents and my dad were involved in the Nicollet County celebration.  My mother, whose family lived in Goodhue County, sewed sunbonnets for us to wear.  And we wore them to all the events that year, except in the winter, of course.

At the same time of the statehood centennial, my church was celebrating the 100th anniversary of our congregation.  There were thoughtful observances and celebrations that marked the occasion. People were talking and remembering earlier times.  And I was listening. More than fifty years later, I’ve thought how wise my people were to make the effort to commemorate such an occasion.  Their efforts, while they perhaps thought would be for their own age, made a deep impression on one eight year-old named Karen.

Kjell Olav Nordlie, a great and beloved friend, celebrated his birthday earlier this week.  Born in Sarpsborg, Norway, Kjell moved to Dassel, Minnesota with his wife and family in 1981.  The story of how Kjell and Elaine founded the highly successful and enthusiastic Dassel Leikarring, in a town where there weren’t enough Norwegians to field a a baseball team, is one of the intriguing stories of Celebrating the Dassel Leikarring:  Thirty Years of Folk Dancing and Friendship.  Image

Welcome to my blog.  This is a new adventure for me and a bit out of my comfort zone, but I’ve written two books this year that I am so excited to share with you.  The first is Grace, Faith, and the Power of Singing: The Alma Christina Lind Swensson Story.  And Celebrating the Dassel Leikarring:  Thirty Years of Folk Dancing and Friendship is also newly published this year.  

Alma’s story is of a Swedish-American woman who created a beautiful community of culture and singing in Lindsborg, Kansas.  The Dassel Leikarring story celebrates an amazing Norwegian folkdancing group in Dassel, Minnesota.  

And with this blog, I want to share the journey of discovery and how these books came to be–the people and places, history and heritage, themes and thresholds, realizations and insights.  

Please check in often!

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