Katharina von Bora Luther.
I would never have known the meaning of various psalms, come to appreciate certain difficulties, or known the inner workings of the soul; I would never have understood the practice of the Christian life and work, if God had never brought afflictions to my life. – Katharina Luther
M hops in my lap and asks me what I’m writing. I give her the basics – a famous woman that lived 600 years ago. Quiet fills he face and she asks, “Did she die?” “Was she your friend?” I smile and tell her. I tell her how far away this woman in the drawing is – that there is no friendship spanning centuries, but that I like to read about her…and “We did name your sister after her.”
…and I wonder. The flesh of someone’s life – the details of their joy, their days…they fall away through centuries. The bones – the dates and main events remain…and some letters that paint glimpses of the person. I wonder how about this woman, what it was to know her, and what light came into the world through her…what type of vessel she was.
Her husband said,
“She was much more than a reed shaken in the wind.”
Kate was descended of nobility, yet her family wasn’t wealthy in her day. Her mother died in Katharina’s childhood.
She was sent to a boarding school at 6,
entered into a nunnery at 10, a nun at 16,
a run-away nun at 24,
homeless and penniless.
Katharina didn’t just walk away from a job. She fled in peril, endangering herself and all who helped her. Defying the church in her day could be a death sentence.
Two years later she was the last one standing when the other 11 nuns in her group had been married off. It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried to situate her. The doctor/professor/pastor that her friends wanted her to marry – she would not have.
At that point, she spoke her mind (don’t forget we are talking about the year 1525!!). She said there were only 2 men she’s marry and Martin Luther was 1 of them.
Luther’s stance had been that he didn’t want to marry because he thought he faced certain death as a heretic, yet he did believe that clergy should be able to marry. His father encouraged him to marry, friends and enemies questioned his stance on marriage, and in the end…he changed his mind. They wed and in 9 years had 6 children. She became to Luther: “My Kate,” “Dear Damsel Katie,” “Dear Lord Katie,” “My Sweetheart Kate.”
She knew she wasn’t marrying into any form of certainty and that the odds of her husband dying young and in poverty were high. She outlived 3 of the 6 children she bore, and Luther.
She managed property, livestock, and a brewery among other things. She entertained large numbers. “Table talk” that changed the world happened in her home.
In her day a widowed woman was entitled to “a chair and a skirt.” There wasn’t much Luther could do. It was Saxon law. It pains me to imagine the years after his death, scraping by, fighting endless battles to keep food on the table, to keep her children safe, survive the plague and war. In the end an accident led to a slow and painful death – drawn out over 3 months.
And yet…in all of this painful history of hers, there is a light, a light that she clung to and found hope in.
Her husband had her memorize the 31rst Psalm early in their marriage, likely in preparation for his early death. It’s here in this psalm I see her reflection, and David’s and the many that have walked this path, the many that were:
“Clinging to Christ like a burr on a dress.”
…and I remember, I remember that the incredibly difficult years, the long business of dying in this woman’s life – it really was the business of being born into something far better – becoming a citizen of heaven, the kingdom with no tears, where the rearranging is complete and all is beauty.
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.
9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,[b]
and my bones grow weak.
11 Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
13 For I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18 Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
19 How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.
21 Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love
when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.