The Woman In the Wilderness


Sunday, December 24, 1815
From: Christina Warmer Wüster, Germantown, Pennsylvania
To: Lydia Bielen, Schwenksville, Pennsylvania

My Dearest Lydia,

My eyes are filled with tears this Christmas Eve, but not with tears of sadness, my darling. The tears come from a heart that is filled—over-filled perhaps I should say, since I have had more than my fill in life—of the blessings and the great trials of Life that the Lord puts upon us to help perfect us in His own way.

The things in this box are more than just presents for Christmas. I hope they will remind you of me and of the happy moments we have been allowed to share—for Christmases to come when I won’t be with you any more.

I know that these things some may consider trifles. I give them to you not because of their worldly value, but because I know that you, dear, of all my family, with your sweet soul, might cherish them as I have done.

Die Steppdecke—that old tattered quilt—I know it won’t warm your body, but I am giving it to you so that one day it may help to warm your heart. Its colors are so faded, but once they were bright. Meine Großmutter, your great-great-grandmother, told me it was made in the Old World and has a blessing sewn into its stitches—what few there are left! I can remember so many Christmas Eves being wrapped up in it. But I give it to you now so that you may have something by which to remember your Großtantchen, your Great Aunt, and perhaps be blessed by the Old World woman who made it, too

Inside the envelope is a little gold charm, with a six-sided star like the ones that are worn sometimes by the Jews. It is real gold, my dear, and so please treasure it and keep it safe! I don’t know from whence it came, with its strange design and magical symbols. Perhaps your father can take it to someone who can make it into a necklace for you. If you wear it to bed some night, maybe you can discover its hidden secret in a dream.

engraving of a woman sewing a quilt

Lastly, my darling, wrapped in the quilt you will find a tattered old hymnal. This sad-looking book, with its torn cover, is the greatest treasure of all if your soul is pure and stalwart enough to delve into its mystery.

I know very little of the life of the one who composed these verses, but of his soul I could write volumes. Therein was a deep sadness that was not really a sadness at all, but water from the very same fountain that rises in my heart tonight. To drink from that fountain is the reward of Life, with its dazzling wonder of Love between the Creator and His Creation. The composer’s name was Johannes Kelpius and he came from far away, a long time ago. His life is a mystery, but this much I know—once he came to stay in the house of my grandmother.

She was about the age you are, my dear Lydia, my Großmutter, Christiana, and it was near the time of Heiliger Abend, Christmas Eve. Herr Kelpius had come across the sea to live in the woods in the Wissahickon Valley, along the ridge above the creek. In the dark of night he was brought to our home—sick from a terrible cold. Großmutter Christiana said that she worried for the life of this young man, a friend to her father and to all in Germantown, including the children with whom he shared the blessings of his noble birth and education.

On another Christmas Eve, very distant from this one, she was kneeling beside her bed, praying for their visitor, when she noticed a light coming from the small room beside her own, where lay Johannes Kelpius. When she crept in to look, she saw a woman beside his bed, clothed in shimmering robes.

The Angel turned and smiled at my poor, trembling Großmutter before she vanished. It was from this, meine Englein, my dear little angel Lydia, that my own grandmother’s soul was spiritualized. She spent the rest of her life devoted to following in the footsteps of Christ—a life that was indeed sanctified by her transformation. She told no one about this but me, and dearest Lydia, I tell you now only because her spirit bids me to share her most cherished secret.

I do not know what power brought Johannes Kelpius to Pennsylvania, or why he came so far from his home, or what tragedies befell his young life. All I know is that while he was a guest in her home, my grandmother’s mother copied his hymns (I almost wrote poems!) into this little volume from Herr Kelpius’ own manuscripts.

I hope that you will read and re-read these hymns, and that they will bring to you the same kind of solace and exultation that I have found in them. In my life they have transformed me, in much the same way as the glance of the Angel transformed my grandmother—in the same way I hope they may transform you, dearest.

Take them to yourself and hold them gently, as you must needs be gentle with the old book—as if you held a gentle and innocent dove in your hands—in the way I hold you, my dearest Lydia, in my heart this Christmas Eve.

In love eternal,
Tantchen Christina