31 January 2011

'Man cannot live by bread alone'

If you go days without eating vegetables (or fruit), your body starts to act unhappy. This feeling that there is something wrong is likely worse if you're used to eating a lot of vegetables.

As much as I believe God intended us humans to eat vegetables on a regular basis, I'm pretty sure that this isn't exactly the intended meaning of the text, 'man cannot live by bread alone.' (Matthew 4.4)

And yet the idea of going without vegetables gives a good illustration for how I've experienced this text in the last little while. Just like I feel kind of out-of-order when I haven't had enough vegetables, I feel kind of grouchy and out of sorts when I don't attend communal prayer times regularly.

It's not that this is the only way I can get 'my vegetables' (i.e., relating to God): reading the Bible, personal prayers, singing, attending church services, reading good spiritual literature, playing piano, visiting a monastery for a weekend are all other ways that I've discovered. But there's something about communal prayer appeals to me; kind of like I prefer broccoli to beans (and much more than brussel sprouts!).

I'm thankful to live in a place where such communal prayer isn't so far away. I've discovered that it takes 15 minutes to get from my apartment to the chapel of the brothers of Saint John here in Den Haag. I haven't made it to the prayer time at 7 a.m. yet, but the midday prayer (and once in awhile the evening prayer) is becoming a regular part of my life. The classic prayer liturgy of psalms and prayers, chanted by a group of monks close to my age, is starting to become welcomingly familiar to me.

If I ever feel too lazy to get on my bike to go there, I can always remind myself of how not ideal it feels to go without vegetables for too long...

30 January 2011

Going exploring for the day

Yesterday, Matthijs and I went away for the day. Just because we could :) We've been relatively busy in the last few weeks, especially in the weekends - and although we've had quite a bit of time together, we both longed to do something special together. And so we went out exploring for the day.

The original idea had been Gorinchem and Slot Loevestein - but we discovered that it wasn't open this past weekend (fortunately on friday evening before we were there!). So then the question was 'where to?'

And it was the village of Maassluis. Why? Simply because it was the city in my 'city guide book (ANWB)' that was the right distance away and sounded the most appealing. So we headed out with the train to see what adventure we'd meet.

And what did we find?
- We discovered that the only coffee sold in the train station in Schiedam is from a vending machine (you can also buy dr pepper soda and mini-potato salads in the vending machine).
- We saw one of the first churches in the Netherlands built as a Protestant church - it was built in a cross with each 'arm' being of equal length.
- We got to tour a tugboat - an old steam one - including a detailed explanation of how it worked (between my machinal knowledge and dutch language skills, I must admit to not entirely following it at times :)).
- We had cappucinos and shared a pancake at a local cafe (delicious).
- We saw the birthplace of Abraham Kuyper (and took a moment to honour it) - and then wondered what he would think of his birthplace being now the location of a Kruidvaat (a cheap drugstore).

And then we went home, stopping along the way to each fried fish (kibbeling) and check out a place where we might spend a gift certificate from the wedding.

It was a lovely day - a delight to discover a new place together. Perhaps this kind of adventure ought to become a normal montly activity....

17 January 2011

Taking care of the last post-wedding details (or living without a car)

Except for the thank-you's, we've now pretty much taken care of all of the post-wedding details. And like many big events, it was a bit of a surprise what one of the last details to take care of was.

For the dinner, we'd rented many things in - and for easier transport they came in roll containers. When the rental was picked up, they were missing one of the roll containers - and even after looking around, no one could find it. When I came back, I'd heard that it appeared as if something was missing when the rental was picked up, but I figured I'd wait for the bill before I'd worry too much about it.

But then I didn't get the bill for rather a long time, so I eventually contacted the rental place (It turns out that someone had been emptying my old postbox in order to forward it to me - only it got accidentally forwarded to the wrong address). And then I discovered a funny charge of 100 euros on the bill - for a missing roll container [See rollcontainers.co.uk for picture - it looked like the smallest one.]. I paid it, but also began a search for the missing roll container. Did it got "borrowed" from the alleyway? Did it get brought to the main house? Or was it buried in one of the buildings? Eventually, the great people from maintenance let me know that they'd found it - folded up in one of the buildings and hidden behind some stuff.

And then began the process of determining how to return a roll container to its home in Amersfoort. I figured it wouldn't be too difficult: the company could simply pick it up in one of its next trips to Amsterdam - but then it turned out that there weren't any next trips to Amsterdam. When I figured that out, I was too late to ask the family moving to Amersfoort to take it with them (which would have been the best idea!). The company wanted the container back (it'd been 8 weeks now already, so I couldn't blame them) but they weren't really ready to drive to Amsterdam to pick it up - it didn't seem so cost-efficient.

So I was stuck with the organisational challenge of returning a rollcontainer when one doesn't have a driver's license. The obvious way is to ask someone who has a vehicle and license to help. But that's still 3 hours of someone's time, plus gas money, and finding a vehicle large enough to hold it. After all the wedding organisation, I wasn't up for the organisation required for this and instead I went for a simpler option: I took it on the train.

And I discovered that if you look like you know what you're doing, people don't look at you all that strange. I didn't ask too many questions but instead bought a train "bike ticket" for the container (it fit nicely in the bike parking spot), and pushed it to its home along the bike paths in Amersfoort. I was exhausted by the end (I've been a bit under the weather and this kind of crazy excursion was pushing the limits), but very happy to have finally taken care of this last annoying detail.

And besides, it makes a great story. Perhaps I should have been more willing to have my picture taken, though....

05 January 2011

A liturgical downer

In advent, we spend four weeks looking forward to the coming of Christ - both his first coming and the second coming. We look forward to the hope brought by Christmas and anticipate as well the final coming of Christ when everything will be made right. And then Christmas comes, and it is a large celebration - for Christ has come to earth!!!!

And then on 28 december, it's the feast day of the 'death of the innocents.' In the glow of the great celebration of Christmas, we are forced to focus on the fact that Herod, in his attempt to thwart Jesus' kingship on earth, kills all the young boys in a region. A liturgical 'downer' is how I'd put it. While still in the midst of the height of the celebration of Christ coming to earth and making all things right, we are blatantly confronted with sin and the hostile actions of the world.

So what do we do with this day? Does this remembrance of the 'death of the innocents' tarnish our celebration? Or does it remind us that Christ's coming is also the continuation of a struggle between good and evil, with evil still fighting hard? Or?

I'm not entirely sure what the answer is. I simply know that the church has chosen this day to remember, and that in itself makes it fitting to do so.

For practical thoughts on how to remember this day, Sr. Edith on her blog dwells on who the holy innocents today are, questioning whether society in general marginalizes children and the damage this causes.

04 January 2011

A scary Christmas story

As it's still officially Christmastime (and somewhat in reaction to the fact that a lot of people act as if Christmas stops 2 days after Christmas), I figured I could still write a blog related to Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, I joked that I didn't really need to go to the Christmas Eve chapel service for the children, as I did pretty much already know the story. 'But maybe this time it would be different?' I was asked - perhaps this time it would be a scary story. And I thought - a scary Christmas story - huh, how is that possible?

And when we started thinking about it, it dawned on us that the Christmas story is kind of scary. I mean, Mary and Joseph are travelling to a new town while she could have the child at any time. And as much as Elizabeth, her cousin, is part of the pregnancy time in the story, there's no mentioning of any family travelling with Joseph and Mary. So they're in a new village among strangers (albeit probably distant relatives and people friendly enough to make room somewhere for them) about to give birth not just to any child but the Son of God.

And the next question is what kind of baby the Son of God would be. Certainly, he would be human and live on earth, but there was certainly no guarantee that he would look or act like any other baby. Or even a guarantee that he would come out as a baby (perhaps it would just be a mini-man, like some of the icons seem to depict Jesus as being)! Perhaps Jesus would glow or have mini-wings. Who knew?

And who knew if Mary would survive the birth? There was no promise that she would get to raise her son - only that she would bear him. Who could know whether a woman could withstand the birth of God?

When you stop and think about the story, a story that most of us have heard almost too often, it is rather surprising how much potential scariness is part of the story. And considering how much scariness, how much uncertainty is part of our lives today, it is perhaps comforting to recognize the scariness and uncertainty in this sometimes too familiar story.