23 April 2012

Going home

In a few days I will be travelling to Canada to visit family. I have been busy - tasks to get done before leaving,  plans to be made for when I will be there, and events/life here to participate in. And it has felt full and a bit overwhelming. How do I store up enough time with Matthijs before I go? how can I get in enough chapel and good community time? and how does one even prepare to go back home to my still fairly newly widowed father?

When I last left Canada, both my father and I started crying when he dropped me off at the airport. We both were returning to our normal lives that had sadly become a lot less normal - mine, less than his.

And now I am going back for my normal spring visit - except that this has also become different. It will be more time with family - staying a week at my dad's and spending extra time with my (pregnant!) sisters. The only thing that has not changed is that I am going back to visit people who love me dearly. I am thankful for the regular chances to visit but saddened that so often an ocean lies between me and ones I love - no matter which side of the ocean I'm on.

11 April 2012

Studying Jonah

As one of the spiritual disciplines is study, we practiced it a few weeks ago on the book of Jonah. One of the most important aspects of study is actually seeing things. Especially with a text like Jonah really seeing things is hard: it's a story most people hear way too often growing up in the church, and we have a tendency not actually to look at what's in the text. After all, we already know the story, right?

The part that's so fun about studying in a group is realizing together that we don't really know the story – that there's tons of things we've never seen or thought about. So here are some things you might not have noticed or seen (a copy of Jonah would be helpful to find now, especially the last half of the book - the part after the fish):
- there's no actual number of days that the people of Ninevah are supposed to fast;
- what kind of person is Jonah, really? is he super selfish? unselfish? a real prophet?
- Jonah complains about being angry enough to die twice - the first time there's actually no reaction to his complaint. the second time, God questions him about it and Jonah's response - yes, I do have the right to be angry (what other answer could he have given?!?).
- the shade tree that God raises actually comes above a hut that Jonah built - so it's almost redundant (and would it have made that much difference if the plant/tree was or wasn't there?)
- and lastly, my favourite thing that no one ever seems to notice: the animals also have to fast in Ninevah - no food and no water. And they are also dressed in sackcloth. Can you imagine how much noise and "crying out" there would have been from the animals?!?

08 April 2012

Easter is come!

Before the Easter vigil service last evening, Matthijs asked me if I was ready for Easter. I grumbled some kind of no in response. I wasn't ready - there were things I wanted to get finished and things in myself I hadn't managed to sort through and/or improve yet (despite the focus on spiritual disciplines during Lent). I needed more time!

But Easter does not wait for me - thankfully.
In the middle of my unfinished work and my knowledge of my brokenness and longing for something better, we came together to celebrate the resurrection of the LORD. Everything else fades in comparison.

Fortunately, before we started celebrating Easter, we had 12 readings, so I had some time to adjust to the wonder of Easter - time to move from my own disappointments into the light. And last night was only the foretaste of Easter - it was this morning, after helping set things up in the chapel for the services, and more church service and readings - that Easter came. And by then I was ready and willing to take on the hope of Easter (a huge breakfast following the service didn't hurt either :))

After all, since Jesus has conquered death, He is conqueror enough to heal and overcome the brokenness in me. Christ is risen!

07 April 2012

Experiencing Good Friday

In the community on Good Friday, we remembered Jesus' death on the cross at noon instead of at the expected time of three in the afternoon (the ninth hour). It wasn't so much intentional as a number of different misunderstandings.

And I was totally flabbergasted and confused. I came with the flowers to be used to adorn the cross only a few minutes before the noon service began. And I was reprimanded for not having them there earlier - "but I thought they were for the next service - the one at three." We began the service with the liturgy for the ninth hour - except it was the only the sixth hour. But was I sure? I mean, it'd been a year since I'd honoured Good Friday so maybe I had it wrong. And I don't know how to tell Jewish time all that well - we'd also mentioned something about the sixth hour at the earlier chapel service, so maybe I had it wrong - or it'd been planned that we'd be a little different with timing, so that people could still be present in their own churches. But shouldn't someone have warned me then so I could make sure everything was ready with the flowers? And maybe I had it wrong - maybe it was three o'clock when Jesus gave up his spirit or we buried him - what were we supposed to remember next?!? But then why did we need to lay the flowers by his cross, if we were just remembering his being placed on it? There were all these other people in the chapel and nobody else seemed to be confused or bother about what was going on, so I must be wrong. The whole service (a half hour long), I sat dumbfounded and overwhelmed - feeling that something was wrong - weren't we crucifying Jesus at the wrong time?!?!?

I came home and called Matthijs - I needed to talk to someone to let go of my sense that something had gone gravely wrong.

A day later, it dawned on me. My feelings of being overwhelmed from our mistakenly remembering Jesus' death at the wrong time are only a small fraction of how those following Jesus must have felt when they saw him on the cross so long ago.

03 April 2012

A few photos of our time in Brugge

The following are some photos of our time in Brugge - a few from the monastery followed by some from the city itself.

Underway - on the ferry.
In the dining room of the monks.

In the library of the monks - notice the palmbranches placed between the books.


At the market - what the chickens are doing is for me still a question....

Waiting for the drawbridge - on the other side of the city gate (the canal is between the bikers and the gate).

In the Magdalena Church - I was fascinated by how the church made use of the space: the modern additions, although they do not interact so much with the traditional elements of the church, do not distract from it. And the middle section has the possibility of making the church more alive and constantly adapting

The Magdalena Church from the other side

The ideal partner for vacation - someone to carry my bags and who is able to amuse himself (it was his decision to buy the paper - not mine!)

More photos can be seen via Facebook.

02 April 2012

In the middle of "high tea" at the Hema....

My favourite part of going away with Matthijs is the adventures we bump into. It's not that our normal life isn't filled with adventure - it's just that being away together helps us better be able to explore and delight in the world around us and enjoy the unexpected more. And it is the moment when I let go of much of the stresses of normal life (and organizing everything to go away on time!) and open myself up to the adventure and renewing part of vacation, that the wonder of being away fills me. It was sometime in the middle of high tea at the Hema on the Monday afternoon after we arrived that the retreat began for me.

It's not that we didn't have lots of adventure-filled moments before then. After all,
- we'd taken the tourist route to Brugge (Bruges): train to Vlissingen (Zeeland), ferry trip to Breskens, and then bus through the Dutch and Belgian countryside to get to Brugge. All of it new, so where to get on and out was sometimes a challenge, one exasperated by our first train being cancelled.
- I'd packed a lunch in "Brenda-style," which meant no sandwiches and no food that could get squished - so in the middle of the train ride I pulled out a chocolate bar, apples, cashews and a half kilo of spiced cheese (we didn't manage to eat it all before coming home again :))
- upon our arrival, we rang the bell but no one seemed to expect us. After 15 minutes and some searching, we found someone who knew about our group. We then also received an extended tour of our section of the monastery - perhaps because we were first or perhaps because I smiled so enthusiastically.
- we sneakily moved a bed (there was nothing in the rules against it - really!) so that the one-person room became fit for two. Even with the extra bed, we still had much more room than in our bedroom at home.

And yet, despite all these adventures, it wasn't until we sat down for high tea that it felt like vacation. First, we needed to arrive and settle in - and then orientate ourselves a bit to the city of Brugge. By the time that we arrived by the Hema, I'd had time to rest from the travel and had begun to delight in the city. The only problem was that I was hungry, and we couldn't find the quick snack we were looking for: french fries. The only food we seemed to be able to find was chocolate! And hence the strange decision to go to the all too familiar Hema - we knew we could quick get something there. Yet, in the middle of simply trying to satisfy our hunger, we bumped into more than we expected: 'high tea' - reasonably priced, decent quality and ready within a minute. And with that reminder of the delights that could be found in unexpected places, it felt that the adventure of vacation had begun.

01 April 2012

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is to me a strange celebration. It is a celebration of Jesus entering into Jerusalem welcomed as a King; yet, before the week is finished, he is crucified. The last line of the hymn we sang during our Palm Sunday service last evening captures it well - amidst a joyful, upbeat teampo, celebrating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, we sing: heden hosanna, morgen kruisigt hem! (hosanna today - tomorrow crucify him!)

The church service today began with Hosannas and marching around the church with palm branches (buxus in the Netherlands) in honour of Jesus' triumphant entry. The service continued with reading the prophecy from Zechariah 9 of the king riding in on a donkey. Then Psalm 22, the psalm Jesus quotes on the cross: "why have you forsaken me?" and which talks about being forsaken and lots being cast for his clothing. Then Philippians 2:5-11, the hymn of Jesus humbling himself - even humbling himself to death on the cross. And finally, we heard the Passion story from the gospel of Mark, starting with the preparations for the last meal and continuing until Jesus' death on the cross. Upon hearing that Jesus 'gave up his spirit,' we kneeled for a few minutes in silence. We then stood to listen to the account of his burial. And the story ended there.

Several years ago, I happened to be at the monastery in Three Rivers for Palm Sunday, and I discovered the tradition of chating the Passion story on that day. It helped me to hear anew a story I have become all too familiar with and so no longer listen to it all that well. And the ending always strikes me - we end with Jesus in the tomb, and that is how we begin this last week of lent. And yet, today as I heard the story anew again, I realized that as we begin the week, we take with us more than only the intense reminder of Jesus' burial. Even though the Passion story ends with Jesus in the tomb, the service itself continued with the Eucharist - during which we proclaim both Jesus death and his resurrection. And as we left the service, we took with us the palm branches - a reminder of the welcoming of a king.