29 May 2012

Visiting Taizé

Visiting the community in Taizé has been something I've hoped to do ever since I moved to Europe. After all, considering the difference from Canada to the south of France, Taizé seems just around the corner from the Netherlands (despite it's being 850 km away). Besides that, a number of Oudezijds 100 folk have spent months in Taizé, others have a house only an hour's drive away from Taizé, and there have been stories in the past of our community going there to visit. So I was looking forward to having the chance to go visit Taizé with others from Oudezijds 100.

Despite it taking several years, my dream of visiting Taizé finally came true this past Ascension Day weekend. At 8 a.m. on the Thursday, 30 people were packed into 3 vans and a station wagon, and we arrived in the south of France a bit after 7 that evening. Thankfully a group had gone ahead the day before - so we were greeted not only with dinner but also with all the tents already set up.

Friday morning we headed out to the morning prayer. Those who had been there previously (even 10-20 years ago) found it familiar - the repeated Taizé songs, the long time of silence, the short readings. All of this sitting on the floor of the church in the midst of a few thousand others, primarily teenagers and young adults. It was special simply to be among so many others turning themselves and opening themselves up to God.

As we returned for prayer on Saturday morning and then later for dinner, a talk and evening prayers, it never stopped being special. Taizé is a phenomenon - what Christian doesn't at least know one or two of the songs, even if they don't realize that Taizé is a place in the south of France? And how many have not made the pilgrimage to this community so as to spend a week in prayer, small groups, work tasks and fellowship? Knowing the role this place has had in so many people's lives, it would be difficult to go to Taizé and not be awed - especially considering the ministry (and organisation) that the monks in the community participate in.

And yet, I think I will be more than content to sing my Taizé songs at home. It's not that I feel old or out-of-place in Taizé, it's simply that I feel more at home in traditional monasteries. As for the songs, they feel like the belong in the chapel at Oudezijds 100 - especially when we can sing in harmony. And perhaps that is also the wonder of Taizé - that it is a place to visit and appreciate, and then to go home remembering and participating in the church and communities that are close by.

12 May 2012

I had another life once

Today I had the delightful chance to spend time with an old student of mine from Ukraine. She'd asked to see the things that I loved about the city and so we wondered around, looking for adventure. We bumped into a wedding celebration, saw a drawbridge rise (as we were standing next to it), ate Falafels for lunch, saw lots of flowers, visited a community house (Timon woongroep), drank cappucino, and walked by/through the tourist highlights of the centre of Amsterdam. It was a wonderful day - I enjoy showing hospitality to visitors, and we had the chance to talk together and catch up.

As we talked, I was reminded of how far away and different life in the gymnasium and rural Ukraine was (e.g., another student's visit last summer). And in the midst of that, how can I really explain my life here? Here I am, a good Reformed Christian girl, married to a Catholic and living in the Red Light District. I have Christian friends that are gay, and I talk to prostitutes and homeless people regularly. This is so different from the life I had growing up in Canada, or my experiences while in university, or my time at Seminary, or my years teaching in Ukraine.

Even as I struggled today to explain my life now to someone who knew me when I had a completely different life, I realize the same would be true if I tried to explain the "lives" I had before moving to Amsterdam. In some ways, I am not confronted so often with this difficulty - in the community, we focus more on todays and tomorrows as some of those who come to live here have painful and difficult histories. Even though I think this is good, I wonder sometimes how much we forget that each of us have had another life once - I even think I sometimes forget that I had another life (or two or three) once!

And yet, these different parts of my life, even the parts that don't seem to fit so well with each other or my life now, are part of what have shaped me: the love of laughter and fun I learned from my family; the delight in learning and friendships from both university and seminary; and the many challenges, needs and extremes of life in both Ukraine and Amsterdam. And I don't want to forget those things - as they have been part of my journey in faith and my growing more to be who God has made me to be.

And perhaps that remembering was the best part of the visit today - that and the hope that God continues to work among the students for whom I moved to another country both to teach English and show God's love to them. When I moved there at twenty-two I hadn't yet realized how hard that could be. I could not imagine that people could make Christianity so lifeless: for me, being a Christian meant comfort and peace and joy and delight (see Philippians 4:4-7). Yet, instead of hearing comfort and joy and grace, the students heard guilt and the need always to work hard and be serious. I tried to provide a different, more balanced example but my laughter and delight in life was often considered silly and irresponsible. I have prayed often that the damage done by this warped message would not to too great: that the students in rejecting this false gospel would not also reject God. And it was good today to be reminded again that God continues to work among those I care about.

10 May 2012

How do you measure grief?

This last visit to Canada once again had a lot to do with my mother. When I booked my flight, we'd made plans to get together as the daughters and sort through my mother's stuff: to pick out keepsakes, to allow her sisters and a good friend to do the same, and simply to give a chance to have her things be used by others - whether by us or those who might purchase them at the local Bibles for Missions store.

It was good. But it also meant putting ourselves back in the middle of grief. We remembered my mother again - not only on account of the things she bought and kept - but also by telling stories again. Now that the pain was less raw, we could talk together about those last hours we each had with mom. And once again, I grieved her loss and everything surrounding it, although the fullness of the grief waited until I was home again in Amsterdam.

Being in the house of my father brought me closer to his grief. It is never easy to be confronted with the sadness of another - especially not in our family, where we have learned to be strong and adapt. Yet, I had been worrying about my father and wanted to see for myself how he was doing: was he really doing okay? And the answer is yes, he's doing really well, considering everything that's happened. He's lonely and he's grieving, but it is a good sadness: an honest and healthy response to everything that he's lost. He's managing the details of life well - something that could have been an overwhelming challenge considering my mom took care of many of the household tasks and bookwork. He's still doing things he's good at and loves - he's driving truck part-time and volunteering and helping others and is very much firm in his beliefs. And he's still as stubborn and obstinate (eigenwijs) as always, but he also loves us his children as much as he always has, if not even more now. He's looking forward to a future, even if it's one that's drastically different than he expected less than 6 months ago: after all, there are grandchildren coming, and he (as do I) hopes and believes that God will be with him and take care of him.

This visit reminded me how thankful I am to be part of this family - and how proud I am of my dad. We are hardly perfect (like usual, this visit we also had some squabbles and discussions), but we love each other, and we are good for each other.

08 May 2012

She's still here!!

My niece, Kaya, is responsible for one of my favourite moments in my visit to my family.

Last week Sunday evening, I arrived at my father's house. On Monday I went shopping with my dad and stopped in at my sister's house. My sister asked if Kaya wanted to go to Grandpa's house with me - of course! And we had a great afternoon of doing puzzles together and playing the piano. On Tuesday, I visited their house to get my hair done. On Wednesday, I went with my dad to visit friends and my other niece.

On Thursday afternoon, I was sitting behind the computer at my dad's place when Kaya came in. She took one look at me and then looked at her mom with big wide eyes and said with a voice of wonder: "She's still here!!"
I have to admit that at that moment I felt superloved.