23 April 2013

Easter Labyrinth

On Holy Saturday, artist friends set up a labyrinth in the chapel of the community (see the blog about art in the chapel [also in English, albeit less frequently updated). It was a wonderful way of becoming still and, amidst the busyness of Easter, become physically more attuned to God. Walking the labyrinth reminded me of each person’s own journey with God – the long path, which sometimes seems to repeat itself and go nowhere quickly, of walking with and following God. It is an experience I had already a number of years ago walking a labyrinth, and it was good to remember how such a simple experience can touch one so deeply. It is as if, through physically re-enacting one’s walk with God, one sees and knows the journey in a new way.

Theologically, it also reminded me of the strange middle-ness of Holy Saturday – the day when sometimes you cannot see the end of the journey or the hope inherent in Easter and the resurrection. And so each time we came to chapel, the long pathway of the middle was a physical reminder of those stuck not knowing which way or to whom to turn.

I am thankful to those who made this possible (e.g., Willemijn, zr Rosaliene, David) and hope that more geurilla labyrinths will appear so that others can also remember (and hopefully next time I will have more energy and time to be able to help this strange and wonderful ministry).

22 April 2013

Holy Saturday

With each year, Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter) seems to become more significant for me. Instead of it simply being the middle day - the day between the two biggest moments in the church year – it has begun to take on an important theological meaning of its own: a day of solidarity with those who do not know hope.

The Bible says very little about Holy Saturday, which I, as a biblical scholar, find a bit distressing. What do I do with this very important day of which the only biblical reference is Matthew’s story of Jesus’ enemies setting up a guard because they remember him saying something about rising in three days? What about the disciples – didn’t they remember that? I imagine not – I expect their initial shock regarding Jesus’ death on Friday had, on Saturday, turned into deep sadness and a loss of hope. Even if we know that Easter always follows on the third day, they couldn’t have known that Saturday was the middle day. For them, Saturday was the first day of the rest of their life without Jesus. It was for them a day of hopelessness.

Seeing Holy Saturday that way pushes us as Christians to give Holy Saturday its own place within the timeline of Easter. It is not a moment to dwell primarily on the wonder of the cross and the even greater wonder of the resurrection, but instead it is a day of loss. It is a day in which we are encouraged to think of those who have known the pain of Good Friday while never knowing the joy and wonder of Easter. Many are stuck in that painful middle day, and it is good for us as Christians to be willing to be present amidst that pain – especially as we have experienced the hope that Easter brings.

20 April 2013

Experiencing Easter

Experiencing Easter has felt like more of a challenge this year. Getting sick shortly after Easter meant that I spent a lot of time alone and more time than usual in bed. This resulted in a sense of lethargy instead of the more joyful energy that one expects with Easter. Being sick also meant that I did not attend chapel very often, and so I missed the constant repetition of “He is risen,” the white liturgical colour, and the many fresh lilies – a smell that immediately reminds me of Easter. And even though we have still been seeing Easter songs in the chapel and church, they are not ones I am immediately familiar with and thus do not so easily impress upon me the reality of Easter.

I thus know in my head that Easter has come, but it feels like my spirit and heart haven’t quite experienced it yet. Sitting down behind the piano with my hymnbook has helped somewhat, but it still feels as if my heart is liturgically stuck in the wrong time of the year (either back in lent or jumping forward beyond Easter time).

So it is with thankfulness that I spent this past week now visiting a monastery where every single refrain (antiphon) and every single prayer seems to focus on the resurrection. Dozens of times a day, I repeated Alleluia and was reminded that Jesus is risen. And slowly my spirit seemed to get that something wonderful has happened: He is risen! The world is changed for ever! The fact that my body had more than enough time to rest and I was with Matthijs in a delightful city (Brugge) where we could walk around, eat too many Easter eggs, explore culture, and delight in food and drink only further encouraged my body to experience the joy of Easter.

12 April 2013

Prostitution and sex tourists

As much as I would love to see all those working in prostitution be able to stop, the language of rescuing prostitutes always makes me uncomfortable. Rescuing sounds like something I do to feel better and not something that is primarily about caring about the women/men and what they themselves might want. Rescuing language makes me even more uncomfortable when it's about us needing to rescue prostitutes in other/poor countries, especially children prostitutes.

It's not that I don't want children prostitutes to be rescued. In fact, like most (westerners), I find it sad and even horrible that girls at the beginning of their teenage years (and younger!) are sold/given (even temporarily) to men who can do whatever they want with them.

But even more horrible than the girls doing this work are the ones who come and pay. Most of the ones doing the buying aren't from the poor countries - they're from western countries: businessmen, tourists, married and single, diplomats and even church-goers. And we are suspiciously silent about these "sex tourists" and how our western ideas about individual rights and sex might be part of the demand for children prostitution. 

A blog I've started reading, Jamie the very worst missionary, recently highlighted this issue: how we get so worked up about the "sweet little baby prostitutes" and completely ignore those who create the demand, even though the latter ones are the ones closest to home. She has a rather unconventional and direct way of describing things, so I'm looking forward to hearing about her visit to those areas of prostitution and what she will be saying as part of that. I'll keep you updated!

11 April 2013


It is raining again in Amsterdam, which is a nice change from the last month or two. Even nicer is that it has become slightly warmer outside and perhaps I can finally put away my thick winter coat.

Also nice is that I'm finally starting to feel better again. The overwork of Easter became exhaustion, which became a nasty cold, which simultaneously morphed into something else with fever, coughing, and need for lots of sleep.

The only good thing about being sick is the perspective it gives. I am so thankful for a body that functions like it should (and wish my body would hurry up and get to functioning properly now already and not make me wait until tomorrow or the next day!). Even better, being sick makes normal life look and feel so much more wonderful. Yay dissertation and other chores!!

03 April 2013

Celebrating Easter ecumenically

This past weekend, the community held an Easter night vigil. Starting at 10 p.m. on Saturday evening, people sat in the chapel waiting for Easter to come. At 7 a.m. the next morning, after a night of limited to no sleep, we greeted the resurrection of the Lord.

Among those who began the watch with us was an Orthodox Christian. I say he began because no matter how long he might have sat there on Saturday evening, his wait will be the longest as the Eastern Orthodox church celebrate Easters 5 weeks after the Western Church. Knowing how important Easter is for both traditions, I was honoured by his desire to participate in this feast weekend in the community, even though liturgically he is still in the middle of lent.

It seems .like such a small detail - simply being present - yet for me it symbolised well the desire to be church together in the middle of all the traditions that sometimes appear to conflict. And perhaps in 5 weeks, Matthijs and I will join in the craziness of the Easter celebration in the Orthodox church (a service I attended a couple of times in Grand Rapids). I will be ready for a second Easter celebration by then, I think. And nobody celebrates quite as well as the Orthodox with their 5 hour liturgies, numerous repetitions and lots of bells and whistles (and incense). :)