31 August 2013

Vacation is sweeping away the clutter

It is my third full day now in the mountains of western Austria. And a feeling of rest is slowly seeping into my soul. How exactly I'm not sure. Even while climbing a mountain and enjoying the beautiful scenery, I was often restless and preoccupied, as if my soul was unable to let go of the busyness and pressures of normal life. But now more time has passed, I have gotten to do what I had hoped when coming here (climb a mountain or two :)), I have worked away some of the things on my to-do list, which had been pressuring and distracting me, I have finished a book and a half, and spent time talking with God.

In other words, the clutter that fills my life has been pushed away for awhile, for which I am thankful. All the ought-to-be-done things have been swept aside for a time, and I may simply be. Given space to listen to my heart and listen to God. And simply enjoy the blessings I have - a friend who allowed me to come here, and a husband who pushed me to go (to name only a few).   

The following pictures give a bit of an indication of the natural blessing around me (taken during my walk yesterday morning)

27 August 2013

And "normal" life goes on

Sometimes I wonder what happened to my normal life. Or better said, how did my "normal" get to be so strange? The obvious answer: well, I made a couple of choices. In so doing, I did my best to listen to God and listen to my heart. And that resulted in a life in a community in the Red Light District of Amsterdam married to a Catholic who's crazy about singing and ecumenicalism. Oh, and I'm also writing a dissertation (cause I love the Bible). I think that pretty much accounts for most of the odd-ness of my life.

But some days, mostly on the days when I'm writing too many emails or my to-do-list is too long, or I'm biking through the streets with too many bad drivers/bikers/pedestrians, I long for a different kind of normal. The boring kind of normal, I mean. The kind of life where I don't call up the number on the rental truck to complain about it being illegally parked in front of my neighbour's window and preventing her from doing her work as a prostitute.

And yet, that other normal is not my life. And I didn't actually have to call. But this woman is my neighbour, and i believe she ought to be treated with respect, and so I want to help her. And I was thankful to receive her gratitude and to see her smile as I joked about how much he should have been charged for those 20 minutes of parking...

My life is also the joy of having a friend of Matthijs visit from Germany and on Friday spend half the day biking north of Amsterdam and later that day attend an opera with my father-in-law and brother-in-law, to be followed by dinner in the community and their attending chapel with us. And then spend the rest of the weekend with people in the community, getting to share a little bit of their lives for at least awhile, encourage them and also be encouraged by all those who came and helped out.

And in two days, I'll be hanging out in mountains - just a friend and a (long) train ride away. Which is another way for me to say: I am truly thankful for this odd life of mine where normal sometimes asks more of me than I'd like but also gives me more than I could have ever dreamed of.

22 August 2013

What do true (Christian) conservatives/orthodox think?

I was reading through an article awhile ago about how (Dutch) Catholics have been responding to Pope Franciscus. For those not aware of the Dutch situation, many Dutch Catholics would be considered more liberal than the average Catholic in the rest of the world. This reflects the reality that the Dutch, in general, are more liberal than the rest of the world. The interview itself was with Frank G. Bosman and found on the nieuw wij (new we) website.

Skimming along, I bumped into the following statement (see below for the Dutch):
"Liberal and middle-of-the-road Catholics are very happy with the new pope, as he brings hope for a new future to Catholics who've been plagued by scandals and internal fights here in the Netherlands. However, the truly conservative Catholics in the Netherlands (and elsewhere) are less happy with him. He focuses less on liturgy, says nothing about abortion, euthanasia, or homosexuality unless it's absolutely necessary (because he has more important things to deal with)... "

This last line stopped me immediately. Perhaps because I'm Protestant and spend a lot of time reading the Bible. And not saying a lot about abortion, euthanasia or homosexuality sounds a lot like Jesus - and the Bible in general. It's not that there's nothing to say, just proportionately so many other things in the Bible get a much higher priority, like loving God with all your heart, doing justice, not being greedy, pretentious or hard-hearted. Being seen as somebody who is more focused on the most important things of the Bible - and even more so, is so busy living those things out that talking about it does not always feel appropriate - is not only something that I am thankful to see in the new pope, it is also a compliment that I would be very honoured to receive.  

The Dutch translation of Frank Bosman's statement is as follows, as taken from the article, "Echt conservatieve katholieken zijn minder blij met de paus" 30 July 2013: "Van vrijzinnig tot gematigd conservatieve katholieken zijn bijzonder blij met deze nieuwe paus. Het nieuwe elan dat hij in woord en vooral ook in daad uitstraalt, geeft de door schandalen en interne ruzies geplaagde Nederlandse katholieken een nieuwe horizon en hoop op een nieuwe tijd. De echt conservatieve katholieken in Nederland (en daarbuiten trouwens) zijn minder blij met deze paus. Hij is wars van liturgische en ceremoniĆ«le tierlantijnen, spreekt met geen woord over abortus, euthanasie en homohuwelijk als dat niet strikt noodzakelijk is (want hij heeft belangrijkere zaken aan zijn hoofd) en is vrijwel zeker niet geĆÆnteresseerd in het herstellen van de oude, Tridentijnse liturgie en de bijbehorende achterhaalde triomfalistische theologie."

20 August 2013

Changing the colours in the chapel (part 2)

What began yesterday as a discussion about changing the colours in the chapel ended up in a rather lengthy diversion on the complications of finishing a PhD (and more so, being married to someone who is doing that). And so we return to the original topic - and Matthijs's thoughts about it:

"But of course that was not the topic of this blog. Changing the colours in the chapel, however, is. This is something Brenda used to do in the past and sometimes still does. Last Friday morning I (Matthijs) had a go at it (and Brenda really quite appropriately reminded me, since I had promised the person who now has this task that one of us would do it).  
note from Brenda: I was willing to do it, I just hadn't timed getting ready in the morning well, and so it was actually a bit uncertain if I'd be able to manage to have it done before chapel started - so I was glad Matthijs offered to do something that is technically still one of my tasks in the community!

Our community of Oudezijds 100 has the charming custom of honouring the holy days of the blessed virgin Mary by hanging up blue curtains instead of the green ones that are usual for this season. That was for last Thursday, the day of the Assumption (or Dormition for the Orthodox). And so on Friday morning I had to change them back to green. I found out that in typical Oudezijds100 fashion, the changing of the curtains is less easy than it looks, since the system is old and crappy, and the curtains very easily slide off their rails so you have to redo them. So it took a bit longer than expected. And then the person who was supposed to do chapel didn’t show up, so I ended up doing chapel too, with minimal time for reflection about prayer themes, and not even time to read the Bible reading beforehand. 
So, chapel was a bit improvised. The reading was a surprise to all of us, since it was from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom, and I do not think I or anyone else had ever read it before. But I was happy about doing chapel anyways. One of the good things of our chapel service is that you can bring out what you like to sing, according to your own tradition, and to pray for what preoccupies you most. The key to doing chapel is, for me, being prepared to offer some something of your own spiritual life and concerns in prayer, and for the rest to keep track of the time and the liturgical frame. It brings out something of the original calling we all have, as Christians. Every Christian is a born follower of Christ, but in the same sense also a born leader, as when leading a simple prayer service. Fulfilling this role brings me back to something I feel called to be. Which is something to be grateful for." 

19 August 2013

Changing the colours in the chapel (and learning to communicate)

"Hello, this is Matthijs writing a guest blog. Brenda has been working on her PhD thesis for the past few weeks, which is now in the critical phase, and that means lots of other things move down on the priority list. Including this blog. This is why news has been scanty for a while now. 
For those of you who have no experience with completing PhD theses or anything of the sort (or spouses trying to do so): this is not fun. Almost everyone gets thoroughly fed up with their topic, having already spent years working on it. Writing up a defensible academic line of argument proves harder than expected. Supervisors are not always available for guidance or are not even interested any more. And, now that the end product slowly comes into view, matters that seemed less important now become more urgent. How will people react to the finished thesis? Will it be academically acceptable? Will it make any difference at all, and what comes next? In sum: will it have been worth all this effort, when the sun is shining outside and the grass is green, or have I been mad to start it all?
For all these reasons, in such situations spouses AND friends and family should be ready to offer support when they can, or disappear from the scene when they are standing in the way. Just so you know. In my personal case, the attitude that is required involves, among other things, understanding that what appears to be Brenda’s personal to-do list lying on the table is not in effect Brenda’s personal to-do list but mine as well, without being told so; and graciously accepting a bout of undiluted grouchiness when I do not appear to fulfil the tasks mentioned on the list, even though there did not seem to be any particular urgency to them."

from Brenda: Blogging was on the do list - and I wasn't expecting Matthijs to do that! but I'm really glad he did. It's been good to get to see things from his perspective. I hadn't meant to make it a communal to-do list - well, sort of - but it was more to make clear in my head what I wanted to be done and not so much a "you, Matthijs, need to do this" list. But, as Matthijs clearly points out, I didn't exactly communicate what was perfectly clear in my head. And I think that this learning to communicate well - especially knowing what is perfectly clear in my head but would be very much not obvious to the other - has been one of the greatest challenges of being married. At the same time, it has probably been one of the most important things I've learned. 

And as for the PhD, well, the stress is mostly related to my wanting to get it done, and NOW! Perhaps another day I'll write about that but for now I'll go back to working on the dissertion. I have a week left of working hard! (And tomorrow more on changing the colours in the chapel.) 

11 August 2013

So where did you go on vacation?

The question of where one has gone on vacation is pretty standard here. Most people, after all, go away sometime in the summer during the school vacations. I, too, have been asked the question numerous times in the last while. The problem is that I have no idea how to answer.

It is not that we have not gone away this summer - we've been to Paris, Norway, east Germany, and, de Veluwen. Matthijs has also been to Lourdes (France), Hamburg, and Durham. Furthermore, I still have a trip to Austria planned at the end of this month (Matthijs is possibly in Berlin then). Each of these places has brought with it new impressions and positive experiences, which has been good. Yet, this travelling hasn't really felt like vacation.

Vacation for me is reading too many books, going for long walks or bike trips, finishing up old projects and  spending long evenings talking, drinking and eating. Travelling and new places, exciting as they might be, are thus not always conducive for my feeling like I've had vacation. At the same time, there's been a lot of moments this summer that have meant extra rest and extra fellowship. And slowly the feeling of vacation has begun to come over me. A few more bike rides, hiking in Austria, more hard work on the dissertation project of August, and a few more evenings on our roof terrace - and I think I will be ready for the new season (although perhaps not until 2 September). And I'm even beginning to look forward to it :)

The following are a few pictures to give an impression of our summer:
One of the places we visited in Norway.

Two of the beautiful windows found in Bremen, Germany.

On the bright side, at least my cat has been having a great vacation! He's had a friend in house for half the summer, and he's had lots of chance to do what I consider to be the best part of vacation - spending extra time resting and hanging out with friends.