Fall is here in Bratislava. As I run along the Dunaj, the breezes blow cool against my red cheeks; the clouds above swirl, and whisper the shifting of seasons to anyone interested. These days, I dress in the sweaters that last year’s Intern Pastor gifted me before she left. (Thank you, Rachel.) Ursula is back at Slovak “kindergarten” — doing better than her parents would, functioning entirely in Slovak, 8 to 4, Monday through Friday. Esme, who is working on 10 months of life, is trying to stand up all the time, though she doesn’t have the brains for it yet. Falling down, yet again, she bonks her face and shrieks. She is not content to do what she has already mastered. Is crawling too boring, too safe? Are we adults any wiser?
I love fall. Always have. Perhaps because I was one of those kids who loved school with a passion, and fall meant new teachers and more books and uncharted learning. Still now, I love it. But even as we are discovering the pattern of our lives this our second fall in Bratislava, I do not want to forget August quite yet.
Here are three snapshots from the last month of summer. (Verbal ones mind you, I take terrible pictures.)
Snapshot #1: On the peak
We didn’t plan to be sitting up on a mountain peak in Berchtesgaden (in the Bavarian Alps) with both our daughters on August 6th, Ursula having gotten there entirely on her own two feet. We had woken up on that morning in one of those oh-so-European mountain huts that provide travelers with plentiful, filling food (and drink) and a bunk bed, at altitude, year around. We were eating muesli outside with other hikers, and were almost ready to head down the trail we’d come up the afternoon before. But we thought we’d go up just a little ways –just a little closer to the glacier – go up, and maybe find an alternate, less traveled path down the other side of the mountain ridge, which might connect to our original trail, and then get us back to our car (Jeremy loves to travel in loops).
And God help us (that is, God must have helped us), three hours later we had made our way to the top of a peak. We wrote Ursula’s name and age in the register at the summit cross. Another four hours later we had made our way safely down, helped by story after story. (I told a lot that day at Ursula’s request — traditional fairy tales and feminist-friendly ones – Tatterhood, and Three Strong Women, and Janet and Tamlin – in which there are thankfully no damsels in distress.) But on the peak, we reveled at Ursula’s stamina and strength, and let Esme out of her carrier to feel the rocks; and we ate chocolate and cheese and bread and a summit apple.
Snapshot #2: Worship with the Liturgists
A few days later, we had made our way to Wurtzburg, where the bi-annual conference of Societas Liturgica was taking place: Here were Christian leaders from around the world, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, all of whom care deeply about the liturgical life of the wider church. Our family came here as visitors, for the assembly’s central Eucharist. It was a Thursday morning. We gathered outside an abbey of Lutheran nuns, and Mark Mummert, the cantor (whom I have had the pleasure of knowing since I was 12), led us in a simple and powerful round: “Alleluia! Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus; with your Spirit, come to us.” We sang our way into the sanctuary, as the presider (our dear Gordon, one of Ursula and Esme’s three amazing grandfathers) sprinkled us with water, reminding us of the gift of baptism. (Or in Esme’s case, giving her a taste of what is yet to come in December, when, with both Slovak and American godparents present, she will at last be reborn to new life in Christ, through the waters of the font.)
The service continued inside. Our Gordon preached what we needed: the Gospel. Various languages echoed throughout the room during the distribution of Holy Communion, as all the assistants offered bread and wine to the assembly in their own tongues: The body of Christ…The blood of Christ…for you.)
It was simple really. God gathered us from all over the globe, opened our ears to the scriptures, fed us with grace, and sent us out, back to our lives. But not unlike climbing a mountain peak, it will never happen in quite the same way, ever again.
Snapshot #3: Holden Evening Prayer at the Penthouse
I admit that Saturday evening I was tired and sick. I didn’t have much of a voice, but still, I climbed the stairs to what we call the Penthouse flat of Palisady 48. The balcony gives you a 360 degree view of Bratislava. Stunning at sunset. That night, the 5 Central European Young Adults in Global Mission (who had just arrived in Vienna a couple days previously and the next day would head to Hungary for two weeks of intensive language study) and many of the ELCA volunteer teachers in Slovakia climbed up there, and gazed out over the rooftops.
We ate BBQ chicken, pork, salad and bread. We drank wine, or perhaps I only drank water because I was (did I fail to mention?) sick. The teachers and the YAGM’s were getting to know each other a little, and Ursula was close by the side of Ånna, the new intern Pastor Kyle’s spouse.
Then we passed around Holden Evening Prayer booklets, and with a wavering voice, I led the Vespers service that many of us had sung before in previous portions of our lives. Our song was buoyed up by those diverse communities that had taught us to sing “Joyous Light of Heavenly Glory” and “Let My Prayer Rise Up.” Assemblies – from Washington and California and Arizona and Saskatchewan and Minnesota – hovered at the edges of the balcony that night, filling out our voices, adding to our prayer. At our feet lay Bratislava and so many ventures of which we still cannot see the ending. When we had finished, we shared the peace and I left to try to get better before Sunday morning arrived. Sore throat and all, it was entirely worth it.
Dear ones, and all of you supporters of our family: I give you these August snapshots, shot through with what are life-giving threads in my life: Christian worship, mountain heights, and shared meals with friends and strangers. I pray these threads will continue to be prominent for me, and my family this year. Whatever those life-giving threads are for you, may they be abundant and strong, the whole year long.