It has been quite the year so far: 2015 began with a trip to Italy, to meet up with our dear friends and godparents of Esme. We hiked and skied and cooked wonderful food for two days, but on the third day, as most of you know, Jeremy broke his leg. Beware the parko bambino in the mountains of Italy, apparently.
By early March the cast (or cast number 8 or 9) came off for good, yet Jeremy was still not able to walk. After another week, he was diagnosed with a rare disease called “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome,” one of those syndromes no-one understands all that well, though everyone has lots of theories for what might help.
So March gave way to continued trips to the Hainburg hospital, and various drug and physical therapies for Jeremy (laser therapy, ultrasound, massage, the list goes on.) Jeremy joined a gym, to swim and exercise his foot. In the past four weeks, his pain level has lessened, though his discomfort continues. His foot is noticeably better, yet outside the flat he still needs crutches to help him walk.
Our family is adjusting, to what looks to be a long road to recovery. We hope and pray for full recovery, but nothing right now is certain.
For three months now, our house has been a-wash with help: Guardian Angel Aunt Gretty came for two full weeks when we first returned from Italy. Grandpa and Bibi helped us travel to Austria in February, cast and all, for a long-planned holiday. The snow, the fireplace, and skiing together with my father (at 68) and Ursula (not yet 6) was a great gift for me. Later Rachel D., a cousin in every way but blood, came to help out during our YAGM Lenten retreat. And just last week, we welcomed Austin and Tanya, YAGM Country Coordinators from Madagascar, for the Three Days and Easter Monday. As I prepare to travel away from my spouse and daughters for 8 days to Chicago – for Country Coordinator Meetings and the yearly Discernment/Interview/Placement weekend for YAGM – Ursula’s godfather Matthew (as I write) is flying over to help a still hobbled Jeremy care for our girls.
Suffice it to say, we have been blessed – there is no better word – with physical help, and with the prayers and love of so many far away. I thank you.
In the midst of a life where I have had to do a good deal more cooking, driving, shopping, and maintenance of home than I am used to, I have failed to send out a Pastor’s Letter. At last, I am trying. Broken legs and CRPS aside, Lent came as it always does, dressed in purple, this year gathering our Sunday assembly with a procession and great red cross. Hold us in your mercy, we sang. Our Lenten YAGM retreat happened, as well, relocated from Slovenia to Bratislava. And most recently, we celebrated the glorious Three Days. I admit I live for these days, year after year.
I have wanted to share some images from this year’s 40 day, which have now given birth to the 50 days of Eastertide.
The Lenten YAGM retreat:
We gathered not in pristine, quiet mountains, but in the bustling streets of Bratislava. We discussed Holy Places in the Bible, and went out to visit some: The old Jewish cemetery with Hebrew letters etched on old stones; Saint Martin’s Cathedral, marked by historic coronations and still daily prayer. We prayed with the Bratislava International Church assembly, and as a small group, with song and ashes.
But the YAGM’s most appreciated the various gatherings for meals and informal conversation. A former YAGM, now ELCA volunteer teacher in Slovakia, hosted the group for borsht and Holden Evening prayer one evening; and we ended the retreat with pizza at our flat and Night Prayer (Compline). While retreats can never be everything that everyone wants them to be, this one succeeded in being – at least – a time away for the YAGM, a time of worship, a time of discussion, and a time of preparation for returning to Hungary for their final 4 months.
The only serious mishap: Some renegade bedbugs at the nearby hostel did their best to test the skin and spirits of a select few of the group.
The Three Days:
Not only the Three Days, but the whole 40 days of Lent, I love. This year: Weekly gatherings for Evening Prayer followed by Bible Study; singing the Rain Song, composed by this year’s intern pastor; intoning the litany of prayers that first knit my bones together back during the Lutheran Summer Music Program at the Augustana Sioux Falls Chapel in 1990. Or maybe ’91.
But all this time, preparing in mind and body and spirit for Holy Week and the Great Three Days. A preparation that doesn’t seem to make sense, certainly in an international congregation, where so many of our regular attendees leave to visit family, to travel. Yet of course it does make sense; because small, surprising, beautiful assemblies still gather, and worship happens in a way it only happens once a year. How could we miss the opportunity?
So on Maundy Thursday, 25 of us gathered, including 6 little children, in an unfamiliar chapel down the street. The organ key was never found, so we sang a cappella. When it came time for the Washing of Feet, we joined our voices in Ubi Caritas, and Robert Buckley Farlee’s “Forgive as you have been forgiven.”
Feet, and more feet, were washed. A Norwegian woman, visiting just that day; an old Englishman — who stiffly but gently, so gently, washed another’s feet after his own were dried; my dear spouse as well, uncovering his foot with all its troubles; and even 2 year old Duncan, who whispered to his father “Duncan’s turn,” before trotting up, barefoot, and solemnly letting a stranger pour water over his feet and dry them.
At the end, the choir led us in Psalm 88, the lights turned down. The children gathered near the base of the altar, quieter than you might expect, as the intern and I stripped the table, and blew out candle after candle.
Then Good Friday, with John’s Passion read, and the opportunity to sing hymns we rarely sing, not to mention Psalm 22 – which seems to go on forever, yet you do not want it to stop. We joined the church around the world, praying for everyone we can think of, though it is still not enough. And at last, the painful verses of the Solemn Reproaches echoing around us, we made our way in ones and twos to the cross. Lit candles. Knelt. Kissed the wood. Kept praying.
Then the Easter Vigil: Jeremy stoked the Easter fire with dried Christmas tree branches (they do a wonderful job, blazing the fire high). We processed, following the new paschal candle, to the courtyard where Sarah sang the ancient Easter Proclamation. This is the night, we echoed. Then we made our way into the sanctuary for the readings.
Noteworthy was a family presentation of the Exodus reading of the Deliverance at the Red Sea: The 11 year old son read the first part of the story, as his father improvised on his double bass; then the son, an adept break-dancer, danced an interpretation of the drowning Egyptians and Miriam on the safe side of the sea, as his mother finished the story.
Later our intern, invited us to hear the story of Ezekiel’s Dry Bones coming back together with our bodies as well as our ears; and a father and his adolescent son, (baptized in our congregation only a few months ago) told the story of the Three Boys and the Fiery Furnace, outdoors, the Easter fire, a helpful backdrop behind them.
Around the font, we sang the litany of the saints. Around the altar, we celebrated the Eucharist with a big loaf of challah.
The service was over, but we needed to keep on celebrating, eating. So we moved back outside, to Jeremy’s roasted lamb kabobs and more.
After all that, Easter Sunday morning always surprises me with joy. The Sunday morning familiarity made new, dressed once again in Alleluias. And may I never kvetch as a pastor, about those folks who just show up on Christmas and Easter: They are reminding us of what church folk can forget – this is the day that the Lord has made; a holy day. A day worth showing up. A day worth sharing.
Now Eastertide continues, a full 50 days. Here in Bratislava, we continue to pray for Jeremy’s recovery. We enjoy Esme’s wild growing curls and wide smiles, and endure her 2 year old tantrums. We remain in awe of Ursula’s unquenchable exuberance for people. We try to live in the hope of resurrection, for us, for you, for all.