Friday, December 31, 2021

Now the Year Is Over


Where I grew up, we often sang a hymn in church called "Now the Day Is Over," and it remains with me today, despite likely not having sung it since I moved away after college. I'll save my lament for the loss of older hymns for another time and simply say that I loved this hymn, always sung on Sunday evenings for obvious reasons. I loved the sense of peace it brought and the sense of order, acknowledging that God, the cosmic source of day and night, could be called upon in personal prayer.

It's a prayer for rest, for good sleep, for protection from temptation and evil, and a prayer for a holy beginning for the day to come.

It came to me when I was out walking earlier just as the sun began to set, and it strikes me as an appropriate hymn as we close out one calendar year and begin another, so I'll share the text here. Unfortunately, I cannot figure out with the new Blogger configuration how to format this as I would like to, so please bear with me.

Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh;

shadows of the evening steal across the sky.

Jesus, give the weary calm and sweet repose;

with your tend'rest blessing may my eyelids close.

Comfort ev'ry sufferer watching late in pain;

those who plan some evil, from their sin restrain.

When the morning wakens, then may I arise

pure and fresh and sinless, in your holy eyes.

New Year's is a time of big parties for lots of people. But for some of us, it's more often a time of reflection, being grateful, and choosing, maybe daring, to hope as we look forward.

This year, like last year, I'm certainly more inclined to a contemplative stance. The struggling and suffering of the past two years of pandemic combined with both pandemic "side effects" and the normal challenges of life, call for prayer more than for fireworks, it seems.

At the same time, we have a new year ahead of us, and every morning is a new day. We have the opportunity to "arise pure and fresh and sinless" in the holy eyes of a God who cares so much for this world that He keeps the sun rising and setting, keeps healing the sick, keeps providing hope, keeps forgiving our sins, and keeps sustaining life and even overcoming death.

With a prayer for those who are suffering, and hope for all of us going forward, I do pray that 2022 will be a truly happy new year.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Second Day of Christmas Snow!

I'm usually the first to wake up in our house, and this morning followed that pattern.

Part of me had a hard time refraining from waking up the other to share the news, but part of me loved being alone with time to take in the quiet beauty. Snow had been forecast, but you never know whether it will or not. This time it did, and it did so in such a lovely way.


This is what I saw out the north window of the attic room which is my office space.

And out the kitchen windows to the west, snow on the walkway below.

My first time to look out (?) the window in the roof over my desk in the attic room with snow falling.


The view from the north kitchen window.

Looking out on the street later in the day.

Every morning many little sparrows come to this tall evergreen. Or maybe they sleep there during the night. I don't know if I'll ever know about that. But they are always there in the early morning. This isn't a great picture, but it was so cute to see them there with the snow. I often wonder what all the little creatures think about the weather, especially snow!

These will have to suffice as our "two turtle doves" on this second day of Christmas.

We have a rather artistic neighbor, and when we went out in the evening to visit some cousins, we saw he had been at work bringing into being creatures of a different species.

The forecast is saying we could get another snowfall during the night. I hope so. Let it snow!

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas Snow


This is the Christmas "tree" of my in-laws, actually branches arranged in a vase. The branches come from a big evergreen out in the yard. Some of the decorations surely came from a store.

But the snowflake ornaments came from the hands of my mother-in-law. After she took early retirement in her forties, she decided to learn to crochet. I was amazed back then at how much she began to do, making various items for tabletops and just the sorts of beautiful work that are done here.

But I was really amazed when I showed her some snowflake ornaments that my aunt had given me, and my mother-in-law liked the idea and began making them herself, getting ideas from the ones I had. But she had even more ideas.

I haven't found any two to be alike, just as with the cold, outdoor version. (I'm having tech issues and may have accidentally put the same one twice, though. I'm tired, so it's possible....)

Have a look, and if you don't have snow for Christmas, maybe these will at least warm your heart.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Why are there so many churches in this place?

Some years ago, I was reading something. That's almost all I can say for sure about it. I don't remember if it was a book, or a magazine article, or something on the Internet, or what. Given the amount of reading I did during the years of the DMin degree, I'm sometimes amazed I can remember any particular book and author! In this case, I don't remember.

(I kind of wonder if it may have been James K. A. Smith, and if so then it was probably in his book You Are What You Love. I highly recommend that book, whether or not this came from it.)

Whatever I was reading, the author was for some reason driving in an area with lots of corporate buildings. His young daughter was looking out the windows and suddenly asked, "Daddy, why are there so many churches in this place?"

He was surprised and puzzled at her question, because they hadn't passed a single church, only a bunch of office buildings.

Then he realized that his daughter was mainly familiar with church buildings that looked liked office buildings, because their architecture was based on corporate architecture rather than traditional church architecture handed down through the ages.

If I remember correctly, he went on to make the point that everything we do in material ways shapes how we see things spiritually. Architecture affects the ways we think and feel.

As we drove from the airport the other day, out of curiosity I decided to take pictures of each structure we passed that I could see was clearly a church.

I wish I could tell you where all of them were, but I can't. This one may be more accurately called a chapel, judging by the size.

I've always loved seeing churches built on the tops of hills. They remind me of Jesus' words about how a city set on a hill cannot be hidden, and neither should we hide the light of our faith. Not to show it off, but because the world needs light and hope and love.

I'm pretty sure this is in the place called Breznički Hum. I've always loved that name, knowing nothing about the place other than driving through it. Something about the name itself charmed me 30 years ago and still does.

I think this may be Novi Marof, another place I know nothing about, but have remembered the name for 30 years because we would always drive by/through on our way to and from Zagreb. Now we actually have a friend from there, so perhaps it will become more than a name.

Clearly, the architecture of each of these is pretty similar. And it's quite clear that they are not office buildings or centers of corporate activity.

Except that the very word "corporate" comes from the word for "body," and the church's early teachings use that term to refer to the church a long, long time ago. So in a way these places are in fact centers of corporate activity, just activity of a very different sort.

I realize of course that Christians can gather anywhere possible, and that the place they are in does not make them a church. But I also love architecture that makes clear the purpose of the space and turns the mind and heart toward spiritual truths. I love that steeples point (metaphorically) to heaven, that the height of the tower and steeple help us feel our smallness, encouraging humility. I love stained glass windows and other forms of art that over time have made the stories of scripture available and vivid for people who would never own a Bible. I love the big, wide doors on so many older churches, welcoming people in and also thick and strong as a protection against the world when needed.

These are pictures I took in about an hour through the car window, of the places I could "catch" before it was too late because of our speed. There were others along the way besides these. "Why are there so many churches in this place?" is a question for another time. I'm just so thankful that the decades of Communism didn't do away with them, or with the faith connected with them. It did a lot of damage, but faith is alive, and for that I am thankful.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Advent in Varaždin

Before writing about Varaždin, here's a picture from our neighborhood church. We got out after a night of less-than-ideal sleep and walked around to see familiar streets and houses, and to let the sunlight do its part in resetting our circadian rhythm, hoping we might sleep better the next night. (Alas, neither of us did. But we're doing okay despite that.)

It was the first time either of us had seen this wooden nativity scene, almost surely carved by some local talent. It is really nicely done, and I love seeing things made by hand. Such a refreshing break from the inflatable figures that have become so common in Memphis!

When the sun got closer to setting, we took off in the car to meet a friend who lives in nearby Varaždin, just on the other side of the bridge mentioned in yesterday's post. Varaždin's baroque architecture just made me wonder how the city might decorate for Christmas, and it wasn't disappointing. The castle was left alone, which I thought was a good idea, as it could have cost a lot to do anything that would really do justice to it. And anything less would cheapen it. It was so beautiful in the light of a nearly full moon.

The central part of the city held nothing back, though. Strung with lights, alive with stalls selling ornaments, warmed by coffee shops selling hot drinks and refreshments, it was full of people and full of life, even with temperatures requiring hats and gloves. A stage was set up with live music heard in the surrounding area. Church bells rang every so often, adding to the joyful bustle.

This is a part of Europe that I miss greatly in the States. Sometimes when I'm driving down the road, I try to imagine all the people in the cars around me as people walking by, the way it is in the cities of Europe. We miss a lot by not seeing people up close, hearing their voices, seeing parents and children holding hands, sometimes seeing expressions and eyes when close enough--all of that.

As we walked, I would look around and wonder, "Who here really knows the story of Christmas? Who knows why all this came to be?" And I just hoped that many did and prayed for all who didn't.

Because, just as in America, Christmas has been seized upon and put to use by the god of commercialization. These lovely cities and their celebrations have become tourist destinations, with marketing and awards given out. Zagreb, the capital, was chosen not long ago as the best place to go in Europe for Advent.

Which brings up another difference between Europe and America. Secular Europe, with its centuries-long history of being so heavily influenced by the Christian story and the Christian calendar, still calls this period leading up to Christmas, Advent. Christmas isn't here until December 25th, so they go by the church calendar and call all of this Advent celebration. Just as in America, it's an interesting mixture of earthly and heavenly influences at work.

This was one of my favorite light displays. So simple, so serene, so much a mix of the old and new.

Speaking of mixing old and new, we saw new-fangled flashing lights on a ferris wheel, constantly changing colors while playing music--probably not something Mr. Ferris imagined when he created the first one before 1900.

And one of the last sights we spent time admiring was this striking scene, with that very old moon shining bright above the happy scene below.

(And then we hurried to the car, because my hands were freezing, even with gloves and mittens!
That part of living here will take some getting used to again!)

All photos in this post courtesy of Mr. Vamplin.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

Over the Ocean and Through the Woods

My hopes for the "same old routine" written about in the last blog post here did not go as planned. A leak discovered by the people living below us led to a major repair/rennovation project which all the chaos such projects bring.

Life continued, nonetheless. We survived the chaos and moved forward, and what I briefly mentioned in the last post (the "big ship sailing steadily toward us," that stood for moving to Croatia) kept moving forward, too.

And so this past Friday found us in the Memphis airport yet again, having successfully passed the negative covid test. (Lately I'm refusing to capitalize that, thinking that tiny virus, along with the illness it causes, has already had more than its fair share of attention.) It was pleasantly warm in Memphis, but we had our coats at the ready for the colder temperature we expected the next day.

You gotta love a plane with "Delta Spirit" on it.

That Delta plane took us to Atlanta, where we heard lovely music from a saxophone player, a pianist, and a violinist, all in different times and places. We had some of the worst stuff called coffee I think I've ever had. We also took turns walking as much as we could, knowing how much sitting lay ahead.

This was the first time I recall seeing the moon, nearly full, out the window of a plane . . . .

Not the first, and probably not the last, time to see the sun rise from such a vantage point. It's always amazing. Flying is not generally pleasant or comfortable, but having a window seat makes for some wonderful moments of gratitude and contemplation.

We reached foggy, foggy Amsterdam on one of the smoothest transatlantic flights I've experienced, and after some much-needed walking and a pleasant couple of hours waiting, plus another hour or so of delay, we finally saw this plane out the window and knew we were almost there.

I have fond memories of the earlier Zagreb airport, old and not-so-shiny as it was. It was small, built in an older style, and you walked out of it to green grass with benches, a playground for children, and just a sense of being part of the real world, not the world of speed and traffic, hustle and bustle.

The new airport is nice, though, in its modern way. Mostly I miss the green grass. But I always enjoy seeing this welcome sign, which with its nod to handmade lace, olives, and fountain pens, does feel far from hustle and bustle and closer to the parts of life that make it worth living.

A good friend met us at the airport, and soon we were in the car, the ocean behind us and the woods before us. The drive from Zagreb to Čakovec means lots and lots of wooded hills, with houses and churches and businesses dotted here and there. Lots of smaller towns but no major cities until we get to Varaždin. And then beyond Varaždin we cross this bridge, and that means we are officially in Medimurje, the land between the rivers, the land with Čakovec as its main city.

And a land with trains, who have their own lovely bridge. The sun was setting on two sleepy travelers, making the view of the bridge even lovelier.

The official city limits sign of Čakovec greeted us after we passed through a couple of smaller villages.

And then the more interesting welcome came with its happy art and the reminder that Čakovec is the city of the 13th century castle that was home to the Zrinski family and others who protected this area and made possible the settlement that became a city.

And best of all, the sign was a reminder that we were almost home.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Same Old Routine

Coronamnesia. I don't think it's a real word. And I don't think I'm the only one to use it. But it's a real thing. Our memories are dependent on repetition and rhythm and routine, and major upheaval--getting too far from normal for too long--makes it harder to remember things.

But I do remember some things from this strange time of pandemic upheaval. Like that the last time I wrote here, I wrote about the cello. I will say more about that, but right now I'm thinking about the piano.

I also remember that back at the beginning of 2020, I wrote about the determination to write more regularly. Which did not happen. The erratic state of my blog is a reflection of the erratic state of life.

Because someone recently reminded me that I have a blog, which got me to thinking about all this, I've also been thinking about a little index card that I noticed one time in the windowsill above Grandmother's oven. Just a little white card with the words written in blue ink in her handwriting:

Thank God for the same old routine.

I don't remember my age or situation when I first noticed it, but it stuck with me because it struck me as odd that she would have that written out for herself to see. We were brought up to count our blessings, but I had never thought of "the same old routine" as a blessing to consider.

Wow, do I see that differently now. For many reasons, experiences over many years have made sense of those words and why she might write them out to remember.

"The same old routine" feels like a faraway dream to me right now. Since writing "now I begin" back in January of 2020, the pandemic broke out, changing all kinds of routines and rhythms for all of us. Additionally, we went real estate hunting, found a place, renovated "the chateau" (a condominium, but I dislike that word as a descriptor for my living space, and our complex has a French name, so I'm calling it a chateau), packed up our things and sold our lovely house, and moved into the chateau, which is lovely in ways of its own. Then within a month of that move, I learned that I would have to find a new office space for my practice. That was another upheaval. It also had a lovely outcome, but it was very stressful when I had no idea where I'd go but had to get out in a short amount of time.

And this year has had its share of smaller disruptions of rhythm, both sweet and somewhat bitter. The vaccines meant that Zoom piano lessons turned into children physically present in my living room again, which was wonderful. I began taking cello lessons, which was great fun. Resulting shoulder/arm pain led to stopping the lessons and starting a month of physical therapy to remedy the pain and, we hope, make playing cello possible again.

But I still don't know about that, because just a week after ending the PT sessions, I had foot surgery which left me largely dependent on husband, friends, and family for about a month. The following month included more mobility and physical therapy for the foot. I'm still not back to normal, but I'm starting to be able go for short walks and do some of the yoga-like exercise that was part of my same old routine before the surgery.

And now on the horizon, sailing steadily toward us, is the big ship of moving back to Croatia. I haven't written about that on my blog before, just another indication of how strange this time of life is! We've seen this ship coming for some time, but that doesn't diminish the size of it nor the amount it will disrupt and change the same old routine--what little there is of that.

I've begun a sort of rhythm in that each week I've been seeing fewer and fewer clients and going through more and more boxes. I trust both my clients and I will make this adjustment okay.

Support for that trust came to me yesterday in the form of a metronome. I'm about to get a metronome for one of my piano students and begin the process of teaching her to use it. And as I was looking at my own cute little one, a passage came back to me from my DMin thesis that gave me hope, in a week when I've had multiple moments of feeling close to overwhelm level. A few years ago, applying these ideas to a life of disciplined prayer, I wrote:

A common friend of many musicians is the metronome. A metronome helps measure time, providing a steady tempo for a musician to match. People are not born with perfect rhythm; they learn it from their environment and from practice. As a piano teacher, I have worked with many students who struggle with rhythm and who have never used a metronome. Initially, they tend to struggle mightily to stay with the metronome. It requires will, persistence, and generally significant encouragement. Most go through a period of resisting and complaining about how hard it is to keep themselves in tempo. Those who stick with the process, however, wind up realizing (and often saying) that the metronome has become a good friend. It actually helps their playing improve and helps them achieve their goals of making meaningful music. Its difficult discipline eventually frees them, allowing them to feel more clearly and confidently the spirit of the music.

And in the thesis I connected this with a wonderful passage about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a musician himself, who wrote to a friend in Letters from Prison:

What I mean is that God wants us to love him eternally with our whole hearts [. . . . ] to provide a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint . . . . I wanted to tell you to have a good, clear cantus firmus; that is the only way to a full and perfect sound and can't come adrift or get out of tune, while remaining a distinct whole in its own right. Only a polyphony of this kind can give life a wholeness and at the same time assure us that nothing calamitous can happen as long as the cantus firmus is kept going.

Over many years of making music, and quite a few years of working as a counselor, helping people with mood disorders and people without diagnosable disorders who nonetheless struggle with moods because of temporary situations, I've come to realize the importance of actual metronomes and metaphorical ones.

And I know the value of conductors who keep a steady beat that can keep dozens or even hundreds of performers together so that what could degenerate into cacophony instead sounds beautiful or powerful.

With clients I sometimes talk about finding and creating anchors, small morning and evening practices they can make a part of each day, even if the rest of the day feels completely out of their control.

And perhaps as with the conductor, the value of staying connected to even one or two people who have a steadying effect can make all the difference between cacophony and harmony.

Especially staying connected to the Divine Conductor makes a difference. "Nothing calamitous can happen" if we do that. Bonhoeffer wrote that from prison in the midst of a savage war, and he wound up a martyr. Somehow that helps me believe I can handle what lies before me.

It's been hitting me that I need more rhythm, more anchors, more "metronome work" in my life, even if it was only yesterday the metronome itself spoke to me about this.

So I've found a way to make tomorrow a true retreat day, at a church with a beautiful nave and empty space where I can do some much-needed praying and planning. And I'm determined to work out a flexible but firm enough "rule of life" to get me through these next few months and into the new life beyond.

There's something comforting about the sound of an old-fashioned metronome. (I can't say the same for the digital ones I've used, whose sounds tend to annoy me.) The steady, resonant tick tock continues no matter how many times you get off the beat and have to start over.

And there's something comforting about looking forward to tomorrow and knowing that even with all the change, plenty of practices from my past can be reinserted into my life and carried forward. My life may be changing, but the God I pray to and the friends who love me aren't changing. The park I've walked in is still there. I can create a new rhythm with what is possible.

The old-fashioned metronomes, like old-fashioned clocks, have to be wound anew every so often, which for me is also a comforting thing, reminding me of my beloved piano teacher who occasionally had to stop her metronome and wind it during one of our lessons.

I'm ready to wind my metronome and use it more consistently. I hope writing in here will become more a part of my rhythm, even in the change-filled days ahead. I'm not ready to commit to that yet, but it's up for consideration.

I thank God for the same old routine, for this period of minimal routine, and for the new routines to come.

And I smile in the hope that Fr. Lanteri would be happy along with me. Nunc coepi. Now I begin. (Again.)

Sunday, February 14, 2021

What Do You Have that You Did Not Receive?

I don't remember exactly when I fell in love with cellos. But it was a long time ago.
It was the sound. The lower register, the smoothness, the beautiful way they somehow seemed to sound more like a human voice than any other instrument,
as far as I could tell, anyway.

And the more I went to the symphony and saw them,
the more I began to notice how beautiful they were to look at,
as all the string instruments were.
But something about their size made them the "just right" place
for that beauty--not too big, not too small, but just right.
They are human sized, as well as human sounding.

And so, many years ago, my beloved and I decided that someday we would get a cello.
I would learn to play it first, with hopes that he would too one day.
(But first he would learn piano, and we would play duets together.)

Someday. Someday.
After this degree, when I'm not working so much, after this crisis, after that surgery.
After the other surgery, after the move, after we get settled.

Well, today was that someday.
He did it for my birthday, a few days ago.
We went up there together, met with the man with the cellos,
had a little introduction, heard the lovely sounds, chose the darker colored one with the greater resonance, signed the papers, and walked out with a cello.

A cello which is purely a gift from a man who loves me.
There are a lot of things we don't have in common. We're pretty seriously different.
But we both love beautiful music, and he decided to make a dream come true.

The longer I live, the more often I think of the speech given when I graduated,
the counseling degree graduation, a seminary counseling degree,
so the speech wasn't "you are amazing and can do anything,"
but instead was "What do you have that you did not receive?"
It was about gratitude, about a realistic perspective that everything is a gift--
life itself, with everything it includes.
(As the billboards in Memphis remind us, No One Gets a Diploma Alone.)
Well, I sure didn't get this cello alone.
It's a birthday gift from my husband.

It's also, in a very real way, a birth-day gift from my mother.
My mother, who was born on this very day many years ago
and who gave birth to me
and who is not now here to see or hear this cello.

But she is surely the reason I love music.
She is the reason we grew up experiencing singing as a normal part of life.
The reason I knew the notes on the piano before ever taking a piano lesson.
The reason I "had an ear" for music.
Without all that, who knows if I would have played piano or loved the symphony?
Would I have spent money on my first record, Pachelbel and Fasch pieces?
Would I have sung in choruses that let me be on stage with the symphony,
adding to my love of those cellos that I saw up close and personal?

I never knew before today that a cello has a heart.
Maybe that's why it sounds so human.
I guess that the other string instruments also have this feature, so that's likely not accurate.
But it's still a lovely thing, to see this little heart shape carved into the wood of the bridge.

I've loved cellos for a long time.
And now it kind of feels like this cello is loving me.
It's going to be a challenge, learning to play it. Humbling, without doubt.
But I think it will help to look down the strings and see that little heart
and to think "this is about love," and remember the ones whose love
brought this all about,
and be grateful for what I've received.

And a really wonderful thing about a cello is that it can never, ever sound quite the way
that a violin can sound in the hands of a beginner!
I tried that over thirty years ago! Eeek!

But even if not every note this cello makes will sound wonderful,
I think in its own way it will be beautiful.