It’s a Sunday morning — bright blue sky, cool breeze but warm sun. Birds offer practically the only audible commentary on the beauty of the day, as my perch on our rooftop terrace is just far enough removed from the sleepy city to give a sense — if I were to close my eyes — of being on holiday on a quiet beach somewhere. Glorious.
…Funny what complicated beings we are: Here I’m enjoying having nothing between me and the heavens, while the past weeks I have been slowly coming to an inner articulation of the pain of “rooflessness.” Repeatedly in the last weeks, a troubling image has come to mind: I am in a house, but there is no roof. The image begs the question, “Where do I fit? Who has by back?” …It’s not a question of belonging, per se. Who is more blessed with sister, brother-in-law, aunt and uncles and cousins, friends locally and around the globe? It’s really a question of who is “over” me, as God’s representative, shall we say, in the sense of both authority and shelter.
In the past days, I’d say this existential question has been addressed by deeply needed confirmation that it’s the local church, and the leadership of that church, that bears that responsibility. Like most people of my generation, or perhaps humankind in general, “authority” doesn’t tend to have a positive or endearing ring for me. But, when exercised in love, I’d say it gives a feeling of home.
Easter feels like a while ago by now. It was a fairly full week of church and other Easter-related activities. I joined a few other musicians, part of a larger short-term OM Easter outreach team for a couple of small concerts in two nursing homes. Although the first location offered a piano that was so horrid that it was really funny, it was a good opportunity to share some classical and sacred music in new settings. Particularly in the second nursing home, the residents, and the social worker who helped organize the event, were so appreciative. It was also neat to see the extra-large-print Gospels of Luke and John be eagerly accepted by some of the residents.
On Friday there was a meditative Good Friday service at church. Saturday I baked hot cross buns, a family tradition, and in the evening participated in an Easter concert, for which the nursing home concerts were a bit of a rehearsal. My part was to accompany two vocal pieces and provide two hands for a couple of piano duets (Brahm’s “Hungarian Dances” — fun pieces!). It was a particular joy that a surprising number of friends showed up (despite public transportation havoc created by a train wreck in one of the main stations). After the concert, I went with a friend to just the first bit of the Russian Orthodox Easter mass. A friend sings in the choir, and I love Russian church music. But, the service is basically incomprehensible, extremely long, and requiring the congregation to stay standing. We left after an hour (about midnight), but I think the service went till 2 a.m. or later.
Easter Sunday was a festive service. It was good, even if a squeeze, to join our two services into one. Extra music (of course!), visitors (including two friends I’d invited, which was a real pleasure), and a shared meal afterwards. In the afternoon, Jessica and I enjoyed dying Easter eggs at home before heading off to a dinner at our pastor’s house (more good food, a hilarious dinner game, and good conversation). Easter Monday, a holiday here, was full, too. I hosted an Easter brunch for a few friends, like last year. It was pretty laid-back, the first guest arriving at 10 a.m. and the last leaving at 4 p.m. Afterwards, though, I was totally exhausted. I’m afraid I was sort of going through the motions of celebrating Easter with church services and hospitality, but in retrospect it was all good, and all a bit much.
As a side note, the spring weather one expects around Easter time (at least in the northern hemisphere) was quite unpredictable this year! Two days after Easter it snowed in cold, windy gusts more or less all day long. Even though nothing stuck, it was an odd throw-back to winter!
CHOIR WEEKEND: In March, just before our April concert, the choir I’m singing with gathered in a small town a couple hours outside of Vienna for a weekend of rehearsals and getting acquainted. Well, I got to get acquainted with a number of folks, but many of the members have been in the group for numerous years!
Besides six rehearsals between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, there was time for morning runs with two other choir members, lots of conversation over meals and evening bottles of wine, and a walk into town (a rather popular pilgrimage destination). I continue to be grateful for the friendly people and lovely music! Our next concert is June 1st.
SMALL GROUP RETREAT: The weekend after Easter I went along on a retreat organized by one of the home groups (Bible study groups) from church. I can now say that I have stepped foot in all nine Bundesländer (states or provinces) of Austria. We camped out (not literally) near the large and extremely shallow Neusiedlersee, which forms part of the border between Austria and Hungary. The weekend included valuable discussions on our topic of “joy” and a decent dose of happiness.
The highlight for me was the bike ride we took Saturday morning. All 12 of us — covering about a 35-year age range — braved a blustery day for a splendid jaunt to the lake (which includes an interesting wetland area that is a real bird sanctuary). Some of us extended the ride for a tour through an area of vineyards, where we were rewarded with coming across what looked to me like the most perfect hobbit homes.
A Week in Germany
If the month of April hadn’t been full enough already, it ended with a trip to Germany. A group of 9 of us from our church in Vienna joined about a 1000 others for a conference (Evangelium 21/Together for the Gospel) that was commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and considering the five “solas” (“solae”) of the Reformation for Christians today — Sola scriptura, Sola fide, Sola gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo gloria. There were guest speakers from the U.S., as well as German pastors — wow, rather a lot of input for 2 1/2 days!
The days in Hamburg also included getting to catch up with a friend (thank you, Olga!), as well as visiting a church I quite enjoyed. Monday I took the bus to Berlin for a couple of days of sight-seeing.
Berlin is very different from Vienna — bigger, and with a more modern vibe. There are certainly old buildings, too, but it’s not the same type of grandeur the Hapsburgs promoted in Austria. It was a rather strange visit, in some ways, for me. I arrived on May 1st, which was one year since Dad’s death. I felt like I should somehow make note of the day, but it was odd being alone with my thoughts, and far from home in Tennessee or Vienna. I listened to the recording of the memorial service while I was on the bus from Hamburg, and I decided I should enjoy a big hamburger and fries at a favorite restaurant (which Dad would have fully approved of!). (That got postponed till the next day, but was still a good idea.)
…A few city highlights bear proper describing: First off, the first afternoon I enjoyed a really great 4-hour guided walking tour. Our guide had a PhD in history, but was enjoying a change of scenery from academics and giving city tours instead. The tour ended next to the Konzerthaus, so I decided to see if there were any concerts that I might be able to attend spontaneously. Happily, although I didn’t manage a rather expensive concert, I did get in on a documentary film paying homage to the world-famous pianist Alfred Brendel. A very unusual guy, to say the least (!), but certainly interesting. He unexpectedly showed up at the question and answer session with the film producer afterwards, so that was an added bonus.
I did a lot of walking in Berlin. In fact, aside from taking public transport from the main bus terminal to my hostel upon arrival, I walked everywhere else. Fun! The other prominent feature of the visit was lots of museums — a bit about the Cold War (really hard to imagine living in such an arbitrarily divided city) and a lot about WWII. Very heavy, but impressive, exhibits that gave both an overview of the atrocities of the war and sought to highlight the stories of individuals and families.
Having read and re-read in times past an extremely good biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I made a point of visiting the museum about resistance movements during the 3rd Reich. One of the best parts of the trip was visiting the Zionkirche (Zion Church), where Bonhoeffer was a youth worker (catechism teacher) to young people in a part of town that at that time was decided underprivileged. (Today, the church sits in a gentrified neighborhood.) When I walked into the church building mid-week, late afternoon, I was surprised to see a children’s church service just about to start — a group of young families gathering, home-made refreshments laid out in the back, an Easter egg hunt (why in May?) being laid out on the church lawn. A small photo/text display at the back summarized the church’s history and Bonhoeffer’s role. I have no idea of the soundness of the church’s theology currently, but it was somehow beautiful and moving to see a lively congregation gathered in that space and think about the role one of its former churchmen played in a costly living out of the gospel in the not-too-distant past.
Besides walking and museuming, I enjoyed catching up with a friend, as well as a few refreshing hours spent reading in cozy cafes.
Well, I could carry on, but I’ll spare my readers more text this time around and close with a handful of photos — spring flowers, in a park with friends, a roommate photo op, and a sun-set photo from the terrace. Glad summer is around the corner.