It's been a crazy week. Every time I'm confronted with change and loss I seem to reflect on a lot. It's awful to have to go through leaving everyone and everything here. It makes me appreciate the idea of eternity--when I compare it to the pain of all that is temporal here. It's been a really hard week. Saying goodbye here is so difficult, because I know that I will never see most of these people again, nor will I know this place again like I do now. It's almost like it's a higher degree, because every other time I've said goodbye it's knowing that it is just for a time. It's mostly bitter now...I'm just waiting for the sweet to come.
Still though, it's impossible to look at all of this just through the lens of my current sadness. This has been such an incredible experience that is way more than anything I've deserved. I've gone places and grown close to people that are all so extraordinary. I'm so glad that I've been able to keep in contact with you all through this. Thank you for reading and taking an interst in my life.
This is my last post, on my last day in Switzerland. I say farewell and turn the page, always ready to read the next whatever it might bring. I'll be seeing you all soon.
I can't believe I only have one week left here. A lot of my friends are leaving earlier than that too. It's strange to have these people be a part of my life for this short time, and then to leave and not have really anytime known where I will see them again. We've shared so much together through travels and experiences. I'm glad that I've been able to share them with you all to some extent through this medium. It's strange to reflect back on the semester, especially when it's not over yet. I don't know that I can or should too much yet. Here's how I described to a friend in a recent email how I am feeling these days:
'Have you ever been reading a really good book, and you get to the last chapter or two, and you're thinking to yourself, "how is the author going to end this one?" And you're asking that because it's been a really good book, but the situation has become one in which any sort of resolution or path that the characters can take will not seem satisfactory enough for the build up? We talk about that some in fiction writing, how you write yourself into a situation (or the story leads you there) that is the best and fits with everything better than any other way, yet it can't be sustained and the only place to go is to somewhere lesser. I've read a couple of books like that. The ending usually then becomes some sort of moral lesson, because that's the juice that's squeezed from the fruit of disappointment. I feel like I'm approaching those last few chapters.'
I was thinking about that more today though. It's interesting how sometimes we describe our life in terms of chapters of a book. Like we say that we are turning the page to a new chapter in our life. I guess this was just one of those chapters that was so full that it seems like an entire book in itself. It's good and important to think that there are still many more chapters to come. It will be hard to leave this place and turn that page. So hard. But I'm so glad that I have so much to look forward to coming home. I can't wait to see you all.
Oh and I have a little surprise planned for everyone when I come back. Ask me about it when you see me.
The best sounds came from the three concerts that we went to in two days. It was a lot, but it's Vienna! Angela took me to the first one on saturday night, a string quartet from the Vienna orchestra performing in the Mozart House--in a room covered in frescoes where Mozart himself used to give performances. They played Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and some other pieces that I recognized. It was a smaller venue, and it made the sound really sharp. Then Sunday morning we were able to hear the Vienna Boys choir. It was interesting to sit in on that royal mass and hear that famous choir. We even sat somewhere that we could see them while they were up in their loft, before they sang once in front of everyone. They were amazing, and the acoustics in that church were really incredible. Then that afternoon the world famous Prague Orchestra was giving a concert, and standing room tickets were free. We were waiting around the standing room before the concert and this old guy just walks up to us and hands us tickets. He's like here, so you can go sit down on up front. Other people wanted them for sure; I don't know why he chose us. It was amazing though--we were only sixteen rows from the front. The orchestra played Mozart's 39th symphony which I love, and then this famous Mozart Choir from Japan joined them for a performance of Mozart's Requiem. That was incredible, my favorite of the three. With the full choir and orchestra there were some 200 people up on stage pouring forth glorious music throughout the Musikverein, one of the top three concert halls in the world. It was almost too phenomenal.
Besides the beautiful sounds, my ears also finally got a little frosted red from the cold. It actually doesn't get all that cold here in Lugano, southern Switzerland. It hasn't been feeling enough like Christmas, and Vienna had a refreshing briskness to the air that made it really feel like Christmas. I suppose all the Christmas lights, Christmas markets, and Christmas music may have helped also. We walked around a lot, seeing all the lights adorning the streets, monuments, and churches. All along the streets there were musicians playing Christmas music, and they were good. It was so charming. And then there were the Christmas markets. These were set up all over the city--little cabin/booth things set up with all sorts of Christmas goodies: cookies, cider, pretzels, ornaments, lights, hats, scarves, and so much more. They were all decorated really well and it was a delight to wander through them--a thousand times better than walking through any mall. I'm not much of a shopper normally, but the combination of Angela's buying ways (she's not too a huge shopper, but for things like this...) and the effect of the Christmas atmosphere really got to me. My suitcases will be so full, oh dear. In a few weeks I just might be hearing some airline attendant in Zurich yelling at me in German...
Throughout the weekend we also went to a lot of churches and museums that were maybe more of a delight on the eyes than the ears. But there is also something delightful in the still silence that fills a church or opera hall when nothing is going on there. My favorite museum we went to though didn't have anything quite about it. It was the House of Music museum. It had so many cool parts to it: an electronic dice game that determined the notes for your own composition (Mozart actually did this...without the electronic part apparently though), a separate room for each major composer that spent significant time in Vienna (so many of them: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Mahler, etc.), and all sorts of other interactive sound and composition experiences. So cool. We went to the Albertina Museum, which had exhibits by Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Franz Gertsch. We also visited a small art museum with a special exhibit of Chagall's works. I usually am not a huge fan of that type of art--even not really crazy about Picasso, but I really liked a lot of Chagall's stuff. We toured the Hofburg Treasury, apparently the best collection of jewels on the continent. It was really incredible actually. We saw everything from a piece of wood from the cross (nail hole and all) to Napolean's crib to a six foot tall unicorn horn (narwhal really) to the predominant crown of the Roman Emperor. It was extensive to say the least. And we also toured the famous opera house. It was pretty, but a lot of it was reconstructed after WWII so it has a major 50s feel to it--like the hotel in The Shining. We were going to try to get standing room tickets for Sunday night because they're actually pretty cheap, but we didn't have time because of when our train left. We also saw several churches that were pretty beautiful. One had this advent market going on in one of the side rooms--it was so cool to see a little non-touristy side of a church selling candles and cider and cookies all made by church members. It was perhaps the most warming Christmas thing I saw all weekend.
Truly it was an amazing weekend. Vienna may have been music to my ears, but perhaps even more it played on my heart. Cheesy I know, but what if it's true? I'll leave you with a real quote this time, from the words of the timeless Billy Joel, "Vienna waits for you."
"All roads lead to Rome," said Jean de la Fontaine. And I guess there's several train tracks that do too, thankfully--because I didn't have a car and I really wanted to get there. It was such a fun trip; we had a really great group of people and a lot of time to spend in the biggest city that I've been to over here. There is so much to do that even though I did so much, there were still things I didn't get to. There were pretty much only two unfortunate things: that meeting up with Amy didn't work out and that we eventually had to leave. You can see all the Pictures! The trip started Thursday night with an overnight train, an interesting experience within itself. I don't know if I could have made it through if it weren't for the paper slippers and toilet seat cover they included on our beds. But alas, we made it in at 7 in the morning and began our day straight off. After checking into our hostel, we made our way to the Vatican to wait in line. It was only about 45 minutes, so it wasn't too bad at all. We saw a lot there, including art by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Salvador Dali, and not to forget the Sistine Chapel. It was all so ornate and beautiful--really just beyond words. And we sent out a few postcards from the Vatican City (you only get one if you're the best mom in the world). Next we made our way over to St. Peter's Basilica, the largest cathedral in the world. We saw the tombs of the popes, including the heavily memorialized tomb of Pope John Paul II. Then we wandered throughout the church, seeing Michaelangelo's Pieta and other not quite as famous statues. We climbed the dome and had a great view of the rest of the city (nothing is allowed to be built higher in the city).
By that point we were definitely ready for our quick lunch of the amazing Doner kebob. After that stop we made our way to the Pantheon and just walked around the city the rest of the night, seeing various squares and districts. My favorite was the Trevi fountain--a huge, beautiful fountain and a very romantic place where you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain while making a romantic wish. I bet you wonder if mine will come true. Oh silly hopeless romantic you. We topped off the night with the best gelato in Rome. It was so good! Anyways...it was a crazy busy day but very rewarding.
Friday morning we slept in a little because we were so exhausted, but before long we were on our way to the ancient Roman district. We first climbed the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele, a beautiful palace dedicated to fallen Italian soldiers. It was so beautiful that Mussolini decided to make it his own palace while he was in power. After that we walked through the ruins of the Roman Forum. They were in much better shape than most of the Greek ruins I saw, but we had no tour guide to explain what it all was. So I had to play the role, reading off of the torn out pages from my travel book. It sufficed. We also saw the Mamertine prison, where Paul and Peter were held during each of their separate times of imprisonment in Rome. Then we approached the Arch of Constantine, a huge arch commemorating the victory of Constantine over Maxentius to become Emperor. It was huge and very elaborately decorated. It stands as the entryway of sorts to the Colosseum. We didn't pay the money to go inside of it (it's just dirt really), but we definitely sensed the grandeur from the outside.
After walking all the way around it, we decided to have a little adventure of our own. We rented a four person bike and did our best not to get killed by crazy Roman drivers. We then walked down the business district and the girls indulged in a little shopping. It wasn't so bad--Bill and I only had to sit around and wait for like an hour. We then made our way to the Spanish steps, where we met up with another friend. He took us to see the Cappucian Crypt, a creepy place with bones serving as the decorations. It was morbidly interesting. Then we had a nice dinner followed by another round of gelato. Another very full day led to a relatively early turn in, though we stayed up talking at the hostel for a little while.
Sunday we got up and saw the Castle of St. Angelo, a huge fortress near the Vatican. It was filled with wonderful frescos and paintings, and the view of the Vatican from the top was gorgeous. Vatican square was our next destination, as we heard the Pope speak. It was in Italian,the crowd was huge, and the Pope was way up far away in a little window, but it was still cool to see. Then it was off to the church of St. Peter in Chains, that contained the supposed chains that held Peter in prison. There was also a beautiful statue of Moses in there by Michaelangelo. We also saw the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which holds the tomb of St. Jerome, supposed pieces from the original manger, and one of the most well know icons--the blessed virgin with Christ on her lap. We saw the National Museum of Rome next, which was alright. It didn't compare too well to the Greek art that I saw in Greece, because most of the works were just copies of those. But there were a lot of really nice mosaics. We then saw a movie that night--Children of Men. Not the best, but fairly interesting. The next morning we caught the train out and that was that, nearly five days in total for the trip.
Beyond just all the great things I was able to do in the city, I really enjoyed this weekend for lots of other reasons. I had lots of really good conversations, and the company was just really enjoyable. Some of the trips I've taken have been cool, but they will all kind of blend together in time I think. This weekend though, will be one I don't think I will ever forget.
Reading: I finished Dallas Willard's Rennovation of the Heart. It was very engaging and presented a quality approach to spiritual formation and understand the parts that make us up. It has proved a useful framework within which to seek after the proper integration and interplay of my emotions, will/heart, body, social context, soul, mind. I also started reading Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward for my Russian Lit. class. It's pretty interesting so far, and of course you know how I feel in general about the russian lit. You all should read some!
Reflecting: Well this will tie in with journaling, but sometimes it is good to just 'lay down with your thoughts' as I put it in the last post. Sometimes I would do this and drift in and out of sleep. And in that way it was fun to watch my thoughts dance with my dreams. And perhaps a little confusing. Upon further reflection, if you really want to make something out of your reflections--perhaps journaling them is a more sure-fire method than falling asleep to them. I guess that is if you want to make something out of them, which sometimes it's nice not to.
Journaling: One of the most interesting things about this whole experience has been leaving my whole community of Christians and being transplanted into a new, very different community. It tells me a lot about who I am, as well as about the community that I came from. It mainly has been a cool way to develop an understanding of how I follow Jesus outside of the framework and traditional understanding of my Christian community. Most of the focus of my journaling centered around that past community, the one I will be returning to fairly shortly. Being a good ways into this experience, I can look back on that community and see some of the things that I couldn't see from within it. So it was interesting to write about those observations and speculate on how I will interact directly in those areas when I return.
Sleeping: I slept a lot. It was beautiful. I'm in fact going to go sleep right now!
Did you know rain delays trains? It's possible I guess, especially for trains coming from Italy. Well this one last night was an hour and twenty minutes late...making the Zurich connection to Vienna impossible to reach. It would have been a fun weekend. I was quite excited about it. I might still get to Vienna...but it certainly won't be this weekend.
Well rather than take an impromptu trip to France, I decided to take it easy this weekend. It's a shame to lose a weekend of travel, but it's not so bad. I've been going so much that I don't think I've let my body realize it. It's good to get some rest. It's nice to have some time to really think. It's nice to let the rain tick idly right along with my watch. Maybe I'll be able to figure some things out, to pray, to read, to reflect, to relax. That sounds nice. That sounds like something I've been missing.
First of all, we went for the weekend--but the place is actually designed to have you come for a week. Each service that I went to felt more and more like home. I guess that's the only way to describe it...familiar, comfortable, comforting, peaceful...home. And that was just a weekend, with a total of 6 services. I week would be so wonderful.
Probably the main element of the weekend was these services. They're quite simple really, and even after the first one I wasn't really moved or drawn to it. But like I said, after each one the presence of the Spirit was more and more evident. It consisted of lots of singing, chants in a sense. They were simple songs, one or two lines of phrases repeated over and over again--and songs in many different languages. There is a reading of scripture, and a prolonged time of silence (perhaps 10 minutes or so). The services last about an hour. I really loved them. The place had a great setting as well, as you can see from the first picture of the post--taken during the afternoon while empty. During the services, the boxes all have candles lit inside them, and the brothers sit in the center aisle marked off bshrubberyry. The church extends back quite a ways, as there are 4,000 plus people there in the summers. It was nice to be there in the winter, with only 150 or so for the weekend--and 40 for the week. Another thing that was cool about the weekend was the surrounding areas. It was cold, but that didn't stop us from venturing into the nearby town and into the wooded area surrounding the monastery. The village of Taizé was so beautiful--totally French. It was great to see the more small town side of things that I tend to miss just going to all of the bcitiestes. The wooded area, called The Source, was also so beautiful. Several of us went down there about sunset and saw some amazing views, a few of which I was able to capture by photo. I'll put a few on here, but really you should look at them all--because it's so hard to pick just a few!
Beyond that, the weekend held lots of spiritually rich conversations. It wpervadedded with a sense of peace and simplicity that is really quite rare. It was a rich time spiritually, which is something that I was definitely thirsting for. Not in the sense that there was any exact or profound moment of connection with God, or any particular revelation or word--but rather just a constant ministry of presence. It's been my favorite weekend of any thusfar.