Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bigger, louder, better?



The other day I briefly skimmed an article about the world's quietest room. As his closing remarks, the author revealed that the longest man has ever lasted inside the room amounts to a mere hour. I immediately contested the article because surely man could last longer than that - I mean, I probably could stay in there for a week! My slightly big-headed proposition was the result of a week marked by stress, noise and information-overload. Big cities are loud places and in moments of over-sensitisation, when all the noise is competing for your attention, the ordinary becomes draining: The chatter of people echoing the streets. The droning traffic. The ambulances making their way to the nearest hospital. The closing doors of public transport. The construction work outside the office. The soon-to-die computer trying to keep up with simple tasks. The chirping birds. Even the rain banging against your window. True quietness does not exist.

Fast forward to the Sunday of that particular week. I went to church, as always. The band was playing, people were clapping, the pastor was speaking - and there was not a single moment of stillness. Even when we were waiting for the Lord to minister to people, the piano was being played in the background and someone somewhere was talking. It seems to me, that in the purpose-driven lifestyle of people, quietness has become something uncomfortable - something that better be avoided. And churches make no exception. I observe how - more and more so - worship sets are turned into rock concerts, where the sound of the instruments cancels out the voices of the congregation, where colourful lights are wildly circulating around the room, where the quality of performance becomes more important than bringing Him praise. I observe pastors speaking louder and louder, almost screaming, to emphasise the importance of a point made. I observe how the congregation is encouraged to respond back to the things said with a happy "Hallelujah" instead of quietly pondering the thought.

Don't get me wrong - it is by no means my intention to bash modern forms of worship or the exclamation of support during the service. I like singing my praises accompanied by a good worship band, I like scripture being projected onto the wall with a nice soothing background, and sometimes I even like saying a "yes" in agreement - I am all in for it. Yet,  I am advocating that we as the church stop competing with this mad lifestyle of stress, noise and impressing people that dominates life outside the church. The Kingdom of God is upside-down and counter-cultural. We do not need to speak louder and be flashy in order to be heard and taken seriously. We really don't.

This Easter, when I went back to Scotland and attended the Easter Sunday service of my old church, I saw that God is most powerful in the quiet. Within seconds of the band playing the first chords of an old hymn, the uniting voices of the congregation grew louder and louder - eventually drowning the sound of the instruments. I remember vividly how the deep humming voices of the men mingled with the chirping voices of the women. I kept thinking this is what Heaven must be like. It was utterly beautiful. And then, when the song finished and people were catching their breath after singing from the top of their lungs, there was a stillness for a split second or two. A brief moment of quietness that bundled up all the contentment and satisfaction there ever was and ever is to come. To me, it was that moment of stillness that was most inviting.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Wisdom of the New Year's Cracker


Similar to the British tradition of Christmas crackers, Germans have their very own version of being charmed by a little toy and a silly attempt of wisdom. Every year on New Year's Eve we abandon our voice of reason and gleefully try to decipher whatever cryptic message we receive after popping the cracker. Back in 2012, the meaning of the little piece of paper I received totally bypassed me and - approximately 3 minutes later - I forgot about it all together. Today, little over a year later, I still don’t remember but I think the “wisdom”-part of it all finally hit home – and trust me, it was not because the meaning transpired after all. Instead, I simply lived. 2013 was intense and I conclude that, in hindsight, this is what my New Years Cracker should have read instead:

There is a silver lining to everything. 
2013 was bittersweet. It was probably the hardest year of my life - but also the most necessary year to happen. I experienced exhilarating heights, which in return made the lows feel so much worse. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I have this past year – from silent tears just spilling down my face to loud weeping, sobbing and wailing: Been there, done that. Silver lining you ask? Well, I may have cried a lot but I also drank a lot of water because crying makes you extremely thirsty. If you think about it, it all makes perfect sense, but I doubt I would have ever known.

Just like adding water to instant food leaves you with a meal, buying a sofa makes you an adult instantly.
Up until my early twenties I wondered how I would ever know know that I am an adult. I had hoped for a live-changing event – however, when the signing of my first apartment lease during my first year of university did not quite conjure the emotions of adulthood I had hoped for, I surrendered my expectations. Instead, I started to believe that the transition into adulthood was a gradual adjustment to a lifestyle dominated by engagements, weddings and babies after all. 2013, though, proved me wrong: I bought a sofa and never before in my life have I felt so grown-up.

Trains. Always. Win.
So I have this very generalizing and only-by-my-own-experiences-verified theory. I call it “Of Trains and Tracks” and essentially, this is what it says: Culturally and behaviorally, the British resemble tracks. They are rather gentle, happy to not stray too far away from the beaten track and too polite to make actual decisions – their life is just like that of a train track whose path has been pre-determined by someone else. Germans, on the other hand, are like trains. Loud, push-overs and quite sure of where they are going. Now, while it surely is no problem to be a track among many tracks, or even to be a train among tracks, I very quickly learned that being a track among many trains leaves at the mercy of a whole bunch of people.

Sometimes we must forgive God.
To all my theology friends out there, hear me out; I know that theologically we have no legitimate basis that would ever grant us the right to forgive God, but sometimes we need to put the “how-it-ought-to-be’s” aside and deal with reality. If we feel wronged, let down, left alone, or hurt by God, then – regardless of whether it is rational – we need to deal with it. If feelings of disappointment endanger and intoxicate our relationship with Him, then we not only need to readjust our understanding of God but we also need to forgive Him. Just like we would do with any other friend.

To be fully known and yet loved surpasses everything. 
And this is where it ends. I moved twice this year and a total of 8 times within the last 5 years and the single most important thing I have learned is that no matter where we are, and no matter by whom we are surrounded, and no matter what the circumstances are, we can love and we can allow to be loved. To be vulnerable, to cry, to laugh, and to live life where there is love is the most liberating experience to ever encounter.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wind

Two of things you can most definitely count on when living on the coast is, both, an immense availability of water and - ranging from gentle to gusting - wind. While the former is rather obvious, I find the latter is often forgotten about. I mean, let's be real, have you ever heard someone raving about the nice summery breeze or the hazardous stormy gales they encountered while spending an afternoon on the coast? I doubt it. Most of the time, people comment on anything but the wind: the water, the waves, the sand, the animals, the people...

But here's the thing, it's the wind that makes all the difference. I didn't realize how much I missed a good strong blow until I found myself encapsulated by one - the strong forces of the wind pushing against me like lovers do. Breathing in the fresh air, being shaken by its strength, I felt complete freedom - the same kind of freedom I felt numerous times when walking down the beach: strong, empowering and so life-giving.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Week of Firsts

This past week has been a week of firsts. For the first time in months, my heart felt light and at peace. I felt peace about being in Berlin. I felt excited for the future. I felt God's heart beat for mine again. It was a week of getting out of my comfort zone, of diving in and fearlessly embracing a life that doesn't involve much of my own choice.

On Thursday night I joined the local church small group gathering I was invited to earlier in the week. As I worshipped and prayed in community it felt as if I was with my small group back in Scotland. But I wasn't and I felt so unknown.

On Friday, I auditioned for a room in a shared flat - party style. I am rather proud of the fact that by the time I left the party mayhem, I managed to at least identify two of the seven tenants living there - as well as the room that could have been mine if I had still wanted to compete for it.

Following Saturday, I photographed my first wedding. I was put in touch with the couple through a mutual friend and to say that I was scared would be the understatement of the year. The wedding was absolutely beautiful and, gladly, the pictures turned out well. More on that later.

Sunday afternoon witnessed yet another first: together with my friend Laura, I strolled through an area called Mauerpark and its adjacent flea market. It seems to have become a traditional Sunday staple over the years and I can totally understand why. Laura and I enjoyed a gazillion treats (hello, crêpe galore!) and the oh-so traditional open-air karaoke.

On Monday  I painfully realized summer is over - and for the first time in years I am not ready for it. I am desperately holding on to the freedom of endlessly long days and sunshine. I wish I had at least a few more weeks to explore Berlin in all its summer glory.

On Tuesday, the long hours spent attempting to learn how to play the guitar finally paid off. For the first time, the tunes resembled actual songs and I was ale to truly enjoy the sound of it all.

And, yesterday, on Wednesday, I attended my first French lesson. Being more of a Latin and Spanish type of girl, I've never took French in school (don't judge, back then I really thought Latin was going to be useful. In retrospect, I have no idea where that reasoning came from). For the next six months, I will have classes twice a week. A lovely lady from Martinique will be teaching me about all the grammatical rules and regulations and I am only hoping I will be able to keep track.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Goose-Feather Duvet

It's been 50 days since I returned to the motherland and with each passing day, I am becoming more and more entrenched in a place I only intended to stay for a little while. I am flying back to Scotland next week to see two of my closest friends getting married. And to pick up the rest of my belongings. It's a funny feeling - as is the concept, to be honest: You know, to ship the most random material possessions halfway around Europe just because they are of some sort of sentimental value. In my mind, I ceaselessly catalogue every single item yet to be brought back to Berlin, just to avoid a logistical MCA when things are getting real. Over the years, I have perfected the art of efficiently moving across continents and my old childhood room has become a bizarre storage space for traces I left elsewhere.

For practical reasons, I will also be bringing back a goose-feather duvet set I bought not too long ago. I love the duvet as it kept me warm during many cold Scottish winter nights. In the meantime, though, it has become the pinnacle of lunacy - and yet a perfect emotional representation of how I feel. Not only is the duvet far too big for my single-size bed in Berlin, but it will also be too warm. Just as out of place the blanket will be in my room, I feel in Berlin 50 days after I got here.

Truth is, I never anticipated it. After all, being German should come naturally. Somehow, though, I lost touch with the German Lebensgefühl along the way. I missed out on four years of a nation creatively redefining herself and it feels like I am meeting a long lost cousin. I am rediscovering what it means to be German - cultural stereotypes and clichés I faced aside. It is heart-warmingly beautiful. I listen to a lot of German music and I am watching pretty much every important German movie released during past four years. This morning, I found myself crying one-third through one of the best movies I have seen this year.* A little later, I was laughing hysterically at the jokes of my favorite German TV series - because contrary to popular belief, German humor is hilarious and witty. Sometimes it makes me sad that so many of my close friends will never be able to enjoy it with me.

The advances of fully embracing it all and letting myself be carried by the cloud of German Lebensgefühl, however, aren't as successful as I'd want them to be. Part of it is due a subconscious resitance because I am not sure I want to be here at all. An even bigger aspect of it is, though, that as much as I'd want to fully embrace it all, I don't think I can. At least not in Berlin. Ironically, the city that has become a synonym of freedom for not only my generation is nothing but a gilded cage for me. I feel suffocated by the expectations people have of me in this place. I long for the independence I used to have and I envy anyone moving here to live in the freedom of the city as it is something I'll never be able to do.

* For anyone interested and able to speak German, it is called "Heiter bis wolkig". Trailer can be found here. But even if you don't speak German, definitely watch it - even if it just for the extremely handsome male actors ;)