Thursday, August 14, 2008

Finally coming to the end of the sabbatical

In a couple of day my sabbatical comes to an end and I will be back to my duties as co-pastor at Benton Mennonite Church. I have had a great time these past months, but I also look forward to working for a living again.

My time back home in Indiana these past several weeks have also been good. We got home on a Saturday night. I went to the College Mennonite Church since it is close by. It reminded me of the Weierhof because it is also an older congregation where the announcements focus on who had died and who is sick and in the hospital. I also saw some good friends and had a great visit with their Sunday School class. The sermon was by a guest who is biking across the USA with his family. It was a message encouraging us to have hope and courage in life.

Then after these few days at home unpacking we left again for five days of travel to and from Texas. We only spent one day in Texas for my niece Julianne's wedding. She is my last Texan niece to marry. We had a nice time with my brother Randy and his family. We got to see his new house and some of the art he is collecting. The boys had a lot of fun in the pool, and in this case the boys includes me the dad.

Then I was home for about a week, with one night of camping with Jacob at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The campground was full on a Thursday night, with only walk-in sites available. I have never seen it so full during the week. The beach was fantastic the next day.

Then I left for the Hermitage in Three Rivers, Michigan. I have had a sabbatical in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Each time I have spent a week at the Hermitage. I used to stay in the St. Joseph barn in one of the rooms or apartments. But now I ask to stay in the Hut the whole time. The Hut is in the middle of the woods of about 40 acres. It's about a ten minute walk from the barn where the meals and showers are found. There is a thermos of water rather than running water, a pit toilet, oil lamps, and a wood stove should you need any heat. A difference this year was there is a fire circle outside, which I lit the one night. It really does allow you to be away from it all.

Meals at the Hermitage are usually in silence, but two things made that not happen as much this time. The first is that the one night a reporter came because he was doing an article on the confluence of three prayer centers all connected together in this same area, Gilchrist, St. Gregory's Abbey, an Episcopilian Benedictine monastery, and the Hermitage. It seemed like the polite thing to do was talk to him to help him write his story. And then there were two festivals at the Hermitage, a Blackberry Jam day where people come and pick wild blackberries and then make jam, and then the Feast of the Transfiguration, a day of worship and retreat. I did not participate in these events, I was too busy with my own form of work there.

What did I do at the Hermitage, people will ask me. I prayed, I was silent, I journaled, I read, I reflected, I walked and ran the trails, I visited with other guests, I met with David Wenger for two spiritual direction sessions, I rode my bike. The Hermitage has morning prayer every morning, with communion on Wednesday. Personally I also read the morning and evening prayers from the Anabaptist prayer book, Take Our Moments and Our Days. The book I read was Anabaptist Baptism, the classic written by Rollin Armour. I can't believe I've waited this long to learn this about what makes Anabaptists Anabaptist, baptism. I also began reading Joan Chittister's Wisdome Distilled from the Daily, based on the rule of Benedict. At Lowry's bookstore in Three Rivers I found the final three Ursula LeGuin books for the Earthsea Trilogy (which eventually became four books!) for only $6 total. I love that place. And finally on Sunday I went to St. Gregory's Abbey for their worship and communion service. It appears to be Anglo-Catholic in orientation, with much ceremony, which makes sense since it is Benedictine. But the Abbot preached a rowsing sermon with a very accepting attitude towards the Spirit bringing change to our world. It was quite the juxtaposition.

For me the Hermitage is a place to get away from words long enough to listen for God's still small voice in the quiet. I came away again with a better sense of God's call for me and with a reminder of God's love and generosity. I so appreciate their ministry there and want to find ways to connect with them more between sabbaticals. But as long as I have children coming home from school at 2:30 it will not be so easy. Part of my Hermitage practice the last two times has been to ride my bike there. It is part of making my time there apart from my busy life here. It is about 40 miles to get there and it takes about 3 1/2 hours with a couple of rests on the way. So I came back this past Sunday and then left immediately with Isaiah for a one-night campout at Indiana Dunes and again we had a nice day at the beach. It was colder than the time with Jacob, but there were waves which made for some good body surfing. Unfortunately we forgot to bring the boogie boards.

Now this final week I am doing some final cleaning around the house. I also hope to have a couple of final blogs where I reflect on some overall themes from my travels. I also agreed to talk at my family reunion on Saturday about the Kaufman ancestors.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Finally up the Eiffel Tower

On our final day in Paris we finally went up the Eiffel Tower. We arrived first thing in the morning and discovered that the lines were already long. But fortunately, since no one was up in the tower yet, the lines moved quickly as people moved up into the three levels. We took one elevator to the second platform. I took the above photo of the upper part of the tower from there.

Then we took another elevator to the very top. The following several photos are from our vantage point at the top. Up there also Gustave Eiffel, the man who engineered the tower, had a small apartment where he hosted dignitaries. They have wax figures of Eiffel and his daughter hosting Thomas Edison, one of the more famous of his visitors.

This is a view of the Arc d'Triomphe in the middle. I like the way it shows the many white buildings which make up Paris, and the various curves of the streets. The Eiffel Tower stands along in Paris as its tallest building. You do not see huge skyscraper downtown buildings like you do in American cities, though there are a few clusters of tall buildings here and there. Paris is not beautiful for its tall office buildings, but for its art and diverse architecture.

This photo is for nostalgia purposes only. In the middle is the Pantheon, a beautiful church building that was turned into a homage to great people of France after the revolution. In the crypt, or what we would call the basement, are buried people such as Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and Voltaire. Interestingly, Rousseau is also buried there, even though he was Swiss, though French Swiss.

Our apartment was just to the right of the Pantheon, about 4 blocks away. This is also the location of the Sorbonne, the university in Paris. If I had been thinking about it properly, I would have taken a photo of the university, since it is there that the young Conrad Grebel, founder of the Anabaptists, studied until he quit in disgust with his teacher. Click on Conrad's name to read my earlier blog of his exploits here. This area where our apartment is found is called the Latin Quarter since earlier higher education was always carried out in the Latin language. In fact Conrad would write to his Swiss brother-in-law/former teacher Vadian in Latin rather than German.

After our exploits at the Eiffel Tower in the morning we tried to take it easier in the afternoon; we knew we were going to be travelling for a long time on Saturday, from Paris to Goshen. Jacob, Isaiah, and I went to the park across the street from our apartment, called Jardin d'Luxembourg. It was a beautiful park with many amusements for kids, although you had to pay for every single one of them, even to use the playground. Since I was coming down to my last Euros and did not want to withdraw more money just so they could play on the swings, we ended up renting sailboats for the huge fountain. This was terrific fun. When I saw how fast the boats would travel I assumed that they had some kind of motor, but in fact they really were powered simply by the wind. The kids had sticks to push the boats in the direction they wanted. While we were there a film crew was working on a scene of a couple kissing on a bench at the fountain's side. I didn't recognize the couple, probably French actors. Although interesting it was a little annoying since they tried to keep shewing away anyone who got close to get their boats.

Finally, we decided to eat at a restaurant for our last evening. We had mostly been making our own food and eating the wonderful croissants, bread, and cheese of Paris. We of course had to try escargot, snails. I thought they might be one of the huge creatures I had seen at times in Europe, but they were medium-sized snails much like the ones in the US, though a little bigger than the typical snail. Jacob and I were the ones willing to order them, but then ironically everyone tried one and liked them, except for Jacob. They tasted good, though not like chicken. Nor were they chewing like clams or oysters.
That is how we spent our last day in Paris. It was both more exciting and more relaxing. A wonderful time was had by all.