The Glass dropped and the Wind rose

According to national news broadcasts Germany has just experienced the worst storm in ten years.  High winds which swept through Netherland in which large shipping containers at harbour ports were seen blowing over like a child toppling a stack of Lego bricks.  In Germany warnings to avoid ‘non-essential’ travel, especially by train, were announced.  Footage of collapsed signs on the Autobahn, and downed trees over rail and road filled the network news.

In all my time living in Canada I don’t remember hearing about people being killed by falling trees.  Given that there are a lot of trees in Canada, the stories of ‘death-by-tree’ were more mythical warnings about ‘widow-makers’ – dead trees that still stand waiting to topple at the slightest breeze – trees that concerned those in the forestry industry rather than the average citizen.  Unfortunately, death by falling tree seems much more probable in Germany.

My immediate geographical surroundings are almost pancake flat, with a barely noticeable, slope towards the Rhein.  Despite being within walking distance of some of the ‘larger’ mountains of the Black Forest, the scenery, especially in the winter months, is flat and wide.  Now that there isn’t a cornstalk in sight and the only thing growing in the numerous fields surrounding our house is ‘feldsalat’ also known in English as Lambs Leaf Lettuce, and the winter barely, or rye grass that leaves fields looking like freshly shorn sheep with a green stubble poking up from the ground.  The dog has his winter coat on, which I suspect is more fat due to his inactivity, so I have started to walk the dog further into the fields.  At times we will go via bicycle; the dog tied to the bike running along side me, while we travel down busy bike paths, or areas close to the busy streets.  Once in the fields, with nobody around, the dog is off leash, and he can easily sprint past me. Stop to water a bush. Rush ahead again to jump on some poor unsuspecting field mouse. We can easily cover 5-7 kilometres on one outing.  The dog would happily do this three more times a day if possible, but that has yet to happen.

Riding by bike with a dog running along the field roads that network their way over the land I notice that I can get a lot closer to the hawks that sit in the fields scanning the horizon, and edges for signs of prey.  There are rarely trees on which to roost, so the birds of prey either hover in air, tirelessly flapping, or they sit on the ground.  When I walk through the fields, the hawks, and other birds, usually take flight when I am a good distance away from them.  Perhaps it is from generations of interactions by which the birds are wary of humans.  However, while riding a bike, the birds remain on the ground for much longer periods before being spooked by my presence.  This reminds me of canoeing and gliding silently up to all sorts of creatures as if you are just part of the natural scenery.

The weather extremes must do something to the bird populations, as wind storms surely push migrating birds off-course.  There is also the temperature differences that must make it difficult for birds.  The severity of temperature fluctuations gives people migraines, and it is not unusual for one day to be 16 C and the next -3 C.  My wardrobe is not large enough to contain four seasons worth of clothes at one time, and it feels as if I am going to open up my box of summer shirts that is stored away under the bed, only to find myself running for a parka the next day with a cold wind that feels like it has come directly from Siberia.  On one of my recent outings with the dog and the bike  – Murphy’s Law – I find myself the furthest from home when all of a sudden the weak low angled rays of and early winter sun have been replaced with horizontal slashing rain and snow. As I pedal my way home faster and faster, I must soon stop as my rear wheel spins in the slimy mud.

The mud is different here.  I grew up with a ground that seemed almost sponge-like, where 58 days of continuous rain did little to make the ground muddy.  Huge cedar trees would suck up the moisture, and most of the water would flow into cascading streams and rivers.  Even in Victoria, mud was rarely as thick as it is here.  Certainly pools of water could form, especially in the rocking outcroppings where grass and sea salted stunted trees grew.  In German fields, the ground is a thick clay like mud, which has the unique ability to be both slimy and sticky at the same time.  It is the mud I imagined when watching old movie footage of Canadian soldiers in war.

A large crater has formed at the front entrance of our house in the last week.  Eight hours of near continuous drilling that vibrates the floors and has shook pictures from the walls is part of the landlords scramble to prevent flooding and mould from spreading in the basement suit.  The workers heads protrude from the ground, and shovel blades heave mud and debris from the hole that will soon have new perimeter drainage pipes.  The workers joke that the dirt contains rubble from World War II, and that they hope they don’t find any unexploded bombs.  I hope so too!

During yesterdays storm, while the weather conditions here were nothing compared to elsewhere in Germany or Europe, it did feel for a moment like some battle raged around us.  The window blinds screamed a high-pitched whistle, the mounds of dirt, brick and debris was piled in a few locations around the house like we were living in a bunker, a tarp rested over the hole in the ground at the foot of the stairs like it was a grave prepared to accept a body, and the ducks waddled their way around the garden like some sentry patrol – only that they seemed very happy with the wet weather and all the drowning worms that wriggled to the surface of the grass.

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Wander

Where does walking get you in Freiburg? Actually, you can go quite a distance if you are determined, or you can go in circles and dig deeper and deeper like a spiritual wandering.

As I travel mostly by train I get to meet such a wide variety of God’s people.  If I was to simply watch over the Anglican flock in Freiburg it would mean visiting people as far away as Basel, and as close as ‘just around the corner’.  I walk through the streets on my way to visit people and I often wave to familiar faces on the Straßenbahn, or stop to greet someone who has just come out of a shop.

There is a great many people with very interesting lives, some of which I have the pleasure of meeting, and others I just scratch the surface of knowing.  Today I was struck by my desire for ‘thick skin’.  Emotionally, thick skin where problems, conflicts, even the daily bumps and bruises seem a bit more tolerable when one has thick skin.  At least that has been my ideal, or my perception.  Just today, a couple of people opened up to me the idea of seeing vulnerability as something of a gift.  One of these people was a young woman who describes the stigma of being ‘sensitive’ and the case for being a sensitive person. Four Thought, Sensitive Souls

On the Straßenbahn ride into the city centre today I sat opposite a young man who by all appearances had thick skin.  He just seemed to be wearing a chip on his shoulder.  On a very full streetcar, nobody seemed prepared to sit across from this young guy…so I did.  His hands, or rather his knuckles, were heavily tattooed with words that intrigued me, they said, “LIVE” and “HOPE”.  I guess I was staring, (it is hard not to when you sit toe to toe) and he seemed like he was needing to test to see how long I would sit near him.  He opened his bag and a thick fragrance of marijuana started to fill the air.  People started to stare, and more backed away as the guy began to grind up large chucks of pot.  “Nicht besorgt?”, said the young guy.  What I took to mean, ‘Not concerned?’.

It is a truly interesting feeling to walk through a town and know the places, to see familiar faces, and also to look beyond the ‘chip on the shoulder’ to see that someone seems to want to express so much across their knuckles, and yet devise ways to guard their heart.  Maybe that is what I do too, with a blog that acts as words across my knuckles, I’m just glad for the chance to walk the city with those who feel vulnerable.

At the end of the day, walking and talking, it is possible to cover a large area of Freiburg. It is not a pilgrimage getting from A to B, but much a kin to digging deeper and deeper in a labyrinth where after much plodding, we find ourselves at the centre with God.  Who, I think might also have the words LIVE and HOPE tattooed across knuckles.

 

Open-Minded & Open-Bags

It is strange what you find when you aren’t looking for something.  One occasion was spotting a small handbag under a shopping cart which held 400Euro’s in cash.  There was no identification.  A single shopping cart was left near the bike parking at a local grocery store and underneath the cart on the ground was a palm-sized handbag.

Maybe it is from reading, and watching Sherlock Holmes that one starts to piece together the owner in ones mind.  The thought was that it was an elderly woman that had most of her entire weeks worth of money in one bag.  It turns out we were right, as the son called us to thank us, and wanted to know if we would like a reward.  Knowing that the item had been returned was reward enough.

There are times when distraction makes us forget the things that are essential. I know one reader will recognize that it is easy to leave, bags, books, wallets, and keys when a crisis strikes.  I do it all the time.

The other find was not actually much of my doing, as I walked the dog in the early morning before it gets really hot.  Wandering our way through the corn fields the dog has a pastime of jumping into the long grass at the side of the dirt roads.  He jumps around as if he were on springs; all in the hopes to catch a field mouse.  (He’s already encountered a Hedgehog and found them a bit prickly).  It was in one of these hunts that the dog strayed into the corn and was intent on sniffing something.  By the time I caught on that this was not a mouse I found a green shoulder bag.  There was a train stop, and paved road nearby, but again the deductive reasoning kicked in and started me thinking how a bag that is the same colour as the corn stalks got here.

This time around there was no money, but lots of ID cards, bankcards, and a very new looking iPhone that was dead.  The police have yet to find the owner, so I wonder,  “what will the owner think?”, or “What they are like?”  What happened to make the bag fall so far into the corn field? Who is this person, besides a young black man who has a student ticket for the train?

Everyday we meet people, but rarely do we ever see inside their purses, wallets, or bags.  Everyday we meet people and yet do we really get to open up and truly meet them.  Part of the mystery in finding the lost articles makes me wonder about keeping an open mind about who the people are behind the possessions.  In the same way we could think of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by a cover”.

The church, when it works well, provides a place where people can open up as they find it a safe place…a sanctuary.  Open-mindedness is a practice when we meet people.  Naturally we find ways to place, judge, and identify people. However, some of this is surface material and only when we are lost and vulnerable do we find that we are spread open.  We see the fragility of an elderly woman with a wad of 50Euro bills.  We see the important items, the treasures, in bank cards, and student ID.  There are always surprises when we become vulnerable.

Some people shock us in their behaviours, their attitudes and their appearance.  Yet I know that when we look a little deeper, as uncomfortable as that may sound, we often find a lot of the same issues.  Loneliness, hurt, pain; as well as, joy, ambition, and longing.

Jesus meets his friends on the road as they are confused and filled with the anxiety of crisis.  In the venerable moment of sharing a meal with ‘a stranger’ they find the risen Lord.  “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Luke 24. 45

Time trials

I am making all sorts of discoveries, and will likely disappoint German readers with my findings of all things German; however, for my Canadian friends it should give some insight.

The house has mechanical blinds (which I have tried to spell by my English autocorrect does not like German words) and it makes the house very quiet as well as very dark.  I woke up very late as I had no sunlight to prompt me, but I do feel very refreshed.  The dog and I went for a long walk into Freiburg as I was curious about how long it will take if I decide to walk there.  The way there was a good example of wandering in the wilderness – I am sure that if Moses had asked for directions to the promised land it wouldn’t have taken 40 years.  Equally, if I had bothered to consult my map I would have been much faster at getting to the Munster (Cathedral), but the exploration was fun.

I managed to take a few photos of the obvious sights that tourists typically show, but I wanted to point out that I will be participating in an Ecumenical church service at the Munster as the city residents remember the bombing of Freiburg.wp-1448541700928.jpeg  One of the gates to the ‘old’ part of the city is St Martin’s Tor, and I have discovered that it is sometimes referred to by locals as McMartin’s because of the McDonalds that is at the base of the tower (there’s a Starbucks on the other side too).  IMG_20151126_120813_hdr

The Christmas Market is up and running now, but it much more popular at night.  The streets are decorated with lights, ribbons, stars and swags of evergreen branches.  It feels cool in the air with some snow showing on the hilltops.

 

The Munster certainly towers over the city, and was for the most part, the beacon which I used to orient myself in the city.  I discovered that like new people to the world of hiking in the mountains on the West Coast of Canada that have been told the helpful advice that ‘moss grows on the south side of the tree’ soon discover that in the damp and wet that moss grows on every side of the tree.  The same is true for Freiburg, as I wandered down streets only to discover yet another church spire.  I probably have managed to do a small pilgrimage to all the local parishes on my first venture into Freiburg.  In the end, I took the more direct way back by following the map and managed to return in under an hour.