Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Holiday Blessings

Me at Disibodenberg, Germany in November 2013
2013 Holiday Blessings

There are years that ask the questions, and years that answer.    – Zora Neale Hurston

I have often reflected in my annual holiday letter that the year has been the usual mix of blessings and curses.  But for me, 2013 has been nothing short of miraculous blessings.  The impossible just takes a little time!

Some of the blessings came out of the blue – grace many people would call it – and some were the result of very hard work on my part.  But even when I knew I was working hard and participating, there still seemed to be an element of grace in the result.  For instance, I scoured Portland for months seeking the right house, and just when I thought I would never find one for the price I wanted to pay, a house more perfect than I thought existed appeared.  And I am very happy in it today.

A lot of the blessings I experienced this year had to do with family and my 100% German ancestry.  I traveled to Germany in March, going on retreat with 30 people to the sites where Hildegard of Bingen had her ministry in the 12th century.  While at the parish church in Eibingen where Hildegard’s relics (head, heart and tongue) are housed in a beautiful reliquary, Sister Hiltrud passionately explained (in German, arms waving which is quite unusual for a German!) that THIS is where the miracles happen – not at Disibodenberg (the monastery where Hildegard lived until she was 50, now ruins), not at Rupertsberg (the monastery Hildegard founded when she was 50, now just a cellar), not at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard in Eibingen, where Hildegard founded her second monastery when she was 67, etc.  HERE THE MIRACLES HAPPEN

Well, I was skeptical but when we circled the reliquary and Sister Hiltrud encouraged us to put our hand on the case and pray, I immediately asked to be relieved of the suffering I have experienced around my mother all of my life.  I didn’t think much of it until a week later when I was in Colmar, France, viewing the impressive early 16th century Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald.  Suddenly I saw the dark feathered devil lurking in the corner, attracted to light-colored angels playing their instruments, and knew in an instance that I did not deserve to be treated badly by my mother, or anyone else.   Though I “knew” this intellectually, my emotional response on that trip made me realize that I was still unconsciously blaming myself for this ill-treatment, as most children do.  This has made a very freeing realization.

Also on the March trip to Germany I visited the Black Forest area where my great grandmother was born in 1870.  I was unable to find the exact village where she was born, but enjoyed visiting the area where young people sing and play music outside even in the snow.  

My father John Yost in WWII
After I returned from the March trip to Germany, I found myself wanting to know more about German history including the dark side of Nazism and World War II.  On a trip to Seattle in July I visited Discovery Park where I was born in 1951 when it was Fort Lawton Army base, and suddenly discovered that there had been over a thousand German and Italian POWs there during and after WWII.  I was very curious about these German POWs and was able to get photos of their names and regiments when I visited the military archives in Maryland in August.  A new friend I made in Germany had told me about what his father had gone through during his 6 years as a soldier, a non-Nazi drafted into the German Wehrmacht, and I learned what his mother as a young civilian also endured living with bombs, neighbors disappearing and hunger.  My heart opened in a new way to the senselessness and tragedy of war. 
I spent the summer talking with some incredible people who are doing reconciliation work around
German Chancellor Willy Brandt apologizing to the Polish people, 1970
war.  One is UU minister Jan Christian in Ventura, CA whose brother was killed in Vietnam and who has travelled to Vietnam and has become friends with the Marines who were there when her brother died.  She published a book about her experiences called, Leave No Brother Behind: A Sister’s War Memoir.  I met a man in Dallas via email who has traveled multiple times to Germany to get to know the German veterans who fought against his father in Italy during WWII.  One of the German veterans still living has traveled extensively around the world, making friends with “the enemy” he fought against in WWII.  And a Vietnam Vet, Don Unrau, a photographer here in Portland, has traveled multiple times to Vietnam and published a book this year called The Revolutionary Moment: Portraits of Viet Cong.  He writes in the forward that his intent with the portraits “was not merely to reveal their physical presence, but also with empathy, to perceive an unexpressed heaviness of war.”  And so it is, I am convinced.  There are never any real winners of war, or terror, or abuse, or hatred or intolerance of any kind.
Jan Christian believes that “Going back can change the way we go forward.”  That seems to be true in my case.  I returned to Germany in November, but first I spent a week in Paris and Rouen, where my favorite saint, Joan of Arc, was burned at the stake, then toured the World War II museums and memorials in Normandy, and visited Chartres Cathedral (the one with the labyrinth built into the stone floor).  With my German friend I revisited Disibodenberg and Bacharach and Oberwesel on the Rhine, and the ancient Roman city of Trier.  I then fearlessly drove my little rented Fiat 500 on the autobahn with the “bullet cars” of Germany speeding by me at 200 kilometers an hour.   I visited Wurzburg, Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Konstaz (Lake Constance), and Sulgen, Switzerland where my great grandfather was born.  I ended my time in Germany appropriately on the Rhine near Basel, Switzerland.  It was a wonderful trip, disturbing and exhilarating, informative and contemplative.  I came away with a very deep appreciation for the immense contribution of Germans over the centuries to culture, music, art, theology, literature, philosophy and science.  At Nuremberg I visited the Nazi Documentation Center, a museum solely dedicated to trying to answer the questions “how and why” could Nazism arise in such a country and unleash such destruction around the world.  There are a lot of answers to that question, but I hope the one that we know and live by today is what Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”    
Hildegard reminds me that all of us are people with incredible gifts and talents.  I have been inspired to get back in touch with the things I loved to do as a child - writing, art and music.   What gifts and talents do you have that are lying dormant?  
Even in a year of miraculous blessings, there are sorrows as well.  You don’t always get what you want, when you want it.  But as Byron Katie says, “It’s crazy to argue with what is.”  You can practice acceptance, and find peace even within the sorrow.  And know that grace lurks just around the corner.
May your New Year be filled with miraculous blessings, love, joy and peace.

Love, Connie

Copyright 2013 Constance B. Yost. All rights reserved