Show me the world – the beautiful places! Breathtaking national parks, enchanted villages, vast meadows of bloom, impressive cathedrals, ancient ruins, dreamy beaches, marvelous forests, provoking galleries, educating museums, secluded cafés, soul-shattering memorials, light-infused woods, buzzing metropolises, crowded subways, fine restaurants, productive conferences, entertaining shows.
Show them to me, would you please?
But also, take me to the grandest of beauties. To people who met God. To men who changed course. To women who found peace. To families who foster understanding. To guys who sacrifice for others. To girls who independently choose warmth. To people who infuse life into others by sharing their stories. Their visions. Their hopes. Their ability to wisely differentiate between good and evil in this utterly complex world of ours. People who undergird their stories with deeds. Deeds of authentic kindness. Deeds of unpretentious benevolence. Deeds of silent unselfishness. Building up lives. Working on communities. Healing one soul at a time. They themselves broken, but oh!, so beautiful.
Show me these beauties of the world. Each of them bearing the image of God the Almighty. The Eternal One. Show them to me. Let us meet them. Listening to them. Working with them. Drawing energy from them. Show them to me! More than anything else. So that I may return rejuvenated from our journey.
Words of life. I want words. Keep your pictures. Keep your images. Give me words.
That my eyes may fast and my mind feast. That my ears may reawaken and pull the brain along. That they may run again like young children. And explore. And argue. And wrestle. And grow. Like children, without straining their gaze, yet learning to see. Without plowing through images, yet digging in views and panoramas. What a celebration that would be!
Give me words. Keep your images. Keep your pictures. I want words. His words.
Das Gewahrwerden von Grenzen, das Anerkennen, dass ein Mensch an bestimmten Stellen anfängt und an bestimmten Stellen aufhört, dass seine Freiheit irgendwo beginnt und irgendwo endet, gehört meines Erachtens zu den schwierigsten Studien und Lektionen die man ein Leben lang betreiben muss. Tatsächlich ein Tanz um Grenzen. Ein unnötiger, wenn uns Nähe egal wäre. Denn der Tanz als solcher ist uns nicht wichtig. Die Nähe schon. Die brauchen wir zum (Über-)Leben. Die brauche ich zum Menschsein. Doch mit der Einzigartigkeit jeder menschlichen Persönlichkeit und jeder menschlichen Geschichte kommen andere Linien. Andere hochkomplexe Parameter für Liebe und Freiheit. In jeder Begegnung, in jeder Beziehung (und sei sie noch so platonisch, distanziert oder gar langfristig irrelevant) tanzen wir. Freestyle oder nach Regeln. Meist nach verschwommenen oder gar missverstandenen Regeln.
Die Aufmerksamkeit, den Willen und das Handeln des Anderen zu beugen kann grenzwertig werden und bis ins Unethische gehen – oder, positiver ausgedrückt, sich mühsam an der Peripherie des Wohlwollens entlanghangeln. Wo beginnt Beeinflussung? Wo beginnt Manipulation? Wo beginnt Zwang? Und zu fragen, wo sie beginnen, ist dabei ja moralisch noch ein Tick wertvoller als zu fragen, wo sie enden. Denn: “Wehret den Anfängen…!”
Die Unsicherheit und die Spannung, die man beim Tanz um Nähe und Distanz empfindet, kann bis ins Unerträgliche gehen. Es hängt letztlich von den Erwartungen, der Verletzlichkeit und schlichtweg der Liebe ab, die man in den Anderen investiert, ob die Spannung mild, mittel oder stark ist – leicht zu schultern oder nur mit Schmerzen zu ertragen. Spannung, die sich manchmal in Fußtritten, Ausrutschern, zu festem Griff oder mangelnder Führung zeigt. So ein Tanz ist halt komplex.
Sometimes the joy of being alive overcomes you with full force and takes your breath, so that – breathless – you can only shout and laugh relaxed-frantically at how beautiful and deeply satisfying life is. Oh, this beautiful illusion that any volume and pitch of vocal utterance could do justice to the wonder of simply being.
And sometimes the weight of being alive in a broken world overcomes you as well, takes your breath, so that – breathless – you can only scream without voice, feeling your innermost parts recoil in sorrow and dispair, nerves shattering to pieces. Countless pieces. Oh, this ill-informed illusion that any internal breaking could rightly reflect and do justice to the brokeness we experience around us – and within us.
And then there is the Crucified. Hanging, like a laughing stock, between heaven and earth. Naked. Shattered. Breathless. And suddenly things start to make sense. They are still horribly complex, yes, even more complex than ever before, because the Crucified reveals the whole complexity of life – but he infuses it with meaning. And having risen from the dead, he infuses it with the new breath of life.
Two words stand:
“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22)
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (Jesus, in John 10:10)
It has cost life to give life. Something to remember… next time, when I am breathless.
Most of this past year’s books were recommendations from friends. I very much enjoy benefitting from the literary horizon-broadening of great people in my life and wish I had more time for reading in general. Here are my highlights of books read in 2016 (in a somewhat chronological order):
Lament for a Son (Nicholas Woltersdorff, 1987)
It sounds weird to speak of myfavorite book when it comes to literature on grief and loss. But if such a category exists, this book is the stand-alone in it.
Boundaries (Henry Cloud/ John Townsend, 2002)
Exploring the meaning, dynamics, and effects of the two most basic words in the Western (dare I say human?) vocabulary: yes and no.
Should. Be. Read. By. Every. Human. Being. Period.
The Book of Revelation & Gospel according to John
We studied these two books in our Bible Study group. Fascinating, utterly fascinating. There is spiritual as well as intellectual, aesthetic, social, and literary meat on there for a long long time to chew on while getting personally filled in regards to daily worship.
Attached. The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love (Amir Levine, 2012)
A good and helpful overview of attachment types in romantic relationships. Solid introduction into attachment theory which is useful for other relationships as well.
The Sabbath (Abraham J. Heschel, 1951)
A classic. A must read for believers who observe/keep the Biblical Sabbath, but also for non-believers who observe the world around them and don’t mind a little stretching of their mind.
Der einsame Mensch: Petter Moens Tagebuch (The Lonesome Man. Petter Moen’s Diary; publication & foreword by Edzard Schaper; 1950)
“It is the secluded life of the lonesome human, who – in order to not have to drown in his loneliness – starts humbly to praise the One, in whose image and likeness he has been created, while, nevertheless, ceaselessly trying with a proud urge to enshrine himself.” (my translation)
This diary is a witness to the somber depths of human loneliness and the sanity-threatening tension between trustful surrender and fearful self-preservation. The story of how this diary was written and discovered is breathtaking in itself.
Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance over Time (Stephen A. Mitchell, 2002)
Thought-provoking to various degrees. Induces curiosity for the potential of bearing the tension between potential risks and rewards of openness for one’s partner.
Night (Elie Wiesel, 1960)
Biographic bestseller of Holocaust-survivor Elie Wiesel. Read it!
The Course of Love (Alain de Botton, 2016)
As I said to a friend: This book seems to be the child of a university education and a two-week summer vacation to Southern Italy. An acutely pleasant way of writing, transporting authentic information generated by a keen observer of romantic relationships. Putting (finally!) many aspects of a modern committed relationship into words that could hardly be chosen better. Though I don’t agree with all de Botton writes, I agree with a critic of his attesting him an “unwavering deadpan respect for the reader’s intelligence” (Francine Prose, The New Yorker). This experience alone makes the read well worth the time spent. Highly recommended. (Or be it only for the broadening of one’s vocabulary and sense of wit.)
Which book(s) broadened your horizon this past year? Would you mind sharing them with me?
Christmas. So much of it is about giving and receiving. Essentially, in the best case scenario: About loving and being loved. And all the joy, risks, confusion, and pain that comes with that. Goes much deeper than anything else in life. It goes under your skin and straight to that place between heart and kidney, where all the hope, suffering, and satisfaction sits and warms and hurts. Yes, that place. Love kills and makes us, makes me, feel alive again, at the same time. How weird.
Life and death. The manger and the cross. Love being manifested because of these two. Or, as a prophet and a poet have put it:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John
“Love is not a victory march; it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.” Leonard
No receiving without giving. No true giving without sacrifice. No warm Hallelujah without the empty tomb.