Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Pilgrim's Peace

These two words appeared in my mind yesterday. It felt as if I were in the eye of the storm - the world rushes by, things demanding attention, work to be done, shopping, cooking, dishes, and I am able to look at it as if from the outside, not unmoved, but unaffected, and, oddly enough, humming a Latvian church hymn, about peace flowing within me like a river. And then, out of nowhere, the words jump at me - pilgrim's peace.

I am not familiar with the experience. Nor have I ever used these two words before. I never thought about making a pilgrimage, although Taize comes quite close, now that I think of it. I remember waking up in tents in below freezing temperatures, walking to the bathroom some 50 metres away, and rushing to prayer on a cold morning in Burgundy, with an absolute certainty that we will not so much as sneeze. And we never did! No sneezing, no coughing. Well, someone I know did demand meat, and I, rather uncharitably, thought this must have been exactly what Israelites were saying in the desert... Apart from having to put up with grumbling, no harm has ever occurred despite modest circumstances.

And I suppose pilgrimage is exactly that - getting by day by day on whatever the Lord provides, not thinking of tomorrow, remembering that one is here for something else, something that satisfies more that food, or wine, or clothes.

I know two people who just went to a Taize meeting this year. They don't know each other, but - who knows - perhaps they will meet there. Perhaps not. In a sense, they will be united even if they don't. When I was 16, Taize meant a whole world to me, literally even. I think I met people from 16 different nations in one day, and the fact that we all managed to understand each other, that we could pray together, revealed to me something new about the Lord. I saw Babylon reversed, thousands of people of all tongues and nations united by one common language - of prayer, of course, but also, more specifically, Latin. We all spoke one language. The mother tongue of the Church. And we understood it perfectly.

There is a Russian stand-up comedian, who, oddly enough, went to the same school I did - years before me. He became famous in the 1990's for his jokes about 'stupid Americans'. Americans don't know how to cook potatoes (???), Americans can even sell you a navel-warmer if you ask for it, Americans and all the tourists in general will never understand our mysterious Russian soul... Things like that, extremely annoying and silly, but perhaps adequate in a country that had been isolated from the outside world for 70 years. What an experience like Taize did to me was, of course, that I could never comprehend his jokes, could never laugh at them or even listen to them. I was blessed to see that, ultimately, we are all the same. In God, that is. In Him there are no distinctions.

Now, many years later, when I say Our Father in church, I sometimes see all the people and places, all the churches, chapels and cathedrals where we have attended Mass or prayed. A cathedral in Genoa, a stuffy church on Panarea, an airport chapel in Milan, the never-ending Maltese churches... People lifting up their hands to their heavenly Father. Good or bad, recollected or not, in faith or in doubt... I suppose, this, too, is Babylon reversed.

And now I have been granted this special grace - peace. I still have to pack, remember to take with me certain things and take care of finances, but it almost feels as if I were already at my destination, already there. It's as if all the pressing matters are not worth worrying about anymore. And whatever happens, I'll be in the middle of it, in peace. Well, travelling alone in the Middle East, I will certainly need peace, but this is so much more than that. It's an encouragement and a blessing from the Lord, a way for me to know that I won't be travelling that special road in vain. How beautiful!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Looking Back at the Year 2009

2009 has been a fruitful year, rich in impressions and experience, a year of transition, of fight, the first year lived in full communion with the Church. Living the life of the Church has kept me wondering - where have I been before? Why haven't I done this earlier? Why have I been neglecting my happiness, my calling, the fullness of my Lord?..

It has also been a year when I travelled more than I could afford - and perhaps more than I will be able to afford in the nearest future. 'The year of travel' has been a celebration of finishing my studies - and for that I cannot thank enough. Whereas in 2008 I had to work full-time, write my Master's thesis full-time and take part in Catholic RCIA along with a prayer group full-time, the year 2009 was supposed to be the time to get away from it all and enjoy my newly found free time. Or rather, the time I could spend on things I didn't have to do.

In January, I have officially graduated with an MA in Philosophy from the University of Oslo.

In March, we went on a cruise in the Mediterranean with MSC Fantasia, a rather overfilled but luxurious ship that took us through four countries and seven cities in the much welcome spring sun.

In April, we went to Malta for the Passion week and Easter, a trip planned nearly a year in advance. Having been completely fascinated by this country on my first visit there in 2007, I wanted to experience it more closely, not in some boring hotels with bland furniture, but during a Christian festival, somewhere authentic, in a place that would reveal the soul of the island, its rich history and culture, that would help understand its peoples better. I found it after much searching. We rented one of the newly restored apartments in Valletta, from Valletta Suites ( We lived in an eclectic place, with antique furniture and British china. We saw Good Friday processions, exhibits and church decorations that seemingly took us several hundred years back. And we absolutely loved it!

May and June have been difficult. Sooner or later, after the honeymoon of conversion, such a time would have come, and I thought I was prepared - but I wasn't. The nature of the challenges is irrelevant here, but they did seem like enormous mountains towering above me, covering the sun... My immediate impression was that of Israelites who turned around and saw the Pharaoh following them, unwilling to let them go. I felt the fury of the ancient enemy who was furious and wouldn't let me go. And, lost and weak, I was carried by the Church. I haven't experienced anything like this before. Sacraments - confession, the Eucharist - gave me the strength to fight hour by hour. I remember talking to a preast who last year administered to me 5 sacraments in 48 hours. He read a Mass for my intentions. And the victory was on our side - even if for a while.

July was the time of trial again. I knew I had to confront and win over what I was only avoiding before. The image of Pharaoh chasing after his slaves was as vivid as ever. At first, I failed rather miserably, trusting in my own strength and terrified at the lack of it. Again, details are irrelevant, but as I was reading the lives and sayings of Desert Fathers and Mothers, I realised we now share the same experience - what they called 'fighting with the demons'. I read that one desert hermit, after a whole night's fight, cried out to God: "Lord, I have never done anything good in my life, but I beg you, let me do it today!" I surrended, cried out to God and remembered that dying to myself means relying on God. The victory was mine. Its fruit was beautiful.

In August, I was in Ukraine for a brief 4 days.

In September, I went to Gozo (the smaller of the Maltese islands), this time on my own, for six days in a beautiful rustic house a stone's throw from the citadel ( On the way there, I managed to utilize four hours between my flights in Pisa and see the famous tower. On Gozo, I swam, went to churches, and blissfully did nothing before visiting my dear Holy Cross Abbey in the UK. They graciously organised their support group to meet around the dates of my coming, and I was blessed to meet the like-minded souls, beautiful people whose love and openness continue to be an encouragement for me.

In November, I was blessed to be chosen to represent Norway at the European meeting of the Catholic Charismatic renewal. Fully aware that throughout my life I was drawn to the contemplative rather than the charismatic dimension, I went anyway. I am eternally thankful for the people I met at the meeting, the precious time that we shared together, and the joy in the Lord that we have experienced. It has not become easier for me to identify myself with the Charismatic movement - frankly, I don't believe I have ever been called to that either - but it now has names and faces for me, and I love them dearly.

In December, my employer has graciously given me a pay raise and opportunity for career growth - besides allowing the three month unpaid leave, to be in Jerusalem in 2010. So, from tomorrow on, I will start packing. On January 4th, I am leaving for Israel. I will be living in a convent on Via Dolorosa for three months, before going back to Oslo on Easter Monday. Praise the Lord for making it possible!

My plans for 2010? I pray for a fruitful time in Jerusalem, and I hope to be able to finally come to the US - to visit my dear cousin in Nashville, and to attend CHNI conference in Columbus, OH.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Great Silence

I have no idea what is it that makes me weep and weep and weep as I watch this film by Groening, who reportedly waited 16 years to make it... But I do - weep and weep and weep. Until I am fed up with weeping. Due to unidentified problems with my nasal passages that eventually led me to join the club of Nasonex users, weeping is not good for me. So I must stop.

The Great Silence is like looking at God face to face - no sound, no word, no image, because He is so much more that any sound or image I can possibly perceive. And that is a taste of eternity, a taste of what it is like - living eternal life. Not what it will be like, what it is, because our God IS. Of course, there is this incredible sadness at all the things that have gone wrong - today, yesterday, and all the days before. Speaking when I should have been silent, sleeping when I should have been awake - and being awake when I should have slept. Doing that stands in the way of being. I am always too busy doing.

Groening must have been so THERE by the time he left the Charterhouse. Those long shots of the elements - water, fire, ice, skies, rays of light - say it all. The icicles melt. Speckles of dust in a ray of light. When was the last time you watched them? I must have been 8.

It is terrifying to think that I had no time to watch speckles of dust in the sunlight. I had time to watch TV nonsense, to read obsceneties, to worry about the things that might happen, but I haven't had time to BE for 20 years.

Love. It is most felt in the silence. I don't know how to explain it. But each time I watch The Great Silence, a presentation of a Carthusian Charterhouse in the French Alps, I am struck by this experience of LOVE, wordless, soundless, speechless, and yet so present, almost touchable LOVE, born in the darkness of contemplation, in the cloud of unknowing...

I want to keep this love. But I can't. That's why they are who they are. It would have been an illusion and silliness to pretend you can be a contemplative in the world in the same way you can be in the Charterhouse.

As a Catholic, I know that when I go to the Communion, I also participate of their gift, because we are all one body - they pray for me when I have no voice. Praise the Lord for that! It is a mystery that is beyound explanation...