Category Archives: Faith and Spirituality

Romanian A-Z: Paște

I ended my last blog post with a visit to a cave and the promise of new life, which seemed strangely appropriate on the day before Easter. In Romania, Easter, or Paște,  is celebrated according to the calendar of the Orthodox Church, which is based on the Julian calendar. Hence, this year, it fell a week later than in the Western churches.

In Romania, it dawned clear and bright, prompting a friend to joke that ‘the Orthodox have it right this year!’ However, with the Hungarian population celebrating Easter with the Western churches, life can get more than a little complicated in Transylvania at this time of year. Another friend commented that entering Holy week when your friends and relatives are already celebrating the resurrection is a bit like trying to live with a split personality – and I know what she means! I can’t help feeling that the churches should sort this one out for once and for all. In a country where history, culture and language already divide Hungarians and Romanians, the last thing we need is to be celebrating Easter on different days!

Paște. It’s one of the biggest festivals in Romania. Traditionally, celebrations include midnight mass on Saturday, after which the priest emerges with a ‘resurrection’ candle. This is used to light candles among the congregation that are shared among neighbours and friends with the words ‘Hristos a înviat‘ (Christ has risen), to which the response is given, ‘Adevărat, a înviat‘ (Indeed, he has risen).

In the Methodist Church, which is relatively new to Romania, we had a Communion service on Good Friday (Mare Vineri) evening with meditations on the crucifixion. Then, Sunday morning, another Communion service during which we, too, shared candles. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the light of the resurrection with my readers – and with it, the hope of transformation and renewal that Jesus brings to us and our world.

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Hristos a înviat! Paște fericit și binecuvântat!

Another Easter tradition in Romania is to paint or dye hard-boiled eggs (usually red) during Holy Week and then ‘crack’ them on Easter Sunday. One person knocks the tip of their egg against the tip of another person’s egg. It is said that the person whose egg remains unbroken at the end will have a happy and healthy life. Naturally, children continue to enjoy this tradition – especially if their egg remains unbroken!

Traditionally, Sunday dinner is roast lamb (Jesus being the Lamb). Traditional Easter cakes include pască (a kind of cheesecake, usually marked with a cross) and cozonac. We haven’t tried making either of these, yet, but we did buy some of the latter. It’s like a cross between bread and cake, which suits me fine because it’s not too sweet 🙂

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Romanian A-Z: M and a taste of grandeur

Today we woke up to a light sprinkling of snow – a prelude to the icy Siberian blast that is about to overtake Europe – so we decided a visit to the mountains was in order. This was convenient because, while munte (plural munți) is perhaps not the most exciting of Romanian words, it does begin with M!

Of course, mountains have featured before on this blog, but this is the first time we have been up to the local ski resort, which, at a height of 1600m, is the highest we’ve been. On the way up, we found ourselves shrouded in cloud, but the top was clear and most of the mist had rolled away by the time we came back down. It really was a perfect day for it:

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The vastness of the snowy landscape, the deep valleys of the Apuseni and the panoramic views from ‘the top of the world’ (or that bit of it!) lead naturally to my next word, mare. At its simplest, it means ‘big’, but it can also be used in place of ‘grand’ or to describe an older child or a higher temperature or…

The sea! That is, as a noun, rather than an adjective, that’s precisely what it means!

Now, it so happens that the only sea that borders Romania is the Black Sea, to which I have never been. So I can’t show you a picture of that without cheating, so, instead, here is a picture taken from the SW coast of England:

Looking West

A picture chosen because that’s the great big Atlantic Ocean out there. (Sorry, Romania, you may have higher mountains, but we get to win this one!) And this is definitely not cheating because, of course, it’s a photo taken in Marea Britanie!

Meanwhile, mare comes with several related words, such as măreț (magnificent, mighty, lofty), măreție (grandeur), mărime (size), the verb mări (to enlarge), not to be confused with mări (seas), măr (apple) and mere (apples).

Magnificence. Grandeur. These are among the characteristics I love about both mountains and sea. Others include wildness, beauty, majesty, power (in the case of the sea) and the feeling of size and space. Being in the presence of such beauty and grandeur feeds my soul. It causes me to pause, to breathe, to wonder. Which is why I love living in a village in Romania! And it’s also why the sea is among the things I miss most!

So here’s just a few more pictures, this time from the Welsh coast – and with them the words that being there inspired:

Be still!
Look!
Listen!

Feel the heartbeat of the universe:

In the breath-taking grandeur of earth and sky,
In the awesome power of wind and wave,
In the deep darkness of a starless night
In the bright splendour of a new day

Be still!
Look!
Listen!

Feel the heartbeat of the universe:

In the still silence of an ancient church
In the resounding song of a Cathedral choir
In the buzz and murmur of a meal that’s shared
In the piercing cry of a new born child

Be still!
Look!
Listen!

Feel the heartbeat of the universe:

In the smile that lights
In the tear that falls
In the anger that disturbs
In the passion that ignites
In the grace that liberates
In the love that enfolds

Be still!
Feel the heartbeat of the universe
Deep in your soul

Awaken to its movement
Dance to its rhythm
Rejoice in its melody
Live to the beat of God’s heart.

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Romanian A-Z: I

Today’s star of the show comes last. None-the-less, my first word has a magic of its own. It’s izbucni, which means ‘erupt’ or ‘burst out’. It’s a word that comes from the Bulgarian izbukna (meaning the same thing) and I chose it simply because I love the sound of it. No English word sounds anything like it, which is more than can be said for indirect, indiscret and infalibil!

My second word is iepure which currently stars on one of the Romanian stamps:

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It’s the rabbit (or hare) and it’s pronounced as if you were saying the i (as ee) and the e (as in bed) one after the other very quickly.

The same applies for the word ieri, which I’ve chosen for the Valerea Ierii (The Valley of Yesterday) which we visited this afternoon. Our first view of it was a few days ago, when we were on the hills above it:

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Today, we went down into the valley/village itself, where the autumn colours looked spectacular, particularly where we were able to catch them in the late afternoon sunshine:

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It’s a beautiful valley and the mountains, the forests and the colours were truly awe-inspiring!

It’s no wonder that experiences in the Carpathian Mountains are said to have provided the final inspiration for Stuart K Hine to pen these words:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art! How great thou art!

Romanian A-Z: H

For H, I have decided on a single word, har, chosen because I wanted to share with you the following music video.

When I first started to learn Romanian, before we came here, there came a point where I became bored with asking for tickets for trains that I was probably never going to catch, so I decided to look into other ways of learning. That’s when I came across this song: Mărețul Har.

It’s based on Chris Tomlin’s version of Amazing Grace and it’s one of the best Christian music videos I’ve ever seen. Romanians do music well. Very well. There is no question but that the gifts of these young people have been well nurtured.

Which is interesting because, as far as I can make out (and I am no expert), ‘gift’ or ‘talent’ is precisely what the word har means in its ordinary human sense. It’s only when speaking of God that its meaning becomes much bigger; as if all that is good and beautiful finds its origin, its fulness and its perfection in God.

Amazing Grace. Mărețul Har.

Not words we hear very often these days. In fact, in the light of all that has been happening in our world of late, this might seem like a very strange choice of song. How can anyone even think of singing about God’s ‘amazing’ grace in a world such as this?

It’s a good question.

There’s a sense in which such words seem… empty… out of touch.

And yet…

As Samwise Gamgee expressed it in The Lord of the Rings film:

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo,
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were
And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end
Because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer…

For me, it’s about hope. It’s about holding onto something that is stronger than darkness and evil and death. Ultimately, it’s about the mercy and forgiveness and justice and peace and love that have the ability to transform our world, whether we have a choir and orchestra to sing about them or not.

Mărețul Har!

 

 

 

Romanian A-Z: G

So far, I haven’t talked much about Romanian cuisine, not least because I don’t consider myself sufficiently familiar with it. However, with the letter G, comes the opportunity to talk about something that has become a significant part of our diet since we arrived in Romania:

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This is a gogoșar (go-go-shar); a short, squat variety of bell pepper that is shaped rather like the Romanian doughnut from which it supposedly derives its name. It is more fleshy and flavourful than the regular variety of pepper, a difference that apparently qualifies it to be listed separately on jars of zacuscă (a kind of vegetable spread that is very popular in Romania). Clearly, gogoșari are widely grown because, along with tomatoes, they were cheaply available in every shop or supermarket and even on street corners in the height of the summer. Traditionally, they are pickled with vinegar in order to preserve them over the winter and restaurants often serve them in this form.

The letter G also brings me to a less attractive feature of Romanian life:

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Gunoi. It’s everywhere. If you have ever thought that we have a litter problem in the UK, you should try coming here. Not only do they have fly-tipping off to a fine art, but every lay by and picnic site is littered with cans and bottles. The further you go into the mountains, the less of it there is. But everywhere we have been, we have found some.

To be fair to the Romanian authorities, this is not for want of trying:

‘Depositing of rubbish prohibited’ warns the first sign. ‘Fine £500-£2000’ (which is a lot of money in Romanian terms). The second sign threatens an even bigger fine, with an accompanying notice: Don’t drop rubbish. The whole fact that this needs to be said twice is indicative of the impact such signs don’t have. The sign also warns of the danger of death (pericol de moarte), but that has to do with it being a bear reservation!

We arrived at the bear reservation by accident, having no idea it was there. We’d missed the road we had intended to take because it was indistinguishable from a farm track. However, bears or (in our case) no bears, it turned out to be a very nice spot for a picnic and with very little litter!

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Gunoi is a word of Slavic origin, but the origins of gogoșar are more obscure. Both words are pronounced with a hard ‘g’ (as in gate). However, as with many English words, if g is followed by either e or i, it is pronounced as a soft ‘g’ (as in giant or garage). If a hard ‘g’ is required in such instances, it is written gh, an example being gheață, meaning ice.

Whilst we did have a touch of frost this morning (welcome to October everyone!), my choice for a third word is gard. This originates from an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning ‘to enclose’ and probably entered the Romanian language via Dacian. The very similar Norse, Germanic and Slavic words all derive from the same root. It means…

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… fence!

I’ve chosen it because the high fences and gates that ‘guard’ the fronts of the houses were one of the first things I noticed about Romania. To me, they look grim and forbidding and hence detract hugely from the natural beauty of the towns and villages:

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Their purpose, so we have been told, is to ‘keep the thieving gypsies out’. Certainly, they don’t seem to have a lot to do with the need for privacy, since the people frequently sit out in the street on summer afternoons and evenings chatting to passers-by. But all this just for gypsies? Really?

Whatever the thinking behind them, they have given me a lot of food for thought. They seem to me to be representative of something in human nature. Just recently, I have been reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and I have found it more than a little frightening to note the similarities between some of the comments I have heard concerning the Roma people and those that were used to justify the slave trade.

The Northumbria Community speaks of ‘intentional, deliberate vulnerability’ and of ‘breaking down the walls’ and both ideas have resonated with me for a long time. For as long as we are building walls to keep each other out, whether real or metaphorical, we have a problem. We cease to think of each other as fully human and the world becomes a very tragic place.

Yet we continue to do it. All of us. Churches included. We continue to resist the one thing necessary to break down the walls:

Intentional, deliberate vulnerability.

Romanian A-Z: D

Even a cursory glance at a Romanian dictionary shows that a lot of words beginning with D resemble English ones. Delicat (delicate), desperat (desperate), dezgust (disgust), dispărea (to disappear), discuție (discussion), doctor and durabil (durable), to mention just a few. So my first word today is document – chosen in honour of the Romanian bureaucratic system.

In Romania, you need a document for everything. For example, to obtain a Registration Certificate (proof of residence), you need to have a Romanian bank account. But when you go to open a bank account, they want the number on the Registration Certificate that you don’t have. That’s in addition to your passport number. There are ways round this, as the bank clerk eventually discovered, but it gives you an idea of the kind of thing I mean. As EU citizens, obtaining the Registration Certificates still proved relatively straightforward for us. Buying a second-hand car, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say it’s likely to be Christmas before all the paperwork is finally completed. And I’m not joking.

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The whole thing has been complicated by the fact that the car we have bought originated in Germany, but it’s not a simple matter even when that’s not the case. This gives you an idea of the amount of documentation that is required to complete the process, including face-to-face appointments with at least two different administrative bodies. In our case, the process has currently stalled pending an ‘urgent’ appointment with the police on 7th September. Even then, the registration (if it goes ahead) will only be temporary, the first available appointment for the ‘roadworthiness’ test being in December!

My second word is drum. Always helpful if you have wheels:

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This one is newly surfaced, having been little more than a dirt track earlier in the year. However, potholes are a common sight on most of the roads in the area. In fact, they are not unlike some of the back roads across the Somerset Levels, just without the subsidence! But whether the roads themselves are good or not, the words ‘drum bun!‘ (literally, ‘good road’) are used to wish people well on their journey – similar to the British ‘farewell’ and the French ‘bon voyage’. So it’s a word worth knowing.

My third word is actually a collection of words, all with the same Latin root:

Domn: gentleman
Domnul: Mr
Domnule: Sir (e.g. Scuzați-mă, domnule – Excuse me, sir)
Doamnă: Lady, woman (polite), madam, Mrs
Domnișoară: young lady, Miss
Doamne: God/Lord
Dumnezeu: God (from Latin Domine and Deus)
Dumneavoastră: polite form of you/your (literally your lord/ladyship)

All these are important to know and distinguish between if you want to be polite. The last is used in a similar way to the French polite form, so you hear it a lot on aeroplanes and in offices, for example.

In contrast, God is addressed with the familiar form tu, just as s/he used to be in English:

Sfințească-se numele TăuHallowed be Thy name

This is a paradox that English is no longer capable of expressing in the same way; that we can be on intimate terms with the one whom Christians call Lord or Doamne.

Doamne. Not a word we’ve heard very much. For various reasons, we haven’t had the opportunity to explore much in the way of church services yet. Nor have we heard it used as an expletive. However, one evening, when we were in the city of Cluj, we heard the sound of chanting issuing from the Orthodox church; a strangely haunting melody (if you can call it that) that moved me to worship even without being aware of the words. So I thought I’d leave you with this similar-sounding cry from Psalm 141:

Lord God, I call to you! Hear my prayer! Set a guard over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil…

 

 

The sounds of silence

In the months since I last wrote in my blog, I have spent a considerable amount of time in solitude. I’ve had to. An exacerbation of ME/CFS symptoms including migraine, dizziness, nausea and brain fog have made it essential. For much of January and February, I was rarely far from my bed. I struggled with any form of socialising and spent most of my days entirely alone. When my husband was home in the evenings, our conversation was reduced largely to the bare necessities.

Since then, I have seen a slow improvement, but have also weathered the relentless pain and broken nights that have accompanied the onset of a frozen shoulder. As a result, my blog has remained silent.

Silence. I’ve written about it before: https://ripplesinthewind.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/silence/

In that post, I made the point that silence is not empty. In fact, if we stop to listen to them, the sounds of silence can speak much louder than words because words so often get lost, falling over themselves in a cacophony of human jabber that communicates little and hence, paradoxically, is silent.

My words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

(Paul Simon, ‘The Sounds of Silence’)

We need true silence in order to distinguish one voice from another and hear what it has to say. Yet prolonged silence can be difficult precisely because of this. It compels us to hear voices that perhaps we would prefer not to hear. With only ourselves for company, we become subject to all the fears and distortions that can be dreamed up by the human mind, together with the worst (and best) manifestations of our own human nature.

Back in January, I picked up a book that had been left on my bookshelf a couple of years previously by a friend. I picked it up primarily because I was bored. I hadn’t the energy to write, draw or communicate. So, thinking that on this particular day I might at least be able to read, I picked up the book: Taken on Trust – the story of Terry Waite’s captivity in the Lebanon. It’s not a book I had read before. When he wrote it, I was busy having children. But the more I read, the more I became fascinated by the similarities and differences in our experiences. He spoke of the long days and nights in which time seemed to have no meaning, separated as he was from the world outside. He spoke of his attempts to exercise – walking up and down and round and round until the steps became miles – and of his sense of frustration when he was chained to a wall and could no longer do this. He spoke of living for months without books. No books! And here I was reading his book because it was the best means I had of holding on to my own sanity!

Towards the end of his time in captivity, he became seriously ill with  some kind of chest infection and it was then that he says he came closest to being overwhelmed by what he describes as self-pity. Initially, this surprised me. Up to that point, his freedom and personhood had been violated in so many ways that I didn’t expect illness to make so much impact. Yet it did.

Self-pity. I know what he means. I know it only too well. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about that word self-pity. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is ‘overwhelmed with sorrow.’ Is that self-pity, I wonder? He asks his friends to watch with him. Is that self-pity? He prays that he might not have to face the end that he knows is coming. Is that self-pity? Or is it more about a deepening realisation of one’s own vulnerability and hence a very human need for help, support and protection? And if it’s about a human need for help and support, is having that need really such a despicable thing that we must label it as self-pity and strive to hide it?

The sounds of silence.

Voices that can echo so loudly with vulnerability and inadequacy that it becomes hard to distinguish between them. At what point does the cry of genuine human need become the cry of self-pity? Who is able to make that judgement? As a child once put it:

pain is lonleyness because know one noes what I feel

(From ‘In Times of Pain’ by Jane Grayshon)

Brian Keenan, in The Evil Cradling (his own account of life as a hostage in Lebanon), is a good deal more open than Terry about the horrors of being at the mercy of nothing but your own mind. With nothing else to occupy it, the mind can and does torture us with all manner of distorted perceptions. However, because his time in solitary confinement was limited, Brian is also able to speak of the enormous strength and comfort that he gained from the companionship of someone who shared his cell and hence could walk the journey with him.

Having someone with whom to share even a little of the pain makes all the difference. There have been times in the past few months when I have been overwhelmed to the point of tears by the warmth, kindness and respect of folks who have shown me that they care, even if they haven’t always known how to help. Just by their presence, they help hold the shattered fragments of my being together far more effectively than they know.

I wish I could be more profound in my spiritual life. I am still very much a child in my understanding of my faith. I have no deep thoughts, no great insights, no outstanding qualities. I am a very ordinary man chained to a wall and attempting to struggle through another day of boredom and uncertainty.

(Terry Waite)

To me, this says it all. Those of us who face such difficulties are not heroes and would not want to be thought of as such. We are just ordinary people living what has to be lived because it has to be lived. We don’t deserve admiration and we don’t want it. Nor do we want pity. But, at least for me, kindness and respect are like gold in a world where everyone from the psychiatrist and politician to the local quack seem to be clamouring with opinions about what is wrong with me and how I could be or should be living my life.

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

(Paul Simon, ‘The Sounds of Silence’)

In such a world, I am profoundly grateful for all those who have walked beside me. I would not be without them. However, I also know that there is a sense in which the journey can only be mine. No-one can walk it for me. That’s why I need the silence. Not just because I am sick or because my brain cannot cope with input, though this may be true as well. But because I need to be able to hear my own voice in order to find my way through. And because, beyond that, in the darkness, whether I hear it or not, there plays the silent music of hope, the gentle rhythm of grace, the fiery heartbeat of God inviting us to dance.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence…

(Paul Simon)

Disclaimer: I cannot say what was in Paul Simon’s mind when he wrote the song. The above is simply one interpretation of his words.