A Subway „Halleluja“

My tired feet dragged me step by step to the shuttle train. Same procedure as ever for a pastor, living and working at two ends of her congregation. A normal New York story of long commutes, short nights and many challenges a large city and ministry brings.

While I swam with the faceless masses of fellow commuters my mind raced like mad. Outwardly calm, words sharp like razor knives echoed in my mind. What a irony while we were celebrating International Day of Peace in New York and all around the world! There are so many things wrong in our world – in every day life! I lamented and lamented in my thoughts while the book case in my hand got increasingly heavier.

As I dragged my way down the grey steps a familiar tune played by a trombone filled the stuffy subway air: Leonard Cohen´s „Halleluja“ woke me up from my nightmarish thoughts of one-way-streets and dead ends. The song was like balm on my weary soul. It seemed as if I was told by God that it would be alright in one way or the other sometime.

I had to think of Leonard Cohen´s words when he once was approached by John McKenna in a interview about his famous song „Hallelujah“:

„Finally there’s no conflict between things, finally everything is reconciled but not where we live. This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by Hallelujah. That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say ‚Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.‘ And you can’t reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation. […]

That’s what it’s all about. It says that none of this – you’re not going to be able to work this thing out – you’re not going to be able to set – this realm does not admit to revolution – there’s no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‚Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah! That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.“ (1)

Leonhard Cohen´s song escorted me into the new hectic day in busy New York. Not everything would be fine and lots of things would stay a hurtful mystery to me. But in the mean time I would praise God. In the subway and beyond.

(https://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/rte.html )

Free to love another

Loud pop music greeted us as we entered a small Irish pub in downtown Washington, D. C. Four women were on the seek for some good food and a place to enjoy time with one another. It seemed oddly fitting for us to choose exactly this location as a diverse group of women, who found friendship through a shared passion – the passion to proclaim the commandment to love neighbor and self in a public way as Jesus had asked his disciples.

The doctorate „Public Engagement“ at the Wesley Theological Seminar (Washington, D.C.) had made our lives paths cross in an unexpected way. Maybe without Gods providence we would have never met one another. The communities we come from are very different and even if it hurts, to write this, in the United States these „social bubbles“ might not interact as eagerly as one might wish.

But God has provided us a beautiful friendship, binding together in love and respect a Korean-American Methodist Minister, a African-American Church of Nazarene Minister, a Latina-American Methodist Minister, and a German Lutheran Pastor. It is this friendship that was formed early on in the course, which gave me the greatest lesson I could ever learn: that we are free to love another. We don’t need to stretch ourselves out of shape in order to love the other person, but if I accept my neighbor in his neighborliness I am able to find myself as a human being God the creator has made. By hearing their story, sharing our lives with one another, crying, celebrating, and just being there for one another. It is such a gift and privilege, because I can be, who I am. A German Lutheran, who carries the burden of the troublesome German past, and tries in her humanly ways to influence the the present and future driven by Gods love.

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It is in Howard Thurman I have found an exceptional theologian and mystic, who was able to put the experience I am making into beautiful words (please note that when he writes about male, I am freely contacting female as well!):

„The religious experience as I have known it seems to swing wide the door, not merely into Life but into lives. I am confident that my own call to the religious vocation cannot be separated from slowly emerging disclosure that my religious experience makes it possible for me to experience myself as a human being and thus keep a very real psychological distance between myself and the hostilities of my environment. Through the years it has driven me more and more to seek to make as a normal part of my relations with men the experiencing of them as human beings. When this happens love has essential materials with which to work. And contrary to the general religious teaching, men would not need to stretch themselves out of shape in order to love. On the contrary, a man comes into possession of himself more completely when he is free to love another.“

(Howard Thurman, The Luminous Darkness, New York 1965, p. 111.)

„Message in a book“

Soft and mild wind helped to ease the hot summer air. I was sitting on our patio listening to the song of cicadas as I opened my newest book purchase: A 40-Day Journey with Howard Thurman. With the school break and business slowing down even in New York it was the perfect time to start a spiritual journey.

There could have not been a better person than Howard Thurman to start with as a guide. Since a few months studying as a German Lutheran at Wesley Theological Seminary for my D. Min. I am increasingly emerged into the complexity of Racism and White Supremacy in the United States. A problem, which I growing up in Germany was not aware in its depth and brutality. Thurman, as I quickly discovered, offers a way to combine faith and social action, religion and politics by giving examples from his own upbringing and situation in a deeply divided south.

As I opened the first page of the "used book in good condition", as the seller had described it, a small handwritten note fell into my lap. This was not a "message in a bottle", but a "message in a book", that was carried to me on the waves of transport through the American Postal Service.

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With awe I read the anonymous penciled down message. The handwriting flowing over the page as if the words were spilled deeply out of a broken heart:

"When I dropped out of college, for weeks I didn't tell my parents. I just would be told I was a failure. I didn't want to disappoint my parents, my grandparents and my extended family. I don't recall calling on God to help me through this dark time. I probably felt I deserved all of it. Feelings and guilt and shame for not trying harder and sticking with it. I had quickly shed my faith after leaving home for college and avoided asking for guidance and help from God. I had better things to do than pray, " The last word was erased. Then my contact to the anonymous writer broke off completely.

My heart immediately burned for this stranger, who had experienced so much troubles. Was he able to make his way into a better and positive life? And more importantly: Was he able to find his way back into Gods loving arms? I would never know.

As our brief journey ended with the last hastily pencilled word, mine would just begin. The writings of Thurman I read up to now are an eye opener to understand the brutal make-up of a country I love since childhood. A country deeper divided by racism and skin color than I ever could imagine in my deepest nightmares. As I go on a 40-Day journey with Thurman to discover faith and love beyond color and race, my prayers will accompany the writer of this message in my book. May God show him the beauty in his broken-made-beautiful life.