Friday, April 29, 2011


It is springtime in Romania! The sun is warm on my face, the trees glow with new green growth, tender crocus blossoms line the way up Mount Straja, and people everywhere (even on Romanian television) greet one another, “Hristos a inviat!” “Christ is Risen!” And springtime extends beyond the natural and liturgical calendars, too: since 1989 when it joined other Eastern European countries in upending communism and paving the way for democracy, Romania has undergone a process of renewal. I’m excited to see and take part in this new growth during my time here.

Some highlights from this first week:

Friday, after disembarking from the overnight train where I had scored a spectacular introduction to Romania’s Carpathian mountains (I would not have been surprised had a medieval monk appeared among the trees through the mist and morning light as we passed), I joined other Americans and nearly the whole town of Lupeni in a procession up mount Straja.

An Orthodox tradition for Good Friday, the procession or “Drumul Crucii” commemorates Christ’s crucifixion and involves carrying a huge cross up the mountain and stopping at twelve Stations of the Cross along the way. The views were breathtaking and the devotional participation of young and old inspiring.

The widespread participation in the Easter service Saturday at midnight also inspired me. During Holy Week especially, to be Romanian is to be Orthodox, and cell-phone-brandishing youth as well as kerchief-clad grandmothers circle the church three times with candles burning the light of Christ. “Hristos a inviat! Adevarat a inviat!” - “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Monday I met my host family! And their farm! My 8 year old host sister and I spent the morning running up and down the property that has belonged to the family for generations, pausing now and then to meet a cow or to soak in the view of the town below and blue mountains beyond. It is such a gift to be removed from the noise and congestion of the communist-style bloc apartments-dominated town, and to live with such a generous and good-humored family as this host family.

During my Sustainable Development class with Dana Bates, the director of my semester abroad program and co-founder with his wife Brandi of New Horizons Foundation (, I got some sneak peaks of Dana’s PhD work at Oxford. Without spoiling surprises, I’d like to share that his thesis kept conjuring up a certain image in my mind…Have you all heard about the sunflowers planted after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster to help clean up the soil? Apparently a similar measure will be taken in Japan now too (, and the idea is just beautiful to me: following destruction brought about by human action, nature in its patient, yet vigorous way brings healing and new possibility for life. And that’s what Dana’s thesis is about.

I’m the picture of a liberal young person, and still harbor a fondness for communism (in theory, that is, but even about this I invite your input!), but however ideal the system seems in theory, even I recognize that the reality of Romania under Ceausescu’s communist regime was hell. Through his work with New Horizons - facilitating team building exercises in the Carpathian wilderness with Romanian youth and empowering them to execute community service projects – Dana has seen first hand how the “natural” forces of individual freedom and communal care, as modeled by the three individual persons and one essence of the Trinity, in a patient, yet vigorous way bring healing and new possibility for life.

It is good to experience Romania during this season of renewal, of hope.

Friday, April 22, 2011

“Give Way:" A Reflection on Lent

From the second level of a double-decker bus on the way from London’s Heathrow Airport to visit my friend in Oxford, I noticed the British yield sign as we entered a rotary. “Give way,” it ordered. Another reminder to adopt a Lent-appropriate posture, I thought.

This time of year you may hear a lot, “Oh, no thank you. I gave chocolate up for Lent.” But what does Lent mean? Lent (or “spring”) spans the forty days preceding Easter Sunday, and provides observers the opportunity to fast, to clear the clutter and distractions out of our heart to make room for Christ.

A particularly awe-inspiring discovery for me this year in my continuing education on the Church calendar was the Feast of the Annunciation (celebrated March 25th, during Lent) which commemorates the day the angel announced to Mary that she would bear God. Growing up in a Protestant church I learned a gentle reticence towards Mary, clicking my tongue at those who erected statues of her, deeming their reverence admirable but their devotion idolatrous, frankly. I continue to believe Mary is not to be worshiped; but I’m coming to believe that in Protestants’ zealous avoidance of idolatry, we’ve estranged one of our most important role models.

Upon receiving the world’s most important announcement, Mary replies, “may it be done to me according to thy word.” Both her physical and spiritual anatomy have made space for Christ, God incarnate. She gives way to God’s will.

As I look ahead to the next three months of living in Romania, I am inspired by the example of my friend Jess who just finished a school year in Oxford. In the three days I got to spend with her there, it was obvious that Jess strove in every way – from the way she approached clerks at the store register to the way she crossed the street and from the way she planned her day to the way used/discontinued use of idiomatic expressions – to yield, to give way to the culture that surrounded her. And I’m under the impression that the more she bended and compromised in order to accommodate what was foreign, the more she grew in understanding of “the other” and of herself.

God grant me the courage and humility to give way… To approach Romania wide-eyed, adaptable and awe-inspire-able as a child. If You will it, what begins as a Lenten discipline during a study-abroad term can become a way of life for life.