Best of Europe (Limited Edition Found Only Here!!)

I have compiled a list of “Best Of”s from my recent trip to Europe, and decided I needed to share them all with you. These are unique Best Of categories that you will likely not find anywhere else.

Best Ratio of Attractive Males: Vienna

Best Flirts: Paris

Best Tiramisu Ever: A tiny town in the middle of Southern Czech Republic whose name I don’t recall.

Best Metro for Hanging Upside Down While Traveling: Prague

Best Metro Overall: Vienna

Best City to get Confused While Traveling the Metro: Paris

Best (Worst) Beggars: Paris

Best Coffee Shop: Square Mile Coffee in London, who uses Flat Cap Coffee Company beans. Their cortada was out of this world.

Best Gardens: Prague

Best Remake of a Fairytale City: Budapest

Best Night Life: Paris near the Moulin Rouge – though I didn’t drink – it was just fun to watch. =D

Best Eyes on A European Male: Ano the front desk boy at our Paris hostel

Best Metro Entertainment: The French hip hop group on the metro which featured a teenage boy who pole danced… most hilarious thing ever!

Best Display of Lights: Budapest along the river at night… out of this world!

Best Place to Find Unshaven Women: Nowhere. Yes that’s right I went swimming twice and was around several women in sleeveless shirts and NEVER, not once, saw a woman who went without shaving. Celebrate, men of America! 🙂

Best Metro to Navigate: Prague – only 3 lines!

Best Music: London obviously.

Traveling

Here I am in the beautiful Czech Republic, in a little village called Velka Dobra. I am about 20km outside of Praha (Prague), and in the countryside. I’ve been here for the past week and a half or so after visiting London and Paris. Last weekend (Thursday and Friday) I went to Budapest, Hungary, for a short time.

This trip has indeed been a spiritual journey for me as I had first written. A different sort of spiritual journey, sure, but one all the same. I would likely title it “transformation”.

I was at a church last Sunday night for the first time in a few months (for my new readers, I was formerly a nondenominational Christian; I grew up in church). The last time I was in a church was for Orthodox Easter, and the last time I was in a nondenominational Christian church was December. I was curious as to how it would effect me now to return to the same kind of church I’ve been in for most of my life.

The subject being talked about was “sex and love.” Of course. This is one of my hot button issues that I normally disagree with the Christian church on. Having grown up in it, I see a number of holes. I had a headset for translation from Czech to English, and at one point I took it off because I was too angry to keep listening. The issue that sparked my anger was the talk on sex before marriage.

My own personal standard is that for me, emotionally, I don’t want to have sex before marriage. Because of several personal issues I have, it’s just better for me to do it this way. It really has much less to do with religion and a lot more to do with how I connect to people. This is a conclusion, by the way, that I’ve come  to in the last few months that I’ve been “religion-less.” So I really have little judgment towards people who feel that they want to have sex before marriage. It’s their choice, and if they find it beneficial and not a betrayal of their deeply held values, then by all means go for it. I am not going to be wagging a finger at you.

But I’ve grown up in the evangelical church who parodies “no sex before marriage!” But they don’t teach how to keep from betraying self and personal values, and don’t explain that often in order to find your values, a journey is required. (This, actually, is an archetype that is seen throughout history – for instance, the vision quest of Native American culture)

And after not explaining how to find your own personal values, they HAND you a set of values and tell you, “follow these steps and your life will be amazing! your wedding night will be spectacular! there will be magic and fireworks and you’ll be glad you waited!” This is generally how the wedding night is presented in Christian culture. Something that is a magical fairy tale and well worth the wait.

Having been married, and having waited until marriage, I can assure you – this is not true. It’s absolutely incredible how much the Christian culture usually leaves out, even practical information. Everyone outside the Christian world KNOWS how awkward their first time was. Why don’t Christians admit this? Why are they so quiet about even what everyone else knows – First time sex is awkward! But then, how else would they get teenagers to wait for the wedding night than to make it a majestic, otherworldly experience?

So when this issue was mentioned at church on Sunday, with the familiar stance of, “Wait for your wedding night, it’s worth it,” I couldn’t listen any more.

No matter what religious path I choose, that is not how I want to live

I want to be real. Life is hard, people won’t come hear about Christianity just because there’s free pizza, and first-time sex is awkward. Hell, sometimes sex is awkward even in long term relationship.

I want to be a person who makes my judgment scarce, embraces humility, minds my own business, and strives to love others.

I am going to search out my own personal values and live by them; not because someone else tells me to, but because I believe in them. I am not going to follow something I am told until I’m convinced it aligns with my own value system and what is beneficial for me.

London Musings

Been in London since yesterday morning and thought I’d write about things that have happened so far. It’s been a lovely trip and I’m enjoying myself immensely.

Firstly, I remembered how much I love exploration. I love being single and able to explore and travel as I do. Riding the metro and finding our way around (I’m with my best friend) has been deliciously exciting. It satisfies my curiosity. I adore travel, and foreign cities, and finding my way around them.

Second, this trip has been really satisfying for me. I am really grateful that I decided to do this for myself. It’s imprinting in my mind that I can take care of myself, in a good healthy way. Tonight I went out shopping for a bit of food and made us some dinner. It wasn’t much but it was protein and fairly tasty. It worked. Another thing I did was navigate us back to the little coffee shop I found yesterday. And had another wonderful, delightful, lovely double cortado. Those little cups of coffee are a highlight of my day. I had two today.

And lastly the most satisfying thing so far was seeing a childhood dream realized. We went to Westminster Abbey today. Since I read about David Livingstone in my childhood and found out he was buried at Westminster Abbey, I have always wanted to see his grave. I don’t know why exactly. But I remember as a child I was fascinated by his story. So I went into the nave of the church and we made our way towards the altar for the Evensong service. I looked down and there in the floor was his grave. I teared up! It was so moving to me and still I’m not sure why, but the fact that I was standing there looking at this grave I have always wanted to see, touched my heart. I was filled up to the brim. And it was strangely more spiritual than the actual service. That moment MADE London for me. I can now leave London completely satisfied and happy with all I’ve seen here.

Upcoming Travel

I have upcoming travel plans to go to London, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Switzerland. I’m leaving a week from today.

In thinking about this I want to keep my mind and heart open. Right now, I know in my heart what I believe, but I don’t know how to reconcile it to any form of religion. I know what it’s closest to. But there are still too many differences to reconcile.

So I’m excited to see where my travels, both inner and outer, bring me to. It should be an interesting adventure.

Orthodox Pascha Service

After 2 weeks of silence, here is my post about Orthodox Pascha! Sorry about the wait – I got sick right after I went to the service, and that sapped my energy for the past 2 weeks.

The service began at 11:30pm. When I came in, the priest was chanting. Everyone was lined up to venerate the “tomb” and the icons. So I lined up with them. I was pretty terrified actually, not really knowing what I was doing. I watched everyone else and tried to copy them (probably failed, but oh well) and then went to stand off to one side.

I just so “happened” to stand next to a couple who was there with their un-Orthodox friend. They were explaining the service to him. So I leaned over and asked if I could eavesdrop, The guy enthusiastically agreed and I ended up staying with the 3 of them the whole service. The couple was Jason and Kristin, and the other guy (un-Orthodox) was Joel.

The service was extraordinarily long. The entire thing, including Vespers, Liturgy, and Matins, lasted from 11:30pm until 3am. (And I had to work the next morning at 7:30… HA! very funny!)

To begin, the church was dark except for candles lit around the outside walls. The priest chanted for about 20 minutes. The choir then sang a call and response song with the entire church for probably an hour, going through several stories that are types of the death and resurrection of Christ. After this was completed, we all went outside for the procession. Everyone in the church goes outside the church and walks around it once. This was at about 12:30am and the bells were being rung – I’m sure the neighborhood next to the church was thrilled. 😉 A short call and response song was sung again at the door of the church, and then we returned inside.

Going back inside is seen as a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Therefore when we returned inside, the church was brightly lit, and the huge chandelier was swinging back and forth. Coming back in, there was a lot of call and response both with the choir and with the priest. The priest would shout, “Christ is risen!” and the congregation would respond “Indeed He is risen!” This wasn’t just done in English, but was also said in several other languages, I can’t remember them all right now. You had to guess at which language the priest was saying… several times the congregation didn’t respond because they couldn’t guess! Hahaha… it was pretty funny actually. I think even the priest was quite amused.

This call and response went on for a very long time, until communion was served. I think communion is served at every Orthodox service. It is ONLY for Orthodox members, as I believe I mentioned before. The priest spoons a mixture of wine and bread into the parishioner’s mouth, the parishioner venerates the cup, then moves on. At this Orthodox church, they also serve blessed bread and grape juice to kind of “wash it down.” (That was what Jason was saying the reason of it was, anyway)

The service ended with red eggs being distributed. There is some kind of story that goes along with the red eggs that I believe has to do with a martyr or something like that. Sorry I am not more technically up on this.

After the service, Orthodox Lent is ended, so they have a huge meal. It’s like a potluck party, basically. I was invited to go by Jason and Kristin, so I went for awhile. It was the most interesting church party I’ve ever witnessed. Lots of cheese, meat, and alcohol. I have never seen so much alcohol inside a church before. But it was really wonderful, I was impressed by the community and how everyone knew each other. I enjoyed how welcomed I was by Jason and Kristin. They treated me like I was a part of the church, not just a visitor. I rarely experience such community inside a church. It was really cool! 🙂

To finish off, here is a [not so great] picture of communion:

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Eastern Orthodox Church – Holy Saturday Divine Liturgy

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This morning was my first visit to an Eastern Orthodox Church. I was really nervous, even though I’ve been exposed to Orthodoxy. We have a popular coffee shop here in Colorado Springs that is run by the local Orthodox church. Because of that, I’ve read a bit of Orthodox literature and have seen a bit of the culture.

However, seeing a bit of the culture was not enough to relieve the culture shock. Not even having been to a Catholic or Episcopal church relieved my culture shock. I found it to be very, very different from either of those denominations. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera, so I didn’t get any pictures. I might go back tonight though for the Pascha Liturgy, so I will bring my camera then. (Yes – going to work at 7:30 am tomorrow morning after being up so late will indeed be interesting. Good thing I work at a coffee shop!)

I sat in my car for about 5 minutes before venturing in. After sitting with a pounding heart the whole time, I finally opened my car door without a thought and headed in like I was about to face the Inquisition or something.

Walking in, each person would bow to the door and make the sign of the cross. Then they would enter what is called the nave (the main body of the church), making the sign of the cross. After this, it appeared that they all approached a makeshift “tomb” representing Jesus’ tomb, bowed twice while crossing themselves, kissed the special icon that was laid on top of the tomb (see: http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the/holy-saturday), then bowed again. Then they approached the icons at the altar, bowed and crossed themselves at all 4 of them. Then they walked over to a place somewhere in the nave and stood there. Very few people sit in the Eastern Orthodox Church. If you get tired, you can sit down for a moment on the carpet. But you will be up again quickly as the liturgy progresses.

Because of Jennifer (http://churchandthesinglegirl.com), I thought to bring a scarf for my hair. (Thanks, Jennifer!) It was a good thing I did, because I don’t think I saw one single woman without one. Also, the women were pretty modest for the most part – almost all of them wore long skirts, or skirts with leggings underneath.

Having been to Catholic and Episcopal churches, I expected a call and response liturgy. Also thanks to Jennifer, I knew they would be singing a lot. There wasn’t as much call and response as I expected. Everyone kind of sang the liturgy if they felt like it. At least that was how it seemed to me. There was a LOT of crossing oneself: every time the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were mentioned, almost every time the Priest crossed himself, and other odd times that I didn’t quite catch. The crossing is also different than the Catholic or Episcopal church. A different formation of hands is used. I knew about this beforehand after reading this local church’s website, so I was prepared. Sometimes, too, when crossing oneself, you bowed and touched the ground. Also, if the Priest came out and was swinging the incense toward you, you bowed to receive his blessing.

To begin, the Priest walked around the nave swinging the incense decanter. There was a LOT more incense than I’ve ever seen in any Catholic church. I loved it actually, but I’m an incense freak. The service was about 2.5 hours long. It was a little mind numbing – I was kept up by my roommates and caffeine last night so I was having a hard time concentrating. Several of the congregants came up and sang different readings. The readings were ALL scripture. Because of my nondenominational Christian roots, I was impressed- there is often a lot of variation away from scripture in nondenominational Christian churches. There were 3-4 readings from Isaiah, 2 from Genesis, 2 from 1st and 2nd Kings, one from Matthew, and one from Jonah. Actually there are quite a few more readings – I looked it up just now on the same site that talks about the icon on the tomb. If you’re interested look up at that again and find the link.

Pretty much the end of the service was communion. Having been to Catholic Church I figured this worked the same way – don’t get communion unless you’re Orthodox. I was correct on this. However I noticed that an Orthodox person could bring bread to a non-Orthodox person and this was fine. Interesting.

Overall I’m totally fascinated by the whole process and I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back tonight for the Pascha service, so I will write about that tomorrow when I get home from work. 🙂 And – I will have pictures!!!

A Quest

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Since January, I’ve been on a quest to find God for myself. I’ve dropped all religious affiliation and stepped out into the unknown abyss. Who is God, really?

I am sure that the people in my life who knew of this have been scared. In truth, I’ve been a bit scared. But here’s the deal – why are we/why am I so scared of the unknown? If I/you really think God is REAL – then it shouldn’t be a big deal to search Him out in other faiths and religions. I trust that God will bring me to the Truth, his truth, WHATEVER that looks like. Wherever it is. I don’t understand truly why the western Christian world is so afraid of searching out God, so afraid of the unknown, so afraid of different denominations and religions.

I’m still nervous, I won’t lie. Nervous about going places outside of my usual Christian paradigm. But I’ve begun with one and now I’m ready to take on more. I actually do have an idea where this will end, but I want to see where God will end up taking me. I wouldn’t be happy with myself if I didn’t follow through the process.

So, I am going to start visiting places of meeting for different religions. I plan to visit:

A mosque

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Unitarian Church

Hindu Temple

Buddhist Meeting

And anything else I can think of. I have 2 purposes in this:

1. To discover who God is for myself.

2. To gain a nonjudgmental, respectful, and thoughtful view of all other religions.

And if anyone reading this wants to join me, LET ME KNOW! I’d love the company. 🙂

I’ll be writing posts after I visit each place. I’ll be starting this Saturday morning with something somewhat inside the usual Christian paradigm – the local Orthodox parish. It’s Orthodox Easter this weekend so it should be pretty interesting.

I’m sure I’ve shocked some of you with this declaration! Good. Life isn’t fun without a little bit of shock factor once in awhile. 🙂

Disclaimer: I am taking this path in the utmost seriousness. I really intend to be thorough in this process. It’s not just a flight of fancy or something I am doing on a whim. I am looking for certain things, which I may write about later in a post on my values and what I’m looking for. I am looking for God, as He truly is.

“Yes… I will love you, again.”

Today, I took a sick day from work because I’ve been having a shitty month or two. And I needed a break. So I took one. And what I did with it was fabulous. I drove out onto the empty Eastern Colorado plains all afternoon, and as the sun set, I stopped at a little cemetery. It was so quiet out there. Sometimes cars raced past or planes flew overhead, but for the most part, it was soul-drenching silence. Healing silence. And I watched the sun slowly dip down beneath the mountains. It was golden, glowing, an orb of possibility and a gentle nurturance. I looked up at the bowl of the blue sky and where it met the horizon… I looked down at the dusty brown earth that I sat on… I felt the air dance around my arms… I leaned back against the trunk of the tree on the edge of the cemetery. And I felt that the earth was carrying me. I was held in the circle of the earth. Gently accepted.

It was while I was out there, driving around and then sitting for 30 minutes at a country cemetery, that I finally realized something. Love isn’t a fantasy-filled, stars-in-your-eyes, “oops I just fell in” experience. Real love is acceptance. First, acceptance of self, flaws and all. Then acceptance of another, flaws and all. I’ve had a hard time loving myself, but I think this afternoon I finally started really GETTING it. It’s acceptance. Loving myself doesn’t have to be some grandiose experience. Instead it’s just a quiet moment where I say this to my Self:

“To love life [self], to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, ‘How can a body withstand this?’ Then you hold life [self] like a face between your palms… and you say, ‘Yes… I will love you, again.’
~Ellen Bass

That’s what I want to say to myself – “Yes… I will love you, again.”

So, re Hannah Katy and her March being the month of pick-me-ups… there’s a pick me up, from me to all of you, my readers. Take yourself, look her in the face despite all the flaws, and say “Yes… I will love you again.” Ahhh. Just breathe that in. Doesn’t that feel expansive? Rest, sink into that message and accept.

That is what I’m doing this month!!