by Christine Spreter posted November 2016
(also told to Congregation on Oct 23, 2016)
Hi, I am Christine, born and raised in Germany, and came to Canada in 2006, together with my husband Tom who is also German. I started attending St. Andrew’s-Wesley in 2010, together
with my sons Liam and Finn, now 6 and 9 years old. My faith, and I quote Mark Nepo:
I believe in a light we carry inside. Some call the inner light spirit or soul. Others call it grace. But we can simply call it our eternal aliveness, which is constantly
looking for a way to express itself.
Where else could I practice my faith in Vancouver than at St. Andrew’s- Wesley? Our weekly newsletter is called STAWLIGHT. Our mission is to be a light in the world and in downtown Vancouver especially. St. Andrew’s-Wesley is a place where I witness authenticity because what’s declared is role modelled, for example radical hospitality, through shining the light inside of us and being reminded to carry it outside into the world. It’s here, where I feel our eternal aliveness, where my soul meets yours.
In Germany at my time, religion was an integral part of everybody’s cultural upbringing, and I am referring to the culture of the West. You hear the church bells chiming every 15 minutes,
businesses are closed on Sunday, Germany has up to 11 religious holidays a year, religion is a mandatory subject at school and once you earn money, you become a church member through paying taxes. This said, you are born into a church, and likely revisit the church for baptism, confirmation, your wedding and funeral. Many Germans are “cultural tourists” and visiting churches in their own and other countries in the world often is a “must do” with a focus on learning about the architecture, history of a place, and the spiritual practices of a culture, approached with an analytical mind.
I myself come from a Protestant background in the South of Germany where the majority of people are Catholic. My husband’s family is Protestant, too, but he comes from the north of Germany which also is mainly Protestant. My parents don’t practice their faith actively, but always paid their taxes. My husband’s father cancelled their membership, but votes for the Christian Democratic party. In Germany, you don’t easily get rid of the “Christian” in you.
When we founded a family away from home, my husband supported my search for a church as an educational place very much similar to our roots. We both believe in foundations and always appreciated the religious context of our upbringing and education in Germany. My husband who is a scientist, tells me, he is daily reminded of how little he knows. “That I don’t know is all that I need to know”, is his answer to the question about his faith. That I was struggling with my faith at the time, wasn’t a reason for me not to provide my kids with the same opportunity for their own and personal story.
Umberto Ecco said “If you were given the truth immediately, you would not recognize it, because your heart would not have been purified by the long quest.” As a child, I believed with all my heart in God, and prayed at night. But then, when reality kicked in and life hit hard, I let the pain and hurt define me. For the first thirty years of my life, I told this version of my
Imagine my feeling of abandonment when my girlfriend was killed at age 6 when she ran after a ball onto a busy street.
Imagine my disbelief when I lost a classmate during a skiing trip in high–‐school. He raced himself to death.
Imagine my horror when my neighbour in class didn’t show up. He died of a brain hemorrhage. He only complained about a headache!
Imagine my endless sadness when my favourite aunt died of cancer at age 40, the one who cared for me like a mother, while my own mother struggled in her marriage and felt bereft of her own life when she had me after a nine year gap after my brother’s birth.
Imagine my hurt when my only grandfather followed my aunt shortly after and unexpectedly. My questions about life beyond death were brushed off, my family stricken too much with their own grief.
Imagine my loss of faith.
I feared life because of death. For years, I dreamt of the darkness and the ashes I would become when I died and an existential angst took a grip of me. Psalm 86:11 –“Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness, give me an undivided heart that I may honor your name.” — this psalm was wisely chosen for my confirmation.
During my academic career, I used my brain even more to define who I was. When I came to Canada, I felt homeless at heart. Searching for a church for my sons’ education soon turned out to be a pretext for my own soul search. I felt a deep emotional disconnect because I didn’t feel me. I started coming to Parents and Tots and met Jen. Her abundance of love for all of God’s children, her presence only, cracked me open and her shining light coming in warmed me from the inside. I wanted more of that.
So, I explored my faith further with Gary. His passion for the arts and mine met. In his group studies, he made us experience the beauty of Christian rituals like chants and prayers, and he
sensualized the poetry of the biblical stories that are not be taken literally, but are invitations to reflect, pause, and interpret.
The first step into the openhearted community of St. Andrew’s-Wesley turned out to be a stepping stone for the exploration of other spiritual practices that also helped align my mind, soul and heart. A special thanks goes to Gloria at Semperviva for her offerings of yoga and meditation. And thanks to Darryl and Curt at St. Andrew’s-Wesley, I reconnected with music. In the end, it was this fine combination of spiritual practices, community and authentic leaders in that community that opened up my heart and enabled me to understand Umberto Ecco. I recognized that the truth lies in me and to live it, I need a pure heart. However, the long quest of purifying my heart has only begun.
I learned that faith is a never ending journey because experiences shape us. More important to remember is what Peter at Semperviva taught me: “It’s our response to the experience that defines us”. The power of reframing our stories lies in each one of us and only in us. That’s the beauty and poetry of each of our books of life. So let me finish by retelling you the story of my
childhood and adolescence, this time told from the heart, with my inner light lit again – it sounds so different.
My friend and playmate died at age 6 because she was only meant to be in my life for a reason. She made me laugh and gave me an unbelievable amount of joy. I believed it was forever, but it was only for a season and she wanted me to learn and grow through her death. Yes, I lost more friends and family too young to die, among them my favourite aunt and only grandfather. But I also made lifelong friends in those early years and our solid emotional foundation was of value in all other friendships and other areas in my life that followed. I am convinced my aunt was my guardian angel during two major car accidents at age 17 and 19. Souls never leave, only bodies do. And my parents stayed together in the end, likely because of me — what a sacrifice with regard to their challenged marriage. In those formative years of childhood, I experienced what life truly is about: every day we are at the crossroads and we are presented with learning
experiences that come in all shapes, sizes, colors, often materialized in people, places, smells, and sounds. We learn from all of them, either easily through role-modelling or not so easily through opposites. Let’s consider daily, at the crossroads, how we respond to the challenging learning experiences.
Remember my nightmares? I can recollect another dream I regularly had, and with my knowledge of today, I would call it a visualization. I imagined myself in the future, the life I am having, the country I live in, the family and career I have. The abundance of love I envisioned back then surely is my life today at age 40. And I am surprised how many other components of that dream/visualization came true as well. Daily I am challenged to practice the old wisdom that the journey becomes the destination, especially as a mother and teacher. Let my sons, my students, all of God’s children write their own stories instead of having them continue mine: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthian, 16:14)
Thanks be to God. Amen.