Like ink made visible in the moonlight.

That’s what it was like to be in Germany.

Europe illuminates a part of me that is otherwise not seen, sometimes even by myself.

Kathleen Norris writes about the notion of “Spiritual Geography,” this idea that a person is shaped not only by people and events, but also by place.

I imagine that implicitly, we know this to be true, but that we’re not often called to think on it, because we don’t often leave places of familiarity.

When I first arrived in Germany in 1999, every night, for many, many nights, I was exhausted, physically tuckered out by thinking in, reading in, writing in, speaking in, dreaming in, German.

Clearly that part of my brain, that part that concerns itself with new language, was weak, out-of-shape, ignored.

And it needed rest to meet the new day.

That experience, by the way, consoles me as I look at my sweet boy Karl, who tires so easily (and is sleeping beside me this very moment) because his brain is engaging in mental Pilates every moment of every day.

Returning to that place, however, I found myself in a home that I never would have known that I had, had I not made the strange choice to sell all that I owned (or store it with my parents, God bless them) and move to a foreign land with a foreign language and foreign ways.

Suddenly, this last trip, I realized that the foreign had become the familiar.

Now, this is not to say that I am enamored with all that is German, with all due respect to that fine land.

Customer service?

Often enough, I found myself missing the idea of a Wal-Mart Greeter–and I never even shop there!

Heightened formality?

I ought to, but don’t, do hierarchy so very well.

Lots of people in little space?

This introvert yearned for open prairie.

But that said, savoring extended meals outside with the background music of contented conversation–and even accordions, which generally make me want to curl up in the fetal position and weep?

Insert longing sigh of satisfaction.

Progressive medical care available to all?

Humaneness in action.

Raising children with the collective agenda to appreciate and respect nature’s wonders?

Isn’t that how it should be?

And the tangible history of thousands of years can’t help but remind a soul that they are not alone in time or space.

With that, the soul becomes acquainted with the past, and the present, and the future–and itself–in profound ways.

My point isn’t that you need to see the the familiar land only in the rearview mirror.

My point, vis-a-vis this evening’s blog, is that if one only lives “safely” by never venturing forth, never challenging the known, never availing oneself to the possibilities that newness extends, never considering that one might be wrong, one might never realize that home still has the light on a bit further on down the road…or at the very least, there are some souvenirs to be had to adorn your homey mantel.

Engaging new thoughts about God, truly “pondering anew, what the Almighty can do,” tends to exercise a part of the brain somewhat content with not moving particularly much.

And the process is exhausting, and somewhat scary, just like our first many days in Germany. Just like it is for Karlchen.

However, one has the distinct possibility of discovering a home one never knew one had. Who knew that there is an active–and fruitful–Buddhist/Lutheran dialogue? Who knew that women medieval mystics were in part behind the regularizing of Holy Communion? And for some, who knew that Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew?

Worst case scenario, one learns to appreciate–and understand–even more one’s home-of-origin. For instance, my English grammar benefitted tremendously by learning the difference between the nominative and the accusative case alone, not to mention my discovery of etymologies heretofore unknown, and a new distinct ability to remember German surnames thanks to knowing what the name originally meant…sometimes in awfully amusing ways.

Learning about religious history, ecumenical dialogue, feminist and liberation and African and Black theology makes me tired, exhilarates me, and brings me home to new places.


As an aside, Karlchen is making wondrous newness too. Watering eyes, relaxed muscles, emerging complex speech, and new bodily functions.

Was it scary, and is it still?

I cannot express how deeply that is true.

But living, loving, mothering, is.

So we wait, and weep, and hope, and rejoice when the foreign becomes familiar again.