My husband and I chose to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in April on the Elbe River in Europe. A way to honor the years passed together with their joys and challenges and to face, with energy renewed, the reality of fewer years ahead. The tour begins in Berlin – a city with an intriguing blend of the modern and reminders of the past. Our hotel was located in what was once the “eastern section” and viewing remnants of The Wall is an awakening to the realities of post-war life for the inhabitants. Our guide recounted her personal story of how she and her family got permission to go to the western section to attend a wedding. They planned for her to remain there so she could complete her university studies. The Communist regime would not allow that unless she and her family renounced their religious beliefs. Her friends could not know her plan as even they could not be trusted to keep confidentiality. I felt teary when I heard her story of having to say “good-bye” to her family, not knowing when they would reconnect. When the wall came down about a year later, she and her family were reunited. WOW – I felt so much joy now from a past “ageless” story.
As if in my youth, I tend to run with great speed which has its negative consequences. I fell in Berlin on one knee and the next day, I felt something inside shift out of place in the other. Both then swelled up and I had to walk slowly. Thankfully, no bones were broken. A profound message for the trip came through: SLOW DOWN, PAY ATTENTION to surroundings such as uneven surfaces, and go to the quiet WITHIN for focus and guidance. I viewed the city sites (the OUTER journey), knees and legs throbbing, words of wisdom resounding in my head: Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. As the bus drove by the memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the place of remembrance consisting of more than 2700 concrete stelae, I was inspired to choose a different way to view my plight: I can walk, everyone is so helpful and patient, and I have new lessons to learn. Victor Frankl came to mind as I often refer to his life experience and resulting wisdom that goes something like this: all can be taken but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude, in any given set of circumstances (sore knees and slow walk) – to choose one’s own way.
Our next stop at Wittenberg was particularly poignant as the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. It was here that the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, 500 years ago this year, famously nailed his “95 Theses” against the selling of indulgences to the door of the palace church. Sitting in the Parish Church of St. Mary where Luther married and preached, my INNER journey moved from painful knees and legs to my peaceful heart. I felt connected with what I call the Energy of Spirit that opens to the present love nurtured through these centuries by those for whom the freedom of religious belief and practice was so vital.
Next, we toured the 1000-year-old city of Meissen with its world famous porcelain factory. Watching the masters at work, I sensed these artists were inviting in a power greater than they and yet one that resided within them as inspiration for their gifts of creativity. From here, we moved on to Dresden, a city first mentioned in medieval documents of 1206. The worst part of Dresden’s history came during the Second World War, with successive air attacks that demolished much of the city. Only after the reunification of Germany did Dresden began to consider reconstruction. The Lutheran Church of our Lady had been destroyed to rubble. I felt honored and spiritually enlivened to sit in a pew now, knowing that original stones had been used in the restoration of the current place of worship. Yes, when the human spirit opens to the healing energy of Spirit, we all benefit in the sharing of this glorious experience. My physical pain was minimal in the power of the ageless, healing energy around me.
I say “ageless” because I wonder how I would have remembered these experiences if travelling in my younger day. Now, my prayers and meditations on this trip were brief yet so deep as if my physical pain called for a more mature and wise energy. What came OUT from my journey WITHIN was a motto of: Patience, Love and Compassion – all needed to be experienced by me as I continue transitioning through age with Spirit. As we sailed through Saxon Switzerland and the Elbe Valley to Bad (meaning “spa”) Schandau, I was again presented with a change in accepting the limits of my body functionality. In the past, I would have climbed the paths and steps available to reach Bastei, a 1000-foot spectacle of tooth-like rocks. Instead, I viewed from a distance what still ignited in me the power and beauty of nature and the history still vibrating in the massive stone walls.
Prague, the city of One Hundred Spires, marked the end of our celebratory journey. I was in awe as I reflected on my “advancing age” while in the midst of architecture and sites that seemed so ancient because of the centuries of their existence. My OUTER journey has included visits to Catholic cathedrals, Lutheran churches and now I am at the “Old-New Synagogue”. The story is that the synagogue was built on the site of an ancient Jewish temple and temple’s stones were used to build the present structure. My INNER journey included what I experienced in my heart and soul as I connected with the places of worship, the people of the trip, and the residents of each region we visited. On the day of our trip to Terezin, the concentration camp north of Prague, I felt both sad and angry about “man’s inhumanity to man” AND enlightened and encouraged by the resilience and creativity of the human soul.
Yes, this experience of “journeys” confirmed for me that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and that both are our responsibility, our gift and our opportunity for gratitude.
THANKS be to ___ (you know what fits for you) for helping me embrace age as a glorious experience, its advancing movement and the reflections of learning from the journey.
Dr. Glo (Gloria) McArter, counselling therapist, speaker and writer, encourages individuals, couples, and groups to use curiosity, courage, wisdom, and worthiness
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, The Spiritual View, HERE