longing for His coming (advent & parousia)

advent

waking up, yawning wide and loud…quick cup of cocoa…

frosty mornings freezing the cheeks…fuzzy gloves and scarfs reminding of mom’s long evenings filled with knitting by the yellowish lamp…walking in the stillness of the dawn…almost holy darkness, interrupted only by the few early risers…walking to the church every morning…children carrying lampions…laughter in the distance…snow screeching under my boots, following the path carved in the patches of snow…feel of expectation and anticipation…

entering the church…dancing flames of small candles cutting through the darkness expanded from the humongous doors toward the arches of the marbled sanctuary…the familiar smells of the incense… the sounds of the songs in glorious minor keys, spreading longing, yearning and anticipating…

These are my memories of Advent mornings from my childhood in Poland. We would go to church every morning to the 6am Advent Mass, called Roraty (“rorate coeli” means “heaven, drop dew” in Latin). It was a time of preparation for our hearts, a time for making a way for the Lord to come through the door of our souls, time of silence, fasting and repentance. During this time we would not sing songs with Hallelujahs, but rather songs that were crying for the Saviour to come back to the earth.

Advent (about 4 weeks before Christmas) was to remind us about the first and the second coming – Parousia – of Jesus to our planet.

[ad-venio: to come to ]

During this time the faithful are admonished to prapare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in holy Communion and through grace, and thereby to make themselves ready for his final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world
[Catholic Encyclopedia]

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Father’s day

I don’t have many memories about my father, and all of them, except two, are dark and rather terrifying.

The bad

1. Fear. My father running around the dark wooden table with an ax, chasing my mom, yelling and threatening to kill her. I am in my bed, somewhere around 2-3 years old. I cry very loud, I scream from fear of loosing my mom, my world, the only known safety. Everything is collapsing around me. I can’t control my breathing, my throat hurts, an my heart pounds very hard. The thoughts of loosing my mom and possibly loosing my life leave me paralyzed. I can’t move, I can’t run, I can’t do anything, except scream uncontrollably.

2. My father takes me to the bar. I don’t know what to expect. When I go in, I see few tables. The smell of the cigarettes chokes me, the smoke lingers everywhere. It’s very loud. Every table is surrounded by few men, drinking mostly beer, at this time of the day, early afternoon. The beer glasses are sticky, drinks are spilled everywhere. Loud conversations between not quite sober men, sliced in between with the few shouts of those who can’t control their tone of voice any more. I sit on a chair by one table. My father introduces me to his friends. He seems to be quite proud of me. They ask me questions, but I can’t understand all of them, they are mumbling plus the noise around kills the sound of their voices. They are drinking beer. I feel like I don’t belong to this world, where my father feels comfortable. He wanted to take me out somewhere, and I don’t remember nothing except this steamy, sleazy atmosphere on one common afternoon.

3. My father ringing the door bell. My grandmother lets him in, and he collapses in the hall. He is so drunk, he can’t even talk. My mom looks at him with disgust, my grandmother just pulls him inside, so she can shut the door. He lays there, smelling bad, not conscious, maybe sleeping. I am looking at him and I am glad he can’t hurt us tonight. We go to our rooms and we close the doors, hoping that we will not have to deal with this situation till the morning. Just another night…

4. My father tells me a story: “When the children are not good, then a bad, old man comes to the door, carrying a huge sack on his back, and he puts the naughty kids inside and carries them away”. I wonder if he made that story up, or if he heard it from someone else. I know it’s not true, but I am afraid of the unknown. I think about this story often afterwords.


photo by Smodger

The good

I couldn’t remember nothing positive about him. One time, when I was about 20, I asked God to bring to my memory at least one joyous moment connected with my father. Immediately, and quite unexpectedly I remembered it.

It was in our room. (We lived in one room, my grandmother in the other, and we shared the kitchen). Suddenly I see a bright sunlight spreading around the room. My father is laughing out loud, throwing me in the air, and catching me in his arms, when I fall down. This is the only memory, when I don’t fear him, when he is sober, and when his eyes are crystal clear blue. Like mine. I laugh out loud, falling gently into his arms. This is the first moment in my life, when I can thank my Father in heaven for my earthly father.

My father was an alcoholic. He left me and my mom, when I was few years old. Since then I saw him twice.

In my early twenties I visited him. But that’s another story…

Today I don’t even know if he is alive.

Piwonie

This morning was sunny and bright. I opened the window and the air had a smell of the spring rain. Suddenly another aroma joined the air. The fragrance of peonies, which my daughter brought from the garden and placed in a glass vase.

I don’t know why, but the scents bring me instantly to the places associated with them, playing games with my brain, activating the memories otherwise not recollected and somewhat fogged down.

The sweet smell of just one single red peonia, standing motionless in front of me, transported my occupied mind in a split of a second to the festive day of Corpus Cristi processions (Boze Cialo). I could almost touch the flower’s petals in my basket, which I carried a small child during the Corpus Christi procession. I would gracefully throw in front of the priest carrying Eucharist, and hundreds of the parish believers would follow behind.

The next memory was of the sense of unrestricted imagination associated with the coming spring carrying unexpected adventures. The feeling of growing expectations, untamed and unbalanced, carrying the vigor of the surely bright and fulfilling future was sweeping me away. Nothing less then life with it’s highest possibilities and confidence in the upcoming times, trusting forward, forgetting the former, throwing myself into almost unreachable layers of fantasies – all of these thoughts were swirling around, not wanting to be caught by a categorically established rules of things to be. Possibilities of loss or suffering on the way were out of the picture. The sense of hope was ruling and drawing my already tickled soul into the risky ventures of the familiar, and at the same time unknown feelings mingled with reality. Where was I and were was the world. The only sensible thing to do in my mind then was to unquestionably jump off the cliff and eagerly experience what was not lived yet before.

Another memory was of my grandmother’s garden with lots of peonies everywhere. They would bloom shortly, but furiously, giving their beauty to the world, and quickly dying, envied and missed by many till the next season of life would come around. I could almost feel the smoothness of them under the palms of my hand, stroking it gently, imagining rich, pleasant velvet and royal beds from the ancient times covered with luxurious muslin.

All if this happened in a split of a second. How did God made a human mind to do THAT?

trzepak

[tshe-pak] the exact word in English would be: “beater”.

I remember spending time hanging upside down from trzepak, and soaking the upside down images of the gray world, trying to stir at the sky above, diminishing the sadness of the surroundings. I would make the guards of my mind go down and explore different dimensions of my upside down brain analyzing this not upside down world, trying to discover new possibilities of perception and evaluating the seen surroundings from a new perspective.

This commonly seen element, made out of metal, was a very important piece of every Polish yard. Although used professionally by every family only few times a year, trzepak was regarded as a necessary contraption of every yard. It wasn’t making any place uglier, but it wasn’t adding any artistic value to it for sure.

The original purpose for trzepak was to clean you rug, as it was valued as one of the most precious possessions of the household. At the appointed time, usually before Christmas, Easter and maybe one ot two more times a year, you would bring your rug over it, take a trzepaczka (carpet beater) and beat the hell out of that rug. There is some logical explanation and order of doing it correctly, but don’t ask me about it.

The fog of dust would surely rise around the tortured place, an indication that the beating must be prolonged till the moment of the cloudy, dusty monster disappearing. In the winter time you would put the rug facing down on the snow and beat it.

The pounding would always generate attention from the public, as the sound of the beating would bounce around the walls. It would be impossible to miss that. This sound announced almost always that the holidays were coming ot some special occasion was approaching. Baptism, family reunion, first Communion, just to think of the few most associated with this action.

After hearing the familiar sounds, people would have a look who is down there beating one of their moist valuable items, marking in their minds, that the neighbour was so early trying to start the season of rug beatings or being so late (for example cleaning a rug on Good Friday would cause a great disapproval in the neighborhood).

Trzepak served to others, mostly slightly older crows, as a place of socializing, place of a meeting, but the kids had turned it to an object of invention, relaxation and experiments.

If there was no one to play with – you could always hand upside down from trzepak and sing a song, observe the world upside down. It was a place of challenging your friends, daring them to repeat what you’ve just accomplished, making some new kind of twisted figure, attempting to mesmerize the audience. If you had no other talents, but the art of stretching and making strange twists out of your body limbs, you could use trzepak as a platform for your show. If I wanted to play in jumping rubber band and there was no one around, I would kindly include trzepak and the tree trunk as my static holders for the rubber band. You could also make a quite fancy puppet show for those not discovered puppet animators and kids hungry for more cultural entertainment.

I can still feel the coldness, which felt almost cruel and unwelcoming, and the metallic smell of the bars. They were smooth in touch, rubbed of by the hundreds of other hands and those victim rugs. I remember sitting on it while eating ice cream at summer times. I remember looking at it through the window in the winter times trying to spot any birds which might rest for a while in our closed yard. I remember beating my rug too.

It seems very strange to me how this particular object is imprinted in my childhood memories, especially the smell and touch associated with it.

in the shadows of gray

Reminiscing is not easy. Sipping my cup of tea, I’m trying to distinguish between the reality that was awaiting me and the far surpassed life given me as a gift I don’t deserve.

I came to this world as a rather fearful, somewhat disoriented, internally intrigued and at the same time outwardly sound-minded heart. My first memory is saturated with the color of gray walls in the building where I spent the first years of my earthly pilgrimage. The beam of lights cutting through this deserted place are also present in my memories, invigorating the sadness and overwhelming heaviness.

My mom and I lived in an old building surrounded by 3 sides with similar giant, obscure, upraised old German apartments. These ancient dominating buildings were always there and everywhere. My apartment was on the third floor. From the balcony, I could see another gray giant, with it’s windows starring at me.

Some windows were inhabited by people recognizable to this small gray community. One window had a man with a loud puzon (trombone). The man would practice daily at different times of the day. I don’t even know if he belonged to some orchestra or was it just his hobby. His window seemed loudly disturbing. The lace curtains decorating it would fly open quite often, revealing pieces of old-fashion furniture. But there was not enough light in our yard to distinguish the interiors of his living place.

There was another interesting window across. This one was always occupied by someone from the family. Mostly by the mother and one of the daughters. It was incredibly amazing how they could be so well informed about the whereabouts of most of the occupants just from observing and watching. They were mobilized if a new person would pass by, they would be vigilant at evening times, they would listen attentively to the echoes of the voices bouncing in between the buildings, trying to decipher the meaning of the words, to feed their hunger for gossips. I was thinking often, when do they have time to cook, to clean and to do other “normal” things of life. They were probably bored. They were waiting with anticipation for something great or even less then great to happen. Something that would change the monotonous existence within the scratched walls.


Every time I stood in front of these buildings I was diminished and conquered by their firm and depressive presence. They reminded me of the times we lived in. These old tenement houses supported the idea of the ruling system, proclaiming loudly the common share, common property, common life as a massive blurb of otherwise not important individuals, working for the better tomorrow in the land of common satisfaction. The patches with falling paint, pieces of bricks and whatever else might stick to them in the last 100 years, were slowly giving in under the pressure of time.

The yard was ugly. Squeezed in between monster buildings, there was black dirt, beater (for cleaning the carpets) and the doors leading to the outside world of streets, cars, shops and people. Nothing else.

Looking from my balcony, to my left, there was a piece called the “Jewish yard”, to my front and right was “our yard”, and behind my building was the “Gypsy yard”. The last one had a story and a social right to be named in such a way. Gypsy families were living nearby, their numerous children would play in there, making constant noise by loud laughter, songs and frequent fights in a language not understood by the rest of us.

This is the back view of my building from the “Gypsy yard”. On the left would be the “Jewish yard”, to the right and in front – “our yard”.

But every space called yard around my building, was the same. It brought the same feelings, the same disappointing “luck of hope and the future” message banging over our heads, falling straight from the sky, sinking deeply into our very conscious and alert minds. No escape was the refrain of this chant soaking daily into our existence, trying to penetrate to the very bone of leftover faith in humankind’s goodness.

The only thing you could do in that place called yard was to imagine. Therefore creativity blossomed exponentially. There is a limit to the number of times you can play hide and seek or jumping ropes. Beyond these familiar games there was a wide open world of unrestricted imagination. And the kids were freely exploring this childhood universe without boundaries and borders. But today is late and I need to go to sleep…


These 3 picture are not of the place where I actually lived, but were taken in Poland and depict accurately the feeling of the times.