On June 28—anticipating a shift to The Netherlands later in the week—I wrote in Manchester, England:
Beginning July 3, I’ll trace the courses and the conversations that take place in Utrecht. Between now and then, I’ll report and remark on the experience of being in England in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
Then life happened.
Saturday, July 2. The taxi to Manchester Airport, the flight on FlyBe to Rotterdam, the train to Utrecht, and the bus to the summer school office at Utrecht University were flawless. In Utrecht, chaos set in. The registration was prompt and thorough, but I had to feel my way to my dormitory in another part of the city. Directions helped, but didn’t prevent several wrong turns. The dorm room was spare and spotless and sunny, but there was no toilet paper and the pillow and quilt to be inserted in duvet covers were disposable paper products.
Sunday, July 3. I found my way to St. Gertrud’s Cathedral Sunday morning with little trouble. After mass, a quick text exchange with an American friend visiting his parents in The Netherlands led to a quick train journey and a marvelous waking tour of Nijmegen, an ancient city near his home town of Groesbeek. The visit with his family led to an invitation to spend the night and a full evening of relaxing conversation, a delicious meal, superb Dutch cheeses, and an expresso night cap. Warm hospitality, a comfortable rollaway, and muesli for breakfast is a good life.
Monday, July 4. A quick ride back to Nijmegen Central Station and a 55” train ride to Utrecht got me to class well before 10 a.m. I needed help to find my class: the entrance to the classroom building at #25 Drift St. is in a courtyard of the University Library at #27 Drift St.* In the afternoon, I tracked down a super market frequented by students to buy supper and breakfast supplies. I was able to find my way to the dorm with only one wrong turn.
Tuesday, July 5. I discovered the coffee vending machine in the morning, the University cafeteria for lunch, and a proper expresso bar in the afternoon. I didn’t make any wrong turns on the way to the dorm, loved my salad supper, and collapsed happily into bed.
Wednesday, July 6. I got up, ate my muesli, dealt with emails and travel arrangements, and caught my bus just in time to make it to class by 10:01 a.m. “An Introduction to Old Catholic Liturgy,” a latte at the break, hot asparagus soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and an intentional break to write in the afternoon gets me back on track with myself and my intentions.
The journey from chaos to pattern. I was disoriented Saturday evening: no supper, a dorm far from the classroom, an unfamiliar bus ride, uncertainty about where to eat. Just moving about took concentration and energy. The language, the street signs, the streetscapes, even where the sun rises and sets, were all unfamiliar. By Wednesday afternoon new patterns have been established. I can get from dorm to class and back with ease. I enjoy my meals and my coffees. I’ve made friends with whom conversation is relaxed and engaging. I’ve taken time off from the scheduled program to stop, reflect, and write. A sustainable new normal has been achieved in the space of just three days. Saturday evening, I was beset with problems to solve. By Tuesday morning, I had developed an unpleasant sore throat. This afternoon, a balance has been restored, I feel energized—and better—and the sore throat is going away.
This experience is neither uncommon nor unexpected, but it’s largely unnoticed. It seems important to notice how life works. There is a life pattern here:
- We enter what feels like a strange, new situation
- We feel discombobulated, and yet…
- We gradually discover or create new patterns that carry and sustain us
- We experience a new feeling of comfort and a new normal
We do this by simply continuing to move forward. There is a phrase that describes the method of this emergence, widely attributed to St. Augustine—“It is solved by walking”. Click on Solvitur ambulando to jump to a Wikipedia article with several interesting references to the phrase.
I’ve heard people say that humans are “meaning making” creatures. I’d add that we are “pattern identifying” creatures. We look for how things fit together. We notice when one happening follows another. We remember the sequence of events, the repeating stops, starts, and turns of steps that take us from one place to another—or from one state of being to another. The patterns hold us in being, they wrap around us like cloaks and blankets, they protect us from the chaos of surprise and unfamiliarity. They are reassuring because they are organizing. They help us feel that we have a grip on life, events, and ourselves.
We discover the patterns by simply walking our paths and occasionally stopping to reflect on our experience long enough to notice how our experience is ordered. My experience in Utrecht this week leads me to reflect that religions attempt to recognize and name the universe’s life giving patterns.
Faculty members of the summer school course “Old Catholic Theology in an Ecumenical Context” have been describing how Catholic people in The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and elsewhere have been carefully distinguishing the life giving patterns experienced and described by the early church (the “old” Catholic Church) from those invented to serve the institutional interests of the later, Roman Catholic Church.
I hope to be able to describe the heart of this work as I write about this experience. We’ll see what walking, watching, and stopping to reflect and write rhythm emerges.
* Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, known as Lodewijk Napoleon in Dutch, was one of Napoléon Bonaparte’s brothers, a French military officer, and King of Holland during 1806–1810. The buildings now housing some of the Utrecht University classrooms were used as his residence in Utrecht during his reign.