10/23/2019

October

I walked to work this morning and saw a big triangle of birds, flying south, wet sky as their backdrop. It felt like utter betrayal. It is strange how some things are so natural, so usual, and yet we never get used to them. Birds leaving us for some place warmer and lighter is one of them. Every October I see this picture and yet, every time it hurts. It's as if something dies when autumn comes and death, as we all know, is forever unnatural.

It's not too bad, of course. When so much withers outwardly, it is time to turn inward. It's time to arm oneself with a shield of good books (Ryszard Kapuscinski and Shiva Naipaul lately), buy new candles, make sure you don't miss any one good concert, listen to songs like Ben Abraham's A Quiet Prayer, and let the time pass quietly.

It might be even time to acquire a new skill and start baking bread. I went to a baking workshop last week and for the first time ever, if you happened to come by my home, you would occasionally smell the sweet, lifegiving smell of dark rye bread in the oven. It feels somehow fitting to start making my own bread in the abyss of October darkness.

But I admit, there's not much light. Not outwardly, not inwardly. At times I get a little scared because darkness seems to take over completely. Then it's good friends who shine the light and help you stay on the path you've chosen (or that's chosen you).

Last night I was walking home through the Old Town and suddenly, for the first time this year, I could feel the nearness of Christmas. Could smell it. I don't know how far we are from the first snow, in any case I am very much looking forward to seeing it.

Over and out.


10/01/2019

Spontaneous

Friday afternoon. I am sitting in a library, hastily wrapping up an essay that’s due in a couple of days, and my mind is already elsewhere. How much still needs to get done before the end of the day, cooking, cleaning, some prep for the next day’s Bible study, slides for worship service… Then a friend sends me a message: Mervi, the weather is perfect, I happen to have my camera on me today, and I need a model. Let’s go and shoot some pictures.

I’ve never been a spontaneous person. I need rhythm, I need time. But I’m learning to recognise the moments that can, if you only give them a chance, take you off course and surprise you. I’m learning to put my need for rhythm and time on hold, just for a bit. I’m learning to seize the moment. I’m learning to be surprised by joy.

We went out although I really didn’t have time for it. And we ended up in a strange district in Tallinn I had never visited before. It’s an old port, an industrial area with massive rusty hangars for ships. Old brick buildings, probably some sort of factory buildings from bygone days. Abandoned. Spooky. And then have come people with money and ideas and vision, and have created a wonder of a district out of that godforsaken harbour. New buildings, old buildings, colors and textures, restaurants and art galleries, yuppies walking their dogs and sitting on the water’s edge with coffee cups… It is such a dizzying mixture of creativity it makes your head spin. The smell of sea and gusts of strong winds. And my friend with a camera.

Of course, we ended up having a wonderful time.








8/22/2019

The Radio

When we started the church planting project some three years ago, the plans and conversations often ended with the same appeal, "Everyone, invite your friends!" Every time it happened, a big question mark appeared above my head, like in cartoons. "What friends?" I would think. "Where do I get those friends?"

Now, I have many good and dear friends but they are almost exclusively from the church. It's the worst here in Tallinn - I came to work in the church, having no former school friends nor any other social network here. I was just dropped in the middle of church. It's quite absurd when you think of it - I live in one of the most unreligious societies in the world (post-Christian is the right term, I believe), and yet I manage to live in a total Adventist "bubble". I share the office with our church leaders five days a week, and then on the weekends I preach to and hang out with my friends... church friends.

So I started praying about it.

Now, I am not one of those people who would be all extraverted and who would take cooking classes or join a local charity to meet new people and make new friends. I'm still as introverted as ever. And I was actually very curious about how God would find a way to answer my prayer. How can I meet new people when I don't even feel like making an effort?

What ignited the change was classical music. It is so strange and yet so very logical now that I think of it. The more I started going to concerts (still by myself, of course), the more I recognised the musicians. With some, I just spoke after concerts. Some made their way to my FB friends list. Then came the review writing. Then came singing classes. And I realised at some point that none of it was random. There was something in this that looked a lot like God's fingerprint.

It was this spring when a good (church) friend shared an advertisement with me. The Estonian Classical Radio (part of the national broadcasting company) was looking for new radio voices. She thought I should give it a try. If I had known they had a serious competition going on, I probably would not have tried. But in my blissful ignorance I wrote an application and sent it. They took so long in replying that I had almost forgotten all about it but finally their reply came. Congatulations, you have made it to the next round! Uhmm, what? There are rounds? Then I had to send them an audio file, introducing some classical piece. These congratulatory instructions came just one day before I was scheduled to record my monthly program in the Christian Radio. So I did not have to use some dubious app on my phone for the recording, I had a professional studio to use! That's when I realised I could actually make it. I sent the file, endured some more silence and then, in June, I was scheduled the first meeting with an editor. I kept very quiet about it but just one day before heading to vacation I went to the national radio station and had the first meeting with her. She said they would give me two programs to prepare. One is a simple one, I would just have to choose a classical concert from a massive data base, write introduction to each piece and then record them. The other one would be more challenging - a two hour program straight on air, with only an interview recorded previously. Oh my sweet goodness, I was as scared as I was thrilled. So I worked as hard as I could on that program. There was a point where I seriously started doubting myself and my abilities but in the end it all turned out fine. On August 13, I was on air. I chose music and I spoke to the listeners, and it all felt wonderful. The amount of work I did beforehand was ridiculous, there was hardly a sentence during that program which I hadn't previously written down and practised. I literally practised my sentences over and over again. But the result was well worth it. The head editor was pleased enough to make me an offer of further collaboration. The second program will be on air in the end of August.

And the whole time I was in the studio last Tuesday, there was a deep joy in me - this prayer of mine has brought me to places I've never even dreamt of! I am here, among people who are not my church members. I am here, doing something cool, something that actually gives me an opportunity to be around people my work wouldn't bring onto my radar.

I am still unsure about the future collaboration. I have a 40 hour work week, and I have my studies. I am not sure I have much more energy left. Nor time - even those hours I spent in the studio last week were stolen from my office hours, I admit. But there is something that makes me excited to look forward to the future.

The next time this "friend appeal" is done in the church, I just might have someone to give the invitation to.


7/08/2019

Donald Duck

I have to start with an apology for going mute for more than six months. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t intend it, and to this day I don’t quite know how or why it happened. I suppose some spring in me ran dry and needed a considerable time to recover. I hope water will flow again!

There is no point in my trying to recapture everything that has happened over the past months. And in some sense, not much has happened. I mostly live my everyday, rather routine life. No groundbreaking decisions, no sudden life changes to report on. Haven’t won any jack pots, as it is. On the other hand, a lot has happened that would have deserved a blog post. 

For example, I went to Newbold in mid February for the Week of Spiritual Emphasis. They had invited me to preach there and I ended up speaking for 10 times over 7 days (double sermons on Sabbaths and a college assembly, plus the mid-week evenings). It was exhilarating as it was exhausting. Half way throught the week I lost my sleep as lines from my sermons kept popping up in my head in the middle of night, and I literally had to take sleeping pills to be able to get through that week. The week ended in real emotional high as I preached my very favourite sermon at the Family Service. I preached completely without my notes – meaning, I had memorised the sermon – after getting some 3 hours of sleep. How that was possible, I still don’t know. It was one of the clearest miracles I’ve ever experienced in my life. Dr A. N. warned me that I should be careful about hitting a low after such a high. I didn’t take the warning very seriously until I got home and woke up one morning, unable to get out of bed. I hit such an emotional low I sat on my bed and wept for the better part of three days. I had never experienced anything like this (but then again, I had never preached like a mad man either, day after day, evening after evening), and I suddenly understood all sorts of rock stars and their addictions a lot better. Not that I am a rock star of a preacher but „when the tour bus drop off and all light lock off and I’m a mere mortal again“ - as Stephen Marley puts it, and I think he knows a thing or two - it is easy to turn to some substance that would make you feel better and help you through the period of exhaustion. Without substances (in case anyone is wondering), it took me a couple of weeks to crawl out of that pit. Now I am almost fearful of accepting preaching invites from abroad, it just takes such a terrible toll on me. 

This is how I kept track of sermons preached - the paper clips represented the sermons that were done, the manuscripts that were thrown away.

And in May I was back to Newbold for my own studies. It was so very different this time, compared to last spring. I went to people whom I actually knew. I liked the course we took (on spirituality) but mostly I was happy with how solid some of the new friendships had turned out to be. NJ and G. in particular were such angels and took such a good care of me. I don’t know how I’ve deserved people like that in my life, but when I returned home in the beginning of June I felt as if I had born again. These guys are a balm to my soul.

With G. and NJ on our way back to campus after a late dinner.

What else? Oh, I became an aunt again, just a couple of days ago. I have a nameless nephew now, and that’s so sweet. My brother S. and my niece E. who is just about to turn three stayed at my place last night (even new born babies cannot keep Estonians away from Song Festivals, but that’s another story), and it is clear she’s going through this ’take that thing away and give my mommy back’ phase which is probably more common than we would like to think. I talked to her this morning about how sweet it is to have a little brother and asked what kind of name she would like to give him. She was resolute – the only name she would accept is Donald Duck. I was floored, I thought it absolutely hilarious, S., poor guy, wasn’t amused. :D

But the Song Festival then. We managed a choir of 22 000+ singers yesterday, together with the spectators the number of people was said to have hit the magical 100 000. I will not even try to describe something that is indescribable (although this short video does a decent job in explaining some of that phenomenon, do take a look), all I can say is that I will carry this memory with me for the rest of my life. And there’s no escaping the truth – when you’re born an Estonian, you’re born a singer. The Song Festival that comes every five years, that’s the very nature and essence of Estonian-ness. I still have a ’hangover’ – my throat is sour and feet swollen but the emotion is sweeter than honey to the soul.
Just a drop in the ocean.

It’s good to be back!

11/25/2018

It’s that time of the year again. That one month.

I’m getting used to it. It comes around every year, knocks the air out of me, and then leaves again. Knowing that it comes and goes and that there’s nothing I can do about it makes it easier for me to bear it. What I’m talking about it my mom’s birthday and the anniversary of her passing, of course. She would have turned 65 tomorrow. We would have had a family get-together and a party this weekend. And on December 23 it will be five years since we said our goodbyes.

I’m learning to be kind to myself. Sometimes I would get impatient, almost mad at myself for grieving, and I would ignore my feelings. But I don’t see a reason why I should do it any more. I would be kind to anyone else in this situation, it’s about time for me to be kind to myself. So I say to my boss that I need some extra time and space for myself these days, I don’t push myself too hard, I cancel an appointment or two. And I take extra time for taking care of myself.

What I do is so obvious it wouldn’t really deserve a blog post. But still. I listen to Arvo Pärt’s Berlin Mass almost obsessively these days because this music is a lifeline for me. I give myself permission to read a little longer in the evenings than usual. (Chinelo Okparanta and Herta Müller have kept me company over the last days - these ladies really know how to write) I take long walks. I stay away fom people, with a few exceptions, of course. I went out with K. last night and we talked about mom and we talked about dad and it was so good because I don’t even have to finish a sentence, he already knows what I mean, and vice versa. No-one understands me like he does and no-one understands him like I do. I guess that’s what you’d call „the sibling blessing“.

And the good thing is that even all that loneliness and longing do not take away anything beautiful. They just add an extra lense, an extra meaning to goodness and beauty. It doesn’t take anything away from the joy of receiving a letter from U., from the heart-felt gratitude for another good concert, from the deep feeling of satisfaction for doing something meaningful as I leave the national radio station after recorning the morning devotionals, from a privilege of having lunch with a 93 year old Catholic priest who seems to be made up of faith and hope and nothing else. The valley of the shadow of death (death’s shadow can be long, so long!) does not make me shut my little notebook where I write down everything I’m grateful for on the daily basis. I still keep couning my blessings, even if the tears make my eyes go blurry for a while. I still keep praying for other people even if my own prayers seem to go unanswered.

But I am also longing for this season to be over. I long for snow and for light and for spring and for laughther and for someone who could stop the shadow of death from coming any further.

11/19/2018

It’s prayer I want to talk about.

It was some months ago when I felt God’s tugging at my sleeve, encouraging me to do some sort of a public prayer appeal. Now, I’m not one of those people who would post Jesus Loves You postcards on Facebook. I’m kind of a private person and I don’t like to be in people’s face with my beliefs (or have others be in my face with theirs, really). But I’m also a Christian, under the jurisdiction of Jesus’ great commission, so there are moments when these two aspects of my identity clash. I let the thing be for a while, thinking that maybe it would pass, maybe the tension would solve. But it didn’t. It kept coming back, bothering me.

So when I was in Newbold in September and I had had a marvelous day with A. in London and it was Friday evening and I was on the train back to Bracknell, I decided I’d do it. The physical distance with my Estonian friends shielded or helped me a little. So I took a deep breath, opened my Facebook and wrote to all my Estonian speaking friends that I would be taking some extra time for prayer the next day and if anyone would like me to pray for them, they can just like my post and I promise to pray for them personally. And if anyone should have a more specific prayer request, they’re welcome to DM me. Then I closed my Facebook, not knowing what (if anything) would follow. What followed I certainly didn’t expect.

There were so many people liking my post it actually confused me - close friends, mere acquaintances, church members, non-Christians, straight, gay, everybody. And there were people writing me messages, telling about their difficulties. And I mean, difficulties! Someone was having post-natal problems, someone was just about to start chemo, someone’s child was about to have an open heart surgery, someone was sick and tired of being single. (And I thought my life was hard! Heavens!) I read the messages until I cried. The next day I dutifully wrote all 76 names on paper and had the longest prayer meeting in my life. I was at K.’s place and when she went to take a Sabbath afternoon nap (she’s a good Adventist) and I told her about my prayer list, she said I could come and wake her up if I needed someone to hold up my hands if I got weary – a good ole Moses joke. :) I didn’t wake her up, just so that you know. I did get very tired by the end of the 3rd hour but I kept my promise, and it turned out to be one of the most meaningful Sabbaths I can remember.

I did the same appeal again a month later when I once again had a free Sabbath. I sat in the park on a gloriously warm autumn day and prayed for everyone (70+ people again) until I could pray no more.

And I think God is really teaching me things. He’s teaching me about the potential and power of prayer. The chemo seems to be working. The child ended up having two terrible heart surgeries and I prayed for this little boy for weeks and weeks until I started losing hope. And just when I thought it was never going to get any better for him and that he’d be stuck in hospital forever, he made a miraculously speedy recovery. His mother – someone I had last seen twenty years ago  – still sends me photos of him every second day. I have not been able to visit them yet but it will be one heck of an emotional day when I see them. A child with emotional health problems has made a recovery and her mother keeps me updated. The tumor turned out to be benign. My cousin called me two weeks ago because she remembered my prayer appeal and she asked if I could pray for a difficult and potentially dangerous situation she’s in. A week later she called me again, utterly baffled, saying the problem had been solved. Phew. Thank you, God.

I also learn about the need to be consistent in prayer. Some people I pray for I don’t even know. And it’s hard to pray for people you don’t know much about. I don’t know if anything happens or changes in their life. I don’t know if they recognise answered prayers. I don’t even know whether they recognise God. But I know I have to keep at it, and if nothing else, it’s my prayer muscles that grow stronger through this process, and that’s something, too.  

And I hope I become somehow more sensitive to God’s voice. That when He needs someone to pray for someone (why would He, this I do not fully understand), He’d be like, Oh, but there’s Mervi, she can do it.

And my heart becomes more sensitive to others through this, too, I’ve noticed. I actually care about those people. I want to see God’s miracles in their lives, the healing, the solving of difficulties, the calming of storms.

I still don’t want to post any sickly sweet stuff on Facebook. But I also want my friends to know that if they ever need prayers, and if they ever need someone to believe in those prayers for them, they’ve got me.


A former colleague from Tartu uni, an atheist as far as I know, posted a song under my first appeal. Regina's Spektor, Laughing With. Isn't it cool?!

10/28/2018

I had one week of vacation left and I got it right this time – I didn’t give any lectures, I didn’t answer work email, but instead I packed my bag, met up with a friend in the airport and flew to Paris. Paris, I think, is always a right choice. Or a right answer.

I had never been to Paris before so I walked around the city for four days with my eyes and heart wide open. And I liked what I saw. Of course, there are always bizarre things about a foreign place, things you’re not used to. So also in Paris. The streets over there can be quite dirty, the traffic chaotic (well, European chaotic, not Bangladeshi chaotic), the Parisians wouldn’t want to speak to you in English even if their dear life depended on it, and they served us breakfast in the hotel that only consisted of sweet pastries and jam. I returned home with a serious sugar shock and renewed love for rye bread and morning porridge. But the rest was wonderful. We walked some 45 km over these days, deciding on a whim each morning where we would want to go. We saw the Notre-Dame, Montmartre, the Latin quarter, Orsay museum, Louvre, Hotel des Invalides (the man who created these last two places, namely Louis XIV, was very clearly suffering from megalomania), Champs Elysees, Luxembourg garden, Pantheon (again, traces of imperialistic megalomania – if Londoners have got their St Paul’s cathedral and Romans their St Peter’s basilica, we can certainly build a bigger cathedral just for the sake of having a bigger building), Sorbonne university, Shakespeare and Co bookshop, and miles and miles of smaller and larger boulevards, early in the morning, late at night, with the weather as warm as summer. My feet were tired and my heart was very happy.

I had to admit to myself with a surprise (feeling like a traitor) that I liked Paris a lot better than London.


But the most wonderful thing about the trip was art. We went to three different art museums and drank so much from the cup of art that I could go on for the next year, not visiting any exhibitions. One of these places was Picasso’s museum which was some 15 minutes away from our hotel. The next day after visiting Picasso I insisted on going to Musee d’Orsay, mainly for the sake of the French impressionists. But they also had there a large special exhibition on Picasso which meant that we saw some 500 pieces of Picasso’s work over two days. I had only known one face of Picasso, from his late period, with all the cubism and strange figures and stuff. But I was very surprised to find a completely different Picasso there. It seemed to me that there's not one a style he hadn’t given a try during his long life. One of my personal favourites was this simple drawing from a 21 year old Picasso: Christ on the cross. I refrain from taking photos in art museums but this picture I really needed to have.   



Now I’m back home and very happy with the fact that I don’t have to take another trip until mid February (I’ll be preaching at Newbold’s Week of Spiritual Emphasis then). I like being put and quietly busying myself with my everyday business. I like doing my homework, I like going to concerts and singing classes, even long meeting days with the Conference leadership team are pleasant.

As to books and concerts (which deserve a separate post), I have almost reached this year’s goal. Last week I went to the 30th concert of 2018 – The King’s Singers was a good choice to celebrate my milestone while they celebrated their own milestone, their 50th anniversary. They sing as well as ever and look as dapper as ever. And I’m in the middle of my 30th book right now (I need some Eugene Peterson in my life every now and then). So the next concerts and books are just pure bonus and bliss.

And it smells of snow! I am impatiently waiting for the first snow to arrive!