Recently I shared my favorite German word–Vorfreude: Anticipatory joy. It’s caused me to consider other times in my life when I’ve had “vorfreude”. I remember the expectation of pregnancy, joyfully anticipating the moment when I would finally hold the baby we had spent months, years actually, planning for. I’ve thought about it more lately because my two young cousins, Carrie and Christy, are both expecting a child in September. There is nothing like feeling the moving tummy of a pregnant woman to trigger “vorfreude”–that excitement of whether it will be a boy or a girl, when will the baby come? what will s/he look like? and so on. It’s an infectious “vorfreude”!
Even the phrase, “She’s expecting”, points us toward a “due date”, a countdown of weeks and months where we watch the baby grow. It’s an exciting time, even if there’s a bit of worry or discomfort. The journey gives the expectant parents time to grow into their new life, to prepare, plan and reflect. How will we decorate the baby’s rooms? What kind of daycare will we need? Cloth or disposable diapers? If it’s a girl, will we let her play with Barbie dolls? How will we afford college? What values do we want to instill in our child?
This nine-month journey, a surreal, sort of out-of-body experience, realizes its potential, it’s full joy, in the birth of a baby. And all at once, the anticipation is gone and the reality is here. A reality that could not have been imagined, despite all the careful planning.
The “vorfreude” I have felt for my Benedictine pilgrimage is a little like a pregnancy journey for me. It’s been nine months since I signed up to go on the Benedictine Re-Connection Pilgrimage, planned by Christ the King Priory, the monastery affiliated with St. Benedict Center. I have spent the last 12 years growing in my faith and learning about Benedictine spirituality. On the pilgrimage, I will celebrate one year of being a Benedictine oblate as well as my birthday on the Solemnity of St. Benedict. But the idea to travel to Germany and the Czech Republic was birthed in me as a child on two counts.
I grew up knowing that I came from both Czech and German descent. My great grandfather, Frank Blazek, came to the USA from Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1906, when he was only 16 years old, never to return or to see his family again. Years later, after his passing, his daughter, my great Aunt Rose visited her father’s home country and met many relatives. She brought me a doll in a native Czech dress from that visit. I remember wondering what this country was like, this country that I had relatives in too. I decided at age 6 or 7 that I was going there someday.
Having German roots was important to me as well. My mother’s brother, after marrying a German woman, has lived there his entire adult life with his wife and two children, Jefferey and Jennifer. Although Uncle Joe came back every 2-4 years during my childhood, he had never brought his family until 1994, when his wife and daughter came to Nebraska for a visit. So I met Jennifer once, 20 years ago, but had never met Jefferey. This, I knew, one day I must do.
So these nine months I have been joyfully anticipating this trip. Sometimes I let out shrieks of delight when alone….or with others, whenever the excitement hit me. I’ve read about sacred sites that we will visit. I planned additional days in Germany to meet with my cousins. I’ve looked at many websites and travel books. I’ve made a feeble attempt to learn a few German words. I’ve created a packing list, bought new clothes, debated about what size of suitcase to take. I’ve corresponded with friends and relatives who live there or who have been there. I have read about pilgrimages and prayed for this journey. It has been vorfreude, anticipatory joy, of the highest order.
Until last week. My vorfreude took a temporary hiatus as we dealt with some health problems of my husband. He started having chest pains and spent 3 days in the hospital undergoing observation and heart tests. Of primary concern was Joe’s health. Could his health be remedied? How would I feel if I left on the trip and Joe was not well? The “what ifs” overshadowed any “vorfreude” I might have been feeling. Although joy seemed to be replaced with fear, this too, is part of life. We were blessed with supportive family and friends and we had the opportunity to provide comfort for each other. Thankfully, Joe is feeling somewhat better and, most importantly, heart problems have been ruled out. I am able to go on the Pilgrimage as planned. My vorfreude has returned. Nine months have passed–there’s been expectation, planning, a counting down of months…and now I can’t wait to “hold this baby!”
It has been a journey, a birthing, perhaps a pilgrimage itself, to get to this point. Pilgrimages are a spiritual journey to sacred sites where many others have prayed, often for centuries. Perhaps the pilgrim has some aspect in their life they are seeking clarity for or desiring spiritual growth or an experience of God. Perhaps to satisfy a soul’s yearning or curiosity. Perhaps the pilgrim is open for the unfolding of surprises and the awareness that is birthed. For me, it is all of these. The birthing begins. Vorfreude!