Posts Tagged ‘bratislava castle’

SERMON: “Sunset in Bratislava” The not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

The view from the bridge that evening in Bratislava.

One evening in late Summer, 1987, I stood at the center of a massive iron bridge watching the sun set behind Bratislava castle.  Looking down I caught a glimpse of two men in a canoe slipping beneath me on the dark, fast waters of the Danube.

It’d been a long day.

“Dave” and I had left our campground outside of town early that morning to find A) a pair of wire-cutters, and B) a place where we could make an international call to the number in The Netherlands we’d memorized in case of emergency.

The solenoid on the starter of our Peugot camper van was out, and we still had secret compartments packed full of Christian books that we hadn’t had a chance to deliver to our contacts in Czechoslovakia (having only had time to make one midnight contact in Ostrava before the starter began acting) up.

We were stuck behind the iron curtain with a load of smuggled, illegal books in a city that — despite it’s size — had no more than a handful of locations where one could make an international call.  Earlier in the day I’d found a pair of Russian-made wire cutters at a huge department store downtown, and Dave tried to call our home base from the International Hotel downtown.  But the phone that was supposed to be manned 24 hours a day just rang and rang.  So now we were killing time, watching the sun set behind the castle on the hill until we could try another phone call.

As we leaned on the heavily-painted edge of the bridge, I began to make a sort of mental list of all the hardships and anguish this trip had put me through.  It was like I was writing up a bill to present to someone, to the person or persons who owed me for my trouble.  In the next moment a question rose up from the river in the form of my internal voice: “Who are you going to give that bill to?” it asked.  “Who owes you for that?”.

Immediately I knew the answer:  Nobody.  There was no-one I could hold accountable for my situation: stranded in a Communist country with a load of contraband hidden in a broken vehicle we could allow no mechanic to touch.  I had made every choice that led me to this day, and every person that was part of the preparation and execution of this “literature trip” had every right to assume that I was making those choices based on my own deeply-held convictions.  But I hadn’t, really.  It was painfully clear that I had relied on the confidence and assurance of others, and had, in essence, put my own liberty at risk for other people’s reasons.

In that moment I understood all too clearly that my pattern of “deferring to amateurs” could not continue.  I had to take responsibility for my own life.  It was up to me to know why I was doing whatever I was doing, because when the time came to answer for it, there would be no-one standing beside me, no-one else to blame and no-one to bail me out.

Looking back on it now, this was a critical moment in my movement away from the Christianity that had brought me to that summer of being one of God’s smugglers.

It was late that nigh, around midnight, calling from the central train station (the Hotel’s phone office had closed by then), that we finally got through to our base, and I got permission to “hot-wire” the damn van and get the hell out of Czechoslovakia.  We missed the last tram out of town, and walked the dark miles back to our campground in a light drizzle.  In the morning, I stripped one half of our set of jumper cables, got that van running, and we didn’t turn it off until early the next morning in an autobahn rest area in West Germany.

It was some months later, on a Winter night back in the U.S., that the final, weakened supports for my religiosity — after 15 years of belief — quietly collapsed.

Of course the ending of that story was the beginning of another 15 years of searching for the reality to replace the make-believe.  And though I now feel like the “big” questions of life have been answered, in a way I feel like I have only just recently emerged from the various spells of belief and magical thinking that we humans are so prone to, to stand, at last, ready to face the reality of my own life, and of our existence on this spinning planet as it hurtles around the sun.

That afternoon on the Bratislava bridge, I felt that mental “bill” slip from my fingers and float down into the swift, roiling current of the Danube, to be carried away to the place where all forgiven debts go.

t.n.s.r. bob