Meandering on the Rhine


If all goes well, by the time you read this, I will be home in bed after a long flight back from Munich to Atlanta.  But that is not where I am right now.  Right now I am on a train to Zurich and then onward to Germany in search of that tiny town of Oberammergau.  Everything that has been said about Swiss trains is totally true.  You can set your watch by them.  They tell me that the German trains have lots of problems and sometimes are very late.  I ask them what “late” means in Germany and they say.  “Like sometimes up to eight minutes.”  Good news.  I think we will be okay.

There have been too many good and beautiful things about this European adventure to count and I suspect you are going to have to hear me talk about things I learned on this trip for a long time to come.  Today let me just start with the gift it has been getting to wander around the Rhine with the saints.  My husband thinks that I am talking about him.  Naturally.  But there were others further along in the canonization process.  Quite by surprise—since I neglected to look closely at a map before leaving—I found myself walking in the footsteps of some of my favorite church history figures during this trip including:

  • Albert the Great - medieval genius who was the teacher of Thomas Aquinas.  Visiting his grave was special to me as the province of Dominicans that I’ve worked with for the past 25 years bears his name.  His tomb was in a lovely chapel beneath St. Andrew Church, almost in the shadow of the great Cologne Cathedral  but in a silent space far from the constant clicking of tourists’ cameras. In the quiet, it felt like the place was abuzz with intellectual energy. Hard to describe but almost electric.  Dominican Friends, we lit candles and said a prayer for you there!
  • Hildegard of Bingen - medieval abbess, visionary, artist, healer, and now a doctor of the church.  Seeing where she walked was a total unexpected gift.  I knew that our boat was docking at Rudesheim.  What I did not know was that Rudesheim am Rhein was right across the river from Bingen and that Hildegard had also founded a monastery in Rudesheim as well.  While the original monasteries in both Bingen and Rudesheim have long since been destroyed (by the Thirty Years War), there is a beautiful “new” (since 1908) monastery just above Rudesheim that continues in Hildegard’s legacy and the music at Vespers there mirrored what I imagine the heavenly chorus sounds like.
  • Bruno - medieval school superintendent, diocesan chancellor, founder of the Carthusians - also from Cologne.  I first met Bruno when working on the book Redeeming Administration.  And while Albert and Hildegard could just as easily be described as “Patron Saints for Administrators” (Albert was a bishop as well as a scientist; Hildegard led the two monasteries on both sides of the Rhine), it was Bruno who I ended up writing about.  I think I chose him because he reminds me of so many administrators I know who long for more quiet and introspection in their lives, but keep getting asked by others to run things… and who then try to be responsive to the needs of the Church even when it is sometimes in tension with their own preferences.  Bruno’s generous presence still marks the city of his origin.

Maybe someday I’ll get around to working on a set of prayers for administrators that includes Albert and Hildegard… but for now I’ve already got a nice option for remembering Bruno.  If you are ever looking for a prayer service to lead something for the administrative team at your school or parish, diocesan office or religious community, check out this free download that accompanies Redeeming Administration.

Meanwhile, after I recover from the jet lag, I anticipate my next post will be about some crazy artwork I saw along the Rhine related to the none other than the Holy Spirit.  Stay tuned.  Pentecost is around the corner now!