Friday, December 30, 2016

Joyeux Anniversaire!

Elder Geddes is the best, sweetest companion!  He made every effort to make my first birthday in my life away from home and family one of the best ever.  Pain au chocolat and hot- chocolate- Yop for breakfast; Lyon Rosette salami, boursin cheese and baguette for lunch; salmon with capers, veggies, pommes au raclette, French bread and Champomy (non-alcoholic Champagne), with mint, strawberry sorbet for dinner; beautiful gifts from him, the kids and great friends,and Star Wars!  The only thing that could have made it better would have been grand kids, but  we got to skype with all our kids and received so many birthday wishes from sweet friends too, so that made the day complete.

Merci infiniment, chéri et tout le monde!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reading Churches

Most of the "work" we have been doing during this Christmas season has been around the generous dining tables of our wonderful French friends.  We are learning what Charles de Gaulle meant when he questioned  "How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?" Judging from what we have seen just in the past week, de Gaull's number was a bit low!

Between meals, we have had a little time to indulge ourselves in a few visual feasts as well.  We love to visit everything from the small parish churches to the grandiose cathedrals and basilicas here in France that are even more numerous than the variety of cheeses.  Many of these edifices were built centuries before the development of the printing press for congregations who were largely illiterate to the printed word, but who were keenly literate to the language of the visual symbol.  Interestingly, our culture today has some of the inverse problem as far as the church symbolism is concerned.  We sometimes forget that icons are not just those cute little things that originated in the computer age.  These churches are not just filled with beautiful decoration even though many of them are an aesthetic feast for the eyes.  They are in fact bibles, the only scriptures that centuries of earlier Christians could ever read.  So during this temporary slow down, we have visited and tried to read a few more churches.

An altar in the Church of St. Pierre in Mâcon.  The king and high priest of Salem, Melchizedek, offers bread and wine to Abraham.  This is one of the many old testament "types" that predict the new testament, this one foreshadowing the last supper and sacrament.

Alpha and Omega, the trinity and the Greek cross all contained in a circle.

Stained glass from the Vienne cathedral:  Fides (Faith) holding the cross, Caritas (Charity) holding the chalice, and Spes (Hope) holding the anchor.  What better symbols could there be for these three virtues?

Saint Christopher (saint of safe passage) and Saint Louis (Louis IX, king of France).  Lots of tradition and history can also be read alongside the biblical references.

A painting of Saint Cecelia (early Christian martyr and patron of musicians) in the Lyon cathedral.  The martyr's palm and musicians lyre at her feet identify her.  This is who Paul Simon sang was "breaking my heart...shaking my confidence daily".

The home of the French romanticist poet Lamartine in Saint Point, near Mâcon.  With the beauty of this area you can easily see why Lamartine was so inspired by the "cathedral" of nature.

Some "snowflakes" in the mission office made by some of the young missionaries.  I guess not all the symbols here are from early Christianity!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Il est Né le divin Enfant

A traditional Christmas hymn in France is "Il est né le divin Enfant" (He is born, the divine Child).  And today is Christmas.  So the little manger in our new santon crèche is no longer empty.  And even though we are far away from home and family, there is nothing empty about our lives either. 

We have so many reasons to celebrate today.  The first is that we know that "Il est né"!  Today is not just a holiday and the crèche that we have is so much more than just a nice tradition.  We also celebrate our family today.  We were able to talk with our four great kids, their four marvelous companions and all 14 wonderful little grandkids.  We often joke that the best Christmas lights are their car headlights when they come home. . . and then their tail lights when they go back to their own homes.  But this Christmas and next, we will really miss those headlights.  We also celebrate new friends and traditions here in France.  Both Christmas eve last night and Christmas day today came with dinner invitations.  The first evening, dinner started at about 7pm and didn't finish until well past midnight.  It takes time to get through an evening of multiple courses including fois gras, escargots, duck, salads, cheeses, fruit and desserts.  And today was only lunch, so it lasted a mere four hours, not including the time it took for two of us to shuck about 12 dozen oysters! 

So we have much to celebrate.  We are also grateful that our next dinner invitation isn't until a week from now on New Year's Eve because we are not going to be hungry again until then! 

Il est Né!

A Christmas dinner marathon...

...complete with escargots.

Shucking oysters.

Good friends and sparkling grape juice!

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Typical Week?

As missionaries, we have come to find that there is no such thing as a typical week.  And it is this very thing that makes our particular calling so interesting, challenging and rewarding.  Here are just a few things from this past week:  We hosted a Christmas party for the Lyon Stake single young adults.  We had an inspiring multiple-zone conference with Elder Sabin, a General Authority Seventy who is in the presidency of the Europe West Area.  We had another senior missioinary couple from Geneva come to the conference and then spend the night with us.  We had a family home evening with our older single adults.  We went to two different ward Christmas parties and over ate at both of them.  We sang a wonderful arrangement of a Christmas hymn with the Lyon Institute Choir in four different ward Sacrament Meetings, two of which met for the first time in a beautiful new 5-story church building here in Lyon.  We had 8 young missionaries over to our apartment for their P-day breakfast and an art lesson on religious symbolism found in churches and cathedrals.  Then we all went up to the Fourvière Cathedral together to have a good first-hand experience in "reading" the symbols in the mosaics, stained glass, paintings, and sculptures.   And that was just the extra stuff that we do in addition to our main responsibility with the Self-Reliance Initiative.  One thing is certain about this mission calling.  We are never bored!

Two sister missionaries singing for our older single adult family home evening

Brother and Sister Djemai came to our FHE all the way from Amboise, about 5 hours from Lyon.  Brother Djemai (smiling at the camera - He is always smiling!) is our wonderful Self-Reliance manager.  He is so helpful to us.

Bishop Pommier talking to the Écully ward primary.  Elder Geddes goes to Primary because he plays the piano for them.  Plus, it is more on his intellectual level!

Our missionaries visiting Fourvière.

A missionary selfie overlooking Lyon from Fourvière.  The smiles are because they were well fed twice: First on crepes in our apartment and then on the artwork in the cathedral.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Crèche de Noël

We can't remember the last time that we were away from home on Christmas.  This year we will miss our family, our friends, and many of our traditions.  But we are making wonderful new friends and even continuing some of our traditions here "à la française".  At home, we love to put up different nativity scenes we have made or collected over the years, many of which we have found while traveling.  This year for our Christmas present to ourselves, we added a new one to our collection; a traditional "Chèche de Noël" from provence in the south of France. 

The traditional French "santons" or "little saints" that make up a Crèche de Noël often have Mary and Joseph being visited not by the typical kings and shepherds but rather by the local villagers all bringing their gifts.  We noticed that many of the crèches that are now apprearing in cathedrals, churches, and other places around Lyon have an empty manger.  We asked someone why Jesus was not there.  They told us that the baby Jesus isn't there before Christmas.  He is only added on Christmas morning.  So in our new Christmas gift to ourselves we had to have two versions of Mary, one waiting for her new baby boy and the other one that will be set out on Christmas morning when the baby Jesus is placed in the manger.

Our new crèche complete with a backdrop from a Cezanne painting of Mt. Sainte Victoire in Provence.

Waiting for baby Jesus

Villagers and a pig coming to see the baby.

Gifts of lavender, lambs, geese and a rabbit.

On a little less religious note, we also bought Père Noël who brings gifts to nice children and Père Fouettard who whips naughty ones.  The looks on the children's faces say it all.  We're just glad that Père Fouettard wasn't around when we were young!  Of course, Sister Geddes wouldn't have had to worry anyway.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Shining Shoes

Our bishop in the Écully Ward really integrates his missionaries in all the ward activities.  We are included as members of the ward council that meets two evenings per month.  Last Thursday, Bishop Pommier gave us the assignment to do the Saturday cleaning of the chapel.  It was actually really fun to meet and clean the church with six great young missionaries, one from Italy, one from Germany and the rest from the U.S.  And it's kind of comforting when you finally get an assignment that you actually feel qualified to do!

This week we got a letter from some dear friends back home who have recently received the call to serve as the president of a mission.  As they anticipate their assignment, they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and under-qualified by the magnitude of the responsibility.  We can empathize.  We experienced the same feelings of inadequacy when we received our relatively easy call.  But the letter they sent also said that they know that they "can love" and that is "the key".  Anyone who has figured that out is qualified to be a mission president or about anything else in the church.

Recently we were just down the street from our apartment in the mission office where two other senior missionary couples serve.  One of the senior office missionaries, Elder Mahaffey, had a shoe shine box by his desk.  Every time a young elder walked into the office, Elder Mahaffey would have him sit down and put a foot up on the box.   Elder Mahaffey would bend down and polish the young elder's shoes in exchange for a spiritual missionary experience.  

We shared this shoe shine story with our newly called mission president friends who aren't yet feeling quite up to the call.  We assured them that Heavenly Father isn't looking for someone with CEO expertise to be a mission president.  He just wants someone who can shine shoes, especially when someone else's feet are in them.  That's the kind of "mission president" the Savior was.

Cleaning the church with the young missionaries.

A local poster that reads "Be Yourself.  Unless you can be Batman."
(Seemed somehow appropriate with the first photo posted above!)