Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hamburg, 12.6.90: Purple Rhododendrons and Crouching Lions

This is the day arranged for my meeting with Dorothee Sölle. I feel (9:30 A.M.) very washed out, not vibrant for such a meeting.

Had German breakfast here at the academy of bread and jams, cheese, coffee. The day is bright and sunny, only a touch cool. We plan to walk some now . . . .

Writing this at lecture by Dorothee Sölle at the University of Hamburg. The lecture is about the suffering servant of Isaiah. Since it’s in German, I understand only some of it.

We have just come from having Abendbrot at her house: dark and light bread, several cheeses, Schinken, Leberkäse, radishes, cornichons, tomatoes, wine, and peaches. At the small table in the kitchen, a simple plank table with benches and chairs, were Dorothee Sölle, her husband Fulbert Stefensky, and what I assume were two daughters and a son, with some Bolivian grandchildren, Joanna and Carlos.

Prior to Abendbrot, we spent an hour and a half discussing my Singing in a Strange Land manuscript. Dorothee Sölle thought that the ms. does a good job of telling the stories of the marginal, but is weak in the area of social analysis. Using Holland and Henriot’s pastoral circle, she pointed out that in her judgment, the stories move too quickly from telling the tale to theological reflection, bypassing analysis of the factors that create the situation in which the narrators find themselves.

We talked about ways to deal with this problem. Wolfram W. made two excellent suggestions: 1) the characters ought to be presented as gifted, not merely pitiable objects of charity; 2) I should interview some “real people” like those depicted, and incorporate their words in the narratives.

We discussed all this on an upstairs patio in the late afternoon sun. It was very pleasant, even (when dark clouds didn’t cover the sun) hot. Around the patio were various plants—the geraniums that are omnipresent in Hamburg, what looked like pots of not-yet-blooming oleanders, grape vines. There was also a stone lion on a board across a corner of the railing.

One of the things that strikes me so much as we walk around Hamburg is how artistic Germans are. Even ordinary objects are imbued with grace, or have their hidden grace brought out, by the simple but effective ways in which they’re arranged. Old wooden wheelbarrows filled with pots of geraniums, begonias, etc. Wooden barrels are half cut off and filled with flowers. Shop windows are artfully arranged.

At a house and garden shop we stopped at this morning, for example, lentils were strewn around pottery, kitchenware, china—all arranged to catch the eye and bring out the color and form. And all is spotlessly clean; the stereotypes about German industry and cleanliness seem to have much truth. A cleaning woman cleans our rooms thoroughly each morning, and I saw another woman out sweeping the walkway in front of the Akademie early. Every toilet in the Akademie has a bottle of cleanser and a brush next to it.

Another striking thing is the lace curtains one sees in many of the spotless windows. These often have a windowbox of geraniums beneath them, a vase of flowers, a candle, or a wreath of some sort inside the window.

In the morning, after breakfast, we shopped at a market street nearby the Akademie. There were fruit shops, delicatessens, two bakeries, shoe shops, the house and garden shop, etc. All were so inviting we wanted to stop in each. The fruit in the fruit shop is so beautiful one wants to buy it all—flats of large but not plastic-looking strawberries, cherries, raspberries, luscious apricots. And the house and garden shop was full of well-made kitchen items, tools, china, etc.

We visited one of the bakeries and bought almond crescents and almond-topped pastry and brown bread. At a deli we bought cherries, orange juice, and mineral water.

After dinner, Steve and I walked to Blankenese. We went up one of the little streets, in reality a set of stairs forming a narrow alleyway between houses. The town is so beautiful—tile-and-straw-roofed houses painted white, lace curtains, interesting brass ornaments on the houses. A Wäscherei, for instance, shows a washerwoman and a pot of wash on a pole outside the house.

And the gardens: roses of every color, blooming lushly. Delphiniums, daisies—all “arranged” to look natural; nothing marching in rows. One house was framed by purple rhododendrons and other pink and purple flowers, with a red climbing rose and daisies.

N.B. Must remember to send a copy of my social gospel and feminism articles to Wolfram W. and Dorothee S.

In our discussion, Dorothee Sölle pointed out that many of the prayers I have chosen foster a spirituality of God over-against or above us. I need to survey these prayers and weed out those that foster such a view.

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