Thursday, May 12, 2016

Road trip Across America seeking more Amish & Native American Connections

After thirty years, I’m still gleaning secrets to a simpler life from Amish friends. My husband and I are taking a road trip across America to learn more. Ever so thankful to have a husband who's partners in Amish hunting. ;) We love our Amish friends in Smicksburg, but we get a bit myopic, since they're only half hour away. So we're expanding our horizons.
As the Amish are now in 40-some states, hubby and I are getting ready to leave for three-weeks from Western Pennsylvania. Something deep within makes us seekers and lifelong learners of the Amish and Mennonites. I’ve wondered about their appeal and lately, I think they’re similar to St. Augustine and some of the Desert Fathers & Sisters who left a materialistic world in 300 A.D. to embrace simplicity and be off-the-grid. Today, all the buzz about tiny house living and modern day minimalism, are we at the breaking point? I think so. Tim and I are.
I also want to get back to the old-fashioned way of life. Both of my parents were first generation immigrants. My mom passed on some Italian sayings and my dad his Croatian. When I was a teen I was shocked to find that “cleanliness is next to godliness” and “charity begins at home” were not in the Bible. I checked “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ was in there, and it’s not either.
So, I do understand the Amish with their sayings. They’re taught to their children as little nibbles of wisdom to steer them in life.
Regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow are twin thieves that rob us of the moment.
Live each short hour with God and the long years will take care of themselves.
I’m so blessed to have learned so much from the Amish. I hope to inspire and point not only to God in my writings, now to include non-fiction and a lot more blogging here. I yearn to help readers to walk a path a bit less chaotic. Granny Weaver, an elderly Amish woman character who finds her way in most of my books, knitting needles in tow, is a lover of Robert Frost. (The Amish love poetry.) She reads and ponders The Road Not Taken:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
As we head from Pennsylvania to New Mexico, we know there’s unrest in America. What path should we take? For answers, we hope to connect with and understand Native American culture as well. Having lived near Seneca Nation in Salamanca, New York for ten years, we admired how, despite present day opposition and prejudice, they aren't bitter, but give a warning: "Our country was taken from us. It can happen to the White Man." Somber words, but true. So intrigued by Natives, I hope to meet some that live near Amish so I can continue to combine both cultures like I do in my novels The Amish Doll and Plain Jane.
So, hopefully, you'll be seeing plenty of pictures of Amish across America along with Natives, two cultures dear to my heart.

If you see us, give us a holler! 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Interruptions. The life God is sending us day by day?

 I just got back from Lydia’s greenhouse and had to share something. I experienced Gelassenheit (quietly waiting while putting others first) in action like never before. This is personal, but I’ll share with ‘yinz’.

I cried my eyes out when talking to my Amish friends yesterday, right there in Lydia’s greenhouse. My youngest daughter, Kara, is moving thousands of miles away. Kara, my companion in ‘all things Amish’, has known Lydia since a young teen, but now she’s married with another baby on the way. Her husband, after battling brain cancer over the past 6 months, needs to be in an area where alternative medicine is more readily available.

I just stood there losing it, and Lydia listened, tearing up, helped me pick flowers for a ‘healing garden’. What I forgot all along was her husband pulling his beard, taking it all in. Oh, I felt so insensitive. After my meltdown, Lydia’s husband talked to me for a while about his first wife’s cancer. He accompanied her to Mexico fourteen times on the train to save the Amish community thousands of dollars on chemotherapy and alternative medicine. Alternative medicine had helped extend his first wife’s life.  This man opened a painful chapter in is life to help me get a perspective shift. My dear son-in-law’s cancer was caught, contained and operable. And he needs alternative medicine. And I will live; his children from his first marriage all live just as far away.

Oh, what an emotional day at the Amish greenhouse, but let me tell you, many Amish are concerned for us stressed out Americans. And if you ever stop by a roadside stand, or visit a shop and feel like crying, go right ahead. They’ll listen and quietly wait for you to finish and just be there for you. It’s part of their Gelassenheit, a pause to listen and care for others. Yes, there are grouchy Amish. I’ll blog around Christmas about the Amish in New York that made wooden children’s toys that were meaner than spit, (we told our kids they were Santa’s elves…wink, wink) But it’s a rarity to find a rude Amish person. It’s not part of their upbringing and culture.

I had to create a C.S. Lewis book club into the Smicksburg Tales because I get so much out of his writings. Too profound not quote, so Jeb and Jonas meet to talk about Lewis’ teachings when the women knit. But Lewis is sounding mighty Amish to me lately. Interruptions are a part of Amish life, almost scheduled in. They’re never too busy to talk.  Lydia’s husband (he has a name but says the internet is the devil and doesn’t want his name on it ;) could have kept on doing his accounting for their businesses, but he didn’t. He lived out a Lewis quote:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day.”

Monday, April 25, 2016

Amish & Choral Singing

“Music is my life,” was my mantra in high school, so starting college as a music major was a no-brainer. When I met my voice teacher, I was so embarrassed for him. He was an extreme stutterer; but when he sang, he was instantly cured. Oh, he was so inspirational. Research suggests there’s a brain overlap with music and speech. Music also has the ability to help dementia patients remember. Music is the last thing to decline in the brain. As a beginning music therapy major, I was floored.

Here’s a snippet of Kimberly Sena Moore Ph. D in Psychology Today’s article Memory through Choir?
“Let’s take choir, for instance. Think about some of the benefits that come from singing in a choir—there’s deep breathing involved (respiratory strength), vocalization (speech production), the need to focus on a given task (sustained attention), the challenge of learning new material (learning and memory), the pleasure derived from performing (emotional benefits, like pride), all within the context of a social group (socialization).”

Pretty impressive, huh? What most don’t realize is that singing is a staple of Amish culture. Singing at home, church, Singings (for youth to meet up) or singing in three-part harmony while working on our barn. It was the most heart-warming look into Amish comradery; I soaked in the beautiful German accapella (no harmonica in tow), closing my eyes and fantasizing once again that I was on the set of Little House on the Prairie.

And then I thought of the joy my kids brought to nursing homes as we tried to be the Von Trapp Family Singers. Patients were wheeled in or used their walkers to get to the lounge room. Tim and I strummed the guitars to slow songs like Kumbaya or Amazing Grace. After a few songs, the audience was so excited, they shouted out, “Play something faster.” So we did and some stood and others clapped their hands. The room was filled with laughter and joy and comradery. To be honest, I didn’t want to expose my kids, then four years old to nine, to the nursing home environment. But after that night, we went back faithfully once a month and my kids learned some valuable lessons from World War II Vets.

A benefit music plays in the Amish church services is the ability to connect with the writers of their hymn book, The Ausbund. The core of it is fifty-one songs written by Anabaptists while imprisoned between 1535 und 1540 because of their convictions. Some didn’t survive and many were martyred. A fresh respect for their ancestors and the courage to keep the faith, solidifies their beliefs.

"Alleluia" oil painting by Thomas Cooper Gotch

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gelassenheit: Serenity in Quietly Waiting, an Amish Way of Thinking

I treasure this trait among the Amish more than anything. Gelassenheit is putting others first, the Golden Rule seen in technicolor among the Amish. When speaking in a group, all eyes are upon you, taking in every word said, and then you may find the ‘Amish pause’. They take to heart what you’ve said and want to give you their full attentive answer.

For example, I asked a man named Levi about what he thought of Old Order Amish verses New Order Amish. He bowed his head, pulled at his beard and said nothing. I thought I’d pushed it this time, asking too many questions or touched a nerve. After a ‘spell’, Levi kindly looked up and said, “I think an older Amish person can explain it better. They’re wiser than I am.”
I almost fainted. Here he was, in his prime at thirty-some years old and he’s saying he doesn’t know it all, that the older the wiser and he meant it.

Gelassenheit is seen in their culture through their personality, yet they have nicknames like ‘Tall Laughing Jonah’. Some are hilarious to talk to, but there’s still that deep down seriousness that comes with being an attentive listener. And if you say something you shouldn’t, they usually just smile, overlooking quickly any hurt or irritation. Talking to Barb, mother of nine, I blurted out, “Oh my goodness you put up the hard way. Have you heard of a vacuum sealer?” Silence and then a smirk from Barb. Her daughters were there and I may have enticed them to dream of greener pastures. Without having to be told to stop tempting her daughters with modern gadgets needing electricity, I got the message. I simply said, “But to each their own, I suppose. Many can with a pressure cooker and love it.”

Gelassenheit in German means ‘serenity’. In the Amish Froschauer (German) Bible they take this virtue from Lamentations 3:26 and it means ‘quietly wait’. So, when I flubbed up in front of Barb’s daughters, she was quietly waiting for me to get the cue to say the right thing: don’t tempt my daughters to go the English route.

Gelassenheit is part of the Amish Ordnung, which is German for order. This serenity or quietly waiting is shown in their simplicity of clothing, house style and having things in common. No competition to keep up with the Schmuckers.

This is not to say that they’ve lost their identity, as so many are known for their unique talents, but their hope is that it all points to their simple lifestyle. By putting others first, Amish businesses don’t believe in ‘extortion’. They say that right out loud. “Why should we charge you too much if we’re happy with our profit.” Again, you just want to hold on to a chair, shocked.

My good friend, Maryann, had to get her entire kitchen replaced due to flooding. She shopped around and was discouraged. Since we go to Smicksburg often, we thought of Amish cabinet and furniture makers. and you they don’t cut corners. (No pun intended) They use real hardwoods and are upfront about costs. They have a yearlong waiting list because Maryann got a custom-made kitchen with over twenty cabinets plus an island as big as a dining room table, installed, for $12,000.00. Let me spell that out if you missed it: twelve-thousand dollars. And her cabinets are cherry!

So how can we embrace this ‘serenity’? For me it’s jumping out of our performance based culture. What you achieve isn’t more important than who you are. Having the biggest house on the block doesn’t mean it’s the happiest one. Finding joy in serving others is what’s important. An Amish proverb, painted on a simple little board, lives on my kitchen window sill. “The most important things are not things.” It brings serenity to my soul every time I wash dishes. 

The slower pace of Amish life lends to 'quietly waiting'.