I have had many friends and family ask "What is Holden like?". There is no short or easy answers to the question. I can tell you what it is not: it is not a bible camp, it is not a Lutheran cult, it is not a commune. It is a living community that changes with every arrival and departure and a place that is held together by its rhythms. To better reply to the questions, I offer a "day in the life", this is a little glimpse at an ordinary for Micaela and me and as many little tidbits about this crazy mountain village as possible! (and if you really want to know what Holden is like, come visit us! Please!)
6:00am my battery operated alarm screams at mean to crawl out of my warm bed. At this point in the morning our fire has died out and the room has a sharp chill to the air. I stumble around in the dark, place a walkie talkie on the princess' bed and head down the snowy hill. Its still too dark to see the mountains, but I love taking in the fog and silhouettes of the towering giants in our sky. By the time I've arrived in the workout room my eyes have lost their blur and there are a hand full of other villagers ready to grunt and sweat and start our day.
Back at our chalet I sweetly ask, then strongly suggested and finally bully my little girl out of her bed up in the loft. We get ready in record time, conserving precious hot water with military-esque showers. Just before leaving our chalet I crawl down to the furnace and get the fire roaring and we're off to the dining hall.
Most days are oatmeal, which I love. The princess prefers Pancake Tuesdays and Egg-ilious Thursdays to fill her belly before she skips off to school with her classmates and teachers. The two-room school house is warmed by a roaring fire and the wild movements and yells of the ten students. The hours are passed by writing, math, hiking, sledding, sharing, reading in cozy corners and the socialization of the multi-aged room.
My work day is spent preparing, composing, setting up, hunting – all in the name of creative and community-owned worship. Other times I am found perched beside our massive grand piano in a small and well-heated room, a rare treasure in our village. Students of all ages shuffle in and out spending thirty minutes – no more, no less – making music, learning, correcting, laughing, shrugging shoulders, creating. “Work of the village” is a common phrase used to describe all the community-efforts we participate in that do not fall within our respected job description: doing dishes, sorting garbage, helping at the school, unloading the bus, special projects (like being a judge for the first very film festival!) also scatter throughout every work day.
I meet the Princess for lunch every day. The kitchen prepares the meal, the dishteam washes the dishes (I help with that effort once a week) and I am graced with the opportunity to enjoy a meal with my daughter in the middle of the school and work day. After six years of packed lunches, hurried meals, dirty dishes and exhausted cooking – this is sheer, extravagant gift. The kitchen prepares simple, healthy, incredible dishes meal after meal. We share this gift with others around the table; strangers, friends, village family too. She skips back to school and eventually we find each other back at “home” for some alone time. Alone time can be hard to find in a tiny little village filled with people – so we fiercely protect this time to read, watch a Cosby show and rest.
We worship every day. Many days our time of prayer is done in under thirty minutes, we make up for it during a longer-than-an-hour Eucharist on Sunday evenings. If there is a word to describe our worship life it is – surprising. It is surprising how the wackiest ideas (like building an ampi-theater in our seventy inches of snow and a pulpit made of snow-bricks) turns into an inspired time of worship...under the brilliant stars, watching our visible exhalations mingle with one another, worshiping with no microphones, no books, no paper, no props of any kind – its God, creation and one another, amen. It is surprising how sitting around a table during lunch and listening to a reflection on hunger, abundance, guilt and generosity can carry a darkened soul through the darkest of days. It it surprising to sit in silence every Friday night, long after the crowd and Princess have gone to get their ice cream and I can be still and watch the boxes filled with prayer candles as they flicker. My job is to make sure we do not burn the building down, but I like to pretend I am protecting all the prayers poured out over those boxes and then blowing out the candles to release them into the air so God will catch them.
Knitting needles often fill our empty hands. Snow shoes occasionally latch on to the bottom of our snow boots. Card games frequently fill that time right before dinner (my father calls this hour of the day the “arsenic hour” when children are tired and hungry and parents are weary and cooking and no one is happy. The “arsenic hour” has been my dreaded hour for six years, and now this is the year of my jubilee), I'm not cooking, I'm not haggard from the work day, I'm not blinded by a rush hour head ache. The hour after dinner and before Vespers is a time with the Princess plays with all her village-brothers and villge-sisters. We may find them crawling through snow tunnels, scaling trees and almost every day she can be found schooling some unsuspecting soul at foosball. I sip from my tea tumbler and enjoy every second of her happiness.
Evenings in the village closely resemble our evenings anywhere else we have lived. There is always something happening in the evenings; bible study, movie nights, knitting circle, game parties, dance parties – I rarely am able to attend, but the option is always there and that is liberating in itself. The princess' bedtime still rules all things. So, right after worship we climb the snow-stairs, created by village maveriks, to our chalet. I check the fire before heading up into our space, I read while the Princess painstakingly arranges her animals and blankets and thinks up a few more questions to elongate bedtime. Arguments still come (something never change) and questions seem to get bigger, harder, these are the moments of the day she asks about her life and why things are the way they are. She asks about countries we pray for in worship, she asks about God and dads and dogs and death. After these conversations I am certain she is smarter then I am and I grieve that she knows heartache and reality and war and suffering. After she is snug in her bed I settle in with knitting, music, books or just stare out the window. The glaring absence in the evenings is my phone. I have always been able to reach beyond the confines of my house and call friends and family, just to hear another voice. Village life feels isolating during these finals hours of the day, but then we awaken to share three meals with community and play and worship and learn together all day long – the loneliness and the close-knit community balances out.
Just before lights out I make sure our head lamps and flash lights are within arms reach (diminishing mountains water means less water to our hydro means frequent power outages), I peek in on the princess in her perch, crawl into bed and the words of the final song in worship sing me to to respite.
Deep peace of the rolling waves,
deep peace of the flowing air,
deep peace of the shining stars to you,
deep peace of the quiet earth.