Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviving the Stones

Every time I land at the airport in Sarajevo, the same thing jumps out at me when we land. The buildings there are filled with holes, silent witnesses to a war that happened fifteen years ago. You drive along the road south from Sarajevo to Mostar and you still see damage from the shelling in town after town.

But the difference between Bosnia as I know it today in 2011 and back when I first visited in 2004 is huge. While there is still a heavy police presence in places like Sarajevo, gone are the SFOR and EUFOR troops that were around every corner in 2004. There are more roadsigns, better roadsigns. And there has been rebuilding. Though the bank remains as it did then, a skeleton, the old Turkish bath house has been rebuilt, though what it is now I don't know. And 2004 itself marked an important milestone in the rebuilding when the Mostar Bridge, a bridge that stood as a symbolic link between the Croatian and Muslim sides of the river, was rebuilt. I had thought for some strange reason when it reopened that they had fished the old stones from the river and used them to rebuild the bridge when in actuality they used stones from the same quarry, but I still like to think of those stones as bathed clean by the river. Indeed, the rebuilding of the bridge reminds me of how Nehemiah organized the people to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, restoring Jerusalem: they have revived the stones out of the heaps of rubbish--- and the burned ones at that (Nehemiah 4:2).

But in the process of rebuilding, stones are not the only things to be revived but it is people who must pick up the burned and ravaged pieces of themselves and their homes to rebuild their lives. One of the ways communities are rebuilt comes through weddings. Coming from a culture of Say Yes to the Dress and Bridezillas, seeing a wedding as rebuilding is not a natural way to see a wedding. Weddings are usually productions to entertain (though sometimes also to celebrate). But Đana and Enis' wedding was different. It was a coming together of families and the community.

Now I don't want to completely idealize this wedding. The culture is patriarchal (as ours is) and one of the places in which that plays out most is in weddings. Women move to live with their husband's families the majority of the time, and the ritual reflects that. But all in all, the focus on coming together in this wedding, traditional though it was, really overpowered those more patriarchal elements. The party starts at her house. She waits in a room, visited by neighbors and family all congratulating her, but she stays in the room until family members from his side come to bring her out of the room (where they also give money to her family) and out to the front porch of her house where they have a banquet for her family and friends. Then, she leaves with her witness and her fiancé and his witness and the rest of his family who came to get her and they begin the journey to his home, where they will have the religious and civil ceremonies followed by the reception.

And it is a long day of eating and more eating. But it was such a cool drink of water as I think about Aaron and I getting married soon. Despite the fact that Suzanne got a little snippy because she didn't eat all morning and then we didn't know who was driving us to the wedding, this day seemed more stress-free, more community oriented than ours (as portrayed in the media) are. Đana didn't have to make any food (which was good because the week leading up to the wedding was filled with people coming to visit her until almost eleven in the evening!) or decorate, friends and family chipped in. It was a real coming together, which was important to everyone since Đana is such a presence there in their village near Mostar. She will be missed so much, and she will miss them so much, though she will probably be back often.

The whole day just felt as though we were all coming together to build something. Taking pieces of ourselves and offering it forward to the community. All night Suzanne and I laughed, sitting with Đana's cousins, taking funny pictures and drinking juice and eating cheese. It might sound weird to say it, but it was a spiritual experience for me. That laughter was an indicator of how different life could be, about how even when life may be sad, joy breaks through. Always. And I guess why this metaphor from Nehemiah of reviving the stones was so important to me was because I really felt run down after a year of taking too many classes, being too far away from Aaron, and having a challenging supervised ministry assignment. This wedding felt like not only a creation of Đana and Enis's new family, but it felt like Suzanne and I were drawn in too. I already had seen all of these people as my family, but the wedding felt as much a joining of my family with theirs with the way Suzanne was welcomed as a joining of Enis and Đana's families. And I needed that.

When the wall around Jerusalem was rededicated, the book of Nehemiah tells us that, "The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away" (Nehemiah 12:43). Đana and Enis' wedding was a day in which our joy was heard far away, I think. And many people around the world, from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Norway to Chicago to Maryland to South Carolina entered into that joy as well.


  1. Thanks for the chance to be with you and Dzana in your writing. Wendel

  2. I love everything about this blog. If only more weddings could celebrate these feelings... xoxo