6: Bonfire, Bicycle and Freaks
all those experiences, Grazyna became my authority on spiritual life. Everything
she said was almost sacred to me and I did not dare to question it.
is like a fire’, she explained to me, ‘and right now you are like a burning
log. If you want to maintain your flame, you need to stay in the bonfire,
close to the other logs. Should somebody take you away from the fire and
put you on a wet grass, your flame will go out. The source of the fire
is the community of the living Church’.
do I find one?’ I asked. ‘Kraków has the charismatic renewal group
at the Dominicans’. But what about Bielsko?’
think of something.’
came back with a solution the very next day.
you find a community for yourself, you should go to the prayer meetings
of a youth group, called Oasis.’
yes, there was a little pigeon hole at the back of my mind, labelled ‘the
Oasis youth’. It referred to gutless young people, with no hobbies, for
whom church was a kind of an asylum. I had heard them sing at mass once
or twice before—they were nervous girls in white blouses and serious, pale,
slightly overgrown altar boys.
an order is an order.
meetings took place in the chapel in Aleksandrowice, one of Bielsko-Bia?a’s
districts. I was 28 years old at that time and the beard made me look even
older. I listened to those young people and prayed with them quietly from
the last pew. After a few meetings they got used to my presence there.
They didn’t ask me to leave and they didn’t try to explain anything to
me. I was grateful for that. Within a few months those girls in white blouses
and pious boys became my source of fire. I started looking up to them and
treating them as my teachers of faith. I absorbed their simple commentaries
to Scripture passages like a sponge. I was catching up on all those years
spent away from the Church.
Eugeniusz, who was responsible for the group, once told us about a scene
that he had witnessed in the downtown of Bielsko.
little boy was riding a bike through the crowded street. He was too short
to sit on the saddle and he had to put his right leg under the crossbar
to be able to reach the right pedal, and yet he was maneuvering skillfully
among the pedestrians. A little girl was sitting on the saddle, she might
have been his sister. Her left hand was resting on the boy’s shoulder and
her right hand was holding an ice-cream. Her face showed ultimate relaxation,
as she was licking the ice-cream and sending smiles to the passers-by.
She was clearly proud of her brother’s skills.’
extended commentary was needed. The analogy was obvious: the scene reflected
the life of Christians who put their trust in the One who’s at the handlebars.
Being able to trust God so much became my dream. Christian life is not
just about riding a bike and having ice-cream, though, as I was soon to
find out myself.
a few months, with Grazyna’s consent, I went to the ‘Life in the Spirit’
seminar, run by a new-founded Christian community. I liked the idea of
lay people being involved in its leadership. The talks were given by a
young man; Lukasz, who worked as a land surveyor. At the end of the course
we were supposed to pray so that we may receive the Holy Spirit. We were
told to prepare for an extraordinary experience, but I was disappointed,
as nothing special happened to me during my prayer. It wasn’t until later
that I realized that what had happened to me in my brother-in-law’s car
almost a year before was the experience of the Holy Spirit. God had probably
decided that this time I didn’t necessarily need to go through anything
wife found it difficult to keep up with all the changes that I was going
through. She had just come to terms with the fact that we weren’t moving
abroad and I kept giving her new things to get used to. Her husband, a
doctor, started to spend long hours away from home. Even the winter weather
and minus 15 degrees Celsius couldn’t stop me from grabbing my guitar and
dashing off to church for a mass or a prayer meeting. One night she decided
to come along. Unfortunately that was the night when two mentally unstable
men also turned up, as the meetings were open for everyone. The charismatic
prayer combined with the bizarre behaviour and disturbing appearance of
the two men evoked her obvious reaction:
people are freaks! I will never set foot in this place again!’, she declared
afterwards. She probably felt sorry for me. It was only after getting to
know the members of the community personally that she began to understand
and accept the charismatic environment.
for me, there was nothing that could cool my enthusiasm and zeal. One of
the effects of My Great Revolution was a change in my attitude to the people
around me. I used to look down on everyone and make acquaintances only
with people whom I found interesting enough to be a friend, or, as exceptional
as I considered myself to be. Conversion opened my eyes. I realized that
every resident of our planet is a fascinating human being and a confused
freak at the same time… and I’m probably the most confused of all. That’s
how I became fond of ordinary people and started to enjoy talking to my
one of the meetings of my new community we were asked to talk to one person,
preferably of the same sex, about whom we knew little or didn’t know anything
at all. The guy I ended up talking to didn’t make a good first impression
on me. Our task was to tell our partner ‘our story’, that is, how we came
to renewing or discovering our faith in God. We walked along a mountain
track, looking at the beautiful view of Lake Miedzybrodzkie. Krzys
was the first one to tell his story. He came from a poor family, he had
always been a good student, he had wanted to study History at the Jagiellonian
University ever since he was a little boy and was very keen on broadening
God! What a terrible match! He is the exact opposite of me!’, I thought
right after he started talking.
had never abused (or even used) alcohol, which made it hard for him to
go through the university—other students wouldn’t leave him alone. He was
a misfit, so they often mocked him and tried to make him drink vodka. I
listened to him with growing interest. To my surprise, the more he talked,
the more fond of him I became.
it was my turn to speak; I confessed:
Krzy?, when I was studying medicine, I was exactly on that other side.
I couldn’t stand people who didn’t go to parties or drink alcohol. I used
to give a really hard time to the goody-goodies in the students’ halls.
I would also force them to drink and make them my laughing stocks … I was
such an idiot. Can you forgive me that, even though we didn’t meet back
we sat on the grass, with a wonderful view of the lake in front of us and
we prayed for each other. Two freaks…
Krzysiek is a professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
We have been friends for twenty-five years now.
Twenty-five years is a quarter of a century! When I moved from Rabka to
Kraków to begin my studies, I was happy to leave the small town
atmosphere behind. The first two days spent in Kraków filled me
with an incredible sense of freedom. I kept walking along the streets of
the city and did not see one familiar face! After My Great Revolution,
I deliberately chose a life similar to the one I had in Rabka — life in
a Christian community.
are some differences between a community and a small town, though. Most
importantly, you are more likely to learn the truth about yourself in the
former than in the latter.
order to explain this point, I will use a classic experience of a community
in the Christian Church. It is divided into five stages: exoticism, fascination,
freaks, crucifixion and faithful service. The first stage: is a stage of
looking at a community of lay people or an order of, say, the Franciscans
from the outside. To an atheist or a nominal Christian, it may seem exotic
and strange, and therefore it’s not worth spending too much time trying
to understand it. As the observer grows in their knowledge of God, it may
appear to them as a fascinating environment of the living faith. The holiness
and devotion to God of many people is almost tangible, the warm atmosphere
of acceptance and tolerance is dominating. In the third stage we begin
to see people’s true colours and the differences in personalities and lifestyles
become irritating. It turns out that those wonderful, holy people are simply
a bunch of sinners! Very often at that stage people become disillusioned
and bored with their new brothers and sisters, and some leave “their Rabka”.
The animals in Noah’s Ark must have appeared rather strange to one another,
as they came from different eco-systems, and would probably never have
met in their natural surroundings. A monkey could consider the other forms
of nose, such as a trunk, rather surprising. Unlike in the community, there
was no escape from Noah’s Ark. Some people pull through the freaks stage,
but then quit at the crucifixion stage. What was it like for me? After
I went through the first three stages, I started to experience distress.
people in the community, instead of being grateful for having such a zealous
brother, began to correct me!
almost made me fall into the temptation of “leaving Rabka” again,
but my humility and common sense were stronger and I stayed. Over the years
of living in the community I have learned more about myself than whilst
living in the outside world. People in the world often discuss the faults
of others, but never in their presence.
Pascal writes about it in his Pensees:
life is thus only a perpetual illusion; men deceive and flatter each other.
No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence. Human
society is founded on mutual deceit; few friendships would endure if each
knew what his friend said of him in his absence, although he then spoke
in sincerity and without passion. (translated by W.F. Trotter)
Christian community is like a mirror, it provides a life-giving knowledge,
even though the medicine is often sour and sometimes the truth hurts like
an injection. That is the stage when we crucify our ego and when our hearts
and our characters are transformed. Finally, the stage of the faithful
service is the one when we encourage one another to be zealous in our faith
and to fulfill the community’s mission.
the next chapter I will talk about how one of the main ministries of our
community, “City on a Hill”, was developed.
2011 Andrzej Solecki
on links below to read separate chapters.