I am posting this here from our private Audition Tour blog, mainly because I needed to see it and read it today, but also because I hope that it is a help to others. And this blog gets a much wider readership than the other one. I hope that this meditation brings solace and hope to whoever needs it today.
Friday, October 18: Day Twenty-Two in Baden-Baden
R and I decided before we left New York that we would devote most of our time, attention and money to our auditions, but that if we were in a location where there is a “must-see” site or experience or some such thing, that we would take advantage of it. For all we know, we will not pass this way again, and we do not want to have any regrets because we were being stingy with money or time.
That said, we decided to take two days off from singing to enjoy southwestern Germany. And today, we went to Baden-Baden.
My mom was born in Heidelberg after World War II and lived there until she was four years old. My grandfather was a Colonel in the U.S. Army and was stationed there. I have heard all my life about “Baden-Baden Eier” which my grandmother loved and made for her children and nieces and nephews with great frequency. Our first stop in Baden-Baden was a tiny hotel restaurant across an alley from the baths, for Baden-Baden Eier. The waitress looked surprised when I ordered it (it wasn’t on the menu) but nodded and gave that low-pitched German, “Ja,” that you hear everywhere, which when pitched low seems to be “Of course,” or “Sure, ok.” She brought the scrambled eggs mixed with little pieces of bacon. These were hands-down the best eggs I have ever had. I honestly did not expect them to live up to reputation, but you have to understand that bacon on the edge of the Black Forest is not what you are used to in New York or Virginia or Texas. It is not what you buy at the H.E.B. or the A&P. These were tiny bits of smoked, dried, dripping with fat, juicy goodness, mixed into perfectly scrambled eggs. Fran – you have good taste.
After we finished our breakfast, the boys walked me over to Friedrichsbad, the 132 year old Irish-Roman bath. They went on their way. I went inside.
There are two main public spas in Baden-Baden (and I’m sure countless others), one of which is Caracalla and one is Friedrichsbad. Caracalla is apparently a fairly social spa, somewhere between a spa and a water park, and very modern. Friedrichsbad is called a “bath temple”. The building is 132 years old but is built on top of the ruins of the old Roman baths, which you can tour. (We didn’t have much time in Baden-Baden, so we didn’t take a look, and I think much the pity.) The current Friedrichsbad is heated from natural springs, which make up the steam rooms. There are seventeen stations which you proceed through in a contemplative, almost ritualistic way. There are signs everywhere requiring silence. You seldom hear speaking and there is music only in the massage room. Otherwise, all you hear is water. There are frescoed walls and mosaics and etched and painted glass and sculpture, but nothing else in the way of decoration. Oh, yes. And no clothes. That’s right – no clothing. No bathing suits, no towels, nothing. You are allowed a towel (more like a sheet) in the first station, but then you are very politely asked to relinquish it. (They advise you when purchasing your pass that clothing is not permitted, so it does not come as a shock.)
The stations are as follows:
- Warm Air Bath (lying on a wooden chaise)
- Hot Air Bath (very, very hot – again on a chaise – so hot I was afraid I would burn myself – they give you sheets to put down so that you don’t)
- Soap Scrub (you lie down and someone uses a very hard bristled brush and soap to take off any grime and the top layer of your skin – think of Danearys Targarean bath with her handmaidens)
- Warm Steam Bath (from the natural springs)
- Hot Steam Bath (from the natural springs)
- Warm Pool
- Cooler Pool
- Swimming Pool-temperature pool (the loveliest – a circular pool in a domed room, and the only place, miraculously, where I was entirely alone)
- Ice Cold Pool
- Drying Off (4 minutes sitting while wrapped in an enormous thick, heated sheet
- Cream Massage (full body massage using a thick but light smelling rice milk and bamboo cream)
- Resting (they literally tuck you in inside a thick sheet and very large and plush brown blanket like a little child in a dimly lit semi-circular brown room for 30 minutes)
- Reading and Tea (sip mint or orange tea while lying on a cushioned lounge chair, magazines provided, if you wish, you are wrapped in a sheet at this point)
When I went to Friedrichsbad, I was expecting to relax. I was expecting to de-stress from the strain of the audition tour and traveling with the kids. I was looking forward to some much-needed alone time. I was hoping the tense muscle on the right side of my neck would soften. I was not expecting what I got.
To go through the 17 stations takes about 2-3 hours (you are permitted three hours before being asked to pay for extra time). I did it in about 2 ½. Two and a half hours with nothing to do but bathe. Absolutely nothing in the way of busyness or distraction. No one asking anything of me. No paper to write on. No web to surf. No smart phone on which to check email or Facebook or listen to music or convert currency or volume or distance. No books to read. Not even a stitch of clothing to fiddle with. No one to have a conversation with. No news to listen to. Absolutely nothing. Nothing but steam, water, time and my thoughts.
Have you played that game online where you are supposed to just look at your screen for something like a minute without pulling up another window or taking a call or writing anything down or multi-tasking in any way? I can’t do it. Try as I will, I can never get through the whole minute. Right. Well. Two and a half hours.
Like any good Protestant, Southern, American girl from a religious and proper family, I was extremely modest almost to the point of prudishness. I knew what I was in for with the no clothes rule, and that in Europe this is not considered prurient at all, but when the moment came, I clung to that towel a little longer than was seemly. The staff gently required the towel of me, and on I went. Because I was uncomfortable with the nudity, I found the most out-of-the-way corner of each room and pool and closed my eyes a lot. Not that anyone is parading themselves or looking at you in any way. People walk around quite naturally and no one seems to be interested in anyone else. I think the silence helps with this. Everyone seems to be having a fairly solitary experience, even in pairs or groups. Eyes are downcast, for the most part, and I don’t think out of modesty particularly. I think it is because this is an internal experience.
Alone, quiet, in silence, my body gradually heating with the air, steam and water and cooling again, getting clean and relaxed through very little effort of my own, and with nothing to do, my mind turned without even conscious effort, to prayer.
At first, I prayed for the success of our trip. Then I poured out my heart about the strain and stress and anxiety that both I and Ross have been feeling, with everything on the line. And then somewhere along the way, and I’m not sure when, the one-way supplication turned into a conversation, and then I was just listening to the Holy Spirit and feeling my Seele (soul) ministered to every bit as much as my Körper (body).
It was a very mystical experience, and I realized when trying to recount it to R that I can’t. But what I can say and do remember is this – that everything is ok. Not that it will be ok, but that it is. God made everything, and what he made is good. That includes me. I don’t have to be anything else other than exactly who I am to receive God’s approval and love. And I don’t have to impress anyone, either, or work extra super hard for their approval. And I will make mistakes because I’m human, and that is ok, too, because I’m not God and only God doesn’t make mistakes. If someone doesn’t like me, that is ok because I have God’s love. Which means that if my parents disapprove of me, or my friends, or my bosses, or my husband, or my children or my siblings or my neighbors or the strangers on the street or agents or conductors or directors or anyone at all, it is still ok. I can be surrounded by anger, disapproval… even hatred, and it is ok because I am at the same time surrounded by God’s love which is the love that matters and makes all of the others possible.
And as to my singing career… Singing is my vocation and one of the truest things about me, at the very core of who I am. Which means that no matter what happens in the next couple of months or years or in my life, it cannot be lost. It cannot be denied or taken away. My nature will be fulfilled, in its entirety, in fullness, just as the nature of every living and non-living thing will be fulfilled. I will one day sing at the throne of God because that is my destiny. So if I sing for the applause of kings or only to the sleeping breathing of my children, I will one day sing before the throne of thrones for the king of kings because it pleases him because he made me and takes joy in my singing. And yes, naturally, I think right now that the best thing for me and my family is for either R or I or both of us to get contracts in Germany and to build a life here for ourselves and our children, but if we don’t it is because it is not the best thing. And the best thing will always be given. What is best for me and for R and for E and N and for everyone around us and for all involved and for the household of God and for the entire world because everything is taken into account and nothing is forgotten in God’s mind and plans.
And to live the life he means me to live, even if he wants me to do great things, I do not myself have to be great. He brought down the mighty walls of Jericho with music. He chose a man with a stutter to speak before the King of Egypt. He gave Sarah the promised son and made her the mother of a nation when she didn’t even believe and laughed at the promise as though it was a joke. He made a slave and a prisoner and a foreigner the Viceroy of Egypt. He made the bastard son of incest and murder the greatest human king the world has known. He made a persecutor of the church the greatest evangelist in history. He made fishermen and a thief his principal disciples and leaders of his church. He made a little girl in a backwater town the mother of his son and raised that son in the household of a poor craftsman. God constantly says and shows that he does great things through weakness. If God choses to take me up to use me as an instrument in his hand, it will be to his glory and because of his work, not because I myself am great. And he can do it just fine, even if I’m not. And if he chooses not to, that’s ok, too, because my nature will still be fulfilled and all in blessing. I can even put down my to-do list.
That does not mean that I don’t have to do anything. I will do my best. I will show up and do my work to the hilt. But when I have done that, I can rest. I can lay down the angst and anxiety over whether it was good enough or whether people like me or what the future holds. I can eat my bread and take my rest, knowing that I have done my part and do not have to do more than that. And that God is right this very minute pouring blessings down on my head. And on everyone else’s, too.
I can finally, finally, finally stop trying to justify my existence. I can stop seeking my own worth in the value of others, in the “quotation of the day”.
Shalom. It is finished. The good news is that you are loved, you are forgiven, every promised goodness is yours and more to come. The happiness of God is here. Here.
Does this mean that I was instantly changed and all is perfect now? Well, no. I wish I could say that’s so, but that wouldn’t make logical sense, and certainly not for me. But it means that I had such a profound experience that for the first time in my life, I am able to repeat the lessons of those two and a half hours to my own heart and mind on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis. I still feel the twist in my stomach when someone is hateful to me, or the anxiety when I think maybe someone doesn’t like my singing, or when I make an innocent mistake and get that look of disapproval from some stranger who happens to be watching. Or when I feel my own censure when I lose my temper and yell at the kids. Or when R does that guy thing when he’s in a bad mood and disappears inside himself, distant to me and the kids until he feels better, and I sit there wondering what I did or if he’s mad at me, even though I know he’s not. But I can tell myself the truth – that everything is ok. And for the first time in my life, I believe it. I believe that everything is ok. And will be ok, no matter what circumstance I find myself in. If I forget, all I have to do is to keep my eyes on Jesus. I cannot sink in the stormy water if my eyes are on him – I will walk on it.
I feel myself softening, and at the same time getting braver. Because when the King of Kings has your back, what can you possibly fear?
Not a thing, my friends, not a thing.
I can say with 100% certainty that no matter which way this audition tour goes, life for the RC Family is going to be absolutely wonderful.
And thank God for Friedrichsbad.