Called by the Swiss Alphorn Into the Arms of the Creator
Three years into living in picturesque Switzerland, I sat in a warm bath on a hot August afternoon trying to ease miscarriage contractions. I soaked in discomfort, both physically and mentally. Once again I found myself at the end of my rope, stuck at the bottom of a deep, dark pit that I didn’t have the energy to climb out of.
My hot, angry tears kept coming even after I told myself, “one in four pregnancies resulted in miscarriage.” This was my fifth pregnancy, so certainly it was bound to happen at some point. Time to pay my dues, right? No matter how much I tried to reason my way back to comfort, I began spiraling down a rabbit hole of negativity and listing all the things that had gone wrong since moving to Switzerland. The evidence for this land being cursed was undeniable.
Our move started off with a stressful, unexpected pregnancy. I had always loved the idea of a fourth baby, but I was determined to settle into our new life in a new country with our three daughters (all under the age of five) before even beginning to entertain the idea of another pregnancy.
Instead, I found myself pregnant two weeks into our move. Eight weeks later, the doctors told me this baby would need constant monitoring due to his bladder obstruction. Months later, after a beautiful birth, our son Basil Thomas was whisked out of my arms to be intubated and operated on. The Children’s Hospital of Zurich became his home for the first 45 days of his life while our three daughters stayed in our family home under the care of loved ones that had flown in from the States. We eventually mastered infant kidney dialysis and brought our son home, feeling confident that he was out of the woods. But three short months later, his body gave out, and he unexpectedly died at the young age of four and a half months old.
The adventurous life we were supposed to live in Europe was instead overtaken by immense grief in learning to live without our son, followed by the breaking of my leg, eye surgery for our 4-year-old daughter, depression, a major car accident, a world-wide pandemic, having my driver’s license revoked, and finally, two years after Basil’s death I was facing a miscarriage while in isolation with Covid. We all know the saying, “when it rains, it pours,” but the years since landing in Switzerland were much more of a hurricane than a downpour.
With my hands still moving through the warm water, desperately searching for a comfortable position, I finished listing every disaster I had faced within the short time of calling Switzerland home. I saw my life clearly as a constant stream of Good Fridays.
I continued ruminating over my misfortunes from the bathtub for quite some time. Then a powerful breeze blew through the open window above me. With it came the delightful and enchanting sound of cowbells, sheep bleating, and the gentle sounds of a neighbor playing an Alphorn1 that carried through the valley. The moment of recounting my steady stream of hardships had been brought to a complete halt in the most idyllic Swiss fashion. I instantly shook my head and chuckled to myself, like a disbelieving sigh with a smile.
While some will call this moment a coincidence, I know it to be the divine works of the Spirit gently telling me I had it all wrong. Yes, I had endured too many hardships in too short of an amount of time, but perhaps I had been placed here in beautiful Switzerland for these years of tribulation as a perfect gift of distraction so as to not be swallowed whole by grief, so as to not spend my precious moments earthside consumed solely by Good Fridays. Our God had met me in my physical pain, sat with me as I raged, and simultaneously nudged me to walk forward once more into the quieter space of Holy Saturday.
I was drawn to remember that on days when my sorrow was all too much, I often stared across the lake to the tops of the Alps and saw that life is hard but still spectacular. Time after time, my grief became more manageable when I recognized and contemplated just how small I was compared to the jagged mountains that shot out of the lake and reached toward the heavens. Like the clouds that slammed into and crawled over the pointy peaks, everything I was feeling was not permanent but constantly in flux. I had already been living a life beyond Good Friday without ever realizing it.
At every challenging turn since arriving in Switzerland, the mountains had constantly beckoned me out of bed and into life. Somehow this gorgeous landscape was saving me and serving as God’s loving arms to hold me tight when I needed that tender, caring spirit most, giving me the strength to nurture the three little girls I was lucky enough to mother, courage to reach out to my husband in his own grief, and confidence to literally keep putting one foot in front of the other. Hiking and skiing became our family’s way of playing and laughing with one another even though we were no longer complete.
God had not abandoned me on my own Good Friday, nor did God want me to stay stuck in Good Friday. Instead, God was the healing waters of the bathtub while I mourned the baby I would never know or hold and God was in the ringing of the cow bells, the bleating of the sheep, the deep notes coming from the Alphorn, and the wind calling me into the calmer space of Holy Saturday.
Even though I no longer live in Switzerland, my heart skips a beat every time I hear or see its beloved instrument, the Alphorn. Long ago, the Swiss Alphorn was used by shepherds to call the cows in for feeding and milking just as God was calling me in for my own soul nourishment. The Alphorn was also used as a call to prayer. At the end of the day, the head shepherd would find a spot high on the mountain and play as a way to ask God for protection over all living creatures in the valley. How fitting that when I was at my worst, weathering another big storm, a neighbor unknowingly prayed for protection over me, a simple dweller in their same valley.
The hardest years of my life were those when I was lucky enough to call Switzerland home. Those wild, heartbreaking, yet gorgeous days in the Alps are brimming with holy lessons I am still unpacking today. The most profound lesson being that, although I have suffered many Good Fridays, God always finds ways to call me into the nourishing, safe place of Holy Saturday while also planting seeds of hope for Easter Sunday.
Heather Faase was raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A deep and spiritual soul, Heather attended College of St. Benedict in Minnesota where she received a Bachelors of Arts in Theology before attending St. John’s University where she was awarded a Masters in Systematic Theology. The Benedictine tradition of these universities instilled in Heather her focus on compassion, community, and hospitality.
In 2017, Heather left her professional career aside giving favor to her wonderlust and the desire to raise her three daughters as global citizens. Still called by the mountains, Heather and her family moved to Zug, Switzerland where her family grew with the birth of her son who later passed away in 2018. After living in Zug for four years Heather and family moved to Brussels, Belgium where she currently resides.
Heather cares deeply for humanity with a particular interest in building bridges between faiths and between communities. She is a loving mother, caring friend, contemplative Catholic, and community leader maintaining presence in circles across the globe.
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