Advent trilogy III: Quantum leaps

He could have sent her away. He could have turned her in to the elders. Surely they would have known what to do with her. She could have been stoned, for those were the days and those were the rules. And unfortunately in some societies they still are. He would have had every right to do so, because the child his fiancee was expecting wasn’t his. He could have, but he didn’t, because Joseph, as the story tells us, was a righteous man. He wanted to divorce her in silence.
It took me quite some time before I got the point in this line. It’s not about the leaving part, it’s about the in silence. Joseph doesn’t want to publicly shame Mary, and by doing so he seems to turn his back on tradition. But does he? Not really. He rather shifts his focus on another part of tradition. Not the tradition of harsh laws and rules and the many thou-shalt-nots, but that other tradition of mercy and benevolence. The tradition of protecting the weak, the widows, the orphans and the strangers, of bruised reeds not broken, smoldering wicks not quenched. A tradition only living in the hearts of those still pure and bold and foolish enough to remember a promise once made and now, hundreds of years later, still waiting for it to come true.
It is in this tradition that we should place the man Joseph. And looking closely, I think no better man could have been found to become Mary’s husband and to father the child she carries. For they are so alike. Like Joseph, Mary is equally rooted in this tradition of hope and redemption.
Furthermore, in both of them we find another trait that links them to this tradition. Like many before him, Joseph is familiar with the dreaming of dreams, and not just any dreams, but the special ones that convey messages. Like several of his forefathers, who, in their days, heard voices from clouds and burning bushes, who were spoken to by angels, Joseph is also visited by an angel telling him not to send Mary away. And although it is almost impossible for the human mind to understand what is at stake here, Joseph accepts the angel’s message just like Mary had done a few months earlier.
We so often think that people are being chosen because somehow they must be very special. But that is not quite how it works, for everyone is chosen. Everyone at some point in his or her life receives a calling, a message from an angel, a dream, a sign or signal. Special are those however, who are open hearted and open minded enough to listen and to willingly give in, although it is indeed impossible for the human mind to comprehend the vastness and depth of the whole scheme of things.
Mary and Joseph are all to often portrayed as a young girl betrothed to an older, rather dull man. Not quite the sexy, romantic catch a sixteen year old might hope for. But was that really the case? And moreover, does it matter? Looking at who these two really, basically were, what they stood for in matters of faith and spirituality, they must have been perfect for each other and for the task they were called for.
I dare to assume that theirs was not a passive, subservient ‘yes’ but rather a meditated step towards a new future. A huge leap of faith because as of yet no one could foresee where this was all going. Right there and then all kinds of lines and forces collided. A people worn out by long endured oppression, messianic expectations wherever you looked, new philosophies and ideas on the move. In short the Zeitgeist. Add to this the personal traits of Mary and Joseph, their willingness to set aside their own interests in favour of the greater good, their openness to visions of renewal and liberation, their unshakable trust that the age old promise of salvation will soon be fulfilled.
It is exactly this attitude of sincere openness, of courage and wonder and spiritual resilience, that makes them so very suitable to parent the child that will come to change the world for good and that will – almost literally – throw a new light on things by his very presence.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Advent trilogy II: Dare the dark

Half a life ago I wrote a thesis titled Earth, the Body and the Dark as sites of salvation. Being a woman and a feminist in the male dominated world of theology, I choked more than once on the whole concept of dualism. You know, earth versus heaven, matter versus spirit, female versus male etcetera. It’s quite understandable if one – let’s call him Plato – needs to find an explanation for the things he sees and experiences, wants to understand how it all came about, how it fits together and what it means. The real problem started when whole scales of value were attached to these pairs of concepts, resulting in a world where heaven, spirit, reason, light were good, and all things opposite, earth, matter, instinct, darkness were deemed as not so good.
The tragedy of this dualistic system is that much of life itself is left out, not seen, misunderstood and underestimated. Those who, throughout the course of human history, had the courage to explore those fields left out, often found themselves on a perilous expedition, because theirs was a road less travelled. They chose that road all the same, driven by a deep-felt and sometimes barely articulated sense of something entirely different, a world more whole than this dualistic system wants to have us believe, a life more wholesome. And right they were. Life can only be lived to the full if all aspects are valued for their worth. The processes of who we were and what we are to become can only be understood if the whole story is told, not just parts of it.
Imagine yourself meeting someone you haven’t seen for a long, long time. She has this relaxed, serene glow on her of people who are perfectly at ease with themselves and with life. You could assume that, indeed, life had been easy for her and had treated her gently. But you’re way off, because in fact her life has been anything but easy and gentle. You don’t know the pain this woman suffered, the tears she cried, the despair she dealt with night after night before she got to this blissful state of being, this sincere contentment, this peace of mind. That part of her becoming her wasn’t for the world to see because it happened in the dark. And you might be happy for her that everything turned out so fine in the end, but that would be a pretty shallow conclusion, and it wouldn’t do justice to her and everything she went through.
As long as we stick to the dualistic conviction that darkness is something negative we have to overcome as quickly as possible, we completely miss out on the essence of the dark and it’s vital role in almost all of life’s processes.
Grains, seeds, nuts, acorns are hidden in the ground before they are strong enough to endure wind and rain and scorching sunlight. Fish grow in shells, birds grow in eggs, mammals grow in wombs. And though it looks like not much is happening, some serious growing is going on there. This being in the dark is not just a random stage in the process of growing, it’s a vital condition, an imperative. For all these fragile not-yet-ready things need the quiet, the time, the protection to germ, develop and ripen. That is basically the same for all processes of growth, physical and spiritual alike
Just think of the famous mystics from the past. They even described their own process of inner growth as ‘the dark night of the soul’, their longing and seeking for divine enlightenment, and with it their despair, their fear, their maddening loneliness. And yet, it cannot be done otherwise. Everything that once comes to full bloom, first grows in the dark. So do not fear it. Dark precedes light as winter precedes spring, as labour precedes harvest, as wandering precedes encounter.
All too often we shut out the gloom of these short December days and escape the silence by getting very festive, buying and drinking and eating more than is good for us. But wouldn’t it be far better to spend this time of year the way it was meant to? As a time of wondering what kind of spring will come after this winter and what kind of inner work we can do ourselves to make that happen. Wouldn’t it be good and wholesome to, like Mary, give in to the quiet, to observe what is happening deep inside of us, to feel it growing, that tiny thing of beauty that one day will be a gift of Love to the world and to life itself. Do not fear that. Dare the dark, for it is the soil of light.

To be continued

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Advent trilogy I: While waiting

When it comes to translating texts or sentences, it often strikes me as odd that some languages have two, or even more words for something, whereas other languages have only one. Latin for instance has two words for future: futurum and adventus. Futurum is the sort of future we, active and self defining individuals of this modern age, are most familiar with. It is the future we approach with ideas and expectations and a certain behaviour that best guarantees the outcome: we plan, learn, study and undertake all kinds of things to shape this future we are heading for. How completely different is the concept of future when we call it ‘adventus’. This is not a future we approach with purpose and endeavour. This is a future that approaches us, like a traveller from afar. All we can do is look out the window from time to time to see him, or her appearing at the horizon. At best we step out to meet him, or her, halfway our front yard. Not much action on our part, one could think. But is that really true? I’m not so sure. Even though it seems we are doing nothing we are surely doing something. We are waiting, and as waiting is a verb, some sort of action may be presumed, even if it doesn’t show in a way the eye can see. Precisely this makes waiting a complex and rich activity, for it is like a box with all kinds of pretty and wondrous things inside. But the box is still closed so we cannot see what these things exactly are, nor if they are many or few. And also whether they are of any meaning or value remains to be seen. Advent is not the kind of future we approach actively, but what we can do is prepare for this future actively. Make our waiting rich and meaningful, and yes, wondrous and joyful to the utmost. Mary did. We so often forget that these last four weeks before Christmas are the last weeks of her pregnancy. And everyone who ever bore a baby herself, or was near a woman expecting, knows that these last weeks aren’t up for much but waiting. If only for the simple physical fact that you can’t move around as easily as you would like to. There is not much to be done and at the same time a lot is going on. Though hindered in her movements, an awful lot is happening in the body and the mind of a woman in her last term. The dreaming and fantasizing, the doubting and wondering. The all too characteristic attendees at any major change or turning point: hope and fear. And of course this sudden urge to clean the house. All women do that on the brink of motherhood, human and animal alike. Prepare the nest. Like with that traveller we were waiting for, we cannot haste his arrival with one hour, because that is not for us to decide, but we do clean the house and make a bed in the guest room, we do set the table and cook something nice. We do prepare and make sure we are ready for this arrival. That is our part in shaping this new future. Wait, wait consciously. Be aware of what is going on around you, but far more important, be aware of what is happening inside you, in your body, your mind, your heart and your soul. Wait, and while waiting: prepare. To be continued
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

A thin veil

It’s not good for man to be alone, God said when Adam was strolling on his own through that beautiful, brand new garden. There should be a companion, a partner for him to share his life with. And thus happened.
Ever since we see people seeking other people to bond with and forming all kinds of relationships. People join communes, convents, communities to meet and connect with kindred spirits. For it is in those relationships that we thrive best. In that connectedness we find friendship, understanding, support, care, love.
That’s why we connect and bond. Relationships make us more ‘us’. Relationships make us strong and beautiful, happy and confident. And therein lies also it’s greatest weakness. We lose a lot when this relationship comes to an end. We only feel half the person we were before; we feel amputated and lost and more alone than we’ve ever felt before in our lives.
At one point or another, we all suffer such a loss. Some even more than once in their lifetime. Apart from the how and when, our condition at such a moment is pretty much the same. We stare into the abyss of our grief and all we see in this – apparently – bottomless pit is utter darkness. We wonder if and how we will ever get over this heartache. Will there ever be joy again; will I ever see light again? Where has my loved one gone?
Throughout religious writings, in myths, fairytales and folktales we read of such pain and despair and agony, and we hear these questions asked by all kinds of people. And staring in our abyss of grief, numb, paralysed almost, we are not able to see how these stories at the same time offer us answers to our questions and words of comfort and hope and light.
Time and again we are offered glimpses of miracles, of some divine interference to make known to us that all that is really precious will never ever perish. For that is not how it’s meant to be. That is not how things, especially living things were created.
That is not how we were made. All that is, is made from the same original stardust-like material. All that is, is brought into existence by the same power and nourished by the same source. Enlightened with the same spark of life and hallowed by the same spirit.
Therefore we are all connected through this essence of being, and through the same divine will, the same love and wisdom with which we were created. And these bonds of love in which we are incorporated are not meant for a lifetime. They are meant for eternity. That’s how strong and pure and solid they are made. So they wíll last for eternity, whatever our material shape or condition is, wherever we find ourselves in this vast universe.
That is the point we so easily miss, when staring in our abyss. We focus too much on the physical aspects of life and death. Which is of course totally understandable because we live in a material world. For the time being we exist in matter, in a physical body. But the pitfall is that we believe that the moment the physical body is gone, the whole person is gone. Which is not true and cannot even be possible as I stated earlier.
What made our loved one so dear and precious to us in life, does not die with the physical body, because that is simply not how we are made or meant to be. That most beautiful and most precious part of us is divine and eternal by nature. It will always be somewhere in this limitless realm of light, this all-embracing bond of love.
When it comes to it, death is best compared with a thin veil. Some are on this side, and some are on the other side. And due to an awkward situation of unequal timeliness, some pass to the other side of that veil, while others still have to wait a bit longer before it’s their turn.
Yes, we are separated, but only for a while, and surely we’re not so far apart as we often fear.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Of castles and kings

Once, long long ago, in the darker parts of history, castles were not castles as we know them today. They were fortresses, strongholds, walled areas of space where people could find shelter and protection in times of danger. Just by looking at ruins and archeological sites you can imagine how large these places must have been.
And they had to be, because seeking shelter was not to be understood as hiding from the rain or something like that. These fortresses were meant to harbor whole clans, tribes, townships, including chickens, cows, goats and what have you.
Moreover, in a worst case scenario – famine, war, siege – this situation could last for weeks, even months. Evidently all sorts of facilities should be provided for, and they should be in tune with the numbers and the needs of the people seeking shelter.
Firstly there had to be water, a well within the walls. Furthermore large supplies of food and firewood were needed. All sorts of specific things to tend the sick, the wounded, the young. And of course people to carry out these various services, from bakers to blacksmiths, from midwives to herbalists.
Understandably these amenities – stables, storage rooms, workshops and such – added up to the most basic layout of a castle, which consisted of the private quarters of the lord and his family and the spaces with legal, political en military functions.
All in all these castles were complex organizations, both in their physical structure as well as in the way they were operated. And it took men and women of outstanding insight and courage to build and run such places.
That’s how nobility originated, with individuals wise and strong enough to take care of a whole group of people. Chieftains, lords, kings and queens. Their first and foremost responsibility was to shelter, protect and defend their people and they could ultimately be held accountable if they failed. Leader serves group, that was the order of things.
Only, it didn’t stay that way. Over time we see the original concept of castles and fortresses evolve into something completely different, and even quite the opposite. And naturally these physical changes reflect the uprise of different kinds of leadership. Unfortunately not always for the better.
Whoever visited the famous palaces in European cities, like Versailles, Schönbrunn in Vienna, Buckingham palace, the Hermitage, will instantly get what I am pointing at.
Whereas the thick walls of castles were once built to protect the people seeking refuge inside, the palaces are meant to protect the high and mighty and in keep the common people out. The enormous gardens, the gilded gates and the guards at those gates are all put there to keep the masses and the king, or emperor, or czar, as wide apart as possible.
At best there is a balcony where he will appear once in a while and wave at the commoners. They in turn, can only wave back and hope that the little puppet on the balcony has indeed their best interest at heart, despite the distance.
Nine times out of ten however, this king or lord is actually very much a puppet with a palace mob at the other end of the strings. Instead of a king serving the people, the people is now serving this apparatus that is mainly keeping itself busy maintaining the status quo. One might ask what the use of such leadership is, since it does not function as it should. It does not serve and protect the people, it only serves and protects itself.
At multiple moments in time – and rightly so, I dare say – this kind of leadership has been questioned, criticized and overthrown. By prophets in ancient biblical times all the way to the great revolutions of the twentieth century, this questioning and revolting has been done against the most diverse backgrounds. But whatever the decor, it was always triggered by the same cause: the falling short of proper leadership. Corruption, indifference, greed, injustice, the lack of wisdom and moral integrity. But worst of all the lack of actual love and care.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Scarborough Fair

Only the other day, while driving into town, I heard this old, familiar song on the radio. One of my most cherished songs actually: Scarborough Fair. And in a Constable landscape I saw them, Mary and Tom, on their way to the market, the fair. 
Even though I saw figures in old fashioned Thomas Hardy-style garments, I could not precisely imagine what they looked like, dark or fair, tall, frail or sturdy. But you know, it didn’t really matter, because somehow, in those two, I saw a multitude of people. Thousands of Mary’s and Tom’s or whatever their names are.
For as long as history can recall, girls and boys, men and women have gone to fairs and markets all over the world. And among the crowd they suddenly saw him, her… and their eyes lit up.
And with words and smiles they invited one another to become part of their lives: let’s build a house, grow a crop, run a shop together; let’s make babies, be a family, grow old together. They bond and we call that bond ‘love’.
With millions of others like them they weave the fabric of life, simply by doing what all life forms do. They eat, breathe, grow, sleep, move, procreate.
People spend their lives together. And life not just understood as the timespan between birth and death, but life as the result of how that timespan is filled. Life as the outcome of your unique way of being here, contributing to life, sustaining, beautifying life while living it. How awesome, how truly wonderful it is, when you meet among the thousands, that one person to do your living with.
And yes, you live the way all life forms live, do the things we all do, eat, sleep, work, wash clothes and dishes, cuddle the young ones, care for the weak, bake cakes, knit sweaters, chop wood, write books or read them. And although our lives may seem trivial, even a bit meaningless sometimes, the fuel and the flame underneath all this living is love. The love that started the moment we saw her, him… and our eyes lit up.
Even though we do not feel it all the time, this love is our drive. This love gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and to all the – supposedly – simple, everyday things we do. We don’t grow the crops for nothing. We grow them to feed our loved ones and those who depend on us. We build homes to keep our families warm and safe, schools for our kids to learn and become fine young men and women – hopefully at least a bit wiser than we are.
We build hospitals for those of us who need care, shelters for those who need protection from whatever dangers, sometimes from themselves. Halls and churches to meet in good times or bad, to experience we’re not alone, that we are in this together, to commemorate and celebrate our bonds of friendship and love.
Yet there are people – same planet, same species – who somehow feel the urge to tear these bonds apart. Who bomb cities, burn down crops, blow up hospitals, starve babies, separate parents from children, women from men, and even manage to come up with a very valid reason to do so. With what right?
We are all meant, no exceptions, to partake in this exciting enterprise together. We are all designed to contribute to the advancement of this ‘Big Everything’, or at least sustain it. Then where does one human get the idea that it is okay to ruin the house another human built, to hurt another human’s child, to rape another human’s sister, to murder another human’s father, brother, friend?
What is so annoying about people’s lives and the way they live it, that other people feel compelled to put an end to it? What can be so wrong with people’s love, that other people feel justified to destroy it? While all the time being involved in the same project, all of us together. Having the same work to do, the same air to breath, the same soil to share and the same stars to gaze at. All of us together, no exceptions.
Then where does this weird, this delusional idea of having such a right come from?

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

The power of imagination

It’s a holiday and it’s raining. My next door neighbor has a hard time keeping her kids busy, by the sound of it. Normally these sounds come from the backyard. A grey, tiled area covered with lots of plastic toys and empty soda bottles. All soaking wet now. And from that crowded house on the other side of the wall the noise keeps coming. The huge flat screen, the stereo, four screaming children and a ranting mum.
If only they would read, I think to myself. That would make a whole lot of difference. But I know they don’t do any reading in that household, except when schoolwork has to be done. She finds reading boring, stupid. She told me once when we had a chat while I was just on my way to the library. What a difference would it make. Simply because reading always does.
But why read? Almost all stories are on film now, some people say. True, but that’s not the same. Not by far. There is a huge difference between being entertained or being challenged. The difference between watching TV or reading a book can best be compared with the difference between eating processed food or cooking a meal. The first is about merely consuming what’s been served. The latter indeed challenges you to use your imagination. It puts your brain to work, mobilizes your synapses to form new connections and then more understanding, more connecting, more imagining evolves. And in the end no one can control how this understanding and imagining takes place, for it happens inside of you. Whereas films only offer you somebody else’s imagination.
When sometime in 2003, I heard that Cold Mountain was being filmed it surprised me that Nicole Kidman would play the role of Ada. Whose idea was that, I remember thinking. The Ada I had in mind was more a Julia Ormond. That typical Southern laziness in voice and movement, the bedroom eyes, and most of all the soft curls in her neck. The ones Charles Frazier describes so delicately. No matter how fine an actress Nicole Kidman is, Ada was and never will be a cool tall blonde.
But there you have it, solid proof that imagination is a very personal thing. First of all when it comes to content, I mean, every reader envisions his or her own Ada. It’s also a very personal thing by the way it works. It cannot easily be controlled by others. Unless you let them. Unless you switch your own head off and consume the images and ideas other people have cooked for you.
The real power of reading is that it makes you powerful. That’s why systems and leaders of a certain kind like their masses illiterate. They can fill up people’s minds with whatever they wish. And with the heads switched off collectively, most people aren’t even aware of the fact they have a head, a mind of their own to begin with. That’s how millions and millions of people over thousands of years have been kept in place. Numb, dumb, silent. That’s why journalist, philosophers, artists, scholars are the first to get incarcerated by oppressive regimes.
Just imagine a Russian peasant woman in 1916. Her son is fighting Germans at some muddy frontline. She goes to the village scribe to write him a letter. Dear son, it says, we had a bit of misfortune. Our cow got sick and died. Your little sister got sick as well and died too. I’m getting by, all considering. Hope you are well. Love, your mother. And of course this letter has to be read to him by some educated officer, with twenty odd men at hearing distance.
Now imagine this mother’s letter, had she been able to write it herself. Dear son, our only cow was taken by the Czar’s men. As a result your little sister starved to death. O, and by the way, I am living with aunt Tanya now, for they burnt down the place as well. Now get the hell over here. We have some serious revolting to do!
That is the power that comes with being literate. You can process your own experiences, make up your own mind, tell your own story in your own words. And most important, you can imagine a life, any life other than the one you are stuck in right now.
That is why slaves, workers, women, weren’t allowed to learn how to read. Not because of the content, which in some cases could be very handy, like cooking recipes or machine manuals. Yet too much is at stake to even consider it. The risks are simply too high, of people – enslaved, oppressed, downtrodden people – to somehow get access to their own minds and discover in there the endless freedom and the myriad of possibilities.
Once people discover the power of their own thinking, of their own mind and imagination, there is no way back. You can put their body in a cage for as long as you like, but not the mind. And that is what vexes dictators and tyrants. Not being able to control the minds of those who have discovered and mastered the power of reading and writing and thinking. And most of all the power of imagining themselves as different people living different, free lives in a different, better world.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Names matter

Imagine yourself in a supermarket, a mall, a street, and suddenly you hear behind you: ‘hey, you!’ Or ‘oi’ when in England. Would you turn around to find out who is calling? Would you think it could be meant for you? Maybe, if this person’s voice sounds familiar. Chances are however you will not turn around, because you would assume – and rightly so – that the person calling you would use your name.
Names and identity go together like horse and carriage. Names are the labels by which we makes ourselves known in the world, by which we recognize each other. Nothing is more annoying than the blurry conversations in which someone constantly refers to others as: ah, you know, the blond guy from the third floor, or, the tall lass that lives next to the postoffice. They have names. Use them. And if you don’t know their names, then say so.
Equally annoying and disrespectful is, after being corrected more than once, to keep on using a wrong name. You know, saying Rob when it’s actually Bob, or calling Anna Ann every time you meet.
Names, and yes, the proper names, are vital when it comes to being known, being recognized as a person, and of course making yourself known to others. People without name are anonymous people, just someone, no one in particular. At best a ‘hey, you’ in the street. At worst a number sewn on the jacket or tattooed on the wrist.
As soon as somebody is called by the name he or she stops being just anyone. One person can be distinguished from another. That is why names are such an important part of rituals. When children are christened they receive a name of their own, apart from their family name. When we marry we call each other by the name: I take thee, Eliza, to be my wife. Not just any woman. No, her, only her, no one else.
Most memorial ceremonies involve a calling of names. A gathering on Ground Zero would be unthinkable without respectfully reciting the names. Just mentioning that 2977 people died here would be even more unthinkable. The same goes for every place where lost ones and dear ones are remembered.
That is why the graves of unknown soldiers are cherished in almost every country. Although we do not know his name, we know for sure he had one. And he was, like all the others, a son, a father, a brother. And he did give his life for the sake of many. How easily could this man fall into oblivion for the single fact of not having a name to put on his grave, let alone return him to his family. Precisely for this reason we give this person a central place in our community and mark this place with special attention. Lest we forget.
The names people give their children, the names we give each or even ourselves, they all have to do with identity. With knowing the other, knowing yourself and feel yourself being known. More than once I experienced in my work that people with progressive Alzheimers respond less and less to their adult names, Mr Patterson, Mrs Fraser. But their faces light up when called by their childhood name: Johnny, Elsie. We need those names desperately to feel human and known and whole again.
The most beautiful story on this theme I read last week in the gospel of John. A woman, thoroughly saddened and heartbroken, goes into a garden where her dearest friend, her beloved Jesus is buried. So blinded by grief is she, that she does not recognize the person talking to her. She thinks he is a gardener. A stranger, just someone, no one in particular. And that is how she herself feels as well. Just a desperate, grieving, mourning woman who lost her beloved friend. Deprived of everything worth living for, the only thing left for her is to dwell around in this life-forsaken place, his grave. The place where everything comes to an end and nothing new begins.
This situation of standstill, of frozenness is only broken when she hears her name. That’s when she stops being just someone. This person apparently knows her, for he knows her name. She becomes herself again by being recognized, by hearing her own name: Mary. Then she remembers who she was, one of Jesus’ close and dear friends. And then she is able to see who this unknown gardener really is. Jesus, her beloved friend.
Not only is she reestablished in her identity, she is given a new one. Her love and loyalty had made her undergo the darkness and the bitter loneliness of the grave almost literally together with him, because she simply could not and would not leave him behind. Now she is the first to witness that this grave was not the end of everything, but the beginning of something new. That even from the pit of death people are called back to life. Called by their very name: light, friend, my love.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Alive again

It was beautiful, splendid, magnificent! Everything was there: trees, mountains, peacocks, waterfalls, daffodils. And it all worked! Birds sang, each to their own tune, brooks babbled, bees buzzed, reed swayed, elephants trumpeted and the wriggly little creatures wriggled. All was good, so very, very good. Except for those two, the man and the woman in the garden. It could have been good for them as well, had they lived by the guidelines God had given them. But somehow they were not able or willing to do so. They chose to live by their own plan, with all the devastating consequences one could expect.
And their children aren’t any better. One brother slays the other. A while later followed by more envy and hatred amongst brothers, to such a point where the youngest is sold as a slave. Before you can blink twice an entire people is enslaved. Toiling in a far and unfriendly land.
We see people moving about, undertaking all sorts, but it doesn’t bring them anything, it doesn’t get them anywhere. We see people getting divided: poor and rich, black and white, powerful and powerless, masters and slaves. Some live in obscene wealth brought on by the hard labour of many.
The beautiful, splendid creation of yore has turned into a desert of greed, abuse, betrayal, shame and injustice. And how little is left of the first word God ever spoke: light. A withering flame, a ray of sunshine here or there. But mainly dark skies, clouds, twilight, gloom.
In no way does this world resemble the world that should have been and could have been, if everything had gone according to plan. Time and again God interferes to get things back on track. One prophet after another is sent to warn and confront and educate this stubborn lot. But no use. Whatever promises are made, whatever prospects are offered, the people will not listen. And at the same time they suffer collectively and each for themselves. They suffer deeply and in their wounded heart is this desperate longing for something or someone who will bring love, peace, comfort, words of wisdom.
Somewhere at this point it dawns to God that starting anew may be the best thing to do. A new beginning. A new man, to mend what was broken, to set straight what had so sadly been messed up. A new human, who does understand the original plan, who breathes the original spirit and who carries divine salvation in his name. A new man, light from light, so close to God that sometimes you can hardly tell which one of them is speaking.
Needless to say that not everyone was pleased with his coming into this world. Those in power want to stay in power. Those with great wealth wish to keep it.
Fortunately there are also many people who have longed for this man. They invite him in their homes and lives and hearts. They want to be near him, hear him speak, for they feel whole again in his presence, invigorated by the love and light he has come to bring.
How intense was their joy, their feeling of relief and enlightenment, of finally being heard and seen and touched and healed. How devastating was the blow for them of seeing this man, this new light, being murdered right before their eyes. And how totally heartbreaking must have been their grief for this dear, kind man. This man who was as good as God.
Of all the people it is precisely the purest, the sweetest, the dearest that is now taken away from them. And all he did was bringing love, spreading light, lifting up what had fallen, caring for the lost lamb, the smallest child, the poorest beggar, the flickering flame, the sparrow.
It is in this state of total despair, shock and bewilderment that some of them, women, make their way to where he is buried. With ointment and herbs to care for his body. The only thing they can do now for their beloved friend.
It’s the early morning after Sabbath. The sun rises but their heart is dark and cold as the grave. And heavy and sad. For everything they hoped for has come to an end. All is lost, broken, finished. All roads end here, at this godforsaken place where a few days earlier their beloved friend was layed to rest.
Yet, precisely there, they learn that it is not the end. An angel, or is it a man in white clothes, speaks to them: why do you seek life in this place of death? The light God gave to the world is not here anymore. It can not be kept in dark graves, as none of Gods children are left behind in such places. For that is not what they are made for. They are meant to arise from darkness and death and live, again and again and again.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

On praying

Do you remember where and when you learned to pray? And who taught you? I guess most of you don’t. I don’t. I think we learned it the same way we learn most of the usual, daily stuff when we’re todlers. You just sit there at the table, every morning, every evening, listening to the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary’s for some, and after a while you find yourself softly whispering the words, the sentences you’ve come to know as familiar to the daily routine of your household.
And even before the words, you learn to fold your tiny hands, just the way you see your brothers and sisters, your mom and dad do every day. I found out later that in many families they hold hands while praying, which is a fine thing to do of course, but for me, being a catholic girl in a catholic area, folding the hands was the right thing to do.
I can’t, however, bring back this childhood memory without remembering the little incident in first grade. I must have been six at the time, and my teacher made serious remarks about the way I was folding my hand. She said I was doing it wrong and it really took me years to figure out how in heavens name you can fold your hands the wrong way. Later I found out my right thumb should have been on top…. and it wasn’t, because I’m left-handed, which was, needless to say, a bit of a problem back in those days, and a huge problem to my teacher in particular.
Like all bigotry this incident made me sad and angry more than once. As if the sincerity of your faith and your prayer depends on the way you hold your hands! Where, in fact, it depends for a larger part on the culture you’re brought up in. As a student I’ve encountered quite a range of non-christian religions, and indeed, a great deal of a religion’s specifics are defined by the environment they are rooted in.
Desert people often pray standing with hands and head up. Why? Because the help they seek most probably won’t come from the earth, from the barren emptiness that surrounds them. They raise their eyes, as we read more than once in the bible, expecting their help and salvation will come from the heavenly realms.
How different was the posture while praying among the Northern Europeans. They often prayed kneeling down, head bowed and the hands folded on the chest, because that was the right way to adress the chieftains and other persons of power. Through feudal times and the enormous influence of Charlemagne on European christianity this posture became the most common way for white christians to pray.
But as I said, it really is a matter of culture. And you will probably agree with me, that much more than posture, it is, or should be, the attitude that counts when it comes to praying.
When it comes to that, I surely do remember who taught me to pray. It was my mother, who wisely never forced me to kneel and pray beside my bed, but tucked me in with the assurance that I could always pray, whenever I wanted and do so in the way I saw fit. Again and again she told me that Jesus was my friend and always would be, and that no matter what had happened or in whatever trouble I would be, I could always turn to him and he would be there for me. He would listen to me without judgement, he would comfort me, forgive me and somehow direct me to the right answer or solution.
I think that’s what praying is about: stay in touch, keep the communication with God going, how difficult or even impossible it may seem at some point in your life. Keep the communication going, because SHe is always there for us, no matter what. We may always turn to God and pray, and find that Her mercy is endless, His forgiveness limitless. All our agony, our songs of praise, our halleluia’s, our cries of pain, our weeping, our muttering, our shameful stammering, SHe will always, always listen to us.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •