The physicality of our needs

Long, long ago, when the earth was still flat, Europe was covered with immensely vast woods. And in those woods lived all kinds of peoples, although not as many as we are used to nowadays. But there were Germanics and Celts and Goths and Balts and what have you.
When Christian missionaries arrived in these territories, they had a short and simple name for them: pagans. I can still remember how totally baffled I was when, in third or fourth grade, our teacher told us of this joyous event. My bafflement being the fact that our teacher didn’t mention in any way what and how these peoples believed before they became acquainted with the holy trinity, the gospel, sacraments and a whole bunch of saints. ‘Didn’t they have a god of their own?’ was the question that came to my mind and which I wisely kept to myself, as I did most of the time by the way.
It wasn’t until I was well in my twenties that my question was answered. Not by any professor or lecturer but by my own insatiable curiosity, by reading between the lines, putting two and two together and daring to connect loose fragments by just trusting my gut feeling. Finally I learned what and how these peoples believed before Christianity was brought home to them, uninvitedly most of the time.
Although many efforts were made to eradicate old beliefs and religions, many remnants are still very much alive, albeit in different grades of alteration. In many places in Europe, at many moments in the cycle of the year, we can see those remnants and the way they evolved through various layers of history.
One such moment is the feast we celebrate this weekend. Purification of the virgin Mary says one calendar, Presentation of Jesus in the temple says another. On deeper layers we read: Candlemas, in some regions Brigid Candlemas. On even deeper layers we encounter a celebration that has nothing to do with Mary or Jesus at all, but could so easily be claimed for this purpose because of it’s moment in the year’s cycle: about 6 weeks or 40 days after Christmas. The original feast however is much older than these biblical events. It goes by the name of Imbolc, and yes, it is a feast of light. It takes place right between midwinter and spring equinox, and although it has nothing to do with the birth of Christ, it does celebrate the returning of the light.
Just try for one moment to imagine what life must have been like in these massive forests I mentioned above. You bet they had silent nights, darkest hours and bleak midwinters, and you bet they had plenty of reason to celebrate when they made it through yet another long, cold winter. If your imagination fails, just watch The Revenant or The Grey or The Clan of the Cave Bear.
When it comes to religious celebrations and rituals we so easily skip the beginners level and go straight to the more symbolic and spiritual department. But the truth about religion is that it originates in precisely the most basic and practical aspects of life. It is always about food, water, fertility, light, protection from cold and danger, keeping wolves and bears at bay, surviving any kind of hardship one may encounter as a person or as a group
Religion in it’s most primal form never started with: please god, let my crops grow. It started with: please sun, let the crops grow; please rain, fill the rivers and the ponds. It doesn’t start top-down with a ready made god introducing himself by saying: here I am, at your service. Religion starts with the assumption that these basic and ever so vital processes can somehow be directed and influenced by powers unseen.
For all life forms, not just for humans, these are the most essential things in life: food, water, warmth, light, shelter. These are the most basic needs when it comes down to it. It is only too understandable that we feel happy and relieved when these needs are met, and that we are worried or scared when they are not. It’s as simple as that.
During the course of many centuries however we have lost touch with this basic and original way of experiencing life. Due to certain dominant elements of Christian teaching, combined with several philosophies, we have come to devalue all things physical in favour of the more symbolic, spiritual way to look at the most important parts of our lives. We baptize a child with a drop of water and call it cleansing. We share bread the size of a coin and call it food.
We are so focussed on the non-material side of things that we give them names from the physical world without even being aware of it. There is, of course, nothing wrong with finding a lecture enlightening, a yoga-weekend nourishing or reiki session replenishing. But no matter how much you yoga or pray or meditate or whatever, you are besides mind and spirit also body. We all are. No matter how far we evolve on a spiritual level, for the time being we are all still pretty much physical, and so are our needs. So, maybe we do well to remember that the next time someone expresses such a need, they might be actually hungry or thirsty or cold. And please, do respond on a physical level.

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