Correspondence G & A

G & A

More | Personal Experiences

Correspondence G & A

G & A

More | Personal Experiences

Letter 1, A to G.

Dear friend,

Today I decided to send you a handwritten letter to present my ideas on the question “What is the fire of our religious life?”. How do I properly get that imaginary letter properly on paper? I will write to you with pen and paper. It will not always be easy to decipher what I write and what I mean. There is a tension between form and content, but also that every word has its own history and often multiple meanings. How do we manage to understand each other? It helps me enormously by writing to you, to arrange my inner “coherent chaos” in such a way that it also benefits someone else. You are trusted to me as a friend, dear, safe to entrust my first orderly text to in the hope that it might help others too.

Back to the question, back to what about our own religious life? Our life in connection with God and with our fellow man? Our connection with our ancestors and with those who may still be born, with the people of today and our surrounding nature? A difficult question. It often seems that religious life should be presented easily and differently or else: ‘a pity then’. This is actually a first paradox: you are given the religious life, you do not have to do anything for it. But you only really find out after a long life of trial and error. From helping to awaken what is dormant in a person, in you, in me.

But now more concrete. What a great thing that we have been connected with each other as a group of friends for almost 20 years now. We discovered that we are “pilgrims of life.” We discovered that our journey, our pilgrimage, already begins with the preparation. The encounters, the exchanges, also with others, the practical preparations and then the journey itself, full of meaning, all incidents and experiences. I am thinking, for example, of my first meeting on our pilgrimage; I just arrived, the other one was completely lazy. I went for a swim, which was absolutely forbidden. But sometimes you have to go off the beaten track and let the moment determine your choices. So we left later than planned from that monastery that on many maps was not described. And it was precisely there that things happened to us that would have passed us by if we had moved on too quickly. Or staying with the hermit in the mountains. Two of us had explored. The others waited a long time downstairs. Because if the hermit is sleeping, he is sleeping. After hours it became clear that we as guests were more than welcome. We learned that waiting really pays off. All kinds of experiences that came and will come in handy at other times in our lives.

In the meantime we had turned the Trisagion into an anthem and after every meditation we sing it and it always has a different dimension. Our experiences are cross-pollinations for each other but also for people around us.

Now I actually want to answer the question ‘what is the most essential thing in my life for me?’ and I try to avoid big words. I think I would say right now, “to live in such a way that I am present with the right person at the right moment, in the right place and as a servant of God do the right thing (and that can also mean just to be there, with attention, really listening, in judgment-less love).

“Hm”, bigger words than I intended. But when I write like that, it’s like the pen is writing to you for me. What do we get to? The birds outside have now become so quiet that I just go and see where they are. Did they really want to let me concentrate for a while or had I become so selective that I no longer heard them? Because now that they are in my attention again, I do hear the blackbird. Incidentally, I am very pleased to exchange with you in stages through this letter. Superficial little things turn out to have much deeper layers of meaning. See you later; I now first take an intermission walk.

I enjoy even more intensely the inner richness that we, the whole group, can and can share with each other. It is friendship but with a deeper dimension. I would say a spiritual dimension and it goes beyond our own I, or our little we, it goes beyond the borders to the great We.

We are looking for answers, looking for each other. But do we have the question clear? Should I not rather write, “we question each other” in search of the question what really matters and is that what is called “God-seekers”? I am afraid of “God-found ones”, even though I would not want that what I have been able to experience in my life, that experienced light be kept under a bushel.

Sometimes I think people, the other, pick it up wordlessly and see through the vocabulary. I struggle with the analytical, exploratory, academic framework that I believe lacks the essential experience. Like students in their training have to dissect a rat anatomically, or do experiments with frog muscles to learn the laws of physiology. But a flower that has been taken apart is no longer that living flower in the meadow. How much knowledge we have developed over the centuries, but how blind we have become to the mystical, metaphysical, divine side of our existence. Like you, I don’t go for ‘either – or’. But for the two or perhaps more worlds that exist simultaneously.

So it happened that evening after the funeral of a good friend, that we heard a huge noise at the front door for a moment. It wasn’t until the next day that we discovered it was outside under the carport. A large outside mirror had fallen into a thousand pieces and with it a large enameled porcelain egg. The suspension system had failed. But the other question is, why this very evening? And why did we initially go to sleep peacefully without an answer to that strange falling sound? The next day I came across texts about foggy mirrors, which gradually became brighter. And I studied Jan Heetkamp’s thesis “Seeing in a nebula”. It fascinates me why exactly that evening that mirror had to fall into a thousand pieces, along with the porcelain egg. For me this is almost as challenging as the analysis of a dream.

How we enjoyed our dream exchanges on our trips, dream analyses within our group dynamics. And sometimes we step into the shoes of those who inspire us and in our dialogue with questions we play the roles of Graciaan, Teresa, Jung, Anselm Grün. Suddenly we can converse over centuries and do not allow ourselves to be “academized” with questions about whether reincarnation exists or not. Or that our role discussion is just stage fantasy, because ‘what we say and do is based on sources’, etc.

And then I come to an essence. What would Jesus Christ have done in such a situation? He often first became very silent to a critical question and reacted very differently than at a direct substantive level. Either a gesture or a counter-question put the original question, even the questioner, in a different context. It is not uncommon for the questioners to drop off. Or to discovered that it was about something fundamentally different.

So far for now. Can you still follow me? Do you discover a line in my story? What do you think is or has not yet been said or asked? I think it is a good feeling that I dare to ask and say anything to you and, conversely, am open to all your questions and feedback. Could it be that in this (attempt to) honest exchange from man to man, we put our bond with God, with God-man? I now close with Rahner’s thought that “the new believer of the new age is a mystic.” So the language of faith, the forms of faith change, but under the ashes, there is still a lot of “burning fire”.

18.00 H.

Hello, again a few hours later. After the vespers a conversation with X. He came to the abbey to discover something of the world of spirituality. Suddenly such a youth, full of stories at the beginning of his history and I as an interested, questioning ‘elder’, who is willing to tell everything or do I have to wait for the questions to be asked? Or should I ask in such a way that questions arise? In this way we all started, young and full of fire, onto the unknown. Living the life! In Search of God = ‘the experienceable Not-to-Experienced One’, or rather the ‘Omnipresent-Absent One’ or how else can I say it to prevent it from becoming petrified, static. It can always keep flowing. Endlessly dynamic! But it is in the meeting with each other, the exchange, the ordering in the creative chaotic process that we can fully “know”, “see” Him / Her.

Why am I writing all this to you? Well, it’s about living the life. They are the formative forces in everyday life. Ora et labora, as in Benedictine spirituality. My life is like prayer and my prayer is like life. Well, that also requires further explanation. I enjoy and learn a lot from ordinary people’s stories and not that academic, abstract theorizing that can sometimes take you far from the core. Where am I now, what do I want now? And that ‘I’ is another ‘I’, that seems to live for its own fame, honor, power, wealth. You name it. That ‘me’ really makes me lonely. That ‘little me’ understands the “all-one” – “alone”.

Sunday, 12:00 h.

My paper is out; it is already so many days later. But the impetus to this correspondence has been made. I am passing on this initial impetus, and you will understand that my essays used to be unappreciated due to numerous linguistic limitations. I will continue with your permission, but for now Step 1 has been taken and thank you for reading this far. Is there an analogy between Teresa and Graciaan’s correspondence? Just an association en passant.

Pax et Bonum.

Letter 1, G - A

It is on the spot. On the first day of my stay here I heard in the Eucharist the gospel of the narrow / wide gate and the narrow / wide way read aloud (Mt 7, 13-14). The image struck me as a metaphor for answering our question.

The irony of centuries of church history is that Christianity has become a broad road. People conformed to it out of habit or indolence or under social pressure or parental expectation. Their own personal choice was not often the basis for this. And that is why it is precisely the narrow road. To take a position against convention. A lifelong process of finding and losing and finding again. Christianity in centuries past has been a matter for the masses rather than the individual. Yet the narrow road has just this individual in mind. The narrow path focuses on what you so aptly describe in your letter: ‘to do what you are there for at the right time, in the right place.

When I look for the possible meaning of monastic life for now and for the future, it seems promising to think further along this line. And to see the parish as the ecclesiastical offer for the large group. And the abbey as the ecclesiastical offer for the individual. ‘Monos’ is the origin of the word ‘monk’: the single-living, the loner, the one-piece human, the human with a focus. The strength of the monk’s existence is that it connects this singularity with community. It is Benedict who has indicated that direction with great wisdom. Monastic life is a community of individuals. The community here does not have the function of imposing the norm, or of competing in the right, or of rivalling for power. The community here mainly offers space for everyone to be themselves. The mutual contact is – ideally – mainly aimed at stimulating their individuality: to question each other without judging, to support each other at difficult moments in personal development, to encourage each other to continue to seek one’s own way and to keep going.

By writing this down in this way, I become aware of a paradox: on the broad road, individuality gets squeezed, while on the narrow road space is found for individuality.

Surprisingly, I see the ideal situation actually very pure and at the same time very modest in our group of friends. All things considered, we are a community of individuals. Each of us is different. And is encouraged to be different instead of conforming. We have gradually found a way to see and recognize each of us as an individual. And to enjoy it. And to learn from it. Sharing our dreams and helping each other understand them is, as far as I’m concerned, the pinnacle of our community of individuals.

The question of the Monastic Pastoral Care project concerns the possibility of such monastic pastoral care. For an answer I would like to investigate how a community can be formed in which the individual is given all the space. Perhaps you have already gained experience with this in the grass root group?

The image of the wide and narrow gate reminds me of a favourite toy of my (very) small children at the time. The trick was to create all kinds of different shapes – a square, a rectangle, a cross, etc. – by getting the one suitable opening in the top of a block box.

I now imagine that in our relationship with God we may also be unique forms that must find their way through in one possible way. In the popular church of the past, hardly any attention was paid to this. And that attention has not actually increased enormously in modern culture – despite emphasizing autonomy and independence. Market mechanisms and mass psychological influencing limit the development of a truly personal life; there is also what you wrote, namely the pressure to present everything as quickly and easily as possible. In the monastic culture, on the other hand, there is the awareness of the uniquely formed human being who – often through a long journey and many clashes and moments of non-fitting – finds the opening to meet his or her Ground.

You never get a square – my children had to experience at the time – through a round opening. In short, that is the wisdom of the narrow gate. The strategy of the wide gate is to make the opening wide enough for all shapes to pass through. Or as a variant: to polish all shapes so that they can all pass through the same opening. The traditional Roman Catholic life had a lot like it. A collectivist walk through life.

The community of individuals could offer an alternative: each individual according to his or her unique access to the mystery – in connection with others who are also engaged in this unique process.

What do you think of this idea?

When I reread the statement about the narrow and wide way, it seems to me that Jesus never envisioned a massive church community. Rather, he seems to be warning that the masses will lead to destruction. And at the same time, in the image he uses – against the background of the time in which we now live – there is something comforting and inspiring: in its original form, the Christian movement is the movement of a connection that dares to follow a path that is difficult to find. You may regret the loss of a large popular church, but it is possible that the mechanisms that do not clear the way, that lead to life, were at play there. Secularization and church evaporation can be a ‘blessing in disguise’.

Another association that comes to mind is that forgoing the broad road always entails a form of loneliness. When I look back on my years in the institution, I realize that I have actually always felt different and strange because I advocated a different approach than the generally accepted one. How did you experience that? I imagine you have experienced such loneliness too. On the one hand, you were part of the main road in your profession. But you did that in your own way, along the narrow road. Perhaps that is why you were – conversely – extra appreciated?

There is also an association with the story of the camel and the eye of the needle. The narrow gate suggests that there is much to be left behind that does not really belong to you. That only your true self can pass through the opening. What would all that letting go involve? Certainly your ideas and representations. About yourself, about the other, about God. Concepts that we have adopted or created ourselves. And that hinder rather than liberate. That’s why I understand your hesitation in speaking explicitly about God. All too often it leads to misunderstanding or discussions that miss the essence. Perhaps the ‘wordless’ as you write, fits much better. Perhaps the individual is also a taciturn person. A person who is at home in the silence. A human who speaks through his or her being.

Then the question of the purpose of all this. What are we actually concerned about? What is at stake? What would be lost when the narrow road would no longer be sought or taken? As far as I can tell, the answer has to do with the ultimate meaning of life. The broad way is not a satisfying way when it comes to the meaning of life. It provides security, success, prestige, power, but it teaches no depth, no value that lasts, no love. And again, you have to be an individual to realize this.

Monastic life closely links the narrow road with the silence. It is as if silence is the primary means of cleansing us, washing us clean, getting rid of phantoms, superficiality, echoing opinions, conditioning. The community of individuals is a community of silence. Silence is also central in our group of friends. In the silence we find our true nature and confirm / reinforce our true nature together.

Finally, I would like to answer your question about what Theresa and Gratian would think about the MPC project. My fantasy is that Teresa wouldn’t see much in it. She is more the woman of doing than planning. “Just start” – she would say – “then you will automatically arrive at what you have to learn.” I recognize your lifestyle in this. Often you also start from such an attitude. I think that is wonderful. My fantasy is further that Gratian would be more interested in this project. He often deterred Theresa from impetuous plans and formed a counterpart for her who also advocated the value of reflection and consultation. But both – still in my imagination – would stand side by side for the importance that there are / remain places where the narrow road is practiced and where people can learn it.

In friendship,


Letter 2, A to G.

This weekend I am home alone with the dog and the chickens. My wife went to our daughter and grandchildren. I recognized my wish not to postpone this letter until I return to the abbey. I am looking for the abbey here in and around myself. But that leads to thousands of excuses to postpone writing, which I actually do want to do. First this and that. First do some small jobs. Watch TV after all? No, I just don’t want to watch TV. Or read some newspaper first? Ironing also has to be done. There is so much on my to-do list. I’m not going to bother you with what’s on it. It takes me away from the letter I want to write. I prepare a notepad and a pen. The entire notepad is already completely written except for two sheets. I come across 20 pages of notes dated at the end of December 2012, with all notes being about Nihilism, according to T. I don’t remember any of it. Very interesting stuff. But did I spend a whole day listening and taking notes in the presence of Professor T and I don’t remember anything about it? I console myself with the thought that I have somehow stored that knowledge within myself, along with many more ‘all kinds of others’. Is that I after all? ‘The storage of the knowledge of all kinds of people I was allowed to get to know and to whom I was allowed to listen or who challenged me to question myself better’.

This morning I went to the parish church. I notice a certain embarrassment to be seen as a churchgoer. It feels like I seem to belong to a community I do not dare and do not wish to abandon. It feels like I’m still stuck in the old days. My grandmother once said that I had to free myself from the human perspective (menselijk opzicht) and she is / was quite right about that. I probably put what others think about me in their heads and mouths.

The question now is: what attracts me to the church and especially to the Eucharist? I meet people of all kinds in the church. I feel a connection there in all our being different. I can really experience and allow that connection, and I don’t have that at masive parties like carnival or the fair. There I do not get that feeling of connection that I experience in a church community. It is as if we share the core of life there, despite the inadequacy of all kinds of external forms. To me, sharing life in a large masive event is a lot of noise, a lot of empty talk and pseudo-fun where a true meeting with the other is made impossible by the noise and movement, by a lot of food and drink and you have to hustle, otherwise there is no room for you. The cult of conviviality must be maintained.

In a church and certainly also in a church community, I find that space for connection, silence and depth. A place, a community to get away from the daily grind.

I talked about the abbey in and around me. It is not wrong to create that place, that time in the daily madness, to make your own abbey come true. Then you don’t have to wait until you are back in your favourite abbey, but it is also possible here and now!

I do notice that the concentration and commitment is not yet comparable to when I am in the abbey. But here too I can consciously avoid being distracted in order not to have to reach that deepening. I also recognize this in the daily morning meditation. Before I really sit on the Zen bench, briefly this, briefly that. But then I am happy once I really sit and pray for the blessing of that day. For the people I will meet, with whom I will work and for the situations of the day. I read a psalm or a Bible text. I am reading a text from a spiritual tradition. I read, I meditate, I pray and I contemplate. The latter requires an explanation. Contemplating is this: that you only ‘are’ and are absorbed in God. I am now on slippery ice. Do I still know what I’m writing about?

How would I describe contemplation myself? In any case, it is something that may happen to me. You can’t force it. The discipline of daily prayer does help to create the condition that what you pray, read, think, experience, suddenly becomes a unity. I with that unity and that unity with me. Just free from everyday things that often keep me away from what I really want to do. And there is that duality again. I want to, but put it off. I look for distraction in all kinds of trivialities.

G, I’ll get back to you. My second sheet is fully written. I have to look for a new writing pad.

Part 2.

A few days ago I decided to look for a place to write in the shade during our stopover at St Wandrille Abbey. I found a small Lady Chapel near the cemetery and the entrance to the new barn church. It’s extremely hot. It does not only apply to here, but to Paris, the Netherlands; yes, much of Europe is struggling with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. In the distance I hear the rumble of thunder.

It is very quiet and serene in this chapel. What a difference from the bustle of a city like Lille with its multitude of possibilities and interesting things to discover or enjoy culinary. Hardly any time to stop. Impressed by what mankind has made, destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. Impressed how many people are left out as homeless and vagrants. What to do about beggars or mothers with babies who incite their young children to beg? You have all kinds of categories. How is it possible that a man, a manager by trade, falls into disarray and has lived unnoticed in a big city as a homeless person for 10 years? If this is true, I would like to discuss with such a person at which intersections it all went wrong. Why he couldn’t find a rescue line. I now write a lot about vagrants and homeless people, about the big city and the modesty of an abbey. All that is the world.

For example, today there was an enthusiastic, sweet young woman who guided here. She did not have a religious background but had been deployed as a volunteer to show people around. How difficult it is to tell the story without a context that has been lived through and passed on from childhood. How fascinating it is to meet such an enthusiastic, inquisitive young guide, who is happy with the questions we reach together and is open to explanations that were still unknown to her. The danger of the experienced guide is that he acts as a know-it-all and waits for questions and other explanations.

I recognize a parallel with what I wrote earlier about the arrogance of the ecclesiastical ‘all-knowers’. Even now I find myself averse to the haughty attitude of some prelates. To know that I am happy at the same time with the smile of the present but also hushed monk. How do you maintain a quiet, friendly, committed attitude to life when the world of the city is also beating on your abbey doors?

The strict order of the day, such as that of the Benedictines, helps to stay focused and can support you when you are overwhelmed by your night, your doubts, your disbelief, your not-knowing … What a strength to dare to bear that and not to search your hold in a false world. Even though some people consider monastic life a make-believe world. A world to which people flee. A world full of rituals, where the rite seems to be more important than that from which the rite ever originated. Teresa probably also encountered this in her time: monastic life as an escape from reality under the guise of being a seeker of God.

So the outer form can be very authentic as well as hypocritical and alienating. By really daring to see, meditate, and maybe even contemplate the latter, one can create space for the real seeker of God.

I’m still in that chapel. Normally it should be cool here, but it is also warm here. At the time I am writing here, a couple came to have a look and heard the raindrops falling. I tried to consult rain radar on my mobile but I have no internet connection here. The rumble of thunder has moved far away. So it is still warm here. Funny that the internet cannot be consulted here, in this place where all spiritual antennas can be switched off.

What do I think of such a young man who prays before an old statue of Mary with child as if he were seeing and speaking Mary herself. What do I think of that young man who bows so low and kneels as he approaches the tabernacle? I wonder what he does when there are no people watching. Are our actions determined by the others? Aren’t the questions I ask myself and the things I see around me more human reflections about myself than observations from the outside world?

I hear footsteps in the gravel again. A couple enters the chapel. Here they find the coolness for the outside, which I no longer notice because the chapel has also become warm. It doesn’t bother me that they are there. I feel the urge to just keep working after saying goodbye to them kindly. That is what I experience, that a smile does me good and I think mutually. Something we can give each other ‘for nothing’.

I just keep writing. I hardly speak about God and I feel that every word says something about God; something of the Unnameable sounds. As if there is a world of meaning in every word.

I am pleased that the question about the MPC project has put us on this path of correspondence. Writing in complete submission and entrusting you with what I want to present to you. I don’t feel like the representative of the church that I also discovered in the monastery. No hello or smile can be wrought from them. He walks, his head proudly, through the building, preferably in the first circle and in the priest’s choir. Does not the church as an organization have a great attraction for some to make a career, gain power in that world? Where is that teaching of Christ that said, “I came not to rule but to serve”?

I am not averse to rites. When I see that young monk, with what attention and care he always sets the six candles at the altar. One candle a little more to the right, the other a little more to the left. It doesn’t seem compulsive to me, but rather as attention and reverence for others and for things. How do those candles relate to the homeless and vagrants in town? Has anyone ever asked that question? How soon will this question be settled with the answer NOT. And I disagree with that. I am convinced that events in the world are interconnected and caring for the candles here, who knows, may help in another place to contribute to the care of a fellow human being. Who knows, someone in the church might have been touched by this care for the candles. And maybe he or she, perhaps unconsciously, takes this with him / her on his / her life path and leads to the same attention, concentration, alertness, care as the monk has for his candlestick with candles.

I knew I was going to write to you today. I didn’t know what words would end up on paper. It is a crystallization of experiences and thoughts. A sifting out of Being and Appearance and Appearance and Being.

I also turned that into a haiku. Possibly one of 70 for next year’s bundle. Do you want to hear him yet?

Voilà – you can already hear it, although all haikus have to be redacted first. What illustration will it get? It is intended that every haiku also gets an illustration.

When does His Appearance become?

World of hypocrisy

If You are Denied! …

It has still not started to rain and the river near the abbey continues to flow. According to Teresa: we will have to get the water, the rain will not come. How overwhelming the flowers in Avila were after the rainy weeks before.


Letter 2, G - A

Dear A,

Would it not also have to do with God that people remain interested in monasteries but no longer feel involved in what is happening in parishes? Isn’t there a big difference between the God of the abbey and the God of the parish?

I want to tell you how I got to that question. In the average church, God is quite predictable in my eyes. What is said about God is often commonplace: that He is love and requires love from us, and that it will all work out if we tune in to it. Not untrue, but not very exciting. Often there is something on top of this that makes me avoid parish life – such as an atmosphere of domesticity, being too convinced of one’s own right, a fuss about trivialities.

The God I find in the abbey is different in character. God is inscrutably silent. Bottomless. Often I experience Him as strange, as a great Unknown. But sometimes as surprisingly present and almost tangible as a wonderfully shiny bubble that just explodes. And what pleases me very much and strikes me: monks generally do not speak about God from a knowledge but from a non-knowing. How remarkable: they invest all their lives, all their time and ambition to approach a dimension that they know in advance is unknowable.

As a student I learned that theology is anthropology. What is said about God also immediately says something about man. The description of God has direct consequences for the description of man. In line with this, I not only find a different God in the abbey, but I also found a different ‘I’.

It goes without saying that many things disappear here that otherwise fill the days. My own domesticity, my own perceived certainties and my own trivialities receive less nourishment. And when side issues disappear, there is more chance to get to the point. But in my experience it is precisely the core that often turns out to be empty – or at least elusive. That is what abbey life often does to me: that I actually experience being in the dark about who I am and that I can hardly find the basis on which my life stands.

Do you understand what I mean? Perhaps you recognize it too?

Not knowing about God and not knowing about myself is not pleasant to experience. Yet I do not turn away from it. Apparently there is meaning or value in it for me. Which?

At this point, I don’t know a better answer than a comparison. It’s like what motivates people to take a hike. Why do they abandon their comfortable homes, their cars, their well-stocked fridges to camp out in the countryside and stumble along steep, uncomfortable paths – only provided with a canteen and some meagre provisions?

At the time we also started that way with our group of friends. In your previous letter, you reminisced about how, to our surprise, we ended up at a monastery that was not even on the map. And the special experiences we have gained there. But I also remember how exhausted and tense I was the hours before.

It is the intense variation that characterizes a hike – variation that is mainly caused by the fact that much is no longer under control. Perhaps that is exactly what motivates hikers and pilgrims. No longer wanting to direct reality (and therefore be alienated from reality) and instead make real contact with reality. And by extension: real contact with oneself and with others. Their desire is aimed at being touched – now by the despair of why such a journey should be undertaken, then again by the delight and wonder that a free journey can lead to.

I now suddenly realize that the old God of the Bible was a God of vagrants. And that the strongly varying experiences that belong to a walk, also colour the experience that was gained with this God. From sweet and caring to harsh and absent. A God who has not yet been tamed by morality, ritual and dogmatics.

What can be concluded from this comparison? Hopefully this: just as the hiker exposes himself to the (external) reality that he has no control over, so in the abbey I come to a confrontation with an (inner) reality that I do not control. And just as the hiker may decide to return home, so may I decide to return to the safety of my identity in which I am at home. But as long as I don’t, I will stay in a foreign place within myself.

All this makes an abbey visit – unlike a church visit – exciting, adventurous. Which doesn’t always mean pleasant – I already wrote that. Self-identity seems to be the most fundamental reality, yet it is not the most essential thing that can be said. In the abbey I come across something in myself: a non-identity one would say in Zen. A space where personal history, preferences, characteristics, shortages, goals do not play a role. The abbey is an excellent place to practice entering that space. So as not to fear it or run away from it. To become familiar with it.

I fear in this letter (as in my previous letter, incidentally) that I will generalize irresponsibly. Nevertheless, I will continue with that for a while. Overall, my experience is that the parish frames me and makes me unfree and that the abbey unframes me and makes me so free that it sometimes makes me dizzy inside.

I’m curious what you think of this train of thought. And whether it is still healthy to think so.

In friendship,


Letter 3, A - G

Precious G,

I write “Precious” because “dear” sounds too common and I am very grateful for this special friendship between us.

Today I am trying to write from the abbey in myself. So I’m in my consultation room, as you know it too. I laid out the writing pad and put on mantra music. The CD plays from the CD player in the waiting room. It sounds like the sound of the wind and like the sound of the waves of the sea. Preparations to find the peace and the mental attitude to let the pen write. Oh yes, I was also looking for a pen that writes delicate and smoothly – it glides over the paper.

I have just read the summary of our previous conversation. It’s great that we can get that reflection again and again. The recognition in what is written and the discovery that the memory in myself is sometimes slightly different. But that’s the way it is with everything that we transferred to each other recently or centuries ago. What we pass on to each other and how the message keeps changing slightly. I mean different in words. I am convinced that the core, of the core of the core of the message, the initial message is, was and will be.

Meanwhile, the mantra Namasté sounds – “I greet you and the divine core within you, namasté”. The namasté mantra keeps ringing, sung by women, by men and by men and women together. Anima and Animus in a universal connection.

Last Wednesday we went to the ethnological museum in Leiden. There was the exhibition of the “Healing Power”. An incredible diversity of healing forms, ways, rituals, you name it. What struck me was that in all that multitude I fell into a kind of intoxication of recognition and familiarity and how a phone call from the garage drew me very strongly to life here and now, but also made it clear to me that I landed in an atmosphere that helped to understand beyond words and transferable knowledge alone.

I discovered that the advisor of this exhibition was a man who had fallen into disrepair for sharing his knowledge and advice with the people for free. He worked from intuition and an incredible baggage of knowledge and life experience. I think he was therefore able to transmit an atmosphere that cannot only be made with the mind. For example, I realized that we as humans invent little or perhaps nothing ourselves, but keep rediscovering. It had been there, for a long time. Far beyond living memory.

You know G., I planned to write this letter from the Abbey at the end of September. But there is no more room for me to stay these days. Ultimately, this impossibility leads to putting the abbey in myself into practice today. My concern is that the abbey is in danger of being blown out of the seams with new oblates added. Today’s guests already receives the bill to be paid in advance. You must register days, no, months in advance. The monks are increasingly distant from the guests. It is a challenge to take good care of the soul of the abbey in times of adversity but also in times of prosperity. I once thought that a thriving church is so well organized that there is no room for the Holy Spirit. And when there is no more room for that, then we kill Christ again and with Him also God the Father.

This would be the last letter, the third of these under the MPC project. It’s a marker. I hope our correspondence may continue. Written is different than spoken. One is not better than the other, but different! Ways to get it expressed in spoken and written words, but also in dance, music, in a human look and gesture. We close the project. But the process continues. How grateful I am for this challenge. How glad I am that we exchange through this correspondence and not through an article. An article would answer the questions too rationally.

What question by the way? How does the “Unnameable”, the “All-Omnipresent”, the “All-Maker”, the “All-Nothing”, the “Nothing-All”, the “All-One”, the “Origin and the End”, the “Eternal”, He / She with more than a thousand names, have a place in my, in our life?

I then come to the question: “and how do we bring this to the next generations; yes, to people around us who do not understand that language? ” Let me start with the question, “do I understand correctly?” And what am I doing to work on that? That authentic process of working on this, that is what I think it is about and that is at the same time the answer to those others from my generation and to those from other generations. They also help us find answers and vice versa. Again, “I” do not own the truth and that I believe in the working of the Holy Spirit, which sometimes works in very unexpected ways.

We said last time that we are also children of a certain time and therefore can understand each other, but also use words and language that others cannot understand. I suspect that your letter to your employer also runs the risk that your message will be misunderstood or perhaps on the contrary not and you have triggered a new movement. In any case, you opened your mouth at a time when you felt you should speak. Say it even if you are unsure whether it will actually be heard and appreciated for its merits. Great to discover that it is no longer about what it delivers, but about the intention and knowing that the time has come to write this. Could this be called the work of the Holy Spirit?

I think you work from your own spirit, sometimes even from your own fury. But also work from the Spirit with a capital “G” and ultimately or in the beginning work from the Holy Spirit. It is the intention that determines the message, not so much the verbal correctness / wording. C’est le ton qui fait la musique. The music can be technically completely correct and cleverly played and yet… It lacks the soul that is needed with in the sounding music, but also in the message from man to man and from man to God and God to man.

So much for this moment Guus. Maybe there will be a second part. In any case, I was just allowed to work in myself from the abbey, with thanks to the fact that there was no room in ‘my’ abbey, thanks to the Zen week planned this week which could not be planned. Thanks to M. who had to go to a meeting, thanks to the gardener who works in the garden and because of which I don’t have to do all kinds of chores today, thanks to myself for bringing in the discipline and creating the atmosphere to start writing and thanks to you, G, to whom I can write.

Ps: I notice that gradually, while writing, I think I get an increasingly sloppy and possibly illegible handwriting, but that does not mean that I want to make myself more and more illegible. It is about sharing our Way, our Roads – Bonne Route.

Be blessed, my friend. Pax et Bonum.

Letter 3, G - A

Dear A,

Again I am moved by what you write. Your words form a unique combination of confidence and critical sense. I often notice that combination with you. I appreciate and admire you for it.

“How do you pass on the tradition?” – is the question with which we were challenged for this third and final exchange of letters. The question suggests an achievement: just tell me how you do it! The confidence that I find in you is a perspective of that performance side. Passing on is not a matter of knowledge transfer in your approach. It is more about letting the other (re) discover. It depends on the working of the Spirit. The individual role in this process is limited. The only thing you can really do yourself is to be authentic. In your letter I experience that authenticity in particular in how you express your gratitude at the end – gratitude for everything that has been given in your life at this moment. Perhaps passing on an attitude of gratitude is even more fundamental (and simpler?) than passing on the religious tradition.

But your deep trust never makes you uncritical. On the contrary. You will not spare your precious abbey or the church if it threatens to become a well-oiled machine or too easily successful. Surprisingly, success seems to threaten authenticity quickly. And vice versa: not being charged with success seems to increase the space of being authentic. “Success is not a god’s name” I once learned. God is called the just, the merciful, the forgiving, the loving, the long-suffering. But never the successful ones.

I am writing to you again from a room in the guest house of the abbey. I remember the first time I came here. That was in the summer of 1973. I was a 19 year old college student and had recently had my first sexual experience. I was extremely impressed by that. But at the same time I was also disappointed. It did not bring the total fulfilment I had hoped for. My visit to the abbey at the time confronted me with a way of life that assumes that no earthly, tangible reality can ultimately fulfil; and with a commitment to pursue that fulfilment in an unearthly, a spiritual way. That hit me. Although I can see how naive and dreamy I was at the time, this issue has always been on my mind. I believe that the experience of unfulfilment can be the trigger to open up to a spiritual quest. And in the context of the question, I am curious whether a new generation recognizes this experience. And if so, what the response is. Is experience the motivation to immediately look for yet other fulfilments – with the risk of disappointment and perhaps disappointment in the long run?

And on the other hand: is the religious path too closely connected with the suspicion of illusion that the experience of unfulfillment can no longer open to the radically different answer offered by a Christian approach?

In the current phase of my life, I also see a completely different opportunity to answer the question of how to transmit religion. An opposite possibility, actually. I now live much less from an awareness of shortage but from an awareness of too much. Life now seems more like a vessel that is constantly overflowing. Not that such spectacular things happen. Not at all. They are the simple data of life – the light and the air, silence, colour and music, time, food and drink, family, friendship and love, yes the sensation itself of living. -, where I sometimes feel incredibly happy and rich. This is also one reason why I love being here. In fact, monks do nothing more than constantly give thanks for everything that is given. And again the question is whether that experience can be passed on to a new generation or recognized by them.

Recently I heard someone comment: “I am sad about the disappearance of the Christian narrative because it has been so familiar to me from childhood – but should it therefore stay?” This is also a way to look at it. I like the relaxation in that vision. Yet I do not fully subscribe to the statement. Because, I think, it is about more than changeability, which is inevitably linked to existence. It is also about an access to happiness that clogs up. With the disappearance of the Christian voice, the opposition to a consumer culture disappears. This involves the well-being of individuals and possibly even the sustainability of the earth on which we humans depend.

They are actually just fragments of an answer that we find to the question of faith transmission. There is no total answer. That is why I am so happy with the form that we have found thanks to you for our contribution to the MPC project. An exchange of letters is a wonderful way to share and explore your own considerations without the pressure of writing a complete coherence. An exchange of letters is also a wonderful way to open up our insides and deepen our friendship. I would also like to continue with this outside the project.

In connectedness,


About the author

G & A

In the course of the project Monastic Pastoral Care talks took place with two members of a group of friends who, for many years now, go on pilgrimage together. Challenged by the topics discussed, these two friends decided to write each other a couple of letters on their religious search. Both gentlemen were surprised by the direction this exchange of letters went and by the fact that the writing of these letters was so different from their ususal verbal form of contact. The letters show the thoughts and deliberations of two more or less random people but their thoughts and feelings will be recognizable for a large group of people and perhaps be also helpful in the individual quest of others.