Letter 1, A to G.
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”.
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.