Dusk

When dusk creeps, sudden,
The guards change places
Over the hill. The trees awake and sigh.

What do these woods mutter under a slow breath of breeze
Of rot and rain, of dawn and dusk
Of time devoid of numbers

Get out – they say.
Not yours by night,
By day, you stay.

Uninvited, to take the best
and worst among us.
Now you must go.

How shy they live among themselves
Theirs is the slow power of nameless darkest green

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How a child grows

A child grows in stealth, as a costly blessing.
It eats you hollow, draws your juices by the claims of time.
Years pass innocuously as a day much looked forward to
And creeps into the future.

Have I loved you well enough? I wonder.
As you lift your face towards the years I might not see.
The ties that bound us fray. Where I loosened, I reel them now.
But your younger self dissolves silently
As you stand gloating over the child that is lost.

It is only natural, I suppose.
As if cruel nature would soften the stinging of words unsaid
And hair not stroked, regret rests me.
The only glory we know lies in your smile
And a kind word you speak to strangers.

The Holy Spirit in the West

My first year in university is drawing to a close. Still a few more weeks of reading and writing to go, but in my mind I am already appraising the year, and looking forward to the next. On a personal level, it went very well. I have still managed to work, travel up to Amsterdam, take care of the house (albeit not as good as I would like to), be there for my children and get good grades. It has been very challenging at times for my family and for me, but in retrospect it went better than I had expected.

There are a lot of facts and theories in my head that were not there a year ago. But these are not insights. In the last few weeks I realised there is one particular insight this year has brought me. It is an intellectual insight; yet, I recognise it also has bearing on my own spirituality.

The development of philosophy and religion in the Christian West has ever emphasized that the spirit, and the spiritual, is paramount. It was defined in opposition with the ritual, embodied side of religion. Paul, in the New Testament, could be seen as a starting point of this, with the complicated distinction and meaning the words “Flesh” and “Spirit” have for him. I find this is a paradox: precisely in the very religion where God became Man, did this complete shift towards the spiritual take place.

Even though material manifestations of religion were still very important in the European Middle Ages, there already was a inordinate emphasis on faith. During the Reformation, this emphasis on the spirit became even greater, and it permeated the western line of thought in countless small, but influential ways. This way of thinking led to the appraisal of the living tradition of Judaism as a dead religion, with meaningless ritual law and practice. Although many different events led to the Shoah, this line of thought – even if inadvertently – certainly facilitated the othering of the Jews. It also disqualified folk religion and spirituality, and the countless ways people are finding meaning in this world.

Even in the field of Religious Studies itself, this bias has been present. Only relatively recently have scholars recognised this: it resulted in this so-called Material turn and more attention to embodied ritual and religious objects (that can have their own agency).

This insight was something I had never come across in my years of reading about religion and religious history casually. I could not have, because I was so steeped in this point of view myself. I had such a hard time believing, because I thought believing and religious experience should just happen on its own, in the spirit.Yet, when I just focused on my intuition of the sacred in this world, and cultivated this practice, I sensed a thin, but tangible connection with the numinous.

There is still a lot of doubt. I’m not sure. Are these ritual acts and attributions of meaning my way of fooling myself there is more to this world? Or are they creating the space in which the numinous can reach me? Do I have to choose? Can I honour the Lady of the Waters, the Lord of the Woods, put fruit out for the landwights, study Kabbalah and still pop in to a church to light a candle at Mary’s feet? I cannot, I will not choose, which seems problematic from the spiritual point of view, and extremely problematic from a doctrinal point of view. Yet it does not feel particularly difficult to me. It is all about connection – and I experience it in the church, in the encountering of new ideas and in the woods by the river; and especially in my garden. It would be inauthentic to make a choice, because that would mean I would have to deny a part of me and my history. It will be exciting to see where allowing myself to pursue all intuition will take me. At the very least, I am blessed to have had the chance to confront my own blind spot this year.

 

 

What rests us (after Brussels)

IMG_20160322_134723What rests us
Are the ties of blood and selfish familiarity.
Those that speak our tongue and drink our water.
Nothing is larger than Life.

Fear is a funny thing, it defends
And depends upon our own indifference.
Why should we be spared? In my name, too,
the bombs are thrown. Elsewhere though.

On the second day of spring,
The darkness creeps higher,
In the name of a foreign God. Feigned.
For hate is homegrown.

We pay our collateral damages,
As the bulbs wake. After all,
Death comes everyday.
There is no glory beyond this world.

Oscillating attitudes

I realise I have been awfully quiet here these last months. I have never been a very regular writer, but demands of family life, starting university and working meant I have hardly felt the urge to do any private writing at all apart from my occasional writing for Gods and Radicals.

But just as a bulb does a lot of its growing unseen, in the dark, I find these last months have been a productive time when it comes to insights and personal growth. Studying religion with a scientific mindset has not spoiled my religious experiences. On the contrary, it has only deepened my private devotions.

One thing that is an ongoing dilemma for me in my spiritual practice, is the question of our relationship with the world. Lately I have recognised this as a continuous oscillating between two very different attitudes.

Many New Age inspired teachings are based on the premise of the power of consciousness, or the law of attraction. I do not subscribe to these teachings without reservation, as I think there are other laws at work in the universe at the same time. But I do find the underlying mindset a helpful way to focus on everything that is good in life, and create more of the same, though. Coming from this strain of thought, I have been overly critical in what I watch, read and eat. I do not have a teflon soul, and especially the dark stuff seems to cling to me. So focusing on the good and light, trying not to do any harm myself, seems like a great strategy for me.
My partner has at times been critical of this, and with good reason. “Just because you do not want to know about it, does not mean it is not happening”. His criticism resonated with me as well. It made me feel a bit silly, because no matter how hard I try to close my eyes, I can still hear the world wail. So I keep oscillating between the two attitudes: personal gratitude and attention for safety, a roof above our heads, beauty and love. At the same time, I feel a deep concern for all that is happening around me. In a way these two attitudes divide my personal life from the greater fate of the world. My life, though not perfect (which life is?) seems to support the first attitude. But when I do read the news or look beyond my own quiet place in the world, I find more evidence for the latter.

I have not found my mode of confronting the world. These questions boil down to a fundamental understanding and belief about the nature of reality itself, so I doubt I will find a definite answer anytime soon. My best guess is that an honest spiritual practice must at the same time acknowledge the power of consciousness, of words and prayer and gratitude, but has to recognise and face the gritty reality around us as well. Words have power, but only if we choose to act on them. How do you reconcile these two points of view, or is there another way?

Left, Right or Beyond

By nature, I am not a political person. I prefer everyone to get along and usually assume the best intentions in other people. I always try to see the other side of an argument. This might seem like a good thing, and in a private setting it is. Yet, it has also held me back in many work-related and financial situations and in certain personal endeavours. I have known this about myself since my teenage years, and as a consequence, I have never felt drawn to politics. The most political thing about me is being a vegetarian/aspiring vegan and writing for Gods and Radicals. Not much of an activist, right?
Yet, with the years and the direction the world seems to take, I feel politics creeping up on me. My country was generally governed by consensus when I grew up, but towards the end of the nineties restlessness and discontent took hold of the public discourse. This public discourse is a fickle, impatient sort of beast. It wants us to pick sides. I do not want to pick sides.

Take for instance the refugee crisis. I do believe we should help refugees, here and in Turkey for instance. I do not believe we should take everyone in. Not while there is no affordable housing for people that live here now, and no jobs either. Yet the public discourse oscillates between two positions: A warm welcome for refugees without any reservations, or a full refusal to asylum seekers. The discourse divides the public in racists and naive idealists, as if there is no middle ground. This is just one example of many heated, extremely polarised debates that are taking place here. And I refuse to choose.

Yet I struggle to hear a truly radical sound in all this nasty bickering. Original thinkers and even politicians are out there, but their soundbites are not so popular. Prophets never are. I think we are on the treshold of great changes. These changes might mean the end of our society as we know it or, I hope, a total renewal. One thing is certain: to continue on this road of a growth-based economy and short-term policy making will not be possible for much longer. And my society wears blinkers covering the left eye and the right eye, ever moving forward without seeing what falls by the wayside. I will not subscribe to left, right or centre. I just hope a more political person than me will stand up, be listened to and be voted into a position to make the necessary drastic, unpopular decisions. We need someone to carry us beyond left and right.

Review of Pagan Dreaming by Nimue Brown

jhp551bfc27c579fIn the last year, I have made a couple of practical changes in our house to improve the quality of sleep. Our bedroom has moved to the attic, and has become a serene space, low in stimuli. We also treated ourselves to a new bed, simple but proper. I really like going there these days, and it has vastly improved my sense of well-being. As a consequence, I have been more susceptible to vivid dreams, or at least, to remembering them.
Last week I read ‘Pagan Dreaming’ by Nimue Brown. I found this to be an excellent guide for a newcomer to vivid dreams myself. Nimue does not claim to be an expert on dreams and sleeping problems in general, but speaks from her own experience as a Druid working with dreams. I found the book knowledgeable in a down to earth, accessible way, a bit like listening to a well-informed friend. The book is not just about dreams and their meaning, but also offers sound advice towards healthy sleeping. An interesting point she makes, is that our “normal” sleeping pattern, 7 to 8 hours a night, has only become the norm until very recently. Indeed, this is shown by the prayer times in convents and cloisters, but apparently, sleeping patterns were generally more erratic in pre-industrial societies. I would like to know more about that, because I find it very hard to conform to the regular sleeping pattern. I usually go to bed fairly early, to wake at the crack of dawn. When I get the chance (rarely of course), I like to take a little nap. Having friends over is not much fun if you’re yawning all the time. Other people have other quirks when it comes to sleeping, my love for instance is a true night owl. Of course, most of us can do very little to incorporate these personal preferences into our daily lives, but it is good to acknowledge them and be aware of this.
‘Pagan Dreaming’ is not a dream dictionary, and the book explains why that would never do in the first place. Our dreams are shaped by our own personal language and symbolism, and only the person who has the dream can safely attempt to explain them. In the past, people often shared each other’s background, religion and life experiences, which made it easier to interpret someone else’s dreams. In our highly individual society, this cannot possibly work. To show how dreams could be interpreted, Nimue offers an excerpt of her own dream diary (which I found very brave!)
If you have been involved in advanced dreamwork for years, many of the subjects discussed may well be known to you. This book might serve as a reminder of all the mind-body aspects involved in the process of dreaming. For someone like myself, only barely starting to discover the potential of dreams, this book is especially useful. I’m looking forward to working more with my own dreams.