Tag Archives: gods

Freedom and bound: a personal relationship with God


Carla, Man and Narrator meet each other in the Nieuwe Café near the Nieuw Kerk in Amsterdam.

“Personal relationships with Gods are of all time after in the distant past mankind and the Gods have received a place in each other’s lives. These relationships are not always easy and obvious; Gods and people regularly disappointed each other or let each other down.

The relationships between people and Gods varies – as all kinds of relationships – depending on the characters, circumstances and requirements between: absent and negligence, superficial and practical, purposeful and calculated, internalized and comprehensive, to intense and unbearable.

In the course of time human societies became larger, more complex and layered whereby also stratification in the concept of God has increased. Although the Supreme Gods play an aloof overarching role in the kingdoms or empires, the household gods or the pagan gods [1] still play the lead role in daily life of local communities. Many local farming communities have remained pagan in the eyes of the official churches [2].

Within the Catholic world, the local Saints have taken the position of the former local pagan gods. With its usual pragmatism the Catholic Church has assimilated local rituals and incorporated in its general habits, the church offers a large vessel which provides – under its terms and imposed limits – a place for church saints and local customs with their own rites [3].
For ordinary local people the Catholic God was – just as Jesus – an unattainable creature who, like distant rulers and armies just caused misfortune. The local clergy and rulers – each in their own way – should keep the Catholic God pleased. On passing through through South Limburg, I have heard a local alderman cry out in despair: “God in the Hague!!” upon a new Dutch rule. Pastoral letters from the Pope in Rome and the Bishop of the diocese are welcome if the content meets the local customs, but if the content does not fit then the local use continues – just a little less public or slightly customised –; the elderly know that over time all would once change in their own rhythm.

Especially women – and men occasionally after confession or during a church service – ask the Virgin Mary for help and consolation usually by praying the rosary: Mary was always more important and more helpful than the unattainable God [4].

Maagd Maria
[5]
The local saints exist in the material world: they are tangible, they are in the church and are carried in the processions: the local holy statue is the saint. As a result, parishioners are so upset when an old weathered statue is restored or replaced with new one from the factory. In the famous churches the statues of the saints attract two groups of visitors: parishioners and pilgrims who communicate with a real person / a better (or higher) being, and tourists who look at an example of religious art.

The personal relationship between the local saints and parishioners is mutual. The parishioners take care and venerate the saints, but sometimes the statue of the saint should also be flattered and bullied just as a lazy local administrator. When the local saint does not answer the prayers, the image can also be punished; there are examples of throwing in the river of statues or punishment like facing the wall of the statue [6].

The rulers maintain a reciprocal relationship with their gods; they receive advice, support and assistance in their activities, they keep the gods alive by expressing due honor to express and they explain the habits of the Gods – to mutual benefit – to their citizens.

Sometimes the relationship between the ruler and the gods becomes upsets. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes – king of the Persian Empire between 485 – 465 BC – punished the sea goddess of the Hellespont by flogging her waves with three hundred lashes and branding her with red hot irons after a storm had destroyed the cables which supported the boat bridge of about 1300 meters across the Hellespont [7].

Xerxes golven[8]

This morning we have very briefly seen how the Christian church has become the official state church of the Roman Empire practiced under Constantine the Great after the Edict of Milan in 313 AC. This evolution is based on at least two developments. The first development is the revolution of monotheism, as developed in Judaism more than 1,000 years earlier [9], and as adopted by Emperor Aurelius in 275 AC. in the form of the invincible Sun God ( Deus Sol Invictus ) taken from Syria after his victory in the East [10] . The monotheism of the Sun God was not absolute, whereby this faith was very convenient for Emperor Aurelius to adopt without hurting individual sensitivities of people. With all Roman citizens convened around this obvious national God, the second development took place: with the general acceptance of this obvious monotheistic God it was possible that the representative of the Sun God on earth was surrounded obvious supra-powerful features. This bond between the Sun God and his representative on earth was shown throughout the empire in images of both on coins, which represented “(barter) objects in the middle” that were guaranteed by the Sun-god and his earthly representative. The impact of this second development, we still have in our daily life with the name of the “Lord’s Day”: Sunday [11].

Munt zonnegod
[12]
At 324 AC Constantine the Great became ruler of the Roman Empire after he had defeated Licinius – ruler of the eastern part of the empire until then. Herewith Constantine created “One God , One Empire , One Emperor”. How Constantine had made the transition from the Sun God to the Christian God can no longer accurately be traced. With this gradual introduction, the administrative organization of the Roman Empire and the church organization were adapted to each other in the course of time. Within administrative units of the empire, a bishop was appointed as the head of the Church’s unit: “One God , One province, one representative of God”. By this development in parts of Europe, the ecclesiastical provinces still reflect the former provinces of the Roman Empire. According to the history books this development took place relatively smoothly , but in practice often an iron fist was applied whereby many battles and internal strife over the secular and ecclesiastical power have been fought [13].

The Old Testament often shows an angry – and sometimes rancorous – God when his people have let him down again and again or his people has been unfaithful to the covenant. After the emergence of the “One God, One Empire, One ruler” directly connected with “One God, One Church, One regional representative”, the conservation of the ruler / representative and church / empire require all attention, so the position of a monotheistic God as Supreme God was no longer an issue. Religious disputes aimed at on one hand the extent to which the monotheistic Roman Father God was Almighty and the positions of the universe of heavenly entities – Christ, The Holy Spirit, Mary, the saints and angels, etc. – with and around God, and on other hand the relationship between humanity and the world with God, his universe, the origin and end of it. Shall we enter the New Church?”, says Narrator.

Carla, Narrator and Man enter the Church. They stand at the pulpit.

“Wonderful introduction. On seeing this pulpit, I have to interrupt you, because this pulpit reminds me of the tent of Alexander the Great after his death in which he still ensured order and unity from his throne.

preekstoel Nieuwe Kerk[14]
Briefly: Alexander the Great left after his death in 323 BC a vast empire that reached over the whole civilized world from Greece, Egypt, just beyond the Indus River in the east. During his life, Alexander the Great – with his immense charisma, his policy of divide and rule, his reward for loyalty and his ruthless revenge on unfaithful – was the sole binding factor with an almost divine status [15]. Without a clearly appointed successor after his untimely death, a ruthless power struggle soon began between (alleged) pretenders and supporters. Within a short time most of Alexander’s direct pretenders – women and children – were murdered; also women took part in the mutual slaughter of each other and each other’s children.

The actual battle for his succession was conducted within Alexander’s small circle of confidants – who alternately had assumed the role of general, comrades and executors – and various local rulers, whom Alexander the Great had left as guardians of parts of his empire during his triumph.

One of Alexander’s confidants was his secretary Eumenes – an outsider and foreigner of Greek origin – who had played an increasingly important role during the succession in which he had primarily fulfilled the role as protector of the mother and only surviving son of Alexander. In this struggle Eumenes had proved an outstanding military strategist and tactician, and he won most battles, but otherwise he missed all the good and bad qualities of Alexander in charisma and revenge, while he had also remained a stranger to the Macedonians. At the moment he had to make a unity between different factions within the army, including the headstrong and self-confident Silver Shields – the never defeated elite troops that Alexander had inherited from his father Philip II and who had given him many victories in his triumph; many were already over 60 years old – Eumenes had decided to bring the ghost of Alexander back to life. He told the commanders of the troops who were entrusted to him that Alexander had appeared to him in a dream and had given him the order to let all commanders appear before Alexander’s throne in a tent for deliberation. The commanders had accepted this proposal. Eumenes had ordered to cast the throne from gold of the royal treasury and he placed on it Alexander’s scepter and diadem in a tent. All commanders had brought honours to the empty throne by burning incense to him – the Ghost of Alexander on the throne. Eumenes had promised that as long as they met as council before the throne and accepted orders from him , then Alexander would be present and guide them in their decisions. After Eumenes and the commanders had accepted this way of decision-making, the mutual tension was significantly decreased. Obviously Eumenes had the most input during the deliberation [16]. Almost Eumenes had managed to secure the throne for the family of Alexander, but in the decisive final battle the opponent had conquered the baggage train with women and possessions of the Silver Shields. A faction of the Silver Shields had finally chosen for their belongings and they had delivered Eumenes with a list to his opponent. First, the opponent did not dare to kill Eumenes out of respect, but later he gave this command. The Invincible Silver Shields were dissolved, the commander was killed and the individual infantrymen received in remote areas impossible tasks that they usually did not survive. All this time the Ghost on the throne had led them in this turbulent period in taking decisions and had led them to victories when they remained faithful to the decisions [17].

Upon seeing this pulpit, I notice the similarity with the tent of Alexander and a Ghost on the throne”, says Carla.

“Fascinating addition. Shall we continue with this topic this evening”, says Narrator.
“That is good”, says Man.

[1] “Pagan Gods” is derived from Gods of the pagus or pays. Pagus means in Latijn: village
[2] Trouillez, Pierre, Bevrijd en gebonden – De Kerk van Constantijn (4e en 5e eeuw n. Chr.). Leuven: Davidsfonds, 2006, p. 50
[3] See e.g.: Robb, Graham, The discovery of France. London: Picador, 2007, Chapter 7: Fairies, Virgins, Gods and Priests.
[4] See also: Robb, Graham, The discovery of France. London: Picador, 2007, Chapter 7: Fairies, Virgins, Gods and Priests and Histoire de la Vie privée. Tome 3: De la Renaissance aux Lumière. Red. Ariès, Philippe & Duby, George. Chapter 1 (p. 85 from the Dutch version)
[5] Source image: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosaire
[6] Source: Robb, Graham, The discovery of France. London: Picador, 2007, p. 133 – 134
[7] See: Herodotus 7.35 en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerxes’_Pontoon_Bridges
[8] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Xerxes_lash_sea.JPG
[9] See amongst others: Potok, Chaim, Omzwervingen, ‘s-Gravenhage: BZZTôH 1999 and Schama, Simon, De geschiedenis van de Joden – Deel 1: De woorden vinden 1000 v.C. – 1492. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Atlas Contact, 2013
[10] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus
[11] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zondag and Trouillez, Pierre, Bevrijd en gebonden – De Kerk van Constantijn (4e en 5e eeuw n. Chr.). Leuven: Davidsfonds, 2006, p. 30
[12] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus
[13] See also: MacCulloch, Diarmond, Christianity – The first three thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2010, Part II “One Church, One Faith, One Lord?”and Trouillez, Pierre, Bevrijd en gebonden – De Kerk van Constantijn (4e en 5e eeuw n. Chr.). Leuven: Davidsfonds, 2006, Chapters II and III
[14] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nieuwe_Kerk_(Amsterdam)
[15] See also: Lane Fox, Robin, Alexander de Grote, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij de Arbeiderspers, 2005
[16] Source: Romm, James, Ghost on the Thone – The death of Alexander the Great and the war for crown and empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. p. 220-221, 235
[17] See: Romm, James, Ghost on the Thone – The death of Alexander the Great and the war for crown and empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Chapter 10

Advertisements

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Lamb of God


In the previous post we have looked at the sacrifice as “object in the middle”. For this, you and I have looked at the movie “Offret” – or “The Sacrifice” by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1986. At the end of the film we have seen how the father has sacrificed everything he owns and binds him in this life, to God. He has made this sacrifice to save the world, in order that everything remains as it was before the threat of war and to be freed from that deadly, unbearable, animal fear. This sacrifice of the father is as well an unintentional sacrifice of his family and his relatives.

The son brings three sacrifices. He loses his father because his father sticks to his word and to God’s word. He is constantly giving water to the dead tree and therefore he brings the tree – the tree of life – back to life. By the third sacrifice he remains silent throughout the film.

The son asks to his father – and to God – why his father should keep his word. The son does not need any words for his sacrifice; his life, his actions and his knowledge precedes words.

Rightly the son asks at the end of the film: “In the beginning was the word. Why Father? ”

This question brings us to the first sentence in John’s Gospel in the New Testament [1]. Later in our Odyssey, we will try to give answers to this unavoidable question of the son.

In this post we will look further at the sacrifice as “object in the middle”. We look at the painting of the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck in Ghent. This painting depicts Jesus in the form of the Lamb of God. The Lamb of God is described in the first chapter of John’s Gospel in the New Testament: “The next day St. John sees Jesus approaching. St. John says: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[2]

[3]

In me I hear the Agnus Dei from Mass in B – minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere Nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere Nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona Nobis Pacem. [4]

“It seems that the last weeks of our Odyssey we are travelling according parts of the liturgy of Holy Mass from the Catholic Church. A few weeks ago we started with the Kyrie: the word “church” probably originates from Kyrie[5]. Inside the churches, we continued with the Credo in the form of light and hope. The reflection and the sermon followed within two meditation rooms. And now we arrive at the sacrifice by watching the movie “Offret” and at the Agnus Dei [6] as the Lamb of God, “I say.

[7]

“I could never say the Credo – or I believe – with conviction. It is not possible for me to believe in the Christian theology”, you say.

“You’re not alone and I feel this doubt with you. Also Thomas one of the disciples of Jesus, cannot believe in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and the resurrection of Jesus as salvation and resurrection of all people or believers. Caravaggio’s painting shows that. This doubt of Thomas is not taken away by feeling the wound. Probably, faith and doubt go hand in hand for many Christians”, I say.

[8]

“I believe that every day the sun rises as resurrection and I believe in my next breath. But I cannot believe in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God as salvation of the universe”, you say.

“People have also questioned the next rising of the sun and the next breath. Hereof many rituals are known for establishing and perpetuating this confidence. People know a lot of uncertainties about the past, the present and the future. Christian theology tries to overcome these uncertainties (“in doubt” or “doubt” in Latin) by faith, rituals – including offerings – and hope. A deeply religious Christian once said: “The last thing I want to lose is my faith.” For me, this sentence includes even a trace of doubt. A rock-solid belief never fades. By rituals people try to establish and maintain trust and hope. The Christian faith says: “And they that know your name, will put their trust in you.” [9]  The painting of the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck nicely show this: the Father, the Son as the Lamb of God and the Holy Spirit as trinity”, I say.

“The Bible includes the Book of Job that is about a rock-solid faith [10]. I also think of the Japanese poet Rӯokan. Once at night everything was stolen from his simple hut:

“The thief leaves behind,

the ever changeful Moon

at the firmament.” [11]

The moon [12] points to the firm belief of Rӯokan”, you say.

“The faith of people in the past often seems more certain, because we see their past as well established. But maybe their rock-solid faith does also know uncertainties in their lives. If we look with their eyes, do we see a different world, other uncertainties, different expectations, a different religion? I do not know”, I say.

“Me neither. Shall we continue with the Dove as the Holy Spirit in the next post?”, you say.


[1] St. John 1:1 from the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

[2] St. John 1:29 and 1:36 from the New Testament.

[3] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamb_of_God

[4] Translation: Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

[5] The source of the word “Church” probably is Greek: “Kūrios” meaning “Lord, Master”. Source: Ayto, John, Word Origins, the hidden History of English Words from A to Z. London: A &C Black, 2008. Maybe the word Church originates via the German word “Kirche” from the compound of Indo-European words “kr” (karoti, kurute) meaning “make, do, perform”, and “ish” depending on the “sh” sound either “sacrifice” or “ruler”, or “ich – I ” in Sanskrit.

[6] “The Agnus Dei is part of the Mass in the Catholic church and seems to be introduced for the first time during a Mass by Pope Sergius I (687-701 AD).  Agnus Dei means Lamb of God and literally refers to Christ in his role as the perfect sacrifice that reconciles the sins of mankind in the Christian theology. The prayer dates from the time of the ancient Jewish sacramental sacrifices. The Agnus Dei is sung during Mass when the priest breaks the Holy Bread and unification takes place, the priest drops a piece of the wafer in the chalice – filled with wine and water as blood of Christ.
The sacrifice of a lamb and the blood of the lamb are often used metaphors in the religions of the Middle East. It refers to the ancient Jewish custom to liberate people from their sins by a sacrifice. In the Protestant churches in the Revelation the phrase “washed in the blood of the lamb” is used to designate the deliverance of the original sin supposed by the churches. On our Odyssey, we already have encountered the cattle-sacrifice in the myth and Trito cattle cycle.
In art, Agnus Dei, the figure of a lamb bearing a cross, symbolizing Jesus as the Lamb of God. This metaphor is often used in Christian art, where the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck in Ghent is famous.
Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnus_Dei

[7] Source image: http://www.bertsgeschiedenissite.nl/middeleeuwen/eeuw15/jan_van_eyck.htm

[8] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio.jpg

[9] Source: Psalm 9:10: “God, the protector of the believers”.

[10] Also Job despairs when he and his wife feel the big setbacks directly in their bodies. Job asks God why he deserves these setbacks, his faith is unconditional. In a storm God replies: “Where were you when I separated the sky and the earth and created the universe!”. Hereafter Job recognizes his ignorance, he calls for teaching and confesses that he has directly God in his omnipotence. Job does penance in dust and ashes. After a cattle sacrifice, God’s wrath disappears and prosperity returns for Job.

When Job would have recognized all setbacks as part of himself, may Job have answered God that he is present in the separation of air and earth? May he have the courage to say that his appearance in the separation of air and earth is adapted to the circumstances?  That he always remains one during and after the separation of air and earth and during and after all the crackle that follows?

[11] Source: Stevens, John, Three Zen Masters, Ikkyū, Hakuin, Rӯokan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993. Page 131.

[12] Rӯokan is a Japanese Zen Buddhist. Zen Buddhism starts in China by a merger of Taoism and Buddhism. Taoism knows Tao as a keyword meaning “road or course of life”, but this word is probably derived from the ancient Chinese word for “Moon”. Source: Porter, Bill, Road to Heaven – Encounters with Chinese Hermits. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1993 Page: 35.

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Meditation rooms


In previous posts, you and I have visited several houses of God. With churches as “object in the middle” the faithful express a mutual trust between people and God. This confidence is continuously and periodically confirmed through rituals. Besides, the churches often create a bond between people mutual, but sometimes churches cause rejections. Churches are trying to be a timeless reference point from which the environment – air/heaven and earth separately and in combination – is experienced. The churches also provide hope for a transcendence of human life through a resurrection in an afterlife. We will visit all the churches that we encounter on our Odyssey.

We also encounter “objects in the middle” which give room for meditation. These special areas create the possibility for transcending the human scale and/or experiencing a complete oneness. Specific parts of the natural landscape have been used for this purpose for centuries. During our Odyssey we have seen stone circles, caves and stones in the landscape.

Probably with the occupation of homesteads people have created rooms for meditation that resemble their homesteads. Initially, the rooms for meditation are mainly located in or near their residences. Over time these rooms become major sacred places for worship and/or houses of God. Some of these places have been transferred in worldly contemplation places that we now encounter as museums and art galleries. During our Odyssey we visit almost all museums, but we cannot report on these visits.

Let us visit two special rooms for meditation. This first room – the Mark Rothko [1] chapel in Houston from 1967 – is building for religion and for art. The exterior is a monolithic octagon with a small entrance. At first glance it looks like a mausoleum.

 [2]

We enter the chapel. The interior radiates serenity – as monolithic as the exterior. The light comes from above. Internally I sing the first chorus of Cantata 131 by Johann Sebastian Bach:

”Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr[3], zu dir.
Herr, höre meine Stimme, lass deine Ohren merken auf die Stimme meines Flehens!“
[4]

[9]

The windows to the outside consist of paintings by Mark Rothko from 1964 – 1967, shortly before his death.

[5]

The paintings render all impressions of the World. It seems that he tries to imprint on the panels – in translucent blue/black ink – every word ever written and spoken.” You say.

“That’s right. All glass beads of “Indra’s Net” [6] are included in the paint of the panels, the colours are so dense.” I say.

The sun breaks through. The blood of the earth lights in a purple red glow on the triptych.

[7]

We sit next to a meditating – Zen? – Buddhist. When the Buddhist stands up, we go outside.

Outside you say: “I once read: “A man asks a female Buddhist hermit in contemporary China to calligraphy the essence of Buddhist practise on paper. She puts the paper aside. A few months later, he receives four words by post: goodwill, compassion, joy and detachment. Her calligraphy is strong and clear as her mind.[8] Are these four words applicable to the chapel?”

“Yes.” I say.

“I have hesitated on joy, until the sun broke through.” You say.

In the next post we will watch the last part of the movie “Offret” – or “The Sacrifice” by Andrei Tarkovsky from 1986.


[1] For further information on Mark Rothko: Hughes, Robert, The Shock of the New – Art and the Century of Change; and Arnason, H.H., A History of Modern Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979, pages 533 – 534

[2] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Rothko_chapel.jpg

[3] Maybe the German word “Herr” is linked to the verb root “hṛ” meaning “offer, present” and “seize, take away” in Sanskrit. Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta. Both meanings of the verb root “hr” express the two roles of the warrior caste within the cattle-cycle: they rob the cattle and give a part of the cattle to the priests for offers to the Gods. A lord has also two roles: offering protection and taking a part of the harvest. Probably the role of Lord coincides with the role of God. In the experiences of many nationals the king and God are closely interwoven.

[4] Translation: “From the deep, Lord [3], I cry to you. Lord, hear my voice, let your ears hear the voice of my doubt!” In German the word “Flehens” means supplication. Here this word is translated with doubt, because doubt is the origin of nearly all supplication to God. See also the book Job from the Old testament.

[5] Source image: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703445904576118063020357484.html

[6] For further information on “Indra’s net”: the post “Introduction: one – Pantheïsm – Indra’s net” of 8th of April 2011.

[7] Source image: http://hayleygilchrist.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/contextual-studies/

[8] Source: Porter, Bill, Road to Heaven – Encounters with Chinese Hermits. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1993. page 109

[9] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:In_the_Tower_-_Mark_Rothko.JPG

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Church 2


In our search for the church [1] as “object in the middle” we make a trip of 5 miles. You and I begin in the – more than one thousand years old – Aachen Cathedral in Germany and continue in time through the village church in Wahlwiller in the Netherlands to the newly built church in the abbey Benedictusberg in Mamelis near Lemiers. At the same time this trip leads us back in time from the contemporary city of Aachen, by the village community of 50 years past to the monastic life of many centuries ago.

On this trip we travel through time as the main characters in the book “The once and future King” by Terence White. Kay and The Wart move forward in time and Merlin returns in time.” You say.

“If Merlin would follow our Odyssey back in time, than he has to accomplish an impossible task in the transition from Two to One. He must group an infinite number of fragments together to restore the complete oneness. Maybe Merlin has a chance.” I say.

“That’s impossible. A fractures bowl is beyond repair. I do not know what we may expect on our Odyssey. The transition to Zero is an impossible change in its own. Let’s first see the Cathedral.” You say.

We look at the light in the dome. As I look at the arches, I realize that Charlemagne fought violently with the Moors. But in this house of God that emerged from the palace church of Charlemagne, the shape and the colour of the arches are very similar to the arches in the mosque in Cordoba.

We look at the altar. A group of Germans enters behind us and starts to sing:

“Plorate, Filii Israel. Plorate, omnes Virgines, et Filiam Jephte unigenitiam in Carmine doloris lamentamini.[2][3][4]  

“Jephte makes a terrible sacrifice for his victory. His daughter keeps him to his promise to God by which she completely accepts her own fate.” You say.

“In that time, women keep men in their promises [5]. Will Jephte and his daughter rise from the death by following the promise to God by which they accept their doom? ” I ask.

“I do not know. Let us hope so. I hope that all people will resurrect who accept their fate. The light in the church gives hope.” You say.

The sun breaks through. The light in the dome shines around the altar and creates a golden glow. The cathedral shows itself in its full glory. “The light gives hope.” I say.

[6]

We continue our trip to Wahwiller by the road past the University Hospital, the Hochschule for Technology and the border post at Vaals. After a few kilometres, we see on our right side the Abbey Benedictusberg, our third destination today. A few moments later we leave the main road and enter the village Wahlwiller. We have come to admire the paintings by Aad de Haas [7] in the St. Cunibertus Church. The colours inside and the Stations of the Cross in this church are exceptional. In 1947 the paintings are far too daring for the Catholic Church. After more than thirty years, the paintings of the Stations of the Cross did return in church again.

[8]

We enter the church and again a golden glow. “People show the light of their surroundings. The main altar in the Storkyrkan on Gamla Stan in Stockholm consists of silver on dark ebony. This renders the bright spring light in the Nordic countries.” You say.

[9]

“In South Limburg the light is much softer, therefore this golden glow. The fifteenth station representing the resurrection – in addition to the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross – is beautiful. This painting should actually be directed towards the East and be positioned behind the altar. ” I say.

[10][11]

“The image of the Easter resurrection matches text: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”[12]. Considering the resurrection, I also think about a resurrection from a tabernacle. Probably a tabernacle is mainly empty to give room for the resurrection. Above the Ark the area for Yahweh is also empty.” You say.

“Heaven and earth surpassing; only in the void, the sun rays may shine so beautifully in this church.” I say.

We return in the direction of Lemiers. At the beginning of the driveway to the abbey Benedictusberg, you read that we may join the prayer services. First we examine the photographs of the abbey church [13].

“It looks like the inside of a sanctuary. This absolute beauty of dimensions and the layout of space does not need any further images.” You say.

“Very contemporary and also completely timeless. Modern and also the very first church. It seems like time has no grip on this area. What a beautiful light from above.” I say.

[14]

“Let’s attend the Vespers [15].” You say.

“Very well.” I say.

The following post continues on meditation centers as “object in the middle”.


[1] The source of the word “Church” probably is Greek “Kūrios” meaning “Lord, Master”. Source: Ayto, John, Word Origins, the hidden History of English Words from A to Z. London: A &C Black, 2008. Maybe the word Church originates via the German word “Kirche” from the compound of Indo-European words “kr” (karoti, kurute) meaning “make, do, perform”, and “ish” depending on the “sh”sound either “sacrifice” or “ruler”, or “ich – I ” in Sanskrit.

[2] Source: Oratorio by Carissimi, Giacomo (1605-1674), Jephte

[3] “Weep, Children of Israel. Weep, all young women, for the only daughter of Jephte weep with mournful songs.”

[4] See also: Old Testament, Judges chapter 11.

[5] See also: McGrath, Kevin, STRῙ women in Epic Mahâbhârata. Cambridge: Ilex Foundation, 2009

[6] Source image: http://www.elfduizend.nl/reizen-Aken.php

[7] See: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aad_de_Haas

[8] Source image: http://www.vvvzuidlimburg.nl/beleefzuidlimburg/abc/vermelding.aspx?id=5471

[9] Source image: http://www.tripadvisor.com

[10] Source image: http://www.deroerom.nl/pagina/344/pasen

[11] Complete overview of the Stations of the Cross in the Church in Wahlwiller: http://home.kpn.nl/dreumpie/w/index_copy(1).htm

[12] See also: New Testament, St. John 12: 24

[13] Architecture: Dom Hans van der Laan. See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_van_der_Laan_(architect)

[14] http://www.kerkgebouwen-in-limburg.nl/view.jsp?content=2044

[15] Evening prayer at the end of the afternoon.

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Church


In the previous post you and I have met the role of the house as “object in the middle”. The role of the home has changed over the years from the environment where we live to a habitation. This habitation in the form of a house is seen by our ancestors as a safe haven and as a reference point from where the world is experienced. Recently, people started to identify with their home: they give shape to the house and the house expresses who they are. Our society demands of us more and more that we have a nationality and a permanent home and residence. Without these assets, people are not treated as full citizens.

Now you and I are looking into the role of the house of God as “object in the middle”.  The first sacred places, we have already seen. We have encountered sacred stones on our Odyssey. We remember the stone circles as places for ceremonies which we no longer know.

[1]

We also know the golden calf as an image of a (demi-) god [2]. We have read in the Old Testament about Yahweh who is present between the tips of angel wings above the lost Ark of the Covenant,.

Probably the hunter-gatherers have already given shelter to Gods. We have read about rituals performed by the hunter-gatherers to unite the hunters with their prey as redemption for killing of the prey, and to maintain the unique bond between prey and hunter for both their survival. The rituals may be performed at specific times and places. These sites may be seen as a precursor to the house of God. The many caves with paintings of hunting scenes are a next step towards a house of God. Probably, these paintings also had a religious background.

Many nomadic peoples have travelled around with their herds. They may also have known fixed holy sites. And probably they have seen sacred sites of established residents. Have they identified themselves with the gods of the established residents and the hunter-gatherers? Probably not, but maybe they have adopted some elements of the faith of other people. As nomads, they will have carried their sacred objects on the travels with their herds. In their tents special places are reserved for shrines. One example is the Ark of the Covenant that the Jews carried around on the travels and place in a tent during stages. Even in the temple in Jerusalem, the ark is placed with poles on both sides as a reminder and a preparation for a new travel.

The form of Islamic mosques reminds you and me of temporary stays – large tents and outposts to indicate the entrance point – in a desert. These mosques are transferred in imposing houses of Allah with courts and outbuildings around. An example is the Suleyman Mosque in Istanbul.

[3]

Farmers with fixed fields are moving into permanent habitations. Also the gods receive their private habitations. The recognition of the house of Gods does not happen overnight. When we visit the oldest stave church at Urnes in Norway, the guide explains that the woodwork of the church is decorated with dragon motifs on the outside to keep the many evil spirits outside. This is necessary in the long dark winters. The Vikings have to leave their swords outside next to the door. Inside the church has only a few small lights from above. In that light a wooden crucifix is seen from which redemption and access to the afterlife may come. The priests at that time do try to change the image of Valhalla – the hall where the honorary fallen soldiers during battle continue eating, drinking and fighting to the end of time – into a longing for deliverance from sin and a Christian view of the afterlife. The blue paint color – lapis lazuli – on the wooden crucifix from around the 12th century AD comes from Afghanistan according to the guide.

During the explanation of the guide I think of Jalāl al-Dīn – also known as Rumi, who is born around the same time in Vaksh in Balkh Province in Afghanistan. Probably Rumi transcends the “object in the middle” in his contact with Allah: “My thoughts are in the heart of Allah, the heart of Allah will be sick without the thoughts of me [4]”. Later on our Odyssey more about this.

When we leave this church, you say: “Those light openings under the roof remind me of a saying by Oscar Wild:” We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars “.

[5]

“Do you remember the first rays of the sun at 6 o’clock in the morning on the first day of spring? [6]” I ask.

“Whenever I visit a church.” You answer.

The next message continues on churches as “object in the middle”.


[1] Source of image: Marieke Grijpink

[2] See the previous post “Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – part 1” on 5th of May 2011

[3] Source image: http://www.islamleer.nl/islaam/biografie/geleerdenoverigen/758-kanuni-sultan-suleyman-i

[4] See: Nicholson, Reynold A., The Mathnawi of Jalálu’ddin Rúmí, Book II. Cambridge: Biddles Ltd, 2001 p. 281

[5] Source image: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/norway/urnes-stave-church

[6] See the last post on “Two” on 25th of April 2011

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – part 2


At our first stage [1] we have met ancient stones in the landscape. These stones have for our ancestors a special importance as landmarks for interpretation of the knowable and the unknowable. The Catholic Church has tried to incorporate the role of these stones into the Christian faith by placing field crosses at these places.

In the previous post you and I have reported on the “object in the middle” as a metaphor for mutual trust and a symbol that the metaphor of the object surpasses and transgresses into the tangible reality that the “object in the middle” originally depicted. In this message we continue this exploration.

People visiting each other, exchange gifts in order to express and maintain mutual trust. In special circumstances, special gifts are given to commemorate and perpetuate the mutual relationship. Examples of these special circumstances are important changes in life such as birth, baptism, birthday, marriage, death of parents. Often these gifts are jewelry that – when wearing the jewels – symbolise the mutual bond and the special status of the wearer of jewels. Occasionally these jewels are buried with the owner in the grave after her or his death, so the owner may also show with the jewelry in the afterlife the confidence and status in the previous life.

[2]

In the graves of Neanderthals jewelry is never found [3]. Perhaps they did not use “objects in the middle” to demonstrate and consolidate mutual trust. Maybe they did not need interpretation in their lives, since they were fully confident? Didn’t they have known any interpretations or didn’t they make any image of these interpretations? We do not know.

Over time, people make images of “objects in the middle” in order to symbolise the original trust that the object depicts. For groups of people, these symbols become important to express the nameable and unnameable feelings within the group. The symbols receive their own dynamics in the form of flags and pictures with accompanying music and with rhythm in time. The Catholic Church shows many images of God and the saints. Group identity and national feelings are reinforced by flags and emblems.

[4]

In addition, these symbols raise distrust to outsiders. This distrust often takes shape as outright hatred: the outsiders are determined to completely extinguish the strange symbols – and everything that these represent – so all traces are erased. Many wars have begun in this way with their own dynamics: the flags, music, sound of boots and women placing flowers in the barrels of the guns do the rest. The group pressure to destroy the outsiders is so strong that outliers, who do not want to engage in violence, are threatened with expulsion or even execution.

In some cultures the unnameable and the higher is so overwhelming that it cannot be displayed. In the Islamic culture depictions of Allah are not allowed; also images of beings with a soul are not desirable. Yahweh in the Jewish faith cannot be displayed. In the Protestant churches no images of God are present. Do these ways of religion have surpassed the value of symbols and images? And have they overcome the aversion to strange symbols and images, because they have transgressed the value of symbols? Probably not, golden calves [5] are still revered and contested.


[1] See the post “One-Pantheism” in this weblog.

[2] Source image: http://www.rmo.nl/actueel/tentoonstellingen/archeologie-van-nederland/midden-nederland – Olst, Goud van de Goden.

[3] Arsuaga, Juan Luis, Het halssieraad van de Neanderthaler – Op zoek naar de eerste denkers. Amsterdam: Wereldbibiotheek: 1999

[4] Source image: http://home.scarlet.be/~hlvb/het%20land%20van%20beveren/heiligen/heiligen%20in%20Groot-Beveren.htm

[5] See previous post: “Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – part 1”

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – part 1


On our last stage “Two”, first the sky and the earth are separated, and then everything has fallen apart into innumerable small parts. Afterwards a first order is arisen. Meaning and purpose given to this order, starts a first creative process.

People give interpretation to their environment, so they may increase their chances of survival by increasing their grip on touchable matters and circumstances. Furthermore, this interpretation takes shape in stories and myths which anchor knowledge and skills – from other times and circumstances – within the known world of people. Religion and rituals bring the unknowable and elusive within the scope of people; by performing recognisable acts we try to influence the unknown and elusive in our environment.

Within the Trito-myth and the cattle cycle you and I have seen the explanation of the originating of the world for people in Proto-Indo-European time. The cattle cycle gives a ritual as basis for trust between gods, priests, people and categories of people. In the previous post we have observed the role of “persons in the middle”- in this case priests and kings – acting as a bridge between the world of people and the world of the gods (or the complete oneness). Now you and I will have a glimpse into the “objects in the middle” that represent the gods (or the complete oneness) in the human world.

Cattle are a metaphor for mutual trust in the world of our ancestors. In our society money has taken over this role of cattle. In earlier societies, also objects – as replacement of living beings – serve their role of metaphor for mutual trust. Special shells, jewelry and precious artifacts are examples thereof.

Some items have risen above the role of metaphor for mutual trust. These objects are turned from metaphor into the physical reality itself. The banner [1] of a Roman legion is the identity (or entity) of the entire legion. If the banner is lost, the legion ceases to exist. The three legions led by Varus, have lost their banners in the Teutoburg Forest; they are never replaced [2].

[3]

Images of gods are worshiped by people as real gods. In the Old Testament, Moses has done everything to have recognised Yahweh – without image – as the only God of the Jewish people. After receiving the tables of the Ten Commandments from Yahweh (including the first two commandments: “I am Eternal your God, and thou shalt have no other gods before me”), on his return he notices that the people are worshipping a golden calf. The Jewish people are completely forgotten Yahweh and they see the golden calf as the “object in the middle” that has completely taken the place of God in the shape of mutual trust and eternal life.

[4]

Furiously Moses throws the tables of the Ten Commandments in pieces. He needs to return to the mountain again for receiving new tables of the covenant from Yahweh. These new tables including the Ten Commandments are carried with the people in the Ark of the Convenant. Later the ark is placed in the sacred space of the Temple in Jerusalem. Since that time, Yahweh is considered to be present above the ark in the void between the tips of the wings of two angels [5].

[6]

During the existence of the ark, Yahweh is deemed to exist in the void between the wings of the two angels. The Ark of the the Convenant was probably destroyed at the one of the devastation of the Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the ark the image of Yahweh is gone. Is Yahweh now present everywhere?


[1] See also: Goldsworthy, Adrian, In the Name of Rome – The Men who won the Roman Empire. London: Phoenix, 2004

[2] See also: Wells, Peter S. The Battle that stopped Rome. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004

[3] Source image: http://www.legionxxiv.org/signum/

[4] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gouden_kalf_(Hebreeuwse_Bijbel)

[5] Source: Oude Testament; boeken Exodus 25:22 en Numeri 7:89

[6] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_van_het_Verbond