A song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
In Psalm 121 the word »shamar« is used six times in eight verses. The word is multilayered and means to shelter, protect and observe (honour) someone or something.
Shaken by the crisis of the Corona virus, many people are yearning to be shelter, protect and observed (seen). We take up this desire in the title »May you be sheltered«. Not just as something we wish to have for ourselves, but also as something we are willing to serve. In 1908 a group was formed in Palestine under the name »HaShomer«.This group served their neighbours as guardians and keepers of the Jewish settlements that were just being founded. They honoured them and protected them from attacks from those around them who did not wish to share the land with them.
Already in the first days of this crisis we have heard tales of panic buying and Corona Parties. In some people there is the dominant impulse of »every man or woman for him or herself« and »save yourself if you can«. As people of faith and the People of God we must set a sign against this mentality. »May you be sheltered!« should be our call in this time. Let us protect and keep one another. That is what this column wishes to serve.
As God asked Cain, »Where is Abel your brother?« He said, »I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper (shamar)?« (Gen 4,9) Our answer should be that we will be »HaShomer« for our brothers and sisters.
May you be sheltered!
Vallendar, March 21rst, 2020
Erik Riechers SAC
Prayer as the Core of Life
Several days ago a radio broadcast spoke of how hard the present crisis is affecting our children; not only is their daily life severely restricted, they often experience existentially, if not consciously, the uncertainty of the adults and need our help in their fears and distress. The broadcast mentioned taking time for them, listening, and speaking with them, as well as finding and practicing rituals. And then it mentioned prayer, entrusting oneself to something higher, formulating prayers together. Who would have expected even a few weeks ago to hear such advice on the radio in our secularised world?
This filled me with a quiet joy and a thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s came to mind: »Prayer is the very soul and essence of religion, and, therefore, prayer must be the very core of the life of the human being, for no human being can live without religion.«
For decades ever more people live with the egocentric, arrogant and very secular concept that they can live without religion. Perhaps it will become he blessing of this year, that we humans retrieve a sense of »that, which truly concerns us« (Paul Tillich) and let ourselves be grasped by it. More than ever we recognise the inter-weaving with one another and are rediscovering this inter-weaving with God, the grounds and goal of all life. We are remembering praying to this God and are beginning (again) to nurture the relationship to HIM, who bears and holds all things.
We do not know what comes tomorrow or after the summer holidays – yet we have never know it!
If prayer becomes the core of our life, then we can place our distress before the heart of God, as well as our thanks for all that has been given us and is daily renewed. Today, too, we can pray with the words of Psalm 36:
LORD, in the heavens Your kindness, and Your faithfulness to the skies.
Your justice like the unending mountains, Your judgement like the great abyss,
mortals and beast the Lord rescues.
How dear is Your kindness, O God, and the children of mortals in Your wings’ shadow shelter.
They take their fill from the fare of Your house; and from Your stream of delights You give them drink.
For with You is the fountain of life. In Your Light, we shall see light.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 3rd, 2020
The Heart of the Adventurer IV
This time of crisis during the pandemic does what all times of crisis do. They show us the true heart that beats within us. Do we have the heart of the adventurer that wants to take on responsibility for life? Or does the heart of the tourist beat within us, which needs others to take over responsibility for life?
Lk 18, 9-14 introduces us to a Pharisee and a tax collector. Interestingly, it is the tax collector how has the heart of an adventurer, because in his plea for mercy he wants to take on responsibility for his life. The Pharisee, on the other hand, has the classic heart of the tourist. He needs others in order to make himself big and strong, and thereby they take on the responsibility for how he feels and how he lives.
How does this work? In the Pharisee we have a person who is deeply convinced of his own righteousness.
He places his confidence in what he has accomplished. Yet, he only becomes truly dangerous when he combines this conviction with his contempt for others.
On the surface of things, it seems that both the Pharisee and the tax collector are talking to God. On the surface of things, it seems to be a story about prayer. But only if you stay on the surface. In fact, the Pharisee is never contending with God. God is only the listener, the audience. His task is simply to listen as to how much better the Pharisee is compared to the tax collector.
The Pharisee employs an ancient trick that is known to the heart of the tourist. If I I don’t really want to be better, stronger, or greater than I am, then I simply present myself as better, stronger and greater. In order to make that happen, I simply choose a week opponent. I simply set the bar a lot lower
With whom does the Pharisee contend? He compares himself to thieves, rogues, adulterers and the tax collector. They are easy pickings. The heart of the tourist needs the other in order to avoid authentic responsibility for life. That occurs under the mott0, »I may not be perfect, but I am certainly better than these others«.
By contrast, the tax collector contend with God. He does not raise his eyes, but he raises the conversation to a higher level. »God, have mercy on me!« You, Lord, show me mercy. There is an I and a thou, and the tax collector takes a hard look at what is transpiring between him and God. The tax collector choses a stronger opponent in order to grow stronger himself. This is the heart of the adventurer. It is as in sports. If an athlete wishes to grow stronger, he or she much seek out a stronger training partner, who challenges them, to forces them to dig deeper and to become better. For all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Yet, if I always choose a weaker opponent, then I can always win, but I cannot get better. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.
That is what this story is about, contending with God, making him our training partner. Gotthard Fuchs visited us several years ago and spoke to us about the desert fathers. These desert fathers were always concerned not to deal with the sins of others (with those as weak as they were), but to look at their own relationship to God.
This time of crisis does this for us. It opens us up for an important if awkward question: What is going on with me? Instead of bragging with the claim »I fast twice a week!«, the question could be raised, »Even after that, could it be that I still have too much?«
What about the other 5 days of the week? Do I then stuff everything into myself that I renounced for two days? If I fast on two days, do I give it to the poor or do I heard it for myself for a alter day? Let us remember the masks, the medicine and the toilet paper.
Does fasting empty me for the truly important or does it fill me with a boastful self-complacency that take sup more room I me that 6 meals ever could? If I already have to renounce many things in these days of isolation, does it make me great-hearted or does the horizon of my concern shrink to the width of my shoulder blades?
These are the questions that will arise when we contend with God and seek to take on responsibility for our lives.
»I give a tenth of all my income«. But what do I do with the 90% that I keep? 90% of abundance is still too much! Can I give up something beyond the prescribed 10%? Will I strictly adhere to the regulations of these days or am I willing to do more, to give more than what is demanded? Not even in a time in which so many of our fellow citizens are ill or dying have we managed to place human life above economic considerations. These are the questions that will arise when we contend with God and seek to take on responsibility for our lives.
Anyone can win a wrestling match with a child. We should follow Jacob’s lead and wrestle with God through long dark hours until the light returns. That is a struggle well worth the effort, which makes us stronger and brings us wisdom.
We can hold with the tax collector and take the adventurous path to the multiplication of life. Then we can pray: Lord, make me more generous. Lord, make me more just. Lord, make me more loving. This is the language of the heart of the adventurer who seeks to take on responsibility for life.
Every comparison is diabolical. Comparing Germany to Italy or our health system to those of other countries can lead precisely to the attitude we see in the Pharisee. We are privileged to live through this hour in our countries with their many resources. Yet, privilege does not have to lead to condescension. We could also ask what responsibilities for the life of the world these privileges bring with them. Migrants, refugees, victims of war, women suffering from increased domestic violence in times of Corona, the homeless who have no place in which to live in quarantine, African brothers and sisters waiting on coming of the virus without the most basic of medical care: they all are sitting at the back of the temple. This time of crisis cannot force us to heed them or help them. Hover, this time of crisis can also not force us to take on the attitude that says, »God, I thank you that I am not like other people«.
This time of crisis will merely show us what kind of heart beats within us.
Erik Riechers SAC
Vallendar, April 2nd, 2020
You are what I am, and I am what you are
In these challenging times, so challenging and unusual for us, are we only occupied with caring for ourselves, to get the most out of them, as far as possible and without consideration? Are we people who assiduously and often coldly seek to fill their own cupboards?
Or can we constrain ourselves, precisely because the other needs it? The other who is exactly as I am, a human being full of value and dignity. The other, who is perhaps weak, old, or infirm. Can I forgo in order that he or she might live? Can I maintain the distance in order to protect others?
I invite you to see life anew through the eyes of a man, who struggled and suffered a great deal in the short span of his life: Vincent van Gogh. Here are his words:
So let us go forward quietly,
each on his own path,
forever making for the light, »sursum corda«,
and in the knowledge that we are as others are,
and that others are as we are
and that it is right to love one another.
»Lift up your hearts! « is his challenge, »sursum corda«, for the light is here, it rises and gives us orientation. All can go towards it on their own deeply personal path, calmly, without panic, authentically and not as a copy driven by comparisons, and, above all, with a radiant perspective for all, and not unto ruin.
Together we go as a people who know, that they are cut from the same cloth, a human family that sojourns well when it sojourns in love. Cain is asked, »Where is your brother? «. Let us practice to lovingly heed the others who walk the paths beside us and to accept them as that, which we are.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 1rst, 2020
The Heart of the Adventurer III
For a crisis that is just a few weeks old, I am increasingly irritated all those who seem to know what this hour will mean for our future. There are newspaper article about this to no end. In meetings the strategy of the future is already being prescribed: for the Church, the liturgy, the society, the economy. And after each diagnosis there is an immediate recipe for everything we are supposed to change afterwards. Fortune-telling is a booming industry.
I maintain a healthy and deep skepticism toward all such prognostications. Therein I see the conflict between the heart of the adventurer and the heart of the tourist.
The heart of the adventure is the heart that desires to explore new territory.
The heart of the tourist is the heart that only desires to be freed from the burden of daily living.
I openly admit that I do not know what the future will demand of us. I have no patented solutions for all that will confront us during and after the crisis. But I am happy to set out and explore the possibilities.
In Mk 10, 32-45 there is an interesting line spoken by two disciples. »Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.« The apprentices in this story are James and John. If we ask why they pose this request to Jesus, we quickly conclude, that they only have their self-interest in mind.
The answer is not wrong. In fact, they believe that they are serving their self-interest and that they are doing themselves a favour if they can get Jesus to do what they want. Here beats the heart of the tourist, a heart that only desires to be freed from the burden of daily living. Then we already define the solutions that occur to us before we have looked at or lived through the depths of the given hour.
How do you know the solutions to an adventure you never set out on?
To apprentice ourselves to Jesus always requires one fundamental exercise: You need yourself: Do you have the heart of an adventurer, the heart that desires to explore new territory?
How do all vocation stories begin? People are fascinated by the lifestyle of Jesus, because it is totally different from that which they know. They feel drawn by his power that is so different from that to which they are accustomed. In Jesus they experience a well-spring of power and life that makes a life even possible. These are well-springs to which they would love to have access and from which they would love to draw.
The prerequisite for this is the heart of an adventurer, the heart that desires to explore new territory. To apprentice ourselves to Jesus with the heart of an adventurer means:
- We remember the fascinating encounters with him, the places and times that stirred the original fascination in us.
- We think it over. We reflect on what has happened with Jesus, what it awakens in us, what it is doing with us and what it could demand of us in the present hour.
- We talk about it. Those who do not talk about it are not fascinated in the sense of yearning. Do not have to have the solutions right away, to complete reform programs and conclude the renewal of all things.
- We test out the wisdom and potential of the fascinating attitude, viewpoint of action of Jesus. We practice, gather experiences, risk new life and venture on new paths. We do not practice what we already know, but what we would like to get to know.
- In a general way, we try to make the lifestyle of Jesus a part of our own. We take the time to integrate the new experiences we have with him into our own lives.
- We also accept the critique that is contained within the lifestyle of Jesus. It is a critique about the way we are presently behaving, the way we look at things and the way we act. A critique is awakened in us, because the very things that fascinate us about Jesus are not what we know in our attitudes, viewpoints, and actions. That is why we do not rush to a reform of the future, because here we make the painful experience that we are also a part of the problem. If we do not hear and heed this, then we will be convinced that it is other powers and other people who are the problem.
- We accept the offer of Jesus to try something new, to explore it and risk it, beyond the old, familiar and well known.
»Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.« In a crisis this request presupposes that we are already masters and have the insight as to what the situation means and how it can be resolved. Should we actually believe that, then we do not need a master who can lead, accompany and teach us. But is it true? Starting with Mk 4, 35-41, Pope Francis writes warning, deep words about this attitude during the crisis of the pandemic.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly »save« us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
»Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?« Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: »Wake up, Lord!«.
I, for my part, will not heed the prophets of the future. With the heart of an adventurer I follow the Lord, who first of all lives through the storm with us and speaks of what this hour demands of us before he says a word about the hours of the future might yet demand of us.
Erik Riechers SAC
Vallendar, March 31rst, 2020
A Word of Counsel, more relevant than ever
Many years ago, an acquaintance tipped me off to an evening presentation on Israel. She knew that I was fascinated by this country, especially since I had just previously been there.
A reverent hush lay over the hall as the speaker arrived. After kind and appreciative words of greeting from the host, his presentation began. Yet, this was no presentation about the beauty and characteristics of the country. Here a man spoke, who had lived at the heart of Jerusalem for more than 10 years, of experiences and movements of his soul – with a lyricism that increasingly captivated me: Willi Bruners. I never again forgot his poem »Counsel. I often quoted it. I would not have withstood difficult times of my life so well without it. Good times receive from it a grateful depth. Precisely today I lay his wisdom upon your heart:
Bid the night farewell
with the hymn of the sun
even during fog
gather the first
pieces of information from
the Songs of David
then listen to
the news and read
heed the sequence
if you wish to maintain
to change the circumstances
pray against the
five star nothingness
that blares forth at you
from every channel.
May we daily first pray ourselves into the foundation on which we stand – then we can stand against all that approaches us from without - »heed the sequence«!
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 30, 2020
5. Sunday of Lent: » Hither, outside!«
God of all time,
We ask, we weep, we wait, we die, we hope, we live, we carry on, we pick ourselves up, we try to understand, we misunderstand, we learn, we ask again, we wait for understanding.
In all of these, may prayer be a companion, not a torment.
May we find in prayer the consolation that sustains us through all things,
Knowing that some things change,
and some things remain the same.
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Gospel: John 1, 1-45
Our impatience and our yearning drives us to repeatedly ask when this crisis will be over. The great storyteller, John, hides within his Gospel a piece of wisdom that deals with a question that goes further. How will we live when the crisis is over?
In John 11, Jesus the stone rolled away from the grace of his friend Lazarus. Yet, then we must listen very carefully how he speaks to his Father.
»Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.«
Note his words precisely! I thank you that you have heard me. That is the past tense! That means, if God has already heard Jesus, then Lazarus is already awake. He is alive! Yet, although the stone has been rolled away, he does not come forth from his grave.
Thus, Jesus must say, almost word for word, what God once had to say to Noah in the Ark. In Noah’s case this happens after he spends two months in the ark even though the earth is already dry and he should be out and about on his mission to repopulate the world and fashion it. For what is Noah waiting? He is afraid to leave the place of safety (the ark) and to give it up. God has to say to him, »Get up and out!« (cf. Gen 8).
Jesus needs to confront this fear in Lazarus. »Lazarus, deuro (hither) exo (outside)!«
He has to command him to come hither. It is striking, because how would a dead man hear and heed the command of Jesus? Jesus knows that Lazarus has received his life back (»I thank you that you have heard me«), but he also knows that Lazarus does not trust himself to enter back into life. For this he will need a twofold assistance.
First, he needs a voice that calls him back into life. He needs the divine voice of encouragement. Otherwise he will remain in his grave like Noah in his ark.
Secondly, he needs a liberation from the old experiences that still hold him back from entering into life. »The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go.«
We, too, know the fears of Lazarus. When something gives us a sense of security and protection, if it lets us feel comforted and safe, then we do not want to let go of it again. Be it a relationship, be it a good experience or be it a certain lifestyle: if they have served us well and we have grown accustomed to them, then we will not simply let them go. We hole up and settle down.
The problem for Lazarus and for us is that a temporary solution must not become a permanent one. We must not turn a grave into our dwelling place. We must transform the separation, isolation and social distancing in these times of Corona into a lifestyle. What e presently are doing in order to protect life and land is a transitional solution. It is designed to protect life from danger and the demise of our fellow human beings. But it is not a substitute for that which we will have to life afterwards, for that which we will need to fill with life once we move beyond the grave. No sanctuaries of life are given so that we might hide in them. Lazarus hides in the grave due to fear of the life that awaits him and for fear of what it will await from him. We have our own fears of a life beyond Corona, of the changes and responsibilities that will connected with it. At times we will be tempted to continue forms of withdrawal and isolation in order to feel more secure.
Yet, the mission of a life does not reside within a grave. It awaits us outside in the world. All the life which Jesus saves and calls forth is given for the life of the world, for it too awaits ne life, a rebirth and a new beginning.
That is why we, too, need the twofold assistance of our God. We need the voice of God that is greater than our own voice. We need the voice of God that is greater than our fears, that is ready to tell us what we do not necessarily want to hear. For the voice of God is never a mere echo of our small hearts. This divine voice never mirrors our panic or our fears. It speaks with authority, with the voice of the author of life and the world. »Hither, outside!« (deuro exo) is a command, not a suggestion. God takes our fears seriously, but he is not a servant of our fears.
And we need a liberation. Old habits tend to leave nothing untired in order to catch up to us, hold fast to us and drag us back. Just ask the people of Israel. Pharaoh had hardly allowed the people to depart when he changes his mind. He sends his army to catch up with his former slaves, hold them fast and drag them back. Old ways never simply let their people go.
John tells this story as well. Lazarus not only leaves the grave reluctantly, but bound by the old.
»The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go.«
The hands are the metaphor for our ability to act. They are still bound and our ability to act cannot yet be set into motion. We need a God who can undo fetters, for without the ability to act we cannot form and fashion a world.
The feet are the metaphor for the directions we take in life. Feet translate orientation into movement. Here, too, we need the help of our God, because in the quarantine we dream about all that we want to do afterwards, but the minute we come forth we will be responsible for turning these resolutions into tangible life.
The cloth shrouds his face and does not allow his eyes to see. The eyes are the metaphor for our way of seeing, the way we look upon the world and perceive it. Here, too, we will need a liberation from God, for crises obscure our sight. Just because they over does not mean that we can see clearly again. To the contrary, crises often cause us to see the new opportunities through the filter of our old fears. We cannot fill a new time with life and salvation in that manner.
We need the voice of God, through his word and his messengers. Yet, this voice, which calls Lazarus forth, also poses a question to us. Will we listen to and heed it? Jesus calls us all forth from the grave, but he does not drag anyone out of them. God will ensure that we are called into life. Whether and how we will live after the crisis lays in our hands.
Deuro exo (hither, outside!)
Lazarus, hither, outside!
Your life awaits you.
It cannot be fashioned in chambers of death.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
Martha and Maria, sisters are waiting for you.
Their tears need you gentle fingers.
That is why I unbind your hands.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
The people who mourned you when they thought you dead are waiting for you.
They yearn that you would again come toward them.
That is why I unfettered your feet.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
The world is waiting for you.
With your death, something of the glory of God was lost to it.
Be a person of lived life, for that is how the glory of God returns to the world.
I had the shroud removed from your face. Show your face.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
I dwell neither before nor in graves.
I visit them to call forth life.
I am waiting for you.
I wept before your grave.
Your willingness to live will now be my consolation.
ERIK RIECHERS SAC
Vallendar, March 29th, 2020
»Working tools of the soul«
The Early Christian Desert Fathers had withdrawn individually or as hermits or in small groups into the deserts of Egypt and Syria in order to practice prayer and asceticism. Based on their undistracted, clear view into the depths, they were already during their lifetimes sought after and compelling counselors and many of their words remain not only preserved, but significant to this day.
Thus, this thought has been passed on from Abba Poemen:
» Being on the alert, paying attention to oneself, and the gift of discernment: These three virtues are the working tools of the soul. «
At the moment, all of us are yearning to be guided through all that is transpiring on our way.
Abba Poemen names the three working tools of the soul. » Being on the alert « presupposes that I am aware of myself, of my inner life, in the first place. To be truly present to myself and not constantly in the externals – I allow myself to be guided there, in order that I might not lose myself, but be on the alert.
» paying attention to oneself «, the second tool of the soul, wants to make us attentive to that, which moves within us. It does this not that we might be torn forth and back by emotions, but to perceive them, reflect on them and interpret them.
Finally, the » the gift of discernment « helps us to distinguish impulses that might promise us a great deal, but do not lead to salvation and life, from those that hold more depth and living fullness in readiness. Only these come from God.
Virtues are not cheap goods; they demand exercises – every day and especially right now!
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 28th, 2020
The Heart of the Adventurer II
I am often asked whether I have a story for a difficult situation. Thereafter, I am asked why the story did not work. Naturally people assume that the problem lies with the story: it is too difficult, complicated or convoluted.
That is when I have to quote a basic lesson about the interpretation of a story. The text is silent until the reader appears.
This rule applies for all the stories which we encounter, be it the stories we read or hear, or be it the stories which we live and fashion ourselves. For the Stories of God and the Stories of Life always presuppose one thing: the heart of the adventurer must appear to interpret and live them.
Thus we come to the second characteristic which separates the adventurer from the tourist. The heart of the adventurer is the heart that seek ways through the undiscovered country. The heart of the tourist is the heart that only goes on predetermined, habitual paths.
The present new, unaccustomed and unexpected story of illness, social separation and the chaotic change of our lifestyle tests our hearts. We can complain that it is a difficult, complex and convoluted story, like students before a biblical tale: then we possess the heart of a tourist. We want to go the prescribed way. That means we want someone to offer us an explanation of this moment, to make it understandable and succinctly summarise it for us. We can sit back and need only note what they have told us.
All stories, including our Corona story, never assume that they owe us an explanation. The always presume that the listener, reader or recipient has come to ask for guidance and accompaniment. That is why they presuppose the heart of the adventurer. Tourists only come to the story expecting entertainment. Adventurers come to the story to seek the path to life.
This tale of Corona, quarantine, social distancing and fear, through which we are presently living, has a deeper meaning, but its contents and significance are still hidden. As with every biblical story, this story will one begin to offer us orientation when it has received dedicated attentiveness from us. There are reports everywhere about the effect that emergency measure and social limitations are having on people. But this present tale will only begin to having a salvific effect when we interpret what these effects mean. Interpretation is the art form. And interpretation is the art and craft of the adventurer. The heart of the adventurer is the heart that seek ways through the undiscovered country. The tourist does not interpret, but awaits solutions and explanations. The heart of the tourist is the heart that only goes on predetermined, habitual paths.
The relationship between the Corona story and how we will fashion and live through it is a complicated one. In reality, a story only speaks when a hearer appears. A story comes alive and starts to speak only from that moment when we are prepared to listen. How much this Corona story will tell is in direct proportion to how well we listen. For thirty years I have told students that their actions in reading and interpreting are essential if the story is to unfold its effect. We need to heed a story, take it into ourselves, and take it with us. The rule applies in this hour as well. We need to hear and heed the realities and changes, interpret them in order to understand what this hour is asking of us and connect it all to our lives, our behaviour and our actions.
Interpretation is the art, and it remains the art and craft of the adventurer. What we are presently living and suffering through is not an entertaining story, but it could open to us new, unseen horizons, untrodden paths and untried possibilities. For that we need the heart of the adventurer, for it seeks ways through the undiscovered country.
Erik Riechers SAC, March 27th, 2020
Nowadays in Germany, bells ring everywhere in the evening and invite us to place a candle in the window. Beyond denominational boundaries we are called to join with one another in prayer. Those who get involved can feel the community of people at prayer in the common anchoring in God, who carries and hold all things in himself and to whose presence we can entrust ourselves.
»God, you are near to us, now, here, in this moment and at all times.
God, we wish to go with you, give the impulse.
We want to rest with you, give us breath.
With you there are provisions, accompany us.
Remain familiar to us, and become new to us.« *
March 26th, 2020
*Manfred Büsing from: Lectio divina, Bd. 22, 2020
Silence - not curse, but blessing
In these days and weeks of very secluded living that all of us are leading in order to protect one another from the further spread of the virus, I pause repeatedly and become aware of the silence. The air space is quiet and on the street there is no traffic to the school or sporting events. Nothing disturbs me when I take a walk. This stillness does not make me restless or nervous, no, I cherish it as a gift and even relish it.
And I pause with what Roger Willemsen wrote about stillness:
»When all raucous movements, all superimpositions of noise over feelings, perceptions, impulses yields, then the stillness of contemplation sets in.
Nature is often experienced this way, the city seldom. The silence of the forest, the peace over the lake, the hush of the night, they all create associations with peace, the discontinuance of the high-speed, the bustling, the fleeting, even the trivial. Contemplation sets in, pure being-with-oneself. In social life as well, silence does not merely occur, it fills its own functions: In the »minute of silence«, in silent grief, the thoughtful pause, in the contemplation of the firmament, in the still spaces of churches, crypts, temples, in the vow of silence of the Carthusians, the hermits, the Tibetan monks of silence, in the »quiet time« between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Where modesty or even humility set in, there is a becoming-small and often piety, faith, which is reserved to introspection. There also dwells in the still moments of daily life a magic of its own, such as the silence before the kiss, the silence of common understanding in a glance, the silence of prayer …
It is often said of the lasting moments of a life, that they were »breathless«, that all motion came to a standstill in them, that they occurred in utter silence..« *
Can we appreciate and value what this time gives to us? An unaccustomed stillness whose vitality we can now »unpack« and discover.
March 25th, 2020
*from: Roger Willemsen, Musik! Über ein Lebensgefühl, 2018
The Heart of the Adventurer I
In Hamlet William Shakespeare poses an interesting question. Who would choose to grunt and sweat through an exhausting life, unless they were afraid of something of the future beyond death? For this future, which still lies in God’s hands, is the undiscovered country. And the undiscovered country of the future makes us stick to the evils we know rather than rush off to seek the ones we don’t.
Times of crisis, like the one we are experiencing, test our character and our hearts. And what is quickly determined is whether are bringing the heart of an adventurer or the heart of a tourist to the undertaking of life.
These two attitudes toward life will determine the way we approach the Stories of God. They are the two ways we can listen to the Gospel, as adventurers or tourists. More importantly, they are the two ways of approaching life: a spirituality of the adventurer or the spirituality of the tourist.
Today we will look at the first of nine characteristics that distinguish adventurers from tourists. The heart of the adventurer goes where life can be discovered. The heart of the tourist is the heart that goes where others have fashioned the contours of life.
Let us dare two biblical stories. The first story is in the book of Numbers 13-14. The people of Israel stand at the border of the Promised Land and hear the report of the explorers. Now they notice, that it is too much bother and too much effort to enter the land and make it their own. So they turn their back on the undiscovered land of their future and go back to aimlessly wandering the desert for another 38 years. The heart of the tourist is the heart that goes where others have fashioned the contours of life.
The second story is in Joshua 1. 38 years later the succeeding generation stands before the border of the Promised Land. They know it will not be easy and are repeatedly told to be courageous and steadfast. But this time they enter into the Promised Land, the undiscovered country of their future. They need to fight for it. The heart of the adventurer goes where life can be discovered.
Both groups need to face the questions we now face on the border to the undiscovered country of our future. What is a future worth to us?
In both stories the people must carry and forge the decision. Like them, we are confronted with difficult questions in the days of uncertainty.
Will we work for a promising future for us all, even if it demands a clear price from us? Even it entails difficulties? Even if it includes effort, struggle and conflict? The heart of the adventurer says yes to all this, because it is the heart that goes where life can be discovered.
Or are we only willing to speak of a promising future if the path has been prepared and smoothed for us? Or if the problems have been resolved in advance? Or only if the hindrances and obstacles have been removed? This is the heart of the tourist. The heart of the tourist is the heart that goes where others have fashioned the contours of life.
This pandemic has brought us to the border. We are faced with the foundational decision of thoe who stand before the undiscovered country of their future.
How much is new life worth to us? How much strength is it worth to us? How much effort is it worth to us? How much investment is it worth to us?
This crisis is an hour of decision and decisions should be fashioned. Yet, if a future for all should arise out of this time, then we will need adventurers. Tourists have no business here.
ERIK RIECHERS SAC
Vallendar, March 24th, 2020
Practicing, what we cannot yet do.
Last week a letter made me aware of what the great exercise of this crisis is for us Christians. It requires of us, namely, an entering into the »exercise of trust in God«.
Practice is called for, practicing trust in our God!
Yet, we always practice that, which we already know: we need to do everything (properly), to perform, organise, fulfil requirements, plan and carry, keep things in check… everything depends upon us!
Now, however, we are experiencing how little we can do and how little we have control over. That which is not required of us is restraint, waiting, staying at home, caring for our relationships with more distance, to endure silence, to let go. In truth, we must practice this properly. Yet, we do not practice in a vacuum. Our gaze becomes free and sees the One, who has always carried our lives. We were never the Lords of our lives – but we lived as if we were!
If we now enter into the »exercise of trust in God«, then we practice surrendering life to God in all that we can fashion in this time. He has trust in us and trust that we can, every situation, do the right thing – let us trust him, as the God who loves his people, as the one who always carries out lives! Naturally, we must consider and do what is ours in order to develop and protect life, but we do not hold the big picture in our hands.
At the moment, we are living more or less in quarantine mode. The term quarantine is derived from the Latin quadraginta, the number 40. In Italian the 40 days are called quaranta giorni.
Liturgically we are living in the time of Lent. An old word for Lent is Quadragesima. From of old, it always stood for 40 days of preparation, conversion, renunciation and practice.
For me, entering into an »exercise of trust in God« means to consider and nurture my relationship to God anew in its interweaving with all others. I can anchor myself anew in him, from whose hand no one falls. I exercise listening, a prayerful listening. I exercise the lamentation and articulation of all that weighs upon me. I exercise the seeing of all that is good and alive. I exercise thanksgiving.
The psalmist prays »Sate us in the morn with Your kindness, let us sing and rejoice all our days« (Ps. 90). »And I will lead the blind on a way they did not know, on paths they did not know I will guide them« proclaims the prophet (Is 42, 16).
We are not alone in this time of exercise. Let us exercise with all those who went before us and who walk next to us! Let us fill the time of quarantine with the deep meaning of Lent: to anchor ourselves deeply in the love of our God!
March 23rd, 2020
Opened eyes do not mean we live as those who see
A very frustrated man said to me in these days, »Through this crisis will open all of our eyes!« My question to him was, »And then what?« Is it really enough to have our eyes opened? Just because we can see the problems, the possibilities and the realities does not mean that we will act in such a way that we come to life. Just ask the man laying by the roadside between Jerusalem and Jericho. Twice he was seen in his need, once by a priest and a second time by a Levite. And twice lets the shocking line ring out, »he saw him and passed by.«
Today we have the story of a person who learns what he has to do after Jesus opened his eyes. And the first thing he must learn is to say »I«. Not the self-absorbed style of the egotist, but as an expression his human dignity. Without the ability to say »I«, we will deny our value, worth and significance, even after God has esteemed and restored it.
At the beginning of the story the disciples speak with Jesus about who is at fault for the blindness of this man. While discussing this highly personal question, the disciples talk about the blind man even while he is sitting before them. But they do not speak with him, they never directly address him.
Only Jesus does that. Only then does the man born blind become healed, only then does he see. Here Jesus recognises the perpetual danger to his people, namely, the tendency to speak about others, but not with them. All healing, all solutions to our problems and hr chance of winning back perspective and insight begins with the willingness to speak with people, address them personally and to start a dialogue. No one is healed in anonymity.
Talk to one another! That is not so easy, especially when we are accustomed to talking about the others. John makes it clear in the very next scene. After the man is healed of his blindness, the neighbours start to talk about him. No one talks to him.
The ensuing conversation deals with the architect of his healing and where he is to be found, but it does not deal with the man or his experience. No one asks him how he is, was he is feeling, what this means to him. And no one congratulates him upon his healing. And this among religious people for whom gratitude for life and healing is a given. Furthermore, there is no one in the story who praises or thanks God for this healing.
While the neighbours have an intense discussion about him, he must speak up for himself: It is I! For the first time he needs to find his voice and raise it up. He needs to speak up. He must interpret his own experience and stand by it. We, too, must stand up for our experience and for who we are before God, frequently before the superficiality of those around us. If our eyes are being opened in this time of the Corona Crisis, it will be of no use to us if we simply become bystanders in the midst of the panicked crowd. While others gossip in panic we are called to say what we have known, experienced, undergone and felt.
Then they bring the formerly blind man to the Pharisees. Again we not the same tendency. Either they speak about him (»this man«) or about the topic (the healing). But they never speak to or with the man standing right before them. The danger is clear: We talk about the topic and then leave off. The danger is that we do not speak with the people affected by the topic. At the moment, we are talking about a virus, the rates of infection, the curve, quarantines, and toilet paper. Yet, we hear few stories about the people who are deeply affected, the people behind these numbers, statistics and facts. We need to hear of the nurses who work 48 hour shifts and then cannot buy vegetables or fruit, because the healthy are hoarding them. We hear little of the people who cannot bury their loved ones and have no place to grieve. He hear next to nothing about the people who can only dream of the enforced pause the rest of us complain about, because they must work without pause to keep us safe, protected and supplied.
The next step of the story is when the man’s parents on called. The refuse to speak of their formerly blind son. »He is old enough, ask him yourself.« They may well be motivated by fear, but they are nonetheless right. The son must be an adult and that means speaking for himself. And he does so, with increasing strength, with increasing confidence, until at the end of the story he is able to say, »Lord, I believe«. It is the story of a man who discovers his own voice. He ceases to be the topic of the conversation of others and become the speaker who addresses the others. This is now his story.
In this worldwide crisis of the pandemic it is telling how often our talk has become generalised and condescending. We hear what »the people« are thinking or feeling. It is our task to find our own voice in this eye-opening time. As free and mature people we are capable of speaking for ourselves about what God, life and the crisis have awakened in us. My own personal story consists of decidedly more than the fear of this moment. There are stories of God and experiences of faith in me. In me there are stories of healing and of freedom. Community and mission are still a part of my story in these times of social distancing. Gabriel Garcia Márquez wrote a grand novel with the title »Love in the Time of Cholera«. Which stories will we tell after the time of the Corona virus?
Like the man healed of blindness, we discover our true, deepest conviction in confrontations. Only when we are confronted with other people, other opinions and other convictions to the questions of our convictions arise. Will I speak up? What is important enough, indeed, holy enough, to me that I will speak my mind instead of sheltering in silence? Such encounters and conversations undergo times of confusion and resistance, as we discover that others do not share or accept our points of view and convictions. That, however, is the task if we want to become »someone«.
Jesus opens our eyes. But we must find and raise our voices ourselves. Yet, it will not automatically be so. Hopefully, it will not one day be written of us that »they saw, but they passed by«.
ERIK RIECHERS SAC
Vallendar, March 22nd, 2020, 4. Sunday of Lent