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STORIES are everywhere
The fall season is here. It arrived quietly, just a number on the calendar, a slight drop in temperature, a cloud cover now and then to remind us that rain will come, eventually. There is still time to soak up the sun, to hike the dry trails, put in some fall veggies. The harvest moon and eclipse await us.
The fall season is here, with classes starting up, regular club meetings, new TV series, and a more enhanced work mode on the job. Most everybody is back from vacation and new projects can get going again. Summer vacations are turning into memories, harvested like the winter squash, apples, pears and Italian plums. I don’t know about yours, but my schedule is filling up rapidly for the next two months. Not a slow slide into winter on my calendar.
We are an ambitious bunch in this country. Generally we don’t take long vacations, and to get to the top we are willing to work way more than a 40 hour week. Even in our retirements we work, stacking up the projects we now can get around to, attending all the meetings we never were able to go to, seeing all the places we never had time to see. What is it with this ambition? Does it make us happier people?
My young nephew, recently transplanted from Holland to study and play high level sport in the States, summed it up in an interview on Dutch television, “In Holland second place is considered good, in America there is no second place, you either win or lose.” To him it is a live or die proposition. Sometimes I think this live or die notion is pervasive in our society. We adore the intensity of the top, the exceptional, we crave perpetual youth. To be ordinary, to be average does not have the adrenaline, the excitement we crave, to feel alive. Ambition is about adrenaline, is about winning. Ambition is the summer season of living, with lots of light, sun and energy. Are we afraid of the slow decay of fall, the decline toward winter?
Seasons can remind us of the natural cycle, OUR natural cycle. Are you letting the slowing down of natural forces affect your life, or are you gearing up to fill the shorter days and longer evenings to the brim? What is your aliveness all about?
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The evening sun lights up the red tower of the St Jan’s church, giving the red stone an unearthly glow. A red of flames and fire. The street sign pointing toward the square says “Vagevuur”, Dutch for purgatory.
The music coming from the square on the other side of the church, tells that the summer food and drink festival in this historic town is in full swing. An orgy before entering the gates of heaven? What about purgatory? I am no Catholic, but I don’t hear much about this in-between state any more. Is the world secularized enough that no one believes in a period of atonement, a Bardo state of choosing which life to continue?
The crowd swings to the music, alcohol flows liberally. Young women straighten their short, skin tight, stretchy skirts as they expose their form. Young men strut in skinny jeans, fresh starched shirts, starched hair standing upright. What else is hair mousse than a sticky flour product? A group of business men in blue, fashionable, almost too tight blazers, hang at a bar table, at the ready. I let my eyes roam over them as they return the look. There was a time, just a few decades ago, when for me a party like this was the portal to finding a companion, a mate, at least for the evening. Purgatory then was the hung over feeling after the party, and if you were lucky you were with somebody who wanted to create heaven with you. For many tonight it will be the same. The world over, people, young and not so young, like to lose themselves in the flames of an enchanted crowd to forget their daily world, to enter an altered state. According to the research laughing while in a crowd, creates a greater sense of pleasure than when alone.
This church taught the fearful that you could get stuck in purgatory and never end up in heaven. If you wanted a way out, you had to pay your dues, literally. The party-goers on the church square pay hard earned coin to forget themselves for a few hours, a whole night.
I don’t believe that there is a purgatory in the here after. Bardo is now. I visit a summer party, and I let myself be immersed in a world of strangers, a world of mind and stomach altering products, foreign tongues, uncertain outcomes and new possibilities. For a brief moment, a click of the camera eye, the setting sun on a historic building shines a new light on this evening.
In the beginning was the Word. That is what I was taught anyway. I don’t know about God, and certainly not about churches where you can find God. On my travels I do go into old, beautiful churches to feel how they can affect me. I discovered a church where you can find WORDS. Lots and lots of words, written by humans. Humans who have thoughts, humans who can imagine, humans who can tell a story that reaches other humans.
Stories can change lives. You can probably think of a story that changed your life, temporarily, maybe forever. Books changed my life. I was twelve when I fell seriously in love with books and bookstores. The nearest bookstore to my home was a modern, glass encased corner store, with shelves and shelves of books. Narrow isles to fit more books. I would sit on the floor and pick out a book, smell the new paper, run my hand over the cover, my eyes feasting on the image. The books didn’t say NO, don’t touch me. The books did not shy away and close their cover. The books let me hold them, let me feel their weight, open them and enter. Mind finding another mind. What is more sexy than that for a slow maturing teenager?
In the current western civilizations, as people read books and learn, churches are closing, people don’t believe the words preached on pulpits, don’t want to enter the world that promises a better hereafter. They want what there is to have, NOW.
I walked into a church with a big metal book sculpted outside its walls, the Dominican church in Maastricht, in Holland, and found high arches, stained glass windows, the light from above reflected in colorful images of saints. I found deep gleaming wood shelves instead of pews, and I found books, rows and rows of books. Books in languages of countries touching each other in this corner of the world. Books open for browsing, for giving that special story, that special connection that could change a life, take someone away for an evening.
The Word is still alive. People are still hungry for it. The throng of humans roaming the isles were a testimony that a church can still have a function. Immediate, NOW.
for more images of the church bookstore follow this link