Last weekend, I retreated into the ‘Maria Toevlucht Abbey’ in Zundert.
For the last year, I have been thinking about religion and making work about it. I have been raised a protestant Christian but after a short period of intense devotion, I lost track of my faith. All that remained from my Christian upbringing, was the idea or feeling of the presence of God (in whatever shape that may be). Now I have the chance to research my feelings about religion in my work, I discover new things about it every time.
A while ago I received an e-mail from the student-pastor, asking if anyone wanted to come along on a trip to an abbey in Zundert. And because of my interest in religious imagery and religion itself, I said yes. I expected to have a lot of time to wander about on the premises and attend some boring services (like those I was used to at the church in my hometown).
When I arrived at the abbey and got to know the group a bit better, I saw that many of them had not come to Zundert for religious reasons, but more to rest and find a place outside of their stressful student lives; a view I had not yet thought of when applying for the weekend.
During the days we were in Zundert, I attended several services (4:30 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 12:00 a.m., 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.). These services were Catholic services, which meant a lot of bowing, standing, sitting down, standing again and more bowing. We sat in an empty-, white church while the monks in their spectacular white robes sang to each other. They were divided into two groups, each on another side of the room and sang pieces of the biblical psalms to the other side, each side patiently waiting their turn. A beautiful spectacle of people honoring existence and the questions thereof.
Next to these services and some fantastically calming meditations we talked with one of the friars. We asked him about his religious views and his time at the abbey. He explained that he once had lost his faith and then found it again in such a beautiful and unorthodox way. According to the friar, God found it’s form way more in our existence than in an entity above us. God is this plain of reality, a bundling of energy that happens to produce us. We live through God.
After he told us his vision, I asked him about the bible and what it means to him as his believes strayed from what the bible appears to tell. The monk mentioned that the bible was written by people. Therefore it should not be read as the direct word of God, but more as a collection of people’s experience with God. The world was not perse built in seven days, but a text like Genesis is an illustration of people asking themselves questions like this for ages and ages. Thinking about this, the bible suddenly turns from an awkward and smallminded view on what should- and should not be done, to a touching collection of people dealing with their existence.
After this talk, I started replacing the word ‘God’ with ‘reality’ or ‘existence’ in the psalms we sang, and it all turned clear for me. The presence of God shifted from a menacing man in space to the comfort of me being able to open my eyes every morning. Suddenly, the story of God seemed undeniable.
This was a delightful weekend. I met new people, sorted out all the messy thoughts about religion and people I loved, learned that God is more of an allegory for reality and, most of all, found rest.