Death, grace, glory: found on a day when all of God’s promises are fulfilled

Death, grace, glory

In Lorraine we drive down another hill and I think of my father. How he had lied down on the floor in a nursing home, blood gulping out of his mouth, dying from gastric hemorrhage. An hour and a half before his doctor had called me on the phone. He wanted my father sent to hospital, but my father had refused. The doctor asked if I could affirm that my father was lucid and aware of what was going on. In the background I heard my father saying that he was as lucid as could be and that he didn’t want treatment. I asked if I should come, but my father was adamant and said I shouldn’t.

All day long he had been throwing up blood and he knew he was going to die. But he didn’t want me around. He wanted to spare me the sight. I had to respect his wish, but ever since I have been torn between guilt of not being with him in that moment of agony and gratitude for his characteristic unselfishness. It remains a note of discord in my life that will never be harmonized. My father was my brother, my friend, my closest ally.

The Coast No Cow Can Tell

As we reached the valley, I realized that the song was not only about my father’s death but also about the cow which now lay dying in the meadow. Tears were dropping from my chin on the steering wheel. As I looked at my wife next to me I saw that she was crying, too. Now there was nothing that stood between me and sorrow and relief. I had become sorrow and relief itself. Is it the real me for a moment: the child in front of the silver screen?

It is the last song of the album. The silence afterwards weighed lightly upon us as we were driving through another empty French village. We neared the last houses of the village. The road took a slight bend to the right. Around the bend a bird was sitting right in the middle of the road and it kept sitting there until we were very, very close. As if to show itself to us in all its alien-like beauty. When we were at a distance of about ten meters, the hoopoe flew up and disappeared into the trees by the side of the road.

Instantly I understood that the cow had just died and sent the hoopoe as a sign.

It was 11 AM.

***

Death, grace, glory

Finally we arrived at the Basilique du Bois-Chenu, which is devoted to Joan of Arc. It’s two kilometers from Domrémy-la-Pucelle where Joan of Arc was born.

Outside the church men in working clothes were putting up a stage and a huge lighting installation. A man in a green coat greeted us and said something in French. As I didn’t understand him at first, he quickly switched to a somewhat laborious English. Carefully searching for words, he explained that next weekend there was a spectacle with 200 supporting actors and a sound and light show. The show was directed by the famous Damien Fontaine who is, among other achievements, a four time winner of the Trophée des Lumières at the Lyon Festival of Lights. For a moment I considered staying longer, but alas we had to be home by next weekend.

It was such a nice gesture from a stranger though: taking time and bowing to us by speaking laborious English. (We should bow to each other more often).

Such a nice gesture on this day of death, grace, glory.

***

When we returned to our house on the hill, we heard that the cow had been euthanized that morning after having been examined by a vet of the insurance company.

“At around 11 AM,” the farmer said (truly, truly true of course).

That evening the glowing finger on the hill glowed sadly and gloriously in the red and purple sunset.

Death, grace, glory

The Red and Purple Sunset of the Day of our Death, grace, glory

Be At Peace With Yourself For One Fine Afternoon

Peace

be-at-peace-with-yourself

…when through the branches of a barren tree the full moon paints freak patterns on the ground, the men from the village dance their ecstatic moves. They wildly jump around and stamp their feet wrapped in the skin of deer on the soft springy soil. Their bodies, sweat accentuating strong muscles, stirred up by the rhythmic beating of wood on wood, their minds brought into a trance by a secret potion of henbane, belladonna and dried fly agaric…

The men dance in circles around the shaman, the initiate who is at the center of the open space dancing his own crazy dance. He is totally immersed in his own pre-worldly universe and is dancing even wilder and more ecstatic than the other men. His head is hidden behind the mask of a deer’s head, the horns sweeping through the air as he dances around the fire. Still faster and wilder until he is just running in circles around the fire, slipping and sliding and falling down, his mask rolling aimlessly over the trodden grass. His body is shaking while he turns his face to the flames.

The women and the children sitting at the edge of the open space are the first witnesses to the miracle. Their cries wake the other dancing men from their trance. They stop dancing and look at the initiate and they see it, too. The fire in the eyes of the shaman and the fire of the flames seem as one. No, his eyes are not alight but for a short moment in time it looks as if the flames and the eyes of the shaman are of the same origin.

Fire, that is not as any of the other phenomena in this world as it doesn’t stand on its own but can only exist as long as it flames consume other things and in doing so create the beginning of something new, that fire is the representation of divinity on earth. And the eyes of the initiate, who may have been passed on secret knowledge from his forefathers, but for the rest is, just as the other men in the village, a farmer of the desert, those eyes represent humanity, taken from the soil.

And so, on this first night of spring the great miracle occurs in which divinity and humanity become one again for a short while.

In that short, holy moment the people of the village bow their heads and ask humbly from the divine spirit if the farming may bear fruit again this year: twentyfold, fortyfold, sixtyfold…

…when through the branches of a barren tree the full moon paints freak patterns on the ground and the stars make their rounds of the Eternal Mill through the endless universe, deep into the desert the coyote, feared and revered, sends his invocatory howl travelling through the night. For the time being the coyote still drowns out the sound of drums of an unknown people that has come from far away to, as rumor has it, subject all other races in the world and put an end to the old way of living that was taught by the Great Spirit.

Without making a sound a desert owl hovers over the open space. With fearful premonition the people around the fire raise their heads and pray that this year everything may still be well. For this one year at least…

This is the world into which I am born, time and time and time again…

Peace, One Fine Afternoon

I have this vivid memory of how my life was at the beginning. The kid in the cinema who became one with laughter. And look what has become of it  50 years later: a bag full of opinions. Conflicting, constantly changing opinions, too. A bag full of mixed emotions and passions:  generosity and greed, compassion and rudeness, love and hate, pleasure and pain. Driven from the garden of oneness and openness, predator and prey at the same time.

The more I am at peace with what has become of the kid in the cinema, the more I am able to slip into the garden of Eden. Be it just for a brief moment.

As we drove up the hill called Sion I thought of another hill long ago. The hill where the shepherd had been waiting to lay his healing hands upon my ancient wound while singing: Be at peace with yourself.

Koyaanisqatsi, The Time When Life Gets Out Of Balance

Koyaanisqatsi

The Big Painter in the Sky said to the bunch of yokels that was a leftover from his creation: “You are my chosen people. I will lead you to a country of milk and honey…  No, wait a minute.”

The Big Painter wetted His fingers with His tongue and thumbed through the pages of His Holy Book. “Yeah, here we are. I already have a story with a country of milk and honey. So many stories, I can hardly tell one from the other. Anyway, now it’s time for something completely different. So listen, instead I will lead you to a country where hardly enough rain will fall to raise your crops. You will not build big cities or sleek golden palaces like the other nations. You will be poor and looked upon as backward and slightly stinking.”

“Well, that’s a nice business,’’ someone yelled. “Can’t you pick others as your chosen people?”

The chosen people-to-be murmured, but the Big Painter in the Sky hushed: “Nope, the leftovers of creation will be my chosen peoples. And on the other hand: for every disadvantage there is an advantage. The fact that you are poor and live in the boondocks is your bliss, too. Other nations will not be likely to wage war on you as there is nothing to rob you from. You will live in peace for centuries, while other nations fight each other over their gold and silver. In the end they will be conquered by a strange people that comes from over the sea. In the meantime you will keep my law and live in peace for a long time. Your name will be Peace”

“And what is your law about, if I may be so bold to ask you?” a man with a hunchback shouted.

The Big Painter in the Sky threw two flat stones from a mountain and said: “Here you are. A lot of rules but it all comes down to this: treat the whole of creation: the air, water, rocks, trees, plants, animals and fellow men as you want to be treated yourself. For everything that lives is holy.”

Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance

Curiously the chosen people-to-be studied the stones. But the Big Painter resumed: “I have buried something precious in the ground you live on. In the end the people from over the sea will come and devastate my holy land to retrieve that treasure. That is the moment that you must reveal my prophecies to this strange people. For if they go on destroying all of my creation in their pursuit of wealth and profit, the end of this world will be near. The Great Watersnake Palulukon will rattle its tail in anger and floods will drown the coast lands.

This is the time when life is out of balance: Koyaanisqatsi. The weather will change, crops will fail because of draught or of decay because of extreme rainfall. And there will come an awareness among the nations, for those who are supposed to be the leaders will humiliate themselves as they are no longer led by wisdom and vision but by sheer greed.”

Lost White Brother from over the Sea

An so it was to be. When the white man came from over the sea he found coal and uranium in the soil where the chosen people lived. The white man divided the chosen people to the core with a prospect of wealth and comfort. But the traditionalists amongst them warned the world for disasters to come. But as they are just marginalized, slightly stinking folks, no one cares about them. And as one man’s dream is the other man’s nightmare, the chosen people in their worn-out shoes became street sweepers in the white man’s city of dreams, sweeping up the fall-out of their greed. As they had always done, they warily observed what went on in the other tribe.

No one heeds their call. Their warnings for Koyaanisqatsi, the end of times, are considered the sort of folklore that turns up every time when chosen peoples see their way of life threatened. There are quite a lot of them. Every continent seems to have at least one. These peoples share a common memory of how life was in the beginning and a grand vision of how it will be in the end.

koyaanisqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance

The Shepherd on the Hill: the Way of Nature and the Way of Grace

“You know,” the shepherd on the hill said while he blew the smoke from his cigarette through his nostrils. It’s been years ago now. I was in some sort of mountainous free state. I left my car in the valley where traffic jam, tax free shops, billboards with shrill colors and the eternal concrete construction sites made my head spin. Taking a narrow path that wound up into the green, green grass of spring mountain I finally reached higher ground. It was quiet here. A bird of prey soared silently around snowcapped peaks. On the top of a hill I saw a flock of sheep and a shepherd. I climbed the steep slope.

The shepherd greeted me in the stubborn way of men who are alone most of the time.

“Are you in for a chat?” I asked casually.

“Yeah, sure,” the shepherd answered surprisingly friendly. “I don’t see too many tourists up here. They stay in the valley. So feel welcome.”

He nodded with his head to sit down in the grass and rolled a cigarette from my tobacco.

The Shepherd and the Way of Nature

“You know,” the shepherd on the hill said, while he blew the smoke of his cigarette through his nostrils. “You know, in a pack of wolves there’s a strictly observed hierarchy. On top of the social structure is the leader.  The place in the pack is determined by dominance and submission. The position in the pack is already being established while the wolves are still pups. It looks like they are just playing, but in reality the strongest, smartest and most ruthless of them emerge to become in time the next leader.

Further down the line there is a fiercely guarded hierarchy. If there is a ranking from first to last one animal, as a matter of course, must be the last. We call it the underdog or outcast. The outcast is easily recognized, for it follows the pack at a little distance. It belongs to the pack and it does not belong to pack. The outcast is warily watching evolvements within the group, always alert in case the other wolves might let off their frustration and wrath at any time on him or her.”

Contemplation

The shepherd was silent and looked into the sky where the bird of prey was making a nose-dive. I knew the shepherd had been talking about me. He had seen me climbing up the slope, gauged me, seen through me. I had never belonged in high-school. You may say it’s merely regular teenage angst. That is absolutely true. But at the same time it was maybe more than just that. I was fatty and thought that was the reason I didn’t belong.

I became obsessed with diets. And again that didn’t suffice.

At night I heard the voices of classmates and teachers, saying: “You should this and you should not do that.” I thought: “If I just literally do as they say, then maybe one day I will belong after all”.

Every night, before falling asleep, I promised myself: “Tomorrow I will start a completely new life. I am going to be perfect from then on.”

The pursuit of perfection turned into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. An unforgiving winged creature guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden and the child in me. But his fiery, flashing sword didn’t only kill the naturalness and intuition of the child, but was severely condemning others too. I was stuck in a morass of anger.

The kid who was once one with laughter in the cinema, had also dreamed of becoming a missionary. But it wasn’t gonna be that way. Maybe it was never meant to be in this world. I remained an outsider, scrubbing floors in factories.

The Shepherd and the Way of Grace

Meanwhile driving through the next village in Lorraine my wife and I saw a castle. The castle was built as a calendar with 365 windows and 52 fireplaces.

“Look up there,” my wife exclaimed and pointed to one of the chimneys.

A pair of storks had built a nest on top of the chimney. I saw how they were feeding the young storks. The fledglings reached deeply into their parents’ beaks for food, flapping with their wings. I realized that this is part of this world too: all this love and caring and all these creatures parading before my eyes.

The shepherd on the hill blew out the last smoke of his cigarette.

He sighed and whispered: “Dominance and submission, that’s the Way of Nature, son. But that’s not all there is. One fine day of death, grace and glory you will find another Way, the Way of Grace. The Way of Grace will bring you delight and happiness and deep bonds of friendship and brotherhood.”

I was thinking about the shepherd on that hill a long time ago and how he had laid his healing hands upon an age-old wound.Shepherd on the Hill The piece of paper empty before me

As a plain under a blanket of snow

Dreaming, unstirring.

And I, a lonesome traveller,

Stand at the side and hesitate,

Afraid to break the white silence

and leave my trails as ineradicable curses.

Nostradamus or The Great King of Terror

Nostradamus wrote:

The year 1999, in the seventh month

From the sky will come the Great King of Terror.

To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,

Before and after Mars reign by good luck.

This quatrain is thought to be associated with the total eclipse of August 11, 1999. There has been a lot of fuzz about the seventh month in this quatrain. It has something to do with Nostradamus using the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian. One wonders why he couldn’t foresee this change of calendar only a few decades after his death?

Nostradamus interpreted

But anyway, the eclipse of 1999 darkened the Utah D-Day beach in Normandy, the First World War frontlines of the Somme, the Chemins des Dames and Verdun, the sites of the concentration camps of Dachau and Mauthausen, Braunau am Inn where Hitler was born, Hungary where an uprising against the communist regime was bloodily suppressed in 1956, Timisoara in Romania where the uprising against the Ceausescu regime was started by a televised speech of a reformed reverend, Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan where poison gas was used against the inhabitants and then on to Iraq and Iran and the war-torn border between Pakistan and India.

As if the eclipse was to summarize with one final sweep all the atrocities of the 20th century.

And what about the King of the Mongols? I thought of the wars raging in the deserts of the east. The beheadings, the stoning of innocent people and yes, crucifixions, too. The terrified local population – highly unlikely they ever heard of Nostradamus – calls the perpetrators ‘children of the  Mongols’. A far echo from the remembrance of the Djengiz Kahn.

Children of God

But still, they are children of God, too. Not in a literal sense of the word, for God doesn’t have children. But they are the fruit of his Creation and born with a free will:  a benign and a bad wolf inside them. What makes them feed the bad wolf so frantically?

Being aware of our own age of anger, aggression and atrocities, we shouldn’t wonder that they stray that far and pray for them to come home.

I stared ahead at the yellowish, rolling hills of Lorraine and thought of the never ending happening of war evermore and sore famine. I was yearning for the day to be, when God will roll his stone away.

Nostradamus
…waiting for the day that God will roll his stone away…