What are we actually passing on then? That was the subject for discussion in Montbéliard, France, where we and some 150 other Dutch came together from 10-13 May to meet up with so many other European brothers and sisters of so many different sorts. What story can you not keep to yourself? What story is it
that you just have to share? It’s incredible to realize that you are part of such a large community, regardless of differences in background, theological vision, belief, traditions and, particularly, preferences.
With respect to these personal preferences, there was enough opportunity to really put these in perspective. I’m well aware that I often have an opinion. An opinion on what I consider to be good music, what theology I see as appealing, where the commas and full stops should be…and I realised that the MERK was helping me break down these self-inflicted obstacles for a while. Was it because of all these people being together? The belief in a beautiful future? The Holy Spirit? Or was this all the same thing?
Those rotten convictions! Every time I think I know how things should be done, I become less able to feel. Because the music’s the wrong sort. Or the text is too simple. Or it’s too Roman Catholic, or too evangelical. Or too liturgical, too simple or too pompous. Or not pious enough. But then, I imagine God doesn’t see much in all these obstacles and whispers gently: “Go on, join in. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or not. I’d rather see you all together than apart. Go on. Sing!” and he gives me a little push.
It’s all wonderful. Together, harmonious, enthusiastic. And yet. As I hold the témoin in my hand, I try to think what it is I can pass on. Next to me is my 9-year-old daughter and we’re looking at the stage far away in front of us. Everything is big and impressive. “Our Lord is the greatest” is being sung and I hear it’s all about Christ. His blood washes white as snow. And suddenly I feel a sense of loneliness rising in me although there are hundreds of brothers and sisters around me. I try to break down the barriers that are my personal preferences but notice that this is too much to ask on this final day. The bread and wine are ready but I’m looking for another expression for my fragile life with God than this overwhelming show. Classic theological phrases are being projected onto the big screen, such as the meaning of the last supper, that are
beyond the order of the world in which I live. I’d read in a book by the Dutch theologian Ruard Ganzevoort about the expression ‘zombie categories’, a term he uses for concepts that once referred to a living truth but do so no longer. It’s
just they’ve forgotten to die off. They are like code words in a secret religious language that I don’t speak (any more). Can we even find a religious language that reaches further than just the inside of its own ecclesiastical tradition?
What am I to pass on? I’m longing for a moment of smallness, of quiet, of mystique. For a moment in which my daughter isn’t overwhelmed by spectacle but by a tender touch of life with the One, in the normality of it all, in its brokenness, in a laugh, a tear, a single word, a brief song. I pass her the cup and assure her it’s grape juice.
The language I’m looking for, and need, to talk about God is a language also heard in poetry when you realize afterwards that there is no other way of saying something except in that way. It’s not a language that captures God, but you can find him in it. ‘Si comprehendis non est Deus’, said Augustinus – when you think
you understand, it is not God that you have found. Maybe that is the témoin I have to pass on.