Monday, October 29, 2007

(En) Religious freedom: A moral imperative, more than ever

By Rev. Peronne Boddaert, UUUNO/IARF New York.

If one tries to give an in-depth reflection on one of the most puzzling issues worrying our minds-that of terrorism and its suggested but unclear interconnectedness with the Middle East- one easily gets lost. In the light of the recent horrific events one can wonder: can we start acting upon it one way or another? How would we see some appropriate and helpful perspectives as Unitarians?

The questions related to the issue are manifold and almost too oversized. To name a few: ‘To what real extent does Islam play a role as legitimization for terrorist attacks?’ ‘Of which geographical areas are we exactly talking?’ ‘How even to define terrorism itself?’ Besides, the political and situational facts and proceedings shift daily: each hour the scene seems to be different.

However, I would like to give to you some notions for our further thinking and responding to it. To begin I say something about myself: I am a Dutch liberal Protestant (Remonstrant) minister, trained as theologian in Leiden and Oxford. Also I am active in the interfaith work through The International Association For Religious Freedom, the oldest interreligious organization that was founded 7 years after the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. IARF is an NGO the UUA –and therefore in a way the UUUNO- is a member of like the Remonstrant Brotherhood. Ministry was what brought me here: first I worked as Volunteer Coordinator at All Souls Church, New York. But ministry is not only happening at the congregation but in social justice work as well. And it seems to be more needed than ever. Therefore I do work now for UUUNO and IARF.

This article starts from one of the vital UUA (and Remonstrant!) principles: the precious right of each individual to live and express his or her own faith or belief in freedom and tolerance, or as Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states it: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’.

And religion does come in at this issue, but also in our personal life attitudes in one way or another. But first I’d like to start with some general facts that may be helpful in the context of this article. To start very concretely: UUUNO/IARF are both represented at the UN Committee of Religious NGO’s that gathers monthly. Here free discussion on a theme takes place, with all kinds of brothers and sisters connected in faith. This Committee functions in a way as a ‘think tank’ for UN decision making. Positions and facts in politics are criticized, ethical and moral implications and deeper spiritual notions that are vital are brought up. Even special study groups on topics are organized if a theme is especially important, like is now the case with Islam in the light of 9/11. The good news is, that the role of this Committee seems to be taken more and more seriously. Mary Robinson, the UN Chief Commissioner of Human Rights for instance, regularly attends and wants to take this ethical/religious input seriously up in her further recommendations to the UN’s complex ramifications of international laws, institutions and decisions.

Secondly I now continue with some religious aspects, or ‘modern theology’ if you will, that may influence handling the issue to some extent. Inspirational starting point is both protection and promotion of especially Article 18 on Religious Freedom as mentioned above. Our October NGO session dealt with ‘Transnational Politicized Islam’. I would propose this term to you rather than ‘fundamentalism’. One can live his or her religious values in a very fundamental way, and never harm a fly, so I think the term can be misleading if we talk about terrorism. Rather our issue is dealing with the question of the real religious factors playing a role in the acts and deeds of terrorists. Fact is, that there unfortunately is a long history of terror in our world. I don’t need to restate that. Fact is, that perpetrators of this kind of violence often –but far from only- come from a Muslim background. Fact is, that these violators sometimes even openly claim their deeds ‘to be in the name of Islam.’ Which is, as one may know, not belonging to the fundamental core of Islamic faith values, as is obvious in its very name itself-Islam meaning peace (Think of Shalom)! Other faith traditions also have their blemished histories so Islam stands far from alone. But fact is, that these days there is supposed to be a connection between terrorism and this faith.

As already stated: I prefer to speak about ‘Politicized Islam’ that covers the above said. To try to understand this further, more understanding is needed in Islamic mindset and thinking. Yes, it is different from ‘Western’ thinking indeed in some ways. The Quran, and the actual cultures standing in its tradition, doesn’t work with concepts, -isms or constructs, like ‘The White House’, or ‘Separation of Church and State’. The latter is crucial to keep in mind as Western minds easily take their manner of thinking for granted and implement it readily on other cultures. As many contexts, as many variety and expressions of Islam on this earth. Let alone the countless structures in which Islam in somewhat ‘organized’. There is no over covering organizational body like the ‘Church’. Next to this I want to stress that it can be very one dimensional to speak about ‘The Islamic Ideology.’ This faith is lived out in various ways and inspired many different ideas, some specifically political in color. But there is not one ideology. Politiced Islam has existed over a period over time. It for instance became organized in the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ that wanted their societies more Islamic, restore the dignity of impoverished Muslims and reacted against former Colonialism. Aims were perhaps good, but political radicalization was lying at risk. Likewise other similar initiatives show this ambiguity as politics (have we heard this before) are intertwined so strongly from the early beginnings as Mohammed conquered some geographical areas. And yes, then fanatic or fearful minds can misshape original faith-based intents. Freedom of religion or belief completely disappears from the scene. It is said that the later decline of the Ottoman Empire may contribute to the contemporary resentments towards ‘The West’. Some more theology now, which is speculative but can be a tool at the same time. The Quran speaks of Jihad, literally ‘struggle’. This term was referring to ‘the personal struggle between the good and the bad in oneself’. It is related to ‘making a strong effort’. Of course this term can be and often is misused in political legitimating of violence. The last term that I like to bring up is ‘House of War’. Yes, the Quran talks about this house as opposite to the House of Islam. The ‘House of War’ is the overcovering (I rather not speak of all embracing) name of ‘God’s enemies’. People that refuse to be friends with God, his helpers. It does not directly refer to all non-Muslims. There are two sides of the coin. People on earth I think should try to never place them into a victim role and stay there forever. Better is, to try to think and act as nuanced and balanced as possible. Principle of it may form our UUA principles and/or those of the UN Declation. It already helps not to speak in terms of ‘we’ and ‘them’, as it polarizes the issue further. Main important fact is, that brutal deeds of terror extensively limit people’s free expression in life, living their personal faith, belief and convictions without harming others. As my Egyptian friend recently wrote to me, who is a well-trained scholar based in Cairo: ‘Peronne, I never I can’t go anywhere anymore. Muslims think I’m a Zionist, Jewish friends aren’t sure that I don’t conspire against them, Westerners often question my real integrity. What to do and where to go?’ Besides, as he is a media man, he is watched all the time. Freedom of his convictions is completely ignored.

Now back to what we can do. I think work small-scale and think large. Meet ‘the other’. In private homes, in your congregation. Break vicious circles of negativity. Support the work of UUUNO and IARF that seems more vital than ever. Feel inspired by our living tradition.

There is one last point I’d like to make. ‘Freedom of religion or belief’ is still largely undefined. How should governments treat their faith communities? How are faith communities supposed to treat each other? To what extent are you free to choose your own religions and convictions? IARF –in line with Kofi Annan who stated this also- will develop a ‘Voluntary Code of Conduct’; a moral set of standards responding these questions. First step is to have an initial statement possessing credible force by the religious communities that commit to it. Also it will be communicated to and discussed by mainstream religions. It can become a tool that can have a large moral authority in our societies. At the upcoming 31st IARF Congress, Budapest 2002, 7/28-8/2, with additional tours to Unitarian Congregations in Central European countries!) A workshop is devoted to this you may wish to join. (See for further details:

I end with an old Remonstrant quote: “Unity in things necessary, freedom in things uncertain, but in everything: Love.’

(En)The Unifying role of the Holy Spirit

A shortened version of a paper given at the inaugural meeting of the European Liberal Protestant Network

Bad Boll, Germany, July 1998

By David Steers

Many liberal Christian people might be wary of starting a consideration of their identity with the concept of the Holy Spirit. For some, especially in the English speaking world, the primacy of the Holy Spirit in worship is linked to the spirit-filled worship of Pentecostalism, with the excesses of 'speaking in tongues' or glossolalia, of worship based primarily on emotion and expressive outpourings. At the present moment this kind of experience finds its fulfilment in the so-called 'Toronto Blessing' - which particularly affects Anglicans and other mainstream denominations - where participants in such services throw themselves on the floor in hysterical laughter or bark like dogs or make other strange noises. For liberal Christians these kinds of phenomena hold little attraction.

Another cause of suspicion for those coming from a liberal tradition might be a reluctance to sign up to the traditional definition of the Holy Spirit, so confidently asserted, for instance, by the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church when it says that the Holy Spirit is

The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, distinct from, but consubstantial, coequal and coeternal with, the Father and the Son, and in the fullest sense God. It is held that the mode of the Spirit's procession in the Godhead is by way of 'spiritation' (not 'generation') and that this procession takes place as from a single principle (F.L.Cross and E.A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Second Edition, Oxford 1974, 660).

Some might feel that such precision of definition is itself a limitation on the work of the Holy Spirit, a traditional liberal approach has been to refuse to be bound by creeds, however well intentioned, and it was, after all, St Paul who said that "The written code kills but the Spirit gives life".

But partly because of these kinds of considerations liberal Christians are sometimes prone to overlook the importance of the Holy Spirit, and I would like to suggest that in many ways the Holy Spirit should have a central place in our witness as liberal Christians.

The Holy Spirit is clearly important in the Biblical records, especially in the Old Testament. Here the word Spirit is usually translated from the Hebrew word 'ruach' which means something like 'breath'. So at the very beginning of the story of creation in the book of Genesis we are told that The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters and when God created humanity from dust God breathes into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. For the Hebrew people the image of the Lord breathing life into the world and into his people was a powerful one, for them the Spirit was the physical life principle in humanity and also the source of all human skill and excellence.

The Spirit was also the source of divine truth in the prophets - The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to the bound (Isaiah ch.61 v.1), and the Spirit was the power making for moral holiness which was something recognised by the Psalmist. In Psalm 51 the core of the writer's plea is for the presence of God's Spirit in the heart of the penitent:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence,

and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

This Psalm is a fervent prayer for cleansing and renewal. The people turn towards God in search of his compassion because the writer believes that God in his love will create a new heart for the faithful.

Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the power of the Spirit in the Old Testament is found in the book of Ezekiel. In chapter 37 the prophet is taken to a vast battlefield which is strewn everywhere with the bones of long dead men. Commanded to prophesy in the Valley of the Dry Bones Ezekiel is asked Son of man, can these bones live? He did as he was commanded and there as he prophesied the scattered bones of the valley became skeletons, the skeletons became corpses, and the corpses became living human beings.

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.

Of course, this vision is not meant to be literally understood. It is a parable, a metaphor. It was addressed to the Jews in exile in Babylon who were feeling that they were no better than bones, that they were effectively dead, that they had no hope. Ezekiel prophesied to them that there was hope for the future, that Israel would rise up from the dead. Indeed future events showed that this was true. With the fall of Babylon to the Persians things became easier for the Jews, and many of them were able to return to Palestine and refound Jewish life in the Jewish land.

I sometimes think that this is a particularly apt passage to be considered by liberal Christians. If we are going to be honest about the fortunes of liberal Christianity in the twentieth century we would have to admit that the optimism of the nineteenth century, in which liberalism was in the vanguard, has evaporated in the light of the cataclysms of this century and it has had its effect on the strength of many liberal Christian churches. But I believe that like in Ezekiel the possibility of the Holy Spirit re-invigorating our fellowship of faith is a very real one, one that perhaps can begin with this meeting.

The key phrase in Ezekiel is Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. This is a very clear link to one of the most important passages in the New Testament concerning the Holy Spirit. The story of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 is the story of the creation of the Church, it is the story of a discouraged and fearful group of people being galvanised into a living Church when the apostles heard a sound.... from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in a group of people - not necessarily in such a dramatic way, in fact very often as the "still small voice" - that turns that assembly into a Church that is able to play its part in the building of the Kingdom.

So the Holy Spirit is important to all churches, however they might be described or labelled. Today we are particularly thinking of the unifying role of the Holy Spirit. One of the things that the Holy Spirit did on the first Pentecost was break down the barriers between people of different backgrounds. I am sure then that the Holy Spirit calls us all to be ecumenical and anxious to promote inter-church co-operation. Indeed many of the churches and groups represented here have been pioneers in local ecumenical initiatives and continue to be involved in such activities. It is also true that as members of the IARF we are willing to go one step further and to seek to engage in dialogue and understanding with peoples of other faiths, which is one of the biggest challenges that the Christian Church faces at the present time.

But I believe also that the Holy Spirit has played and continues to play a central unifying role for the different bodies represented here. In the centuries since the reformation there has been an exchange particularly of ideas, although sometimes also of people, that has been enriching and important. In this way the Holy Spirit has acted to bring Christians of liberal outlook together and helped them to bear a distinctive and often very influential witness in their own localities.

We can see this at work in a number of ways but it can be explained very clearly by looking at the shared historical development that liberal churches and movements have had in Europe. In England in 1662 around 2,000 clergymen were expelled from the Established Church creating the large community known as Dissent. The largest group within Dissent was the Presbyterians who were essentially Calvinist in their doctrine. Excluded from the ancient universities they had to create their own academies for the education of their ministers. We know that in such institutions they came into contact with liberal and radical ideas from all over Europe. We know from his diary that one student in Manchester at the very end of the seventeenth century came across the writings of European theologians such as Episcopius, Socinus and Crellius which caused him to question the doctrine of the Trinity and reject rigid Calvinism. This shows the web of connection between liberal groups across Europe. Lets look briefly at these theologians.

Episcopius was the assumed name of Simon Bishop (1583-1643) who systematised the tenets of Arminianism when professor at Leiden in the early seventeenth century and went on to be one of the founders of the Remonstrant Church in the Netherlands. After spending some time in exile in France he became the Rector and Professor of Theology in the Arminian College in Amsterdam.

Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) was an Italian, a native of Sienna, who had immense influence on the development of liberal Christian views in Europe. Socinus' liberal theological views began to be expressed following the writing of 'On Christ the Saviour' (1578) which rejected the traditional doctrine of the atonement in favour of subjectionist view first put forward by Abelard. He spent a few years in Transylvania, in Kolozsvar engaging in dialogue with Francis David but moved to Poland in 1580 where he became the leader of the Minor Reformed Church, one of the most important, if short-lived, flowerings of liberal Christianity in European history. Partly under his influence the Church produced the Racovian Catechism in 1605 a landmark publication for a free and rational approach to Christianity. The Minor Reformed Church was ultimately destroyed in the Counter-Reformation but its ideals and principles survived and exile communities continued in Transylvania, East Prussia and Holland.

Samuel Crellius (1661 - 1747) was the learned leader of the Socinian Polish group in East Prussia. Educated in England and Holland he argued for tolerance between Lutherans and Calvinists. A friend of Sir Isaac Newton his scholarship was widely recognised across Europe, publishing an important text on the nature of Christ in England in 1726. His last twenty years were spent in Amsterdam where he associated closely with the Remonstrants.

Another important theological influence that led many to reject the Calvinism of their forebears and embrace liberal doctrines was Jacobus Arminius. Arminius was born in Holland in 1560 at educated at Utrecht and Marburg, later studying at Leiden, Geneva, and Basle as well as Padua and Rome. In 1603 he was appointed professor at Leiden and began to argue against the doctrines of Calvinism. He put forward the view that Divine sovereignty was compatible with a real free-will in humanity; that Jesus died for all people and not just the elect; and repudiated the doctrine of predestination.

Arminian ideas were taken up all over Europe, in Ireland they were enthusiastically followed by New Light or Non-Subscribing Presbyterians. In Scotland they found a receptive audience amongst leading academics in the eighteenth century.

We continue in the footsteps of such people who, in the period of the Enlightenment, endeavoured to shake off those elements of Protestantism that were narrow and restrictive and to marry faith with the growing strides in knowledge and understanding made by humanity, to link faith and reason together. The links of personnel and ideas between the different groups represented here today began in the early eighteenth century and were continued by others in later centuries. In some places, England, Ireland or the Netherlands for instance, separate liberal churches were founded. In others - such as Scotland, France or Germany - liberalism tended to take root within the mainstream denominations.

This is the part that the Holy Spirit has called us to play in Europe, it is in this tradition that we all stand, and I would suggest that it is manifested in a number of different ways.

The first is, I have just suggested, by bringing together faith and reason. These are the twin pillars for any mature approach to religion. Secondly and linked to this first point is an open and thoughtful approach to the Bible. In an era when Biblical fundamentalism is becoming more strong and aggressive this is a very important issue. However, liberal Christianity is also characterised, as I mentioned earlier, by a willingness to be ecumenical and co-operate with others. So the third point stems from the injunction of the Psalmist - How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity (Psalm 133 v.1) - which remains as an imperative for us today. We should actively seek unity and not be afraid of dialogue. Following on from the stress on reason comes the fourth point, the belief in the individual's responsibility for his or her own faith, what the constitution of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland calls "the sacred right of private judgment". But if we expect liberty of conscience for ourselves then we also have to be willing to extend it to others. So the fifth point is one of tolerance. In the centuries since the reformation religious toleration has been the exception rather than the rule even though an early stand was made in 1568 with the Declaration of Torda which was one of the first explicit grants of tolerance and religious freedom in Europe. But St Paul himself declared that: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians ch.3 v.17), and our faith calls us not just to protect the liberty of religion but the freedoms of all peoples to live in societies characterised by equality and a respect for human rights.

So these are some of the distinguishing marks of the work of the Holy Spirit amongst liberal Christians in our particular tradition. This takes us back to the Spirit of the first Pentecost, the breath of God coming among people and giving them the courage or the strength to take up the tasks that await them. The message too, of both Pentecost and Ezekiel, is that no matter how hopeless things might seem or how confusing they might be we can still rely on the presence of God as an invigorating and positive presence if we will allow ourselves to be touched by it.

For all that we know about the world, for all that we have been able to discover about physics and the natural environment we still have to look with wonder on creation and marvel at the source of life which is beyond our power and beyond our creation.

But the purpose of the Church is to be led by this spirit, by the breath of life, to be animated and directed by the power that lies behind all life. And the spirit goes beyond the purely churchy or the narrowly religious because we can see it at work in all forms of creativity and achievement. Christianity is ultimately a life affirming religion, we believe in life before death, and it is only right then for us to find God in all aspects of human progress. It therefore follows that everything we do should be invested with our faith and done for God.

I would like to suggest that the Holy Spirit lies behind our coming together today and is the binding element in our relationship. The Holy Spirit reminds us to be open to the new possibilities that God always provides, both as individuals and as churches. It reminds us of the need to be confident and trusting in what God supplies and through the long and interwoven history that we share gives us the possibility today of a new and exciting future.

(En)God LOVE: ‘I’ll be there like the morning dew’

By Rev. Peronne Boddaert

Today I’d like to reflect with you on one of the aspects of the Eternal, the One without Name. That very other who wants to be known as Love, Lover at the same time. That very Other with whom you can be one, nevertheless. Is that possible? As such a unity experience isn’t within reach for everyone. However, through all ages there have been people that knew about the Eternal One, who seems to be both far away, as well as extremely near. Like if your beloved creeps under your skin, penetrating you fully inwardly. We read from prophet Hosea (8th BCE) and also from Hadewijchs poetry who was a Netherlandish mystical woman from 13th century. Who are these people? What do know about them? But most of all: what are they talking about?

Hosea is a real prophet. The Greek word profemi already reveals it: it means: ‘to speak in advance’. Gods messages for the future are straightly coming into Hosea, so that he becomes an im-mediate medium of the Eternal One’s speech. This is a very pure, direct experience: God’s language becomes Hosea’s language and in reverse. Actually the story that Hosea and God want to tell us is very moving I think. Through Hosea’s personal tragedy in his marriage with unfaithful Gomer we get to know something about God’s problem with human infidelity and about what is means to miss the point completely. In this case, Israel is the focus of the problem. What does its infidelity mean for both Hosea and God? Hosea is mad of anger, even furious and doesn’t want to do anything with Gomer anymore. “I’m not her husband and she’s not my spouse”. Full stop. He disconnects any communication with her for a long period. He even wishes bad things for her! Likewise it’s the case with God’s ‘mood’. Because also He happens to possess pathos, feelings. He turns away his face. Sad as she is about the shameless egoism the people are manifesting. Back to Hosea for a moment. He cannot live with the fact that it’s wrong between him and his wife. However jealous and disappointed he may be, he starts to think about Gomer. Who is that woman really? How come she got involved with other men? Anew he experiences his interest for her. He starts to acknowledge her as the person that she really is at that moment. Investigating her boundaries, testing her limits, continuing her life path as she chooses. And although he hopes for reunion, he doesn’t expect anything of her. He’s just very concerned about her, and alert. Only in this way he cal really love her, by giving her full space. Will Gomer come back? We don’t know for sure. But the possibility exists again! It might be true! I find it beautiful: this little prophet not being shy to show his emotions. Or…is it God at the same time? Both is true. The Eternal cannot and will not cut the link he created with his people. The covenant can’t be pushed aside. The people will always be in her memory and at the same time her realizes he fully loves them. Unconditionally, without expecting anything back. But yes, He hopes on return on the right track. ‘I’ll be there like the morning dew, like a lily he will flourish’. The people’s life path will become right again, becoming as they were meant to be. He knows it’s possible to be fully one in Him. By receiving his loving care you can live in him and with him in His commandments and in individual worth. Like through following him you fully become your truest self and you discover your individual freedom. I know it sounds paradoxically, which it is. But we’ll talk about it. The Eternal wants to be their Beloved for them. An open invitation to reach to Him, including all risks as the Eternal One is just who she is. An open end.

And now Hadewijch. She knew how to respond to God’s open invitation. Perhaps the one person has more talent for it than the other. She had direct, first-hand experiences with God, very intense. As you think of it these sort of experiences are fundamentally the building

stones of our different religions. They can’t exist without these evocations and testimonies. And for you and me they can become sources of inspiration, as well as study and reference-points. Hosea the prophet and Hadewijch the mystic: not the average type of people. A similarity between them is for instance in their experiencing God: you feel the Eternal with trembling knees, because you experience your own smallness and mortality through this Power. At the same time you only want to be with the Eternal, she stays the Love that fascinates. The very Other is enticing you. But whereas God’s message is resonated immediately with a socially moved prophet, a mystic describes foremost his or her personal findings with God. Like Hadewijch’s case, everything written down in magically beautiful medieval Netherlandish poetry. She has transcended normal levels of emotions, in her visions she has become conscious of the deeper realities of God’s truth, beauty and ways of loving. She calls it fervent, ardent encounters with the Other, Love. Both her and Hosea’s experiences are radically intervening their existence. She notices that contact with this Love goes hand in hand with deep abysses and high peaks. As if you are completely in love. Not knowing where you exactly are, loosing yourself totally, in all vulnerability. Like the love pain you can feel if that other seems completely out of reach, or is even cool and distant.

But it becomes Hadewijchs path: through serving this Love, this God, she knows about a perfect life, impregnated by real passion for her existence, as well as that of others. She is real. And Hadewijch feels like a rose again, rising from the thorns with the morning dew. Because this Love’s dew worked sweetly and refreshing –despite the pain. That dew healed again, gave new strength. Hadewijch again discovered a positive attitude towards life, a critical look on herself. She is ready to stand in life with all surrender and inspiration. In the end, life is fantastic! She tells us that because of this love she wants to go for it again. Giving shape without fear to ideas whilst standing behind her ideals and dreams. Also by helping and comforting others. This contact with love brings the best out of her. And for Hadewijch this is the case again and again. And she knows that exposing herself to the pain belongs to this way. But even then, or no, on the contrary she knows that she can stand in freedom to the fullest length if she first understands how to detach herself. ‘Noble Love may bind and free us like her beloved ones’, she says. In tasting the other you taste your own self, your own essence. And in the end she knows that she is loved actively, although Love God seems to be far at times. ‘Have mercy on me as Love doesn’t take pity you see’, she utters. But yes: HE IS AND ALWAYS SHALL BE THERE. But, tasting her is so utterly delicious, you want to experience that continuously! But she dares to enjoy the way Love is there for her, what he owns. Also the freedom that Love isn’t always obviously available. And she knows, she always be in Love’s memory. The fun thing is, that the Dutch old word for Love, minne, is derived from latin: mens, spirit or consciousness and memini, which means ‘to remember’. Minne, Love refers therefore to the thought of the beloved! And this Love can occupy everything in your life when active. Do you and I have something with Hosea’s and Hadewijchs experiences? What do we do with it? Can we do anything with that mysterious Eternal One, described to us as alternatively powerfully manifesting herself as well as shining through big absence? Love, Minne is a contradiction that lives in his own being. But is the Eternal One yet a contradiction? God seems to be absent only these days. At least this may be experiences by many of us as I hear many sighs as: ‘religions and God only give a pretext for violence and war.’ Or: ‘I want to deal with spirituality, but cannot find it.’ It seems to me that there is a lack of ideals and dreams. The passion, the zest for life seems to be smashed away to people a bit. People, only concentrated on the own little world and just ‘go on with life’. Companies that don’t hesitate to display unethical methods, the scandals are well known to us. Everything for reasons of increase of profit. I guess people are often quite bored and become disinterested, many people that don’t experience life as a gift, but as a yoke. And indeed such feelings can be justified and feel very deeply genuine. What if your partner is unfaithful, or you are victimised by betrayal, violence or guile? What if you are really ill? Where IS Love, God then? It should then work on you as encouragement, like morning dew that sparkles more purely and freshly than the largest diamonds. But this Love seems to be hidden away, a lover afar and aloof. These are questions easier posed and answered. But Hosea and Hadewijch do tell you and me today something. Namely, on your own readiness of heart. Do you have readiness of heart? Can you open yourself with full surrender by accepting life fully and go for it? Not eschewing emotions? Still willing to be confronted by that Love, who isn’t the easiest of lovers, being non-present at times. But who is the true Love, because one tends to forget he is always there. And…how do you do such a thing? Because not everybody reaches the avenues of a prophet or mystic. I think, with Hadewijch and Hosea: to learn how to look with new eyes to others and yourself. To admit surprise with regard to the other. Or yourself. To show care and compassion, however wrong that other person may be in your perception. Like Hosea, who learned to be there for Gomer. He wanted to be like the dew, who wished that that wild lily his wife was could grow in her own being. Can we be for one another like refreshing dew? That we cherish and support each other? Keeping in mind we are interdependent of each other. Sometimes our life paths cross, we need to work that out for the better. Perhaps we can learn to love Love in return in this concrete, uneasy way. Hadewijch tried so, and succeeded by bits and pieces. Learn to love Love back. Where his open invitation doesn’t stay with one of those annoying receptions you don’t go to in the end. No, it has to deal with a total different, subtle and tender love game that is reciprocal. A give and take mutually. Learn to be there for Minne, for God Love, like she is there for us in the end. Hadewijch calls us to give voice to the deep passion that burns deep inside of us. We need to be adventurous and dare to surrender ourselves in order to really find. Self interest ought to be pushed aside, impurities in our actions should be unmasked. With that belongs the pain risk. But that’s the road you can go with Love, in a rich, total and inspired life in which our inner spark is loaden up. In the direction of ourselves, creation with all living beings, in order that the Kingdom may break through! I quote a texts from the theologian Huib Oosterhuis: ‘It’s inescapable. I don’t want to live in this house, until I have found Him and He me. And how! A sea of dreams is storming inside!’ Amen