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A New Year

A New Year

In our time it does not often happen that people face the future full of confidence.  Everywhere sounds concern about the future, fear of the future, doom-thinking about what the future has in store for us.  There is even a “no-future-generation,” young people for whom the future is hopeless.  How can they, how can we have hope for the future?  Isn’t it an illusion when at the beginning of the year we wish each other Happy New Year?

Indeed, in the world that is built by human hands the security of existence is steadily crumbling away.  It is as if we no longer stand on firm ground, as if from time to time the water rises to our lips, as if the only choice we have left is: survive or drown.  How can you wish someone who has the water standing at his lips a Happy New Year?

In the physical world happiness is often hard to find.  Wealth does not usually bring happiness; of course, neither does poverty.  Happiness must be found far from the perishable world—in an invisible world which we call providence.  In this word you recognize a world that foresees in the spirit what is going to happen, even before it becomes earthly reality.  But the word “providence” also has another meaning: the spiritual world provides for our needs, and takes care of us—albeit often in very different ways than we imagine.*

One thing is certain concerning the future that is waiting for us: less and less will we be able to build on outer certainty of existence.  But whatever happens, we can build on trust in the ever present help of the spiritual world.  You don’t find this help on every street corner; it isn’t thrown into your lap.  You have to keep your eyes and ears open for the people who cross your path, for the possibilities life is offering you, for the lucky circumstances that may occur.  That asks for uninterrupted wakefulness.  But in due course we will then recognize that in our fate and destiny we are never alone.  The Lord of fate and destiny, the Lord of providence, goes with us, always, at all times, to the end of the world.

-Rev. Bastiaan Baan, 1-10-2021.

* The Latin word provideo means literally: to see ahead, foresee, see into the future, as well as: to provide for, to take care of someone or something.

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Christmas Epistle

Christmas Epistle

One of the paradoxes of Christianity is that the Son of God lived only once on the earth, and that he is at the same time “the Son born in eternity.”  The reality of His one-time embodiment is expressed in classical Christianity with the words Et incarnatus est.  The Word became flesh.

The reality of His timeless embodiment is expressed in the epistle of the Christmas season with the words: “Christ has chosen the earthly body.”  More is meant with this than a mortal, material body.  Since His death and resurrection, the whole earth is His body.  In a certain sense, He moved his dwelling place from heaven to the earth.  Our dying earth existence is permeated with His presence—no matter how sick, damaged, and exhausted this earth may be—in order to transform the quintessence of this existence into a new earth and a new heaven in the future.

Undoubtedly, this is for Him, even though He rose from the dead, a lasting path of suffering.  It means an uninterrupted battle with the opposing powers, “in all future cycles of time,” as the epistle expresses it.  For us humans, death is sooner or later a liberation.  As long as we are more or less healthy, and are living without too many worries, we don’t want to think of dying.  But when we grow old and weak, when we cannot expect anything from life anymore, death is our liberator—the crown on our earthly existence.

And for Christ?  His death is but the beginning of a new, unknown path of suffering, a way He has chosen Himself.  The epistle expresses this with the unusual words: “Christ has chosen the earthly body.”  Just as He once came as a human being of flesh and blood—not for the righteous, but for the sinners, the ill, the possessed—so he chooses the dying earth existence “to release man from the deceiving false light, to release man from the senses’ unworthy craving,” always, to the end of the world.

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, 1-3-2021

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Do You Love Me? (Jn.21)

Do You Love Me? (Jn.21)

Love has to be a two-way street.  In this well-known saying the secret of the alchemy of love is expressed.  Love should not just be given; we should also learn to receive it.  Only through the interactive effect of both, giving and receiving, something new comes into being that neither of the two persons involved would have been able to achieve alone.  That is called alchemy: the beginning of a new creation.

Some people only want to receive love, and it is never enough.  Others can only give, so that you are buried under a superabundance, and there is no room left for you.  In the shadow of such people, endowed with a shining charisma, you may feel small and insignificant.

Christ gives a love that transcends all human ability to imagine it.  People who have experienced it themselves say: “His love knows exactly all I have done in my life, all I have done wrong—and in spite of that He loves me.  This is why Christ is called the teacher of human love.  But He not only bestows His love on us; He also asks each one of us:

“Do you love me more than the others?”

And when we, like Peter, are not capable of giving Him unconditional love, He asks more modestly: “Do you love me?”

And when we, like Peter, are also incapable of doing that, He finally asks: “Are you my friend?”

He does that for our sake, for in His love for the imperfect, even our deficient friendship is for Him an indispensable gift.

Love has to be a two-way street.  Can I give Him something?
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Commentary on the text in John 21: 15-18

In many versions of the Bible the text is not correctly translated.  It looks as if the Risen One asks Peter three times almost the same thing: Do you love me more than these?  Do you love me?  Do you love me? (RSV) Moreover, in this translation it looks as if Peter gives three times the same answer as the question he was asked: You know that I love you.

However, in the first question Christ speaks of the highest form of love (Greek agapē): Do you love me more than the others?  Peter, who is not capable of giving this unconditional love, replies three times: You know that I am your friend. (Greek phileō) (Madsen: you are dear to me)

The second time Christ no longer asks for love “more than the others,” but for unconditional love without comparison to the other disciples: Do you love me?  Again, Peter can give nothing other than philia, friendship.

The third time Christ, knowing that this is all Peter is capable of, asks him for friendship.  That is His unconditional love for the imperfect.

With these three questions Peter is, in a certain sense, set free from his three denials.  And to indicate the connection between these two events, John specifies: They saw a charcoal fire there (Greek anthrakia, the only two times this word occurs in the New Testament—Jn.18:18 and 21:9).

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, Dec. 27, 2020

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Second Coming – Far or Near

Second Coming – Far or Near?

In a world of estrangement, the concepts of nearness and distance are no longer unequivocal.  Is someone near because he happens to sit next to me?  Some people may live together for years and experience nothing but loneliness, as if they were miles away from each other in their estrangement.  And in reverse, people may live miles away from each other, separated by mountains and oceans, but in spite of this feel each other’s closeness in unbreakable friendship.

There is a saying that expresses the paradox of closeness and distance in the words:

The greatest closeness is: being far and feeling near,
The greatest distance is: being near and feeling far.

Between these extremes human relationships grow or starve.

Only one being on earth is simultaneously present everywhere and near to each human being separately, as if that human being were the only one He is concerned with.  His presence is as the air that envelops the earth like an invisible mantle.  The apostle Paul expressed this omnipresence with the words:” In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Since his Second Coming, Christ is present every day, just as truly as the air in which we live and move and have our existence.

For each of us, and for humanity as a whole, there will come a moment in which all that surrounds and carries us will fall away, when the moment has come to go through the eye of the needle.  Then only He will be close to us and lead us to a new form of existence.  That is the reason why Paul, who was the first to see His Second Coming, could say: “Rejoice! … The Lord is near!” (Phil.4:4-5)

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, December 13, 2020

 

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Awaiting–Waiting–Expecting

Awaiting – Waiting – Expecting

Waiting and watching—that is the characteristic position of the human being who observes the world around him without doing anything himself. It is the attitude of the modern person who watches events around him from a distance: “Wait and see.” Most of the time, this expression means that we are standing aside as silent witnesses.

But in our time it is beginning to look as if we are less and less inclined to watch the world scene from a distance as objective spectators. As soon as fear starts playing a role we look at the world around us with different eyes. And fear reigns in our time. In a state of fear we are no longer awaiting things from a distance; our view is no longer impartial or objective. Fear makes blind.

A well-known playwright once depicted a dramatic expression of blind fear: in his drama Dream Play, August Strindberg displays a scene in which a ship is in distress, rudderless in a storm, big waves washing over the deck. In their mortal fear the people aboard cry to Christ for help. Suddenly a bundle of light breaks through the clouds, and a shining figure walks to them over the water. In their panic, the people on the ship fail to recognize that their prayer has been heard. In confusion they jump overboard and drown in the sea.

That is what happens when people are blinded by fear, and no longer understand the signs of the time: they drown in the chaos of events.

Advent is the time of year that calls on us to await and watch; in the best sense of the word: we begin to expect. Are we able to keep our footing in the storm, and recognize what is coming to us? Are we prepared to stand before Him, who is coming?

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, December 6, 2020.

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World-Calm

World-Calm

At the time of Advent, words are spoken at the altar that sound as an echo of the past.  It seems as if these words no longer fit in our hectic world.  What are we to make of the expression the world-calm around us?  Where can that calm still be found?

When we listen to the world around us we usually hear nothing but noise: traffic, machines, masses of people who are restlessly on their way.  And when we listen more deeply than the audible noise, we hear inwardly a world of anxiety and pain, a world that is shaking on its foundations.  Even when some people show outer self-confidence, under the surface you can sense profound insecurity.  Is that perhaps the world that Christ meant when He said: “And human beings will lose their heads for fear and expectation of what is breaking in upon the whole earth”? (Lk.21:26)

When you listen even more intensely, more deeply than anxiety, more deeply than the ground of the soul, more deeply than the abyss, you find the ground of existence—a world of infinite calm and unshakable security.  That is what in the Advent epistle is called: the working of the Father Ground of the world.

And when in a chaotic world you look higher than our restless cities that never sleep, you find at this time of the year the rays of the dimming sunlight, that change everything they touch into gold—even the most banal and unsightly things people build on earth.  And above it the unshakable firmament.

Wherever we go and stand:

Christ walks by our side,

hidden in the world-calm around us,

hidden in the ground of the soul,

waiting to be recognized,

waiting to be found,

even when we are lost.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, November 29, 2020.

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Be Mindful of the Breaks….

Be Mindful of the Breaks…

In the Apocalypse, which describes a world in downfall, there are sometimes sudden moments of calm.  A power that is stronger than all destruction brings the storm of annihilation to a standstill.  As a spectator, you have just a moment to catch your breath before the irrevocable demise of the outer world rushes on.  The course of events is literally stopped by a command from on high: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have set our seal on the foreheads of those who serve our God.” (Rev.7:3)

In an apocalyptic world such as ours, time is compressed—events on the world stage take place at incredible speeds.  And not only on the grand stage—our own lives too are usually breathtaking.

And yet, when you develop a sense organ for the quality of the time, you discover that in the midst of all the rushing and stress life also creates brief breathing spaces.  The trick is to observe these moments consciously, to briefly step out of the maelstrom of time, and to catch your breath before life rushes on again.  At such moments you are, as the painter Picasso once expressed it, “secure in insecurity.”

What or who is it that bestows such moments on us?  Someone who was able to look behind the screen of time, behind the veil of the perishing earth, once expressed it with the words:

“Be mindful of the breaks, the brief moments destiny often unexpectedly bestows on you.  In the same way, the Coming One will also one day come.”  (Friedrich Doldinger)

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, November 22, 2020

 

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Wealth and Poverty (Rev. 3: 14-22)

Poverty and Wealth (Rev.3:14-22)

A well-known theologian of the 20th century once said: “God feeds us with hunger and quenches us with thirst.”  That is an eloquent and partly true saying, but this truth is usually overshadowed by another reality: we suppress our spiritual hunger with all that chains us to the earth.  And we disguise our thirst for the spirit through all that benumbs the mind.  That mixture of materialism and intoxication, of yearning for the earth and flight from the earth, is usually called prosperity.  And the more prosperous we are in this outer sense, the poorer in spirit we are likely to become.  From the point of view of the angels we are, as stated in the Book of Revelation, “…how pitiful, pathetic, and poverty-stricken … how blind and how naked.”  We have become poor as church-mice.  What do we have that we can give to the spiritual world?

And yet, this is being asked of us in the contradictory words: “Therefore I counsel you to obtain gold from me which is refined by fire, so that you may become rich again…”  How can anyone obtain gold who is poor?

Indeed, the only thing we can give to Christ is our poverty.  The only things with which we can feed Him and quench Him are our hunger and thirst.  But whoever becomes a beggar for the spirit, who ardently longs for His presence, on those can He bestow His wealth.

For He is Himself as a beggar: a human being who knocks on our door, who asks and implores us to open—to share His meal with us.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, November 8, 2020.

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You have the name of being alive…(Rev. 3:1)

You Have the Name of Being Alive… (Rev. 3:1)

When we are tired after a busy workday and look back on what we have done, we are likely to feel the heavy burden of all the obligations we had to fulfill.  That is because our pace of life does not allow us to stand still.  We run from one obligation to the next.  And when we are not running, we get left behind by the facts.  Our hectic world cannot be compared with the time when daily life consisted of work and prayer: ora et labora.  When prayer started to disappear from daily life, the motto became: work and relax—in which relaxing usually means: do nothing, do not think, look for recreation.  In our time there is a new, grim perspective: work and burn out.  In a world that roars past at a breathtaking speed we run the risk of being driven on until we fall down.  How can we stand up in such a world?

Sooner or later we will be facing a moment when we realize: this is the last day of my life.  Would we then still think the same way about all the so-called obligations of our existence?

From the perspective of eternity, everything looks different.  Much of what on earth looks necessary becomes insignificant, or even less.  For the spiritual world we humans are like walking dead: “You have the name of being alive, and you are dead.”  For our narrow-minded, utilitarian thinking, to pray or to sit before an altar is a waste of time: we are doing nothing, producing nothing, earning nothing.

But for the spiritual world things are different.  In prayer, at the altar, our mortal existence is called to life.  There Christ invests our perishable being with the white robe of His pure life—that we bury not our eternal being for the sake of our temporal.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, November 1, 2020.

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The White Horseman

The White Horseman (Rev. 19)

After an exhausting, eventful life, the wish to finally find rest is perhaps as old as humanity.  The most common expression of it can be found in our cemeteries.  Time and again we see the words chiseled into headstones: “Rest in Peace,” or even “Here Rests…”  As if all is past—no more troubles, sorrow, tears.  Is it really that simple?  Or is this wishful thinking?

One day Rudolf Steiner was walking in a cemetery with a friend.  As he was reading the constantly repeated words on the headstones, his commentary was: “First of all he is not here; second of all he is not resting.”  In other words, the deceased evidently are having a very different life than we imagine or wish.

The Book of Revelation of John helps us to get to know the sobering reality of the spiritual world.  Instead of finding comfortable rest or an eternal paradise we are confronted with a world of crisis and battle—just like the world we have daily around us and which we would rather not see.

The word of the white horseman is as a sword that strikes humanity and causes separation.  With the staff of iron He reigns as shepherd and warrior at the same time.  Christ is more than the gentle shepherd of a flock of sheep, the way He is so often represented in tradition.  He is the shepherd who leads humanity to the moment when we are irrevocably confronted with ourselves and the consequences of our deeds.  He is the shepherd who wants to wake us up: do not fall asleep with the promises of false prophets who delude us with hopes of an earthly paradise or eternal peace.

Wake up to Him who will gather the harvest of the Earth.  We—humanity—we are the harvest.  The harvest is His alone.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, October 25, 2020.