“He who only assumes himself is misunderstanding something” (Interview)


An interview by Damiaan Messing.

Our start and end point, the Stevenskerk, is kept open by a group of 80 dedicated volunteers who welcome visitors about twice a month, answer questions and show groups around. Among them is philosopher Toine Janssen (56) of the philosophical practice de Wijsmakerij:

“If you zoom in on your interests, you always notice that they are inextricably linked to other people and the world. “

Of all the volunteers in the Stevenskerk, Toine is one who stands out. I was wondering why the other day. Of course, his shiny bald head is striking and is regularly adorned outside by a large hat. But his way of moving and the moody colors of his clothes take away all emphasis. He seems to be attuned to his surroundings and maybe that’s why he stands out to me. The way he looks at me will also play a role: large, surprised eyes that take in me intensely and then look far away, after which he usually says something that transcends the here and now.

What makes you a volunteer at the Stevenskerk for four years?

“My affection for the city and this church with its history is so great that I am happy to give away my time to it. It brings together all kinds of people from all kinds of times and faiths. I experience this most strongly when I show a group of immigrant children around. Children from sometimes more than 40 countries get to know each other in a new, shared language. I tell them here: we also had the religious strife and wars of your countries.

I guide those children to relief stones in the church whose heads were knocked off in the time of the Iconoclasm. Or murals that were painted over by Protestants when they took the building from the Catholics. I tell them that these same Catholics and Protestants now gather in church every Sunday to celebrate the ecumenical service.”

Toine bursts out laughing: “this church is an ideal place for me to preach…” He is silent for a moment. On a more serious note, “the church shows that hatred can be overcome. Take our church tower: destroyed by a bombing raid in World War II, but re-erected and the pride of the city. It’s that double lesson of history that things are destroyed, but also rebuilt.”

You regularly see pilgrims coming in and have walked the route twice yourself. How do you view our pilgrimage route?

“For me, the essence of a ritual is that you connect something old or existing with the present and something new. The attention you give to the ritual is the new thing; The actions you repeat are the existing and the old. This combination deepens your experience and creates a connection with others.

I notice this personally when I see pilgrims walking into the church. Rarely does a service go by without it. I recognize them by their outfit or when they take a picture with the image of the symbol. Then I strike up a conversation and look with new eyes at the route I have walked myself.”

According to Toine, pilgrims from the Walk of Wisdom are not only connected to fellow pilgrims via the Stevens Church, but also to seekers and people of meaning who have been coming here since 1272.

Toine: “With its rich history, the Stevens Church offers an old bed that will dry up if it is not provided with new life. Thanks to new rituals such as the Walk of Wisdom , inspiration is flowing again. This reciprocity is also the reason why I give my New Year’s Eve lecture in this church. From a self-chosen perspective, I try to place striking events from the past year and draw lessons for the next year. My lecture is given a charge by the church that no other building in the city can give.”

I recognize what Toine says in our monthly pilgrim lauds. This is a new ritual in which we listen to a contemplative text and walk in silence through the church. Thanks to the old church, this action is given a depth in time. The combination of the new ritual with the old building makes you part of cultural history that is alive instead of just witnessing a history that has already been completed by others.

You make a happy and relaxed impression on me.

“Those are words I often use and identify with. I feel free and independent. Not autonomously, but I did make my own choices. I live frugally and have always saved a lot. When I received a small inheritance, I made a financial plan until I was 67 and decided to start a philosophical practice. I may be living on welfare, but I experience the luxury of a spiritual freedom.

Increasing freedom and independence is implicitly the goal of my practice. Free and independent does not mean that you are free from obligations, but that you voluntarily choose or accept your obligations and that you organize life in such a way that it becomes worthwhile for you. In my opinion, it is not necessary to structurally remain in a situation that you do not support or that you disadvantage people with. You can get into it, but you don’t have to stay in it. You can turn your life around.

With me there is an element of lucky. I come from a stable family and always had nice jobs. Many people are not so lucky. For me, that luck is a source to add something good. I don’t just want to consume, but ask questions to help people become freer, more independent and richer inwardly.

Stevenspedel at the pilgrim's lauds

This year I walked the Walk of Wisdom in the opposite direction and next year it will probably be spread over the seasons. My intention is to walk with a different angle every year and thus add a new element to my experience.

Toine Janssen

Does the search for freedom and independence lead to wisdom?

“Wisdom is not something finished, you never reach an end point. That’s the difference with truth. Wisdom is practical and not intellectual. The pursuit of freedom and independence guides the questions you ask of life. You will never be wise from that, but you will be wiser. Anyone can aspire to it and anyone can grow in it. It’s about how you can best represent your interests in a concrete situation.

Mind you: those who only assume themselves are misunderstanding something. If you zoom in on your interests, you will always discover that they are inextricably linked to other people and the world. I enjoy this slice of carrot cake because my interests are with those of – among others! – the bakery, the café and you are connected. The cake and the enjoying self are only a miniscule part of reality. To truly understand my interests, I have to zoom out and look at those of others.

I try to zoom out in every encounter. Everyone else makes me look at the world with new eyes. Philosophy is a spiral upwards: can I expand what I see here to make it clearer – without it becoming abstract. If that doesn’t work, I’ll stop.”

More about Toine Janssen: http:dewijsmakerij.nl. This year’s Eve lecture in the Stevenskerk is on Friday 28 December from 8.30 pm to 9.30 pm (participation €5,- Sign up or more information: link)