“On a quiet early morning in soft sunlight” – Thomas Verbogt

Pilgrim lauds

Report of the pilgrim’s lauds of Saturday 2 February by Damiaan Messing

This month I was “reader of service” at our pilgrimage lauds: a moment of reflection at sunrise every first Saturday of the month. We then make a silent tour through the abandoned Stevens Church in Nijmegen and gather around a unique edition of Seasons of Life: a contemporary book of hours and pilgrims. As a reader on duty, I chose Thomas Verbogt’s contribution: ‘generosity’ (see below).

It was already the eighth pilgrim lauds, which we organize to give the Walk of Wisdom more ritual depth. The pilgrim’s lauds are a modern variation on the prayers that are held daily in Christian monasteries. The ‘lauds’ are the morning prayer, which is ideally prayed at sunrise (more). In our modern version, we have replaced prayer with silence, a slow walk through the old church (1273) and the reading of a story about the wisdom of life.

Just like previous times, we were with a small group today: four volunteers, two interested people and two pilgrims who started their pilgrimage afterwards. Recurring ritual: over coffee afterwards, one of us asks the critical question whether so much effort is appropriate for so few people. It’s a lot of arranging and we have to get up early for it – with the days getting longer and earlier. But most of them are willing to do it. Me too.

Over the past few months, I’ve come to love the soft sunlight that seeps through the sky as early as half an hour before sunrise. As I ride my bike to the Stevenskerk, darkness slowly disappears from the sky and early morning smothers every sound into a whisper. I’m not fully awake yet and my distance from the world is barely greater than from the dreams I just came from. Life begins all over again and this time with contemplation.

I love the silent connection as we slowly step one after the other through the high space of the church. I see the names on the wooden boards on the wall: a genealogy of preachers back centuries. The delicately restored, wondrous fresco of a crucified woman with a beard. The cast-iron gate, the medieval stone pillars. We walk in the line of history here and are part of it, not just witnesses.

The silence and the listening, the recitation and the echo: the space is meant for this reflection and so we take the church back into use. Like they used to do, but just a little different. That’s how cultural history goes and lives. Even if I’m on my own: this is where I want to be.

Damien Brass.

by Thomas Verbogt

In 1997 I wrote the novel The Summer Trap, in which my protagonist’s stepfather says that everything in life is about interest, care and attention. That I wrote that happened to me, like most of what I write, and what happened to me was my parents, my upbringing, the life they led me into, their life that they passed on. In that upbringing, and later in our conversations, it was often about generosity. That had to be self-evident. And generosity is part of interest, care, and attention.

Sometimes someone asks me what my books are about or my plays are about. Then I usually have to look for an answer, because I’ll find out as I continue to write and I’m far from finished with that. Walking in and around Nijmegen is my childhood. The city is different than it is now. Every now and then you will find something of that city on a quiet early morning in soft sunlight, especially if you are alone. I still like to look for those circumstances and then I also know why I sometimes, no, often feel homesick for Nijmegen. Nijmegen is the house of the past, I meet my parents again. They are as young as I remember from an old photograph taken in the early fifties, they are walking into the new era, my mother has a bunch of flowers in her hands, my father a radio under his arm. They ask me what I’ve been doing all these years.

“Written,” I reply.
“About what?”
“Generosity, of course.”
Now that I see them walking into the new era, through Nijmegen, through an autumn city full of chamber music, I immediately know the answer.

Thomas Verbogt

From Seasons of Life: A Contemporary Book of Hours and Pilgrims (more).

Next pilgrim lauds

The next pilgrim’s lauds will be on Saturday, March 2 at 7:31 a.m. in the Stevens Church in Nijmegen. Duration: ten minutes. Cost: none. Be on time: the door is closing! Meer.

Stevenspedel at the pilgrim's lauds
Stevenspedel at the pilgrim’s lauds