The art of living in nervous times


Spiritual counsellor Marinus van den Berg walks a ‘walk of wisdom’ of a good hour in his city of Rotterdam at the end of almost every day to evaluate his day. 

The art of living in nervous times

Even today, Sunday 29 November, there were still soldiers with rifles at the station of Antwerp. It was the second time this week that I switched there on my way to appointments. A lecture about school, loss and mourning for future teaching women and men at primary schools in West Flanders, located in Torhout and today in Kortrijk.

Bart and Mieke live in Kortrijk, who were at the cradle of the OVOK (parents of deceased child) in Flanders. Thirty years ago, I got to know them. Now they have been attacked by ALS. I write “they”, even though he has the disease, but the impact is great for all loved ones: Mieke, children and grandchildren first of all.

They told how a young Muslim boy had been arrested in Kortrijk with a force majeure. A terrorist? No, just a guy who was unlocking his bike, but was suspected of stealing it. We live in a nervous time. Those heavily armed soldiers and police officers are also nervous. I was struck by how young they are. I don’t feel like big words against these boys and girls. I’m less and less in the mood for big words. Words that disperse, that spread distrust, words that don’t listen.

“There are people who say to me: it’s going to be okay…..” Bart said, “and then I say: it’s not going to be okay…..”  There are more and more obvious things, such as holding a book, pouring coffee, putting an arm around his beloved,” that he can no longer do. The disease is becoming more and more affected and makes him more and more dependent. I was very warmly welcomed with a delicious meal and a good glass of wine. Celebrating life in a nervous time, seeing and experiencing the good that is still there. That’s the art of living.

In the evening news I see how the pope – against advice – goes to a very dangerous, very nervous region in Central Africa. He visits Christians and Muslims. He asks them to say out loud together: we are brothers. Sisters, of course. He exercises it with the people who have come: we are brothers. It’s like being quiet together. That’s so much more powerful than just being quiet. The pope did not stand on a high pulpit, but vulnerable – despite all the security – he stood among the people to repeat the  refrain together: we are brothers and sisters.

Bart and Mieke told me about the people who help them, who support them. The ALS has cast a net that is becoming more and more attracted over their lives. There is also a countervailing force of people who do not say: it will be all right, people who look away because of their own fear, but people who look at reality and form a network of people together as a safety net. What do we do in nervous times: let each other down or develop a safety net? 

At the station of Mechelen I spoke with a Dutch student who had done a ten-week internship on an organic farm where there was also a community (a community with a permanent core and changing participants). I learned from her words that a sustainable future always requires people who want to do something together and are close to each other. Would that be understood at the climate conference in Paris?

We also need language that is simple, that connects and warms and does not look away. It was a long but sensible Sunday for me.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Marinus van den Berg

Marinus van den Berg recently retired after 40 years of working in healthcare as a pastor/spiritual caregiver. On the occasion of his farewell, he presented a new book Alleviate suffering