The Story of the Departure Ceremony (1): ‘Gratitude’


Last Saturday, during the Departure Ceremony at sunrise of the Walk of Wisdom , Sytske Zwart read a text from the book ‘Seasons of Life’, a contemporary book of hours and pilgrims. It was the text ‘Gratitude’, written by Paul van Tongeren, professor of philosophical ethics in Nijmegen. The text touched and moved. That is why we would like to place it in its entirety below. And Sytske also recorded the lyrics:


By Paul van Tongeren

Many of the summer festivals that take place all over the country today probably go back to the so-called harvest festival. This was traditionally celebrated between the end of July and the beginning of September, and especially in August, the month par excellence of the harvest festivals. The harvest festival is an expression of joy and gratitude for the harvest that has been reaped. Undoubtedly, there have also been setbacks or there were times when things looked worrisome. But all’s well that ends well: the harvest is in and – even though we have had a bigger yield – we are happy and grateful and celebrate for what we have achieved, obtained or acquired.

We celebrate what we have accomplished , but our joy and gratitude do not only extend to the past. Whoever receives a gift is not alone, and not even primarily, grateful for the fact that he has received something (in the past tense) has but in the first place he is happy with what he has now (in the present tense); And that joy has to do with the fact that he will have or enjoy what he has now (in the future time). This applies not only to the gift itself, but even more so to the attention, the friendship, the love with which it was given. I think it is important that we realize this: even when we celebrate, we are beings who always live in the past, present and future at the same time. We celebrate not only what is behind us, but also what is and will be.

We celebrate despite the setbacks that were also there. But that does not necessarily mean that we only celebrate the windfalls, or only the favorable end result in the sum of windfalls and setbacks. It is precisely traditional festivals that are on the calendar every year, or celebrations of a milestone that has been reached, that make it possible to celebrate the whole. The distance we have now taken means that we can see that the setbacks were also part of it. If you want to get to know a city, you need the distance of a map. There is no map of our lives; Usually we are in the middle of it and we find our way through the alleys of a city. This makes it all the more important to take a step back sometimes, and to look at the whole as best you can. He who can rejoice in all this knows a greater joy than the passing joy of a windfall.

Until now, I used ‘joy and gratitude’, ‘celebrating and being grateful’ as if the two automatically belong together. However, that seems less and less obvious. After all, who should we thank for the harvest, for the weather, for our health, for a completed career, for the birth of a child? Fate? The coincidence? The technique? Our own effort? If there is no giver, gratitude no longer seems possible. Indeed, with the disappearance of God from culture, the gratitude of the birth announcements has also disappeared. That, understandably, is problematic. For how can we express our joy except in a kind of gratitude: do we not therefore give gifts to the one who has something to celebrate—so that he may express his gratitude? Celebration and gratitude belong together.

Perhaps this is the most beautiful gift possible: to be able to celebrate your life, with all that it had and has and will have. Those who can do so are grateful – even if they don’t know to whom.

The Departure Ceremony at sunrise, the pilgrim lauds, is held every first Saturday of the month in the Stevens Church, the starting point of the Walk of Wisdom. Click here for more information and registration for the ceremony on 5 September.