Saturday, 10 March 2012

The comfort of small rituals

It's a bit like the Tardis. Just really big. And gothic. When you enter St. John’s Cathedral (the Evangelist, not the Baptist - in case you were wondering) it is rather like stepping through a portal into another reality. Because of the whole atmosphere of the place. Instant far from the madding crowd. It’s vast and old and positively steeped in history. Emperors once came to worship here. I can think of at least one anyway. The place even SMELLS ancient. 

This region has always been Catholic territory. I once got a splash of holy water on my bald little head too. Apparently I didn't like it. My parents weren't too thrilled either, being agnostics. They just thought it the best course of action. It certainly prevented weekly installments of my grandmother's Hell and Damnation series. Interestingly enough, my other grandmother would have professed equally adamant views in favour of the Protestant faith. Had she lived longer, we might have seen a reenactment of Clash of the Titans. Epic battle material or so I'm told. 

Even though I don't consider myself a Catholic anymore, having adopted more agnostic views ages ago, I've got nothing against the old faith. It's the institution I have some problems with. Like I imagine a certain young carpenter would have had. Just a hunch. All the same, I still enjoy visiting dear old St. John’s -or the Sint Jan as we call it. A monument telling over a thousand stories. A lot of them involving a small wooden statue.

She is what most people come to the cathedral for, even if they are not actually Catholic. Even if they're not actually believers of any kind. For some reason it still feels good to light a candle (in truth, the smallest of tea lights) in front of the Zoetelieve Vrouw, our Dear Sweet Lady of 's-Hertogenbosch. Hard to imagine now that she was once found on a scrapheap, thrown there because she was considered hideous. Not worth a thing. Until miracles started being attributed to her that is.

Her face and her smile are enigmatic but sweet. Compassionate. In another culture she could have been a representation of Quan Yin. Or a symbol of the Divine Feminine. Oh yes, do give me an eye roll why don't you. I'd like to think that she says even something seemingly small and insignificant can prove to have real strength. And that difficulties can be overcome.

For me too it has become tradition to light a candle in front of the Lady whenever I visit the cathedral. Sometimes I even go there for that specific purpose, as I did this week. As always, I didn't say a prayer. Nor did I ask for a miracle or a wish to be granted. I think we need to create our own. And to be honest, if I would be asking for a boon right now, it'd be one of the Sredni Vashtar kind. Somehow I don't think that's the sort of thing the Lady would be granting.

It's just that my magic lamp has been rubbed up the wrong way once too often lately. Making me want to tell people to bugger off because they've long run out of wishes. One of my friends who is very active in the spiritual field tells me to 'send them to the light'. I asked her if I could shove a rocket up their arses and blow them into the light instead. I can tell she thinks I've got a long way to go.

I've been trying several things to restore my peace of mind and sanity, and with success I might add. Lighting a small candle in front of a small statue was only a tiny part of it. Oddly enough that little ritual did provide some comfort. As it did for the decidedly atheist friend I lit a candle for at the same time. At his request I should say. It made him feel better too. Which arguably makes no sense as he is opposed to any beliefs in a supreme being, benevolent spirits or the supernatural. He is the first to say there is no logic behind it whatsoever. And still it comforted him to know that in an old church, a candle was flickering in front of a statue with a sweet smile.

Isn't that all that matters in the end?


  1. You know i am not catholic at all, but I like churches. As you , I also have a problem with the institution, but the place in itself it's fine for me. Churches are pacific places, and I also love to go and lit candle. It surely can't hurt, so why not. But I really hate when people tell me that since I am not Catholic I should not go to church and lit candles. A very religious thought, isn't it?

  2. Exactly. Not really a 'love thy fellow man' kind of sentiment! What harm does it do if people who do not belong to a particular faith have a moment of quiet reflection in a church? I feel a church should welcome everyone in who comes there to enjoy it - whatever 'it' is. As long as they don't disturb anyone?

  3. I knew I'd like this post as soon as I saw the title (I have a thing for small rituals - not religious, just significant to the person undertaking them), and then I read your paragraph about light, rockets, and arses, and I laughed so hard I nearly spat the water I was drinking.

    Interestingly, I'm not really religious at all.... and yet, I got baptised when I was 23, and I did it off my own bat, because I wanted to. The minister asked me why I wanted to be baptised (and confirmed I might add - by our bishop), and I had no other reason other than I deeply felt that it just had to be so. No religious overtones (as far as I was concerned), just a really core feeling it was something I needed to do. I thought he'd think I was a bit weird or that I didn't have a good enough reason, but he looked at me and said that was all he needed to hear and asked no more.

    I don't go to church much(although I love the feel of them), and I don't consider myself to be of any particular religion (I like bits of many), but I do have a sort of over-riding belief in the life force of things and the universe as a whole (or should I say universes - who knows how many there are out there).

    I like lighting candles and reflecting too!

    Linda. xox

  4. Sometimes you just need to go with what feels right, even if you can't put into words exactly why it feels right. Right? ;-)

    Ha - you don't want to know what I've been visualizing today - far worse than rockets, arses and big bangs! We're talking carnage! I was glad to get home and light candles, play some music, and just unwind. Took me some time though! Still, sometimes turmoil and people behaving badly are signs that something has been set in motion and that change is coming. Fingers crossed... or I may need to find me my own Sredni Vashtar anyway...

    I knew you'd like small rituals - I loved that post you once did on clearing!


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