Moving house for the first time in nearly four decades can be a profoundly nostalgic exercise.
Old letters resurface from your pre-marriage life, or around your wedding time and the birth of your children, forcing you to admit a lot of life has been lived and a lot of time has gone by. Old boxes found in cupboards, attics and cellars yield baby clothes of your children too small to fit their own children. Old bags and suitcases you had forgotten you ever owned stir memories of various travels to far-flung places. You pause and wonder if you dare open pandora’s box to explore the contents, before heaving them out the window for later disposal.
Old books no one today wants to read get culled from the evergreens worth saving. Old typewriters, keyboards and computers witness to the exponential change we have come to accept as normal. Old kaftan shirts your mother made you while you were still single recall the good ol’ hippy days. Old tents awaken vague reminiscences of summer trips somewhere and sometime during the last millennium.
All of which arouse profound thankfulness for family, friends and the faithfulness of God that have enriched these four decades.
Make that five decades. For coincidentally this week my former grammar school classmates gather in a fifty-year reunion I will have to miss on the other side of the world. A flurry of emails sharing life-stories has added a further layer of nostalgia to all the above. One classmate became a physicist and worked on the team which discovered the ‘God particle’, blowing it up in the Hadron Collidor – a very disturbing prospect. Another recommended the title, “Every time I find The Meaning of Life they change it.”
Indeed, reunions and house-moves are events which force us to reflect on life and its meaning. What have we done with our lives? What have been the fruits of our efforts? What values did we choose to build on?
Today church leaders from our district also happen to come for an annual lunch in Centrum ’s Heerenhof, an event we have held in recent years for prayer, fellowship and sharing. Romkje and I will tell about our move to Amsterdam and reflect on our years in Heerde. When we started here at Heidebeek with Floyd and Sally McClung in 1975, we were viewed as a weird, foreign bunch of hippies sharing no affinity with the locals. We were the newcomers. It didn’t help to call the week to start the summer outreach events ‘the kick-off’, a name which confirmed to the neighbours that we were all druggies.
Time and consistency built trust over the decades. Dominees and pastors have come and gone and my wife and I now find ourselves the ‘oldies’ of the group. A major change came in the ’90’s when Romkje started Alpha groups, firstly in our home and then spreading to almost every church in the neighbouring towns. Centrum ’s Heerenhof has been a place of new beginnings – for many individuals but also for initiatives including worship recordings in the ’80’s, a national stream of evangelical primary schools, a national bookstore chain, renewal conferences for mainstream pastors, the organisation of many congresses and conferences, and more.
Encouraging signs are emerging that reflection on roots may be happening more widely. Inez van Oord, the publisher of Happinez magazine, a very successful New Age glossy offering happiness through a range of eastern spiritualities, recently published a book called Rebible, in which she rediscovers the stories from the book of her youth. Her ability to ‘feel trends’ earlier than most enabled her to start several publications widely resonating with readers. About her latest book she says that ‘in recent years we have embraced Buddha like a teddy bear, read spiritual gurus and visited ashrams and monasteries in India, and eventually you ask yourself: what are my roots, where do I come from? That is actually Christianity. We have been born on Christian ground. I have let the years go by, but I found the time ripe to explore Christian spirituality. The nice thing is: we can do that again. It’s okay to talk about Moses. You want to know who you are. Who knows? Perhaps it’s more familiar to return to Christianity. That has rooted my youth, that’s where I came from. So the question is: what can I do with it?’
If Inez is right in her intuition, we may be entering a season where the spiritual emptiness of our secular age will prompt many more to reflect on their spiritual roots. Which is what philosopher Charles Taylor concludes in his widely-celebrated book, ‘A Secular Age’: “We are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no-one can foresee.”
Till next week,