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GREENWICH
6th May 2009

It’s been an eventful past few weeks. Queen’s Day in the Netherlands was a terrible drama. People around me have their small-scale dramas, and I have mine. My website gets to a final stage. I just finished helping a friend with the production of a hymnal. Jobs come and go…. In the middle of it all I try to reflect on what ‘the score’ of this is.

One of the features on this website is the ‘garden’ section. To me it stands generally for seeing what ‘the score’ is:  What is the fruit of my work? What is blossoming and honourable and what needs pruning or taken out? Beyond that, to me the garden stands for a restful place to be and breathe in deeply the wonder of life.

Today has been a long day and I wonder what will happen to some of my plans, hopes and dreams. I decide to visit a pub, somewhere close to Greenwich Park.

I hear birds singing. The sudden sound gradually overtakes my headache.  I think of my website and suspect, that I am listening to some birds sounds on a CD track. I am not. Minutes later I realize that I am sitting at an open window. Right through the stillness of the evening, without much wind, I hear the real life.

I sense the Creator affirming his creation and saying a simple and clear ‘yes’ to efforts made.  I feel uplifted.

As you listen and reflect, as you read and absorb, I pray you may feel uplifted. May you, the visitor, feel welcomed and consider yourself a true guest.

Kerst

 

BRUNEL'S RAILWAY
8th June 2009

“Scotland’s cradle of Christianity”: Whithorn. In the dark ages these priory grounds were well known, crucial for the spreading of Christianity among the British isles. Its coast line and surroundings seemed to draw me into a different world – with Ninnian’s cave as its hidden highlight: Here I suddenly woke up from the dream I had stepped into, as I saw what once had been displayed in church history books. I had walked a dream, yet finally met for real what I had seen in pictures. Today’s Whithorn is an insignificant place. It was worth a one-day visit to Scotland, celebrating a different country.

Some days ago I had travelled to Whitby. Four hours of gorgeous landscape views; the steam train introduced me to the beauty of old fashioned, period drama England. Here I visited another old Celtic site: Whitby Abbey, where Hild influentially supervised both monks and nuns. Tourists may know Whitby’s fish, chips and steam train railway; I went for the Abbey ruin.

Two ancient places, one silent and shy - in a country worth visiting; the other covered by tourism - in a country I call my home. Why? I’d say that in the other I have been allowed to belong – even as a “tourist-pilgrim”.

At Whitby abbey I sat down on the grass, far away enough to enjoy the view over the site where once significant leaders made vital decisions. I had forgotten Caedmon: perhaps he had known the grass I sat upon. I read about this singing monk, the musician by ‘holy accident’. His life story increased my sense of being at home. Imagine this monk and his song: The song was more of a Gift than that it was a plan. The song happened to him, as he chose to join in with what he heard above.

Kerst

 

COVENT GARDEN
6th July 2009

Grasmere in June. Often I had stood at the lakeside. When the winter was crisp in February. When the tourists went wild in August. When I had climbed my first hills and written my first songs. But I had never seen Grasmere in June. It was a privilege to be there.

The green was so explosive, so vibrant. Though I knew each turn by heart, I had to make an effort to see my favourite views hidden by spring’s extravagance. Instead of being tenderly invited, I was challenged to work hard to play my part in the staging of this Lakeland landscape.

Halfway the walk I arrived at one of the resting points, down at the lake. At winter times I had found myself there in the company of swans. That day in June I found myself talking to people I hadn’t met before. It was a holy sharing of what was in front of us: A beautiful cloud patterned sky reflected in the water. The warm summer stillness provided us a mirror unthought-of.

Heaven and earth joined together. Only the floating stones in the water proved that I wasn’t standing upside down. It reminded me of how Jesus early in St John’s gospel seems to present himself as the ladder between heaven and earth: here heaven and earth appeared to be one like I ‘d never seen it. From heaven, he had become of earth – reflecting heaven in his earthly dwelling. In stillness the earth here found her fullness and wonder in the way she displays the shapes of heaven. I walked further, seeking how to station myself in a landscape where heaven and earth are one; how to follow his example displaying heaven’s perfection.

Spring at its best. Man fully alive. As earth and heaven were joined together, I knew what I felt. Enjoying the beauty of the earth, I contemplated the stones, my ‘floating’ concerns, marking the surface of my life. I prayed for a friend. I thought of my fragile dog. I walked on.

Some days later she passed away. It was a privilege to be there with her, too; to see her leaving us with a peace unthought-of. Over the years my small and attentive friend had taught me much about Jesus and the beauty of life. Heaven had been reflected in her. Once at night she had seen me crying. Without hesitation she had come to me. With her tongue she had dried my eyes firmly from left to right, breathing out the promise that once each of our tears will be wiped away – and earth and heaven will be one.

Grasmere in June. When Jon saw it, he insisted to put it on the website and add it to the ‘Kerst’s dog’ photos section. The photograph stands for facing beauty and our daily reality; for a precious memory and a gripping preparation of what is to come.

Heaven is near: Grasmere in June.

Kerst

 

TENERIFE AIRPORT
13th August 2009

At the airport. With my last euros I buy a baguette and enjoy the view from the restaurant, as I reflect on four weeks Tenerife. I remember looking forward to it, but what I have received is beyond my expectation. I return to London with a laptop full of new songs.

A few months ago I started writing poetry on sunset and evening light. Regular trips to the Netherlands, provided me the space to reflect on change, on loss, on identity… While writing in Dutch I saw my ‘homeland’ passing by as it had changed – as much as I had been constantly changing myself. On Tenerife I put some of this poetry into songs. At evening I walked over beaches, watched almost each sunset at different places; different colours in front of me, different colours inside of me.

I can see the red rock far ahead of me. New friends have said I must come back to walk beyond it. For now, I take with me the sight of the dunes, the medanos. Somewhere they were called ‘children of the wind’: the strong winds re-shape them all the time, while through these changes their vegetation provides a shelter and a home for the wildlife around.

I know about dunes like those along the Dutch coasts. Nearby El Medano the dunes are smaller. I was a Dutch ‘child’, when the wind took me once to England. As I have been moving on, I have tried to be a shelter for others through their times of change and unsettlement. But while seeing the wind shaping lives of others, I still see it moving in my own childish existence: As I have parented people alongside, I will always be a child of the wind myself - sharing the need for vulnerability and openness to what is next.

Aren’t we still children of the wind who seek to wear vulnerability and openness as clothes fitting us perfectly, even if we have become perfect shelters and homes to those who are looking for stability and place to rest…

Children of the wind - not lonely in the landscape
Always hand in hand to shelter those whose lives
still search for shield and shape - Children of the wind…

Please tell me where the wind blows, can you show me where life starts
Please lift me higher, bring me closer, mend my hidden broken parts
Can you hear me pray – let the wind show me the way

Kerst

 

THE WINTER QUEEN
Leeds Castle, 27th September 2009

Earlier this year I met her at an Anthony van Dyck exhibition: Elisabeth Of Bohemia. She must have been the eldest granddaughter of Mary Queen of Scots. Her destiny was to connect the House of Stuart with that of the Habsburgs. Her rapid exile made her known in history as ‘the Winter Queen’. Was her life a failure, when the crown of Bohemia was taken from her husband after only one year?

Yesterday a friend of mine gave me a pre-War publication by Carola Oman on this same Elisabeth. I still wonder if  I will read it or not: Will the picture I painted of her in my mind not clash with the facts I will learn from her biography? Having said that, some facts of her life, are useful to know: Though she played her role ‘outside’ court, her grandson George once became king of England, while her granddaughter married into the House of Orange.

Useful to know, but I just like to add my own thoughts to this drama; and as I do, I can well imagine why to figures like Arthur and Guinivere were added so many famous and fantastic experiences and characteristics. It shows there is a place for poetry and dreams.

‘The Winter Queen’ is part of a set of songs (‘The Garden’) which I performed last week for the first time. Despite her lack of fame, Elisabeth might have known how to focus on her here and now: I like to think so. Just like Christ once invited us to look at our today – the lilies in the fields, the birds in the air.. Tomorrow is not today: it is not yet with us, though we may not look forward to the dark colours revealed at the horizons of our here and now.  In the broad scheme of things, what do we know now of what today is worth and what tomorrow will bring?  Our todays may turn out like Elisabeth’s: Her winter proceeded the spring of future generations.

We need the winter before spring
A hidden beauty lies within

Early in the evening I meet her as I leave Leeds Castle. We share our love for the castle and its grounds. A sweet elderly woman, with an air of dignity, lovely dressed with royal velvet. She seems forgetful, perhaps she barely knows her own name. I will never know. I never want to know.

For I decide that I have just met the Winter Queen of our own time.

Kerst

 

EVENING FALLING ON LEE VALLEY
Covent Garden, 15 November 2009

A few weeks ago I bumped into friends who just returned from their London escape. I had vaguely heard of Waltham Abbey. I didn’t know though, that poor King Harold was buried there, nor that Lee Valley was so close that you could pretend being in the countryside within a half an hour train journey.

I followed my friends’ example the next day. I tend to escape London at times. Being out of the city helps me to freshen myself up in body and spirit. Imagine my gratitude for bumping into my friends, as I was wondering around this Norman site. Much reminded me of my first few years in England: Lee Valley was as still as the Ruislip Woods, and the estates showed similar houses to those I was used to in my time up there.
I love to call places my own. Some of them of course are easier to incorporate into a ‘home experience’. Like London, I have instantly loved Dublin and Rome as if I could live there straight away. What makes England ‘home’? What do houses or towns require being ‘home’ to me?

Black swanSorting my photographs I recapture this ‘London escape for few hours’ to Waltham Abbey. Now I see what helped me feel belonging there around the valley. A black swan showed me the beauty of its territory. With its soft reflection in the water of its black feathers it prepared the world around for the colours of the night. To me it deepened the beauty of an essential part of my everyday life.

And so it was. Far from where I was born I found ‘home’ as creation drew me into a proudly wearing of familiar nightly colours, matching us wherever we are. It stilled and sheltered me, as much as the night often suggests laying aside the worries and crises of the day.

How much I love to work at night time, in my lifestyle of a single man I find fulfilment in knowing that my body yearns for daily sleep in agreement with the whole of creation. It may seem cruel, that our colours and our 24/7 city-rhythm are stolen from us for some hours. Still, embracing my sleep humbles me – for between our different patterns, burdens and successes we are all the same, when the day ends. Tall and small, busy and bored, black and white: At some point we are meant to surrender to the night.

We share the colour black as we search for broad horizons
Today will once be dead, and tomorrow our new home
We all wear the colour black, our colours lost and stolen
When sleep is clearly calling, we share the colour black

Kerst

 

WILLIAM IV STREET
28th November 2009

A new year has nearly begun – in church terms, it has. Now I feel I am allowed to enjoy the early Covent Garden Christmas decorations. Now it feels right to see it getting dark halfway the afternoon. Advent 2009: A new year has come.

I visited the new Turner exhibition at Tate Britain last week. Being Dutch I was more intrigued by a piece of Rembrandt, though Turner’s works were all appealing.

It was a picture of the Holy Family (there were a few of them) on their flight to Egypt- they are warming themselves at the fire. At the painting one other light is shown: in the distance the pale light is still on in a house at the hill behind, breaking the gloom and dark cloudy reality at the background.

At the same wall, some Turners were linked to this particular Rembrandt; one of them pictured Turner’s moon above Millbank.

I had never noticed this before, but walking back towards Big Ben I saw that same night, that the street I walked upon along the river was called Millbank. It was dark, no moon to be seen. But inside I could still see this picture of a light in a house far away – reflecting a light much warmer and more comforting. I prayed to be enabled to bear that light in the house, breaking the gloom and dark reality around me, reflecting the warmth and comfort of Christ’s most prominent fire.

I walked into the early evening. I walked into a new year.

I embraced the new Christmas coming.

O come, O come, thou Dayspring bright!
Pour on our souls thy healing light;
Dispel the long night’s lingering gloom,
And pierce the shadows of the tomb

I pray we will see the light of Christmas in our hearts and souls and I wish you, the reader, a wonderful new year.

Kerst

 

MY HOUSE BY THE THAMES
Dokkum, 29th December 2009

When you hear me talking about my favourite house, you may wonder if it is one I have lived in, or one I would like to have lived in. I have to admit that I make things my own that are cleary not mine; and so it is with ‘my favourite house’. When my friend gave me a book about this house on the Southbank, I hadn’t passed it for a long time. It is near the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Wobbly Bridge. The next t time I passed it again, was only one week later, when I walked over the river towards St Paul’s Cathedral for Midnight Mass, this Christmas Eve.

Last Wednesday we recorded the piano track for ‘Favourite Trees’, a song which will feature on The Garden album I am working on right now (again with Hanif Williams). The song is about particular trees, mainly in England, that I consider to be my own, though they are not mine at all. I only own them by my experience: These experiences are meaningful and often serve as a metaphor for what life stood for in that moment in time when I ‘met’ these trees.

The first time I wandered around Rydal and Grasmere for instance, I was entirely absorbed by the experience of William’s Wordsworth’s famous “Daffodils”. During that walk I saw ‘my favourite country’ with new eyes as if I had found my home – stronger than anywhere else before.

As I walked towards ‘my favourite cathedral’ this Christmas Eve I was reminded of this sense of home. That home was captured in Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve itself: It once was a dream away to attend it. This evening it was just a river between me and ‘my’ Bethlehem.

I wasn’t always aware of my dreams of going to ‘my England’. But it became my simple reality at some point. In similar ways I gratefully stepped into dreams of music and voice. Some of my favourite things became real and tangible, some are still dreams to sing about during thunder storms like in the Sound of Music.

I now live in a house, not of my own and not as old, but in one which is nearby river Thames. Though it is not opposite St Paul’s, I can see ships passing by from my top bunk. I have been given a dream to live a dream: So often I quickly walk towards the river and see the Royal Naval College, reminded of the wonder of life. When I do so, I am grateful as I sing today’s song and already hear tomorrow’s dream ringing.

May we trust in God’s guidance to see our right dreams for 2010 becoming our simple reality.

Kerst

 

BIRTHDAY WONDERINGS
St James's Park, 25th January 2010

After five years I finally saw them get fed. It was on one early Monday afternoon, around 2-3pm. The sky had just opened up as I had been thinking of celebrating my birthday on one of the London ice-rinks. The park had been the alternative. The park of St James’s where leaves were missing, but not missed.

The park’s seasons had so often reflected the seasons within me: As an invitation to find rest in given circumstances or as a challenge to move away from them.

The big old trees had been passed by years of tears and laughter. Years of favourite friends and loved ones. Years of battles and of no-change in the ever changing city scene. Today, as I pretended it to be my birthday, I looked at them: Their empty arms gave way to the wide sky. The sky for years to come: ready for wide experience, for displaying colourful impact but now filled with careful silence, one of a bigger expectation…

All of the sudden St James’s was calm and bright. The gloom had passed, while I had looked for the proudly sailing Pelicans. Through time the park had became a home; through time these Pelicans had invited me to walk in and out like one of their own house friends. This time I didn’t need to walk far to find them. It was feeding time. They weren’t fed by their parent’s blood, like it was thought of in ancient times. One of them though, showed red, bloody stains underneath his wing. It showed trouble eating. It took some minutes to swallow a fish. Meanwhile there was this tender communication between bird and patient carer.

After five years of silent Mondays and of home-ful moments in London I remembered the tender communication between me and ‘carer’ God. I remembered Christ in old times being labelled as the Pelican, providing his own blood to feed his young ones. I felt fed at this special moment. I was fed, taking part in the photographs that I took of these four Pelicans: Four Pelicans sending a message to the beautiful ‘summary’ of God’s creational around them. The intimate feeding time effected the blue sky, the high trees, and the city people passing by: Four evangelists entertaining me, pointing me to a bigger story. After five years, in this special feeding moment, I was the silence and was made ready for bearing new colours in the year to come.

Over the years I have chased sunsets at St James’s: The rich-red sky, sharing the food of the one colour that I have lived on: The colour of healing, of refreshing and redemption. Of a new start in creation’s precious summary of St James’s Park.

The silence reduced to this park where I go
Where trees cannot be if the trees do not grow – high -
but when the Pelican stares, the city calms down
as the sky shares his blood and it’s red all around
Underneath my favourite trees, he still sails and is coming to me
‘Come and see, come and see, there is more, so much more
than these trees way up high and these leaves right below’
The trees join and cheer and suddenly shout:
‘He finally figured it out’

From ‘Favourite trees’ – featuring on the upcoming album ‘The Garden’

Kerst

 

CHANGE AND CONSTANT
Utrecht, 27th February 2010

Some boy I knew said, Hang on, stay gold
before he left here for England
Beautiful changes I feel sometimes
In the middle of the late morning dishes

‘Walking around’, The Innocence Mission

I thought I had missed out on snowful moments this year, as much as I had missed the skating on nature ice.

However, winter was still showing off in the Netherlands when I was there. The ‘after-snow’ started melting, when my sister (not my sister but everyone knows she is my sister) asked me if I could still feel for my homeland. I said no.

But nearly two months later I say yes. I am Dutch when the Frisian ‘not-cows’ are skating over the canals and when they win medals at the Winter Olympics. I am Dutch, when the Dutch government resigns. Some things change. Some things don’t.

Change can be so dominant, that I don’t notice what I have and hold deep inside. London’s vibrancy and ‘constant’ changing sometimes blinds me for what I have stored in one of my backrooms. That’s why I need rhythm in the change.

That’s why it’s good that once in a while I see my parents in a country of quieter pace. It’s also good to have Olympics every now and then. A milestone in different ways: to celebrate each medal now and to remember and live again what life was like four, eight or more years ago.

Rhythm assists me in looking at who I once was and now have become. Rhythm helps me to breathe the change and not being overwhelmed by it.

‘The Garden’ expresses change of season, of leaving behind and of coming back to seasons we thought we had lost. Structure and change befriending each other. Spontaneity and season. Silence and sound. I need the change to appreciate what’s constant. I hold on to what’s the same to explore fields of new.

The Holy Presence inside my heart leads me into the quiet by a never changing love, though He daily lifts me up by a surprising guidance. He is the same and He is hard to get.

Each day is therefore in Him a safe adventure.

Each regularity of time and place in Him a never boring breath of fresh air.

Come with me
to the garden and you see
That my life is still a prayer
Come with me sense the change
See how things are rearranged
See how lilies bloom and stay

from Come with me (‘The Garden’)

Kerst

 

LENT 2010: HEADPHONES OFF
Brunel Railway, 26th March 2010

The sun is stronger than it was a few days ago in Somerset. Just ten more minutes and it will point out to me one of those houses of mine: the ones, I would like to live in. Each time after we pass Reading I look out of the window and wait for it. I might have told you this before.

So far the train journey is not as celebratory as planned. I forgot my headphones and so all my plans to listen to some music I can throw out of the window for the rest of the day.

I look into my bag. No, still no headphones. It’s a nice bag, often noticed by others, but it needs a bit of a clear out. Receipts and envelopes remind me of outstanding jobs, I make use of the silence to make up an action list for the weekend. In the silence of the last few days also songs have been welling up. A few hours train journey create space for seeing more development of hook phrases and poetry. A few hours train journey create space for once not doing anything,

Without headphones: It is like giving up today’s chocolate for Lent. As much as we want to celebrate life and our daily rituals may underline the enjoyment of our basics, the lack of what we take for granted can encourage us to appreciate our life at a deeper level; to live it within a precious and honourable frame. Once we have our ‘headphones’ off, we can hear the wonder of what is beyond.

Lent is here in its fullness. Its stillness chooses to overtake my diary and plans. It chooses to go deeper and to press on to do some necessary maintenance, some clear out. It encourages me to look out of my window and see life sharper, more attentively.

The house is over there. Aren’t we all waiting for spring? Just like the sky is waiting for some sun, though the sky is already slightly torn and the sun kindly on its way. Winter is the past. Spring is the future,

Easter is coming.

Silence prepares song.

Kerst

 

NEVER A TREE SO SILENT
Skegness, Easter Week 2010

Did you ever see the garden and this tree
Were you standing here, looking out like me
Did you understand, they took your hand
And your little life away
Did anyone explain
Why we were meant to stay

Autumn – a few years ago. I see a tree in a garden. The soft warm sunlight honours its leaves; their shapes celebrate their fullest glory, right before they will touch the ground some weeks later. It’s a young tree. Perhaps it’s still astonished by its own annual decline.

When I see trees I can’t help but wonder if they would share their thoughts and feelings with me, as I pass them by, like so many others did before in distant times – each with different joys, sorrows and contemplations.

This young tree in Auschwitz, near Krakow, Poland: Standing lonely in the commander’s garden. Never a tree so silent.

I wonder if the young children, sent into the gas chambers, ever saw the life of this tree. With fear I imagine a conversation with one of these children. I want to write, but hardly dare too. Years later I will walk on ‘fallen leaves’ of metal in the Jewish Historical museum in Berlin; leaves made out of metal, in order to let their presence be noticed still by the sounds they leave us as we tread the dark lanes of history.

Some weeks after Auschwitz I visit a quiet place in Amsterdam: The Begijnhof – Christian roots of a too well known city. Silence reappears to me around the corner, when I see a tree near the old orphanage. Around the tree children had danced and sung one century ago in honour of Queen Wilhelmina. Children respond to children. Freedom arrives in my imagination to write of my inner journey from Auschwitz to Amsterdam.

The dead and awful silence has found a reply in the beauty of the city silence. With gratitude I hear a resolving in the air and receive it. Not that the questions are answered. The fullness in the silence here can’t be followed by loud hallelujahs. No, not here, very near to that city quarter which had changed forever like so many of them in demolished post-war Europe.

Poland today is grieving for its leaders as it suffered its worst post-war incident. I will never envy the Polish for their history and pray for this new void caused by this plane crashing on trees.

I believe creation once will be truly one in the One and only who died the world’s death on a tree – when silence was the deepest and darkness the loudest. Never a tree so royal. His tree left us perspective: he didn’t leave us behind like orphans. The ‘why’ of generations of war and injustice are captured in his loud ‘why’ he raised from the cross. I believe that somehow once all will be resolved through this death– from the big drama of our collective history to the smaller drama of our personal lives.

One day our freedom will be like endless dancing.

One day I may be speechless, when the One who blessed the children may introduce me to one of these children who passed the place of that silent tree of Auschwitz.

Kerst

ONE LEARNS TO HAVE PATIENCE…
Covent Garden, 14th–16th May 2010

Come with me to the garden
All is balance, all is tranquil, all is calm
While we come and go
Love will love to grow
Boldly planted as you called

Downtown London is so busy on Saturdays. Waiting for coffee takes longer than enjoying it. We are at the final stage of our recordings for the Garden project. One learns to have patience… Spring is showing off while these songs have already lost their blossoms, as if they are like trees finding their fullness in green colours and shapes.

Not much longer and I will hear what you will hear: what I have had in mind for so long to share with you.

I can feel nervousness when I think of it. Still: With both the excitement of hearing sounds beyond my hopeful imagination and the anxiety that those sounds may not fully meet with what once was born in writing, I can be patient, be still and wait.

A garden is experienced in so many ways. One person has a rest from a frantic working environment. Another person hopes for new stimuli to catch a new train of thoughts and fantasy. Another one seeks comfort in the peace or finds joy in the colours that nature brings. Some persons love to ‘labour’ and look forward to the satisfaction of the fruits of their work. The garden is the same, but the reception, the expectation and the experience are varied: In specific ways it can feed our spirituality, guide our thoughtfulness, call us to enjoyment, encourage our playfulness, lift us out of heaviness…

The songs are set; the play list is done.

When you will receive The Garden to listen to, I hope you are able to take the space and to receive it your way: according to your storyline and the stage you are at, to your experience of life and of the One who gave it to you.

It soon will be yours to experience, to hold, to travel with.

In the wide variety of our reception and of our experience, I hope it will be an exciting invitation to journey together as new seasons arrive; a call to each other to live life.

I can’t wait to show you.

One learns to have patience...

Kerst

 

LEARNING SPANISH
Kendal, 26th October 2010

I love languages. That doesn’t mean I am very good at them. I only speak a few. I can understand and read some more. One of the unknown languages, which are high on the list, is Spanish. Not because I think it’s the most beautiful language to learn: For that I would turn to French. It is purely practical, since I spend at least one month a year in a Spanish speaking country. Nevertheless, to give way to this desire to speak it, I’ll have to organise myself to get hold of it, methodically and willingly.

Up till now it has been a slow process.

So many things in my life have happened at a slower pace than I like to see it: The making of a CD, the healing from a cold, the completion of a dissertation, and now… learning Spanish. All my life I feel like learning Spanish: Some things in my character make it impossible to learn to become better. The ‘deepest ‘learning in life is mostly a tough task: To learn about vulnerability, limitations, my estimations, which are out of place…. However, in the process sweet surprises can occur at times.

Like yesterday when I walked around Grasmere; as you know, a place that I love so dearly. While being around these same places I am so fond of, I went a far different route yesterday: All was new to me, as if I saw it for the first time. Similarly, I went to the cinema, not long ago, and watched ‘The secret in their eyes’, when I fell in a Spanish movie – and surrendered myself to learning Spanish in the freshest and most gripping way.

The making of THE GARDEN CD project brought me new surprises too, as I went down some very familiar routes; those of knowing one‘s vulnerability, limitations, and wrong estimations. In between that process of hitting walls and meeting some surprises in the learning, I noticed again the beauty of fresh seasons, like for instance a firmer determination to learn Spanish.

Through the whole process I had a beautiful sense of the Father’s Hand gently ‘pushing’ me into new surprises ahead. Not necessarily surprises in terms of richness and success. I mean: the richness of life and love as it is given to us, and the way it is enfolded before our eyes. To be enabled to see more of that is to me the special glow over this project, once it is fully completed.

Psalm 104:24:
O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all;
The earth is full of your creatures.

Kerst

 

BIG BEN AND THE OLD MOON
Greenwich, 17 January 2011

When I leave Charing Cross by train, I tend to look at my right and watch Big Ben. There was a time that I heard it chiming a few times a week, listening to it from the foot bridge, standing just outside Westminster Tube Station or sitting on a bench in St James's. From the first time I've seen and heard it, it has symbolised London Life to me. I have often celebrated that life by taking out some extra time to see and hear it...

I never saw what the view was like without the London Eye. I have known London as it has revealed itself to me in the new millenium. I have had my lonely moments and profound friendship moments with view on Big Ben. I have seen romance, photography, heard train and music while I have waited for it to chime. On my birthday I have seen the snow on the tower. Other times I have not seen anything of it, when it was as foggy as in Dickens' time. I have seen it being still for some time. I have seen its lights switching on at 4pm when Mum and Dad were here.

I have seen my life up there in the good and the bad - memories of triumph, of struggle, of laughter and tears... I think the book of Ecclesiastes -thousands of years later - could have been written at the foot of Big Ben: Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders build in vain... I'm not sure, but I believe that this psalm is displayed on St Stephen's tower. All is vain, all is vanity - all is passing by at the foot of the tower. Those who are mighty, those who are poor, those who have success, those who are in agony, those who pass by each day, those who are in London for a day or two...

Last week I had a rather unique encounter which I could add to the list of Big Ben moments. It was cold, though winter had suddenly lost its edge. The wind was still cold, but it was mild enough to walk towards Waterloo Station. As people do in London, they complain about the cold. Therefore Big Ben was rather lonely that night. I was looking at my beloved Big Ben, while suddenly the person next to me pointed the risen moon from behind the buildings at the other side of the Thames. He was right.

And the moon is a sliver of silver
Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter's shop
And every house must have it's builder
And I awoke in the house of God
Where the windows are mornings and evenings

On this lonely Sunday evening the world came to me as it once was described above by Rich Mullins in 'The Color Green'. The Big Ben moment had become a big Moon moment. The moon spoke to me like it always has done since that moment it had been hung in the sky to comfort us with its pale but secure reflection. Whatever happened in the past and what will be in the future, the moon is there to do his job. In my homeland and in this country where I am a stranger.

The next day I saw Big Ben again. And I knew the moon was hidden, placed somewhere behind the clouds, being there faithfully. What else did Rich sing?

Be praised for all your tenderness, by these works of your hands

ome things don't change, or at least most likely - not during our lifetime. Within my micro changes and worries, I hold on to what is the same wherever I go. It 's what I hope to have expressed on 'Ver van Vroeger'/'Distant past', on 'The Garden'. As it is a new album, I still re-live that song so often. Songs still grow, some can do for years.

Rich is not anymore. The more years pass, the more I feel inspired by his work. The more I write and sing, the more my heart and mind resonate with what he sang.

The more I am praising too.

Kerst

 

HUMMING ON THE BREATH
Greenwich, 23rd March 2011

When I have run out of energy or don't feel on top of my strength, singing can become very tough. Then it's hard to find the right breath support. Recently I was told to 'hum on the breath': As I start singing or get to some difficult passages in a song I sometimes imagine myself humming before I get into singing them.

Just a handy tool to hold on to. One of those subtle ways to cope with not being in a great shape. You can imagine how grateful I am to know these tools, when I am in need of them. It always disappoints me, however, that I forget about them in the times that I don't seem to need them. I easily forget how things should be.

In my attempt to live a busy city life I seem to run out of these kind of tools too soon. I forget about those apsects of life which point me to the essence of it. Somehow I need the sad and lonely moments to figure out how deeply beautiful life is from my first breath to the dark clouds I see now out this window - the sun is showing their depth of colour. And somehow forget them when life is as fast in its entertainment, just like those clouds that I saw while typing my last sentence.

Today I got up tired. I write to you before my singing practice for today. I'll remember then to hum on the breath - and for the coming week I hope I will remember both the humming on the breath and the drifting of the clouds.
Wind and breath can be silent and invisible, but their changes inspire me to trust in changes my self. The Wind of the Spirirt is unpredictable and quite often I forget about it - it seems invisible.

In moments like these I acknowledge that I am a child of the wind. My breath is given by the Breath of God. I better remember to hum on the Breath. I lie to myself when I can rely on skill or on charm. I rather rely on how the Spirit moves.

And I pray that I won't forget how it should be... to hum on the Breath.

Children of the wind, attentive for direction
Covering the land, to shelter those who lives
are fragile imperfection
Children of the wind.

Kerst

 

SIMPLICITY
Leidsche Rijn, 4th June 2011

He was sweeping away. That day was filled with the most profound impressions: Words, pictures, creations... We were planting silence on a day, when we seemed to have arrived at the climax of an unusually sunny period. The sun painted a certain stillness over what I saw: An elderly man who was sweeping away. With focus and precision. Time passed as I was watching the performance - and my heart found again the value of simply watching. I forgot my agenda within all impressions. I forgot what was distracting me. I forgot that the world was still spinning round - with all of us being on the move.

He appeared to be contented and restful. Later we found out how he had carefully arranged an appointment. A slower diary that honoured each moment inside of it. Of course, I romanticize this experience. Although I was making more of the beauty of space then what he may have experienced, on this bright morning of stillness - he took the time even to open his heart as a home to us: he shared about his working connections in the past with my own homeland.

On that sacred day when impressions were held in silence, this man reminded me of 17th century Brother Lawrence. Lawrence, who found God’s presence while he did his tasks in the kitchen. Practicing the divine presence within the simplicity and stillness of a domestic environment.

I’ll never be a Brother Lawrence. For that I am not domestic enough, although the times that I actually ironed I found myself stirred to come up with the most profound prayers or insights. Still those who know me on a more day to day basis know that ironing doesn’t have a wow factor for me. Though I ‘ll never be a Brother Lawrence, I can be someone who can forget about time and meet the value of silent simplicity. Some say it’s the artist in me. I say: some silence was already planted before artistry took further flight.

They are the best rehearsals for eternity: Moments to sit still and to forget a sense of time. Moments when you watch, sit down and see the world with eyes that honour these seeds of stillness and simplicity. And when they arrive, they make me forget some disturbing elements of my own agenda.

They reveal the truth and beauty of what life is essentially like.

Enjoy the silence this summer...

Kerst

 

RAIN FALL
Covent Garden, 1st August 2011

I remember crossing the Heath one day in May. It felt like I had skipped some hours that day - so busy it had been... I took the grass as my friend: Tired, lonely and dry, but much in use and still considerably functional. It seemed the summer had pushed out spring. Months later it seemed summer and spring had swapped.

A swap of seasons: Sometimes I can’t make sense of how seasons follow each other. Making sense was a challenge as well, when I walked in the evening over Northumbrian hills at the end of that month. I felt rain, but there was no cloud above me. The wind was having its very own way. When we walked there the next day, the wind was so strong that we could lean into it. And it was obvious that the movement of the rain was very clean, as the wind made teardrops travel together in one direction. Around that time sun and rain were not as well located in my own heart. Where was I meant to go? What season was I facing? From where did the wind blow?

Weeks later back in London we are sitting around a garden table. Four of us, knowing each other well enough to laugh together in times of grief. In one moment in time we are called The Community of Teardrops. Falling down by laws of gravity it seems, but leaning into the Wind of hope.

As we fall, we fall together. Not on our own, but finding togetherness in the same direction. And out of the clouds we may fall down, one day we will go vice versa to reach the sky again... The analogy may not achieve stardom, but it works for our Teardrops Community, that Sunday morning: our thoughts and hurts are held together under a blue city sky.

Seasons follow and fly away - and we can’t always make sense of it. But when we fall, let’s at least fall together like spring rain that’s waiting for rainbows.

And when we cry, let’s cry together
Like teardrops from the sky
Then the wind prevents us all from being lonely
We lean into the storm as we’re reaching for our home
with arms held high
back to the sky

When the summer’s striking hard, and the heat drives us apart
let the wind keep watch through journeys of not knowing

Kerst

 

STEPPING OUTSIDE
Covent Garden, 12th September 2011

You are right, it is what this summer will be remembered for: no sun.

Have you ever noticed though, that as soon it is too hot we find public transport too sticky and any form of exercise too tiring?

Anyway,it seems that autumn really arrived this weekend - a nice tan will have to wait another year...

Last week. Just like any other day I check one of the main Dutch news websites. Quite often it manages to touch an old snare which I have recently ignored in my London life. It certainly does this time.

I read that a fair number of chimpanzees had waited 30 years to see the first sunlight. I imagine not only teddy lovers feel their heart breaking when they read the story of these chimpanzees who were held in a lab most of their lives. And then all that patience to wait for their ‘proper’ home in the zoo (what you call a proper home)...

They see the sun for the first time after 30 years. Some for the first time, others since they were born. As I read it, I vow not to complain about some months without proper sunshine. I am glad I didn’t have to discover the beauty of warmth and natural light after thirty years. What strikes me most, is that I notice a slight hesitance as they step outside. No rush into the unfamiliar.

That’s me. I often wait and examine before stepping into the realness of what is on offer. The full experience is unknown and insecure. Do I dare to leave the cave of my boxed experience and tangible systems?

I never knew that some 30 year old chimpanzees would inspire me to be bold and to step outside. I know, right now it’s raining outside. But we all remember that moment when the sunlight warms our face and we meet the wonder of being alive. It’s what I want to dare. It’s what I want to reach out for.

It’s what I believe Heaven will be like. Right now I sense hesitance about what is not known, but I believe its ultimate warmth will reveal the deepest purpose and warmest sense of being alive.

Kerst

 

 

NOTICING CHANGES
Blackheath, 5th November 2011

They are like old friends - the leaves that fall.

Some fall all-ready, other ones need more time. Some are captured by the wind, other ones are under pressure of persistent showers. The next time I visit the Hawksmoor church many of them will have gone. They show me a rhythm of falling down: A rhythm of wind and season - things we know so well. These changes within the rhythm of seasons comfort me in changes which are less unpredictable: European economics, our own job situations... We go from change to change - some seem safe, some seem like a free fall.

Between summer and fall I return to an island well known: with people who are the same, beaches that show similar levels of popularity and with villages that for a few weeks hide my life in a balloon of folklore and tradition.

On this island I notice that within its rhythm things appear different to me than in previous years. The rhythm seems not always that safe: What if the cafe would not have been closed last year? I had not met the market place as a wide space of children playing games and older people watching them. What if the sun had not worked so hard last year? I had not felt the significance of colours playfully decorating the fountain. And the exhibition inside would not have drawn my intention, nor would I have felt compelled to go up and speak to the artist. Reality never seems to repeat itself completely the same: It makes me believe in purpose and timing even more.

I hadn't expect to see the same fireworks again. This year I am at the sideline. Last year I was in the crowd, which I currently see in front of me. Though at the side, I see their beauty as if the people celebrate a two centuries old print of fireworks from the past.

Some countries are on the edge, some hearts are at a break - still some events show the rhythm of a beautiful bigger picture.

More leaves will fall this week. Some may fall unnoticed, some may reveal the bareness of a fragile tree. Another week of uncertainty. Still it will be a week of soft changes in the beauty of a bigger picture. I hope to take time out of a time potentially busy... to step aside and wonder.

Kerst

 

 

MIRROR CRACKED CHRISTMAS WISHES
Charing Cross, 28th November 2011

Now that the sun hath veil’d his light
And bid the world goodnight
To the soft bed my body I dispose
But where does my soul repose
Dear God even in thy arms
And can there be any so sweet security


William Fuller

Advent 2011. Before it starts it already feels as the end of the Christmas period. Not because it is busy or draining, but because of the string of some unforeseen incidents. How far have I actually drifted off from the Nativity scene? Rather then getting any closer....

The world is in uproar: traditional democracies suffer political insecurities, ancient countries tear themselves apart, financial foundations are shaken...

Almost 2012: We don’t plan as easily, we don’t dream as widely. We have come to know the boundaries of our successful western lifestyle . Love doesn’t show to rule the world so tenderly and the world seems to be chaotic as our own individual lives. Christmas 2011 is very grim when you think of peace and of hopeful beginnings.

As if the world has always been as stable. As if from the start pensions were set in stone and as if death has never been around the corner. Stability is a precious gift, but it means that we hardly wonder what could be beyond and forget it is a gift indeed. History seems to repeat itself: Even the greatest theologians at the time were overwhelmed by the fall of Rome, stable city of all ages. While economic scenarios continue to prove worse than they were painted some years ago and people still think we can just carry on, I find myself in front of Rembrandt’s Holy Family, in the New Church in Amsterdam. Is this Christmas? A family in 17th century context. An anonymous baby of a family next door.

Not far off in a ‘dream’ Christmas: iconic, ideal and sweet as snow. Not far off in a lie, that our laws of capital will make us float casually throughout the centuries. Christmas in poverty and lowliness is as real as the threats of uproar in finance, in societies and in our own individual lives.

Instead of pretending that I am fully capable and in control, I can cling to an unknown baby next door. I can trust in the one who chose to become small and similar to save us from quarrel, greed and selfishness. Stilling my eyes upon the Christ Child next door is an alternative to thinking too much, too wide sized of myself and my context and too far fetched of Christmas. While the world sobs and takes itself seriously, we can grab this opportunity to look inside and read how we truly disappointed ourselves, including our excluded next door neighbour. With the Christ Child we can face what is totally real.

Security lies in the small Christ Child. Security lies in surprising simplicity. The smaller we may get, the stronger we will be.

Maybe this Christmas I will know new ways to find him. Next door I hear a baby fighting for his life. Just like the one who once fought for this world.

Wishing you all a Christmas filled with wonder,

Kerst

 

 

REPUTATION AND INSPIRATION
Southbank, 15th February 2012

They both died around the same age. They both were successful in their own right. Examples, to look up to - to work up to...

At this moment, we don’t know how she died. I thought her last album was inspiring - and greatly performed in the O2, two years ago. But the picture had become a broken one and whoever she was at the time, she would never have been able - nor given the chance - to match up with the picture that was given her some decades before.

Apart from some questions, one thing I would like to know is: How were those years, when no one really followed her, no one really knew how she was recovering. How she mothered and rested: how she was her very self. And of course the next question: would it have been better to have stayed there - no picture necessary, nothing there to live up to...

Years later I found out how he died. How - together with a friend - he drove into the depth of a canyon. He left a community of singers devastated. Friends, singing his songs and inspired by his life. He, who had made himself nothing in some ways as St Francis had shown his Christ-likeness. He dwelled with Indians - lived with the lowly.

How did he live with them and who was he off-stage? Did he like miming before the camera or did he sing The Color Green for real when it was filmed in beautiful Ireland? Did they chase some tourists away while filming there?

I try to remember if I ever saw these two artists pictured in a garden. Maybe they left that for their own private and intimate space. When I grew up I associated gardens with our holiday bike rides in a region full of pretty front yards. Since them I have always wondered if their pretty outlook was meant for people’s private enjoyment or if it served for showing off.

Questions that never get answered. What if I ask myself these questions? I would show you my garden to show my unusual me and to gain your recognition. I would want to show you my level of creativity and design. Or would I just want to invite you simply to chat, to interact, watching the world go by?

Reputation. It sticks with us as much as we push hard to stick it on others.

Why not look into the garden of our life and our love and see the plain wonder in the way it represents the beauty of the world. These two lives reflected that wonder. Today I leave my questions inside, as I step into my garden and remember them for the way they have added some unique shapes and colours to the story of my life.

And so today, I want to be alive and hope, that if you ‘come to my garden’ you see how they and so many others are left in how I have become ‘me’.

Come with me to the garden... see how colours hide the secrets of the past
Watch the flowers grow, just to let you know... how plain designs were meant to last
Come with me and see that our life is still a song
Come and see rewritten history, see the you you left in me.

Kerst

 

 

BIRDS IN BULGARIA
Covent Garden, 15th April 2012

Life in London has its own ‘landscape’ within and so the best way to appreciate the charm of the city is to take some distance, once in while - if the opportunity arises.... People are often very impressed when I tell them that I live in London. As if you have achieved a major success by living in the centre of the world. Without even saying what you do, without revealing your heart to them with all that’s inside. As much as the inner city life contains beautiful excitement, deceitful unfairness, but also hidden pearls - similarly, our hearts know rough patches and great views not immediately visible at the outside... I recently was in Bulgaria. WIthin the ‘city’ of the European Union it may not be the country that defines the European image. Unknown, unpopular, unexplored... However, once more I was proven that it’s not always useful to go with ‘hot’ topics. I spent time in a country in one of the corners of Europe, with a London sized population. Same size, different reality. Different brokenness, different beauty...

A challenge of London’s city filled with success, momentum and quality, is the escape to connect with rhythm life as it was from the beginning. In Sofia I was entirely taken by the immediate view on the white mountains from the heart of the city. Very quickly you can drive higher up, right where there is no rush, nor any noise. Before I knew I stood right within a forest, taken by the birds of Bulgaria.

The heart is a world in itself. As much as there are those ‘London’ spaces that are upfront, trendy, and captivating, there are also the forgotten plains of Bulgaria and the unnoticed beauty of mountains and traditional dishes. The heart, too, has hidden treasures in its corners, as much as it hides troubles of the past and circumstances one just has to live with.

Being back in the city I agreed with myself not just to go with what is hot topic. I’ll invest in chasing mountains worth climbing, though I may have ignored them with the rest of the world. Similarly, I ‘ll seek to be fed in my inner being by originality and authenticity. Having captured these Bulgarian mountain ranges in my mind, I reflect on the landscape inside: the sometimes complex texture of my whole being, but nevertheless a texture worth exploring as a reflection of my inner world - not necessarily how I find myself to be at the surface of a city life experience.

Who knows - the next time I find myself in a London garden with birds declaring their daily announcements, I may find them still for one moment. That one moment when I look at them and remember, I may be bold for once and ask them, if they ‘ve ever flown over those forests of Bulgaria...

Kerst

 

REJUVENATED
Preston - 25th April 2012

Und in der Bach versunken der ganze Himmel schien
und wollte mich mit hinunter in seine Tiefe ziehn
From: Die schoene Muellerin (Schubert)

An encouragement for others to reflect - that’s what I desire to be: Reflecting on beauty, on feeling, on gift, on movement, on calm.... Wether it is through song, through conversation or through silence, I hope that people are encouraged to be still and reflect: to have a deeper look into reality - into the world outside and into the world within. Quite often there is no point in reflecting, especially when the immediate image of life is dull, negative and eventless. Like earlier this month, when I walked around Grasmere. The crowds were not too big, nor too small; the weather was average; no new explorations, nor any surprising hail- or thunderstorms. Nothing special. Nothing grand. Nothing within myself that was over-cheerful either. I stood at the lakeside hoping for a spectacular reflection of the hills in the water - hoping to see below the surface. I stood there hoping to see a more spectacular sight of me - deeper within me.

An hour later, after my mind had been moving from one subject to another, the sun decided to slip through a thick blanket of clouds. First it took out the paintbrush over the early spring trees. I noticed, that its palette was nearly as rich as in autumn; some trees were partly bare, still gaining colour and shaping leaves. Then, after a while, I was drawn to look into the water and to see the whole landscape reflected in there.

Up till then I’d been walking around like Narcissus seeking a spot to admire his own image: self-centered, worried, living in his inner world. And instead of beauty I saw dullness, greyness - I saw anger hiding, bitterness growing, self-centeredness hurting others.... What came into view instead were the sun, the clouds, the trees: all inviting me to look up, to look around, to look into the water. Not to see my own reflection, but to see the world captured in this peaceful reflection - softly painted in the water... I was invited to see the world in glory and to honour some person’s presence in it. Given a place in it so preciously, I felt the world opening up: leaving an impulse to open up myself, rather than to withdraw or to close in.

A single reflection in a small lake: Creator’s fingerprint enhanced in this small representation of the world I am part of, saving it once again from dullness and grey self-centeredness.

A softened heart, a grateful soul: A nobody’s life once more awakened, rejuvenated.

Kerst

 

LOST AND ALIVE
Towards Utrecht, 20th June 2012

Lost memories. We lose memories of different kinds in different ways. The more unusual lost memory is not the forgotten one, but the one we always wished to have. Like those I never gathered in the country where I grew up: The relatives I didn’t have, the places I didn’t go to, the friendships I didn’t make....

About one week ago, I was on the train, passing a lost memory of this kind: A village near the waterside through which I’d love to have wandered. I remembered it had already seemed an intangible experience when I was a student taking this daily route. I find it intriguing how those lost elements say so much about who we are and who we like to be: Our desires, our disappointments, our dreams...

This sense of lostness took me back in time, close to the Cornish south coast, where I found the Lost Gardens of Heligan. What I found was overwhelming. Inside the gardens I found a mirror in an odd shaped statue: a man-type figure stretched out over the grass - sleeping or resting. It was covered by the grass it was resting on. Was it hidden, like a lost memory? Or was it securely grounded and resting on this soil that bore both grass and statue there?

Like the statue, I like to ‘ground’ myself when I can stretch myself in a lounge, resting on my elbows - feeling my weight disappearing: as if my burdens sink into the rug on which I’m dozing off. Five years down the line I think that this is what the statue is teaching me; it encourages to stretch out and to recover from a day filled with impressions and demands.... Right now, that garden has become a memory alive. Now it’s me stretched out over a rug just like the statue sank into the garden of rest. As if I am carried, lifted up, while my whole self and all the current weight of my life can fall into this fire place rug: A vivid memory of home and rest...

Few days later my mother suggests to visit a certain place within our region. Want to have a guess? It’s that same village of my lost memory. After so many years of yearning to go there and just a few days after passing it again, she suggests this without any foreknowledge of my own contemplations: As if the lost experience sinks into the rug of my memory, as if it is held by grass growing wider and soil reaching deeper, I rejoice in the perfect timing of this suggestion.

The next day we walk and talk there. Together - on a summer day - we make this memory our own as a vivid and memorable picture in the photo album of our experience. And we feel so much alive...

Kerst

 

NEVER THIS QUIET
Coven Garden, 13th August 2012

There is something about a daily routine. Although for some routines can be boring, for others they are reassuring. Personally, routines help me not to worry about certain conditions or changing circumstances: It means that I can easily focus on some thinking processes and avoid losing a certain train of thought. This is why I find it helpful to come back to the same places: By making myself at home there I feel that I can also give a home to certain creative processes. That way I don’t need to multi-task in my head...

Would I not like to explore the world around me? Yes, I would. More than I am able to. But then where I live in London the world is often coming to me in an overwhelming diversity of impressions. Especially some weeks ago, there was this rich blend of people from all around the world. The Olympics turned Greenwich into a hotspot full of happy volunteers, soldiers, people from near and far and with them many, many supporters dressed in orange: Never did I see so many Dutch people as at the last weekend. Not in Greenwich, not in London.

And so the world had come to us, happily located at this global focal point. But with the whole world zooming into London, my old home had also presented itself in London in a rather overwhelming way. And although my ‘sport’ heart still supports my homeland, I have felt throughout the years that a certain sense of belonging had moved away from my old home. As if my current home had represented itself much more in that Covent Garden, which was never this quiet: While Greenwich had become one of the centers of the world’s attention, our usually vibrant Covent Garden only showed the community of those who were left behind, those who held on to their routines. Had I ever been so happy in this place currently so spacious and wide?

When the city had become the whole world for just a fortnight, it showed it’s softest heartbeat to me. And though summer had become a London summer with much rain and without many surprising explorations, it showed me also the barest form of routine with adding a beautiful simplicity to a home which can be so exhaustingly busy.

Though I was confronted with the world and with my past, I was not stuck in London, this summer. While there was no escape, home had unexpectedly decided to show its best side to me by lifting me up throughout a single summer of straightforward and bare routine.

My mind wondered back to those Sundays which I spent in the V & A, years ago - when I didn’t really know where else to go, while suffering a foot injury. Staying there each Sunday had become a necessary routine. Having spent some hours there, I found the unexpected beauty of a home in there: a hidden room full of mirrors. Some centuries ago it once had served a stately home, where people from far and wide had been dancing till early morning....

Though it seems like a labyrinth to me - in this house I stay
You show me how to enter in - an unexpected way
In a mirror room full of dancing pairs where it’s you and i who are dancing there
In the house that we built
And the love that we share
is a firm foundation laid in there
And the light of love will stay in there
will enfold what we hold dear -
we will sing
and love will live within

Kerst

 

SLOW, SILENT SADNESS
Greenwich, 31st August 2012

It had been a turbulent Monday when I went on the tube to Brixton. I’d not often seen Brixton before. For sure I’d never visited its cinema. It had a great vibe: I made myself at home quick enough to get into the film. Meanwhile, sitting on the last row I also had the chance to look at a few emails and to process the last couple of hours I spent with some friends. Soon it came to me that another, less important encounter kept reoccurring in the forefront of my mind: I had met a young lady with a big white dog on the Victoria line. It loved to be stroked. She told me little snippets of her story. I was just rambling on about my own dog that died three years ago.

Once I had processed this at the backseat of the cinema, I realised how loud I’d been. She had been polite in her quiet suffering: It suddenly dawned on me that she had been in the process of saying farewell to her beloved dog friend. Once it had sunk in, I prayed for them.

We suffer so often in silence, when our environment lacks attention to our wordless laments. Too euphoric to read between our tearful lines. Too fast to notice our slow numbness. When we feel dead inside, we may need a more gentle, sensitive call from outside to let our heartbeat be audible again.

That afternoon I watched l’Oiseau. The slow and sad beauty of the film didn’t only mirror the silent suffering of the young lady I had met before, it also turned me to the silent sadness which so many had passed by in my own life. Some roads you simply have to walk alone. How long and how slow that experience may be.

In l’Oiseau Anne - the main character - is queuing up somewhere in Bordeaux, when she is met by an acquaintance, who doesn’t allow herself any time to take note of Anne’s loss. Anne’s bereavement seems to be partly chosen to be processed in silence, perhaps anticipating other people’s loud misunderstanding. Who knew? Who wanted to know? Whom could she confide in? Would she find a sense or purpose in uncovering the veil around her silent soul - this cocoon of numbness?

One of the wakening shots in the film is when the bird - another main character - bravely appears in Anne’s room; displaying a brave look into her silent existence. An unexpected friend. All beauty of the world is represented in one small bird - it becomes Anne’s catalyst. An unforetold assistant helping to walk back into life, to hear Anne’s heart beating with that of the world around her. Though her life journey is distantly painful, she manages to find a way to carry herself and her hurt to a different place. The future slowly starts again through the appearance of an unexpected friend who won’t ignore her silent lament by meeting her at her own horizon - drawn far away from where the world wants her to be known. Here one’s horizon becomes slowly one’s perspective. Unashamed by the demands of the world. Far away from the way it hurts us, passing us by so easily, catching up on us and on our pain inside....

Don’t we all have our different side walks, our various mountains to climb in silence... Still our lonely, sad horizons may be right where we ultimately meet each other: out of the limelight of what seems to be demanded from us in our ways of coping and dealing with our delicate issues. Though our lives may have slowed down there, it might be right there that we find help in each other to fly out again.

Looking back, I feel so insensitive about my meeting with this young lady and her dog - about my shouting drowning her quiet hurt. I pray that her faithful friend still brings her comfort. That their parting will be filled with goodness. And that next time I see silent pain I will see it and don’t speak over it in loudness.

Kerst

 

TIME TIED, HANDS OPENED
Travelling from Reichenau, 22nd October 2012

Some periods in time simply pass too quickly. In such circumstances I find it a real challenge to consciously count worthwhile moments and impressions: Everything becomes so condense. It looks as if our winter days become shorter and therefore their meaning more compact and squeezed into less hours... But even within that rich and condense blend of experience there suddenly appears a moment - an opening - that surpasses the yoke of time.

Some of my autumn holidays are spent in Germany: I come across Reichenau, which presents itself to me as a slightly later equivalent of Holy Island Lindisfarne. Both played key roles in the cultivation and trasnformation of the Christian societies of Britain and Germany: religiously, intellectually, artistically.... In both cases, these islands have given me the opportunity to walk in ‘islands of my thoughts’ - a distinct journey, that provides space to be less concerned with some of the issues that weigh on my shoulders... An escape into a romantic perception of old times? Well, I leave that to your own judgement.

This time, however, there certainly seems no way to escape from more traumatic parts of our collective history: An earlier, late summer visit to The Netherlands and Germany has already made me encounter some traces of the last world war. One can expect that this brings a sense of baggage into a second trip to Germany. However, some of the sights I encountered on this island go deeper into history than these burdening chapters of the last century. The current Church of St Mary’s and St Mark’s on Reichenau goes back a thousand years. An atmosphere of a different millennium puts all I carry inside into another, wider perspective. There is a sense of something stretching wider than the walls of my own heart. I am a guest in what reaches far beyond my own experience of time and culture. As I enter in, I sense more of what eternity may be like, of what has already been here for many ages long and without any disturbance will freely continue once I will leave this place.... Time is simply less relevant in here.

The morning is still early and daylight still young. Within the ancient contours of the church, a flavour of youth is present, as I attend a service full of children. Once they pray the Lord’s Prayer together, they hold hands. Again, I have the honour of being a guest in here: this time by their invitation to look into the future of their love. For as they ask to be forgiven and express forgiveness to each other, I see the hurt of history being responded to by a youthful sign of honesty.

Inside this place where timelessness sings its song, history is honoured by a tender and vulnerable sign of hope. Holding hands, these children show a string of wide, unspoiled and genuine love for the world ... Time tied, hands opened .. Here there is a shelter for the wounds and the questions in our history. Open hands hold tender strength in true love.

In the UK we will soon remember those who fell in wars gone past. It makes me wonder what type of war we may ever be part of in the future. This year I will enter moments of remembrance with this clear picture of childlike sincerity: As they hold hands I pray their hearts will reach for hope. For it is when our hands and hearts are held, that we ‘re assured of true strength which we can find...

Children of the wind
not lonely in the landscape
Always hand in hand
to shelter those whose lives
still search for shield and shape
Children of the wind
We're all
Children of the wind

Kerst

 

THE EARLY NOWELL
Southbank, 21st November 2012

1997. The Christian music industry was in a shock when Rich Mullins suddenly died in an accident. Just before he died, he recorded the Jesus demoes, an ‘out of the box’ project, addressing the human side of Christ without its usual flavour of sweetness. I still find it moving, how these songs ended up to be the last ones which he left behind.

As I reconstruct where I was at in my own life, I remember that I trained and eventually worked as a chaplain in a nursing home that year. It was an interesting time: I ‘photographed’ the loneliness, the hurt, the lostness in this domain, cut off from the real world: This was a world in itself. A world often ignored. That world decided to leave me a Christmas CD as leaving present: Loreena Mckennitt’s A Winter’s Garden. The last song ‘Seeds of Love’ always came to me as a their last minute wisdom to me.

2012. I finally found a way to connect these broken photographs of humanity with the ever so festive melodies of our Christmas preparations. In his songs Rich Mullins had left photographs of a humanity deeper than mine: Christ as a fugitive, as someone homeless, someone lonely... To me, his songs add more colour to old carols like Coventry Carol and O Holy Night...

The wide world - in its essence - is nothing different from the closed entity of the nursing home: full of its pictures of need and brokeness. During a Southbank stroll I contemplate how Christ’s heavenly perspective shows so much love for a rather small nursing home sized entity of Planet Earth drifting through the wideness of its universe. But then this small world wasn’t ignored.

I am tested to treasure this thought, when - halfway November - life is getting ‘Christmassy’ busy and I don’t get much of a lovely evening walk over Southbank: It’s not yet even Advent and I am forced to listen to a very early First Nowell - a hip hop voice through some jolly loud speakers. I feel the pressure for those working around here and having to cope with it for almost two months...

What about Christmas? Will I want it to be over before it has come? Instead of the obvious, I decide to look more into what’s ignored and pushed away in a world behind doors: To honour life’s pictures ‘behind doors’. And so, going back to the nursing home, I decide to honour those pictures I digged up in my memory of those who let me leave with so much love. Something to work on after Christmas: to seek and find Love in the hidden places.

Find Kerst at one of the E M B R A C E The Edge of Christmas events - more details in the concert diary.

Kerst

 

MAY OUR WORDS NEVER KILL THEIR WONDERS
Greenwich, 23rd January 2013

I was positioned on the hill at the edge of the German village, when I saw the clouds of the old year drift away and I welcomed those of a new year floating towards us. Staying there with young families, I wondered if my godchildren would once know the simple joy of lying in the grass and watching the clouds drifting over...

It was a short moment, that desire to share this secret of the clouds. Instead of working out the shapes of these clouds in the distance, I was working out the shape of my thought and feeling. Never mind: the speed of this impression was so rapid that it had gone already - the cloud had drifted from my mind, once we were back to the immediate need of packing the car for our return journey.

The following day I screened a particular book concerning the area of loss in our lives. Curiously, one chapter started with a poem called ‘Clouds’, by Martinus Nijhoff.

It spoke of how only the childlike generation can see the beauty in passing clouds: recognising shapes, countries, persons.... How we grow older and forget about the clouds and the wonders they bring - how those ‘wonders once became words and drifted away’. Once we had worked out the wonders of our childhood, we lost that excitement...

I think there is more to his thought, that as we grow up and mature, we decide to replace this excitement by giving meaning and reason and explanation to the ‘clouds of wonders’ that we see. We still see clouds of ambition, desire, of opportunity and hope and yet, by the moment we have named them and given them our evaluation and calculation, the sense of wonder has floated into the distance, with the same speed of those clouds drifting over us.

Tonight I walked over a snowwhite Blackheath. So unusual, to be led by the sound of walking in fresh snow. One almost forgets to do such a thing, when on a day off lots is digitalised and programmed, one way or another. I remembered suddenly, how last time I walked right there in thick snow, I had seen in my heart the exciting wonder of a cloud drifting over. And I remembered how some months later in my grown up state I had let it pass beyond my horizon - and my wonder had indeed become a word: that word which said ‘no’ to an exciting, wonder-ful dream and desire.... While I had worked out the cloud’s shape it had already drifted off , chasing another horizon...

Nevertheless, after all those years of growing up and seeing wonders transforming into plain and systemizing words, I still find that there is space for a child within me. A child, that wants to lie in the grass and observe the clouds. Still an appreciation and a childlike embrace of fresh impressions. It makes me read Nijhoff’s poem slightly differently. Watching the clouds passing over us, is beyond the generation gap expressed in the poem: I think that the two generations can be present within us. We mature by serious circumstances, but does that maturity need to exclude us from our playfulness? Sometimes I think it is the opposite: It shows us the need to be playful, too....

Reflecting on the way we mature and discover the serious undertones to life’s melodies, we don’t need to get caught up in it, without breathing in any wonder over what is passing us by in shape and colour. When we are young children we start to discover wonder and word, and so they still should be discovered together. To me, that’s what my godchildren teach me all the way through: the wonder of discovery...

I pray that they will watch the painting of the skies - that as the clouds float by with shades and colours, their excitement will move us all back to the core beauty of life without labelling it in each detail. I pray my godchildren will show me life’s song and rhyme. And as we teach them how to obtain more words, structure and meaning, may our words never kill their wonders.

May 2013 be childlike, too - and once we have missed one cloud, may we soon discover the next....

Kerst

 

SUDDEN FEASTS OF RECOGNITION
Wooler, 28th February 2013

The last two months I spent quite a bit of time in Alnwick to change buses there. It’s an old market town in the North East. After one look around it’s easy to recognise everything a second time. Just when I thought I was acquianting myself really well with the place, one person recognised me by saying ‘hello’ while I didn’t have a clue who he was. It slowly came to me that he had been on the same bus a couple of weeks ago.

From Alnwick I was soon off to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Even more so than Alnwick, there is no town like it. It gradually found its peace at the English side of the border, while its football club plays for the Scottish league.

Still there is one town like Berwick: my own hometown. Like Berwick it is surrounded by bulwarks (I think they’re called ramparts, but ‘bolwerken’ seems to be the Middle Dutch root for ‘bulwarks’). I used to walk over defenses like these when I was a teenager - not too sure of what I was supposed to do with my life. Later in life I walked over them to oversee centuries of different architectural layers. Some decades later I re-live the past as I recognise my own history here in Berwick, in a foreign land. it leaves me with a rich feeling of being part of a bigger story.

Sometimes - in fields of recognition - familiar things can become suddenly more articulate. Like the last production I saw of La Traviata at the ENO. The constant staging of curtains falling and being drawn together ended up in a complete focus on Violeta. I recognised the story, but I felt I ‘met’ Violet for the first time: Her drama, her position of ‘left alone‘ was more gripping than ever before.

Revisiting places and revisiting occasions provide an increasing sense of excitement when they mirror our own reflection and when we also recognise that since then, we’ve moved on - we’ve grown, we’ve learned, we’ve managed...

For some years I’ve ‘met’ the Winter Queen from time to time. Without a crown she entered the Dutch Republic, right when its Golden Age is about to start. Without a crown she played her part in making that Golden Age happen. In her twenties the main impact of her life was to become manifest in a different country, after status and success seemed lost...

In her life we can recognise a Europe full of economical, religious and political tension. And how do I respond now, in my own context? I don’t live and work in the country of my up bringing, so I can write myself into her story: being in a foreign land (at a similar age) I have so much less to lose and still so much to give, despite the tensions of current crisis and tension. Each time I come across her story, it increasingly inspires me to think in opportunities, instead of restrictions. Not that she was known so well in her own lifetime: Her grandson King George I and his offspring were much more famous. Still she was a link between upcoming nations - and like her, we can be bridges between different backgrounds, too.

Her story inspires me to be patient for a fruitful outcome which we may not see straight away. The story also leaves me convinced, that in a tense society we can do well, when we recognise each others backgrounds and the qualities that come with them: Our variety provides us fields of opportunities instead of boxes of restrictions. While we contribute by our unique gifts, there is room for second chances in life, for stimulating others to find their own qualities and... there is room for the feast of finding our own stories in those of others. Sudden feasts of recognition.

For more info on Elizabeth of Bohemia, The Winter Queen:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21532311

(Maybe you remember another reflection mentioning the Winter Queen - 5, 27/09/2009)

Kerst

 

OUR TWO WAY STREETS
Covent Garden, 8th April 2013

Shadwell stationDeptford station

Margaret Thatcher wrote history. She did - although people will look back on her impact in various ways, of course. Not many people mentioned her over the last twelve years since I have been in the UK. Although I have not (yet) become an official British citizen, when tonight her death has taken over all the headlines, I don’t feel much like a stranger in a foreign land. Even though that part of history was before my time in England.

I am a foreigner and I am well aware that a part of me always will be. Still, for me there has been a continuous sense of belonging in London life. As I have mingled here throughout the years, I have always sensed the impact of the context I have lived in. And at those times that I go to my country of origin, I have sensed a growing distance as it has changed, also noticing the changes within my own self. It’s an interesting process. I never know what I prefer: Like an older relative of mine, living far more in the British countryside without too much presence of social media and internet, or being adopted by the cosmopolitan character of London’s city: full of foreigners interacting with fellow foreigners. Adapting to another culture is a much slower process when you live in London. Still I am daily transformed by the transforming society around me.

The Dutch Golden Age in the seventeenth century. A part of Dutch history, which became a part of me before I was ten years old. I could give you a long and probably boring account (all by heart) on some historical events and characters of that time. Recently, I was reminded of the multitude of immigrants arriving to the Dutch Republic, all playing their parts in leading the country into a Golden Age with Dutch Masters, a domineering navy and explorers merchandising all around the world. I like to think that one of those valid immigrants was the Winter Queen, Ellizabeth of Bohemia - as a queen a failure, but in a new country of exile of great influence.

I thought of her story when I passed a crushed window at Deptford station. In that setting it was like a piece of art: Something broken can somewhere else become something beautiful. Just like the malfunctioning information board on the platform with in the background our beloved, oddly-spired Shard.

As we live and learn to be ourselves in a foreign land, let’s not think that we do that by going down a one way street. As more or less malfunctioning art work, we are all subject to change. While learning from each other, we teach each other at the same time on how to live from another perspective. When we operate from the desire to give and receive, our one way streets transform into two way streets. Our different, even unusual backgrounds can sometimes cause us to feel ourselves a failure. But though we had to leave part of those backgrounds behind, they still provide potential to make them useful for someone else in ways they have shaped our own individual lives. And so, coming from many different places, shall we not write history again - together, like in the old days? Not with what we don’t have (anymore) and not as whom we’d rather like to be. Without pressure, without demand of ignoring our heritage and integrity. Just with what we have and who we are. Here and now. In our two way streets.

Kerst

 

THE LADY OF THE TOWN
Covent Garden, 7th June 2013

A few weeks ago: I finally made it. I walked around the other end of Drury Lane; something I had meant to do for a long time. As many of you know, I made the area of Covent Garden my own home a long time ago. Centuries ago this area was the home of the Winter Queen: at the end of her life, when she was much less celebrated than when she had left the country as a young bride. I always like the way certain places ‘wear’ their history. But here not much has been left from the time, when she walked over the streets of London. When she lived on what now is the other end of Drury Lane. So much has changed. But isn’t this the reality that so many of us ‘Londoners’ have shared with her: in London, with so many people moving in and out - hardly any street is the same the very next day.

It wasn’t a great day, when we had decided to follow her footsteps on Drury Lane. First we decided to sit at a Mac Donald’s nearby. We were occupied cheering each other up, when a lady came sitting next to us. Unusual styling, with just a cup of tea. She looked absent-minded. Her head was covered with a tied rain cap which my grandmother could have worn thirty years ago. Unusual indeed.

The rain had finally stopped, once we walked some streets further towards Drury Lane. I couldn’t get my mind working. Nothing I said made real sense, nothing I did succeeded. Until the most special moment, when she passed by: that same lady at the Mac. I wondered if she knew where her home was. I wondered if she knew where she was at all. I observed how she dropped a red hat on the pavement. Her mind had drifted far away and she didn’t notice she now had even less to carry. It was right at this other end of Drury Lane that I headed towards her and picked up the hat from the pavement. I handed it over, shy as I was in making contact. Despite her ‘absence’, she greeted me with a soft acknowledgment of gratitude. And though she had not much to handle, not even much to say - in that small unusual moment, she was the lady of the town. Right there - with only unseen traces of an unseen queen in history - this lady had adorned our rainy day; by sitting next to us, by walking into the experience of visiting this other end of Drury Lane. As if we had become a film together celebrating the unusual life of an unusual queen.

I had suddenly woken up from my slumber on that rainy day and realised I would never be able to forget this moment, nor this woman passing by... While so much of her own memory may had been washed away, I decided to remember her as the lady of the town.

And the Winter Queen? In her poverty she possibly would have enjoyed the way we used our vouchers at the Mac and saved a lost item. And the unusual passerby? I saw her again tonight, waiting to cross Strand from the other end. Maybe next time I should bow my head a bit longer. For the lady of the town.

Kerst

 

PAINTING PARADISE
Covent Garden, 9th April 2015

That’s what it is called: ‘Painting Paradise’. I visited the exhibition at the start of Holy Week. I didn’t stay for very long. Surely there were some of Leonardo’s details to take in much better and works from previous exhibitions to be recognised more fully. But when I have an annual ticket , I just don’t feel the pressure of taking in each picture, painting, phrase and line. I just come in for three quarters of an hour and see what catches the eye and what makes me wonder and reflect... At first, I was amazed by the way the Persian gardens were depicted: these guilded pages made me picture ‘Les roses d’Ispahan’... It wanted me to revisit The Garden years, 4 years ago. What really caught my eye though, was a small Rembrandt...

‘Painting Paradise’ as I watched it in Holy Week: The promise of the Easter story was captured in Mary Magdalena and Jesus. I never know what to think of that conversation. Some say all fear was stilled by the Lord just calling her name. I often think it is his question,‘whom she is looking for’ which dispels the clouds of her panic and despair.

This mundane Monday drew me to an other element in the story. Christ appears to a gardener. Instead of a fairytale figure, the living Lord is fitting right into this particular situation; here the world view is a garden scenery: his lively presence is one that fits our reality, although it is a presence seemingly impossible and unknown.

My eye is drawn to his shovel. While Mary gradually comes closer to the Easter truth, he has taken the shovel in his hand: Not a Lord that has finished his work in rays and bright garment. I see a Jesus who continues his work. He is alive to be part of of our lives, not to move away from it. On the cross he said it was finished, but that didn’t mean he walked away to leave us behind. He aids us to grasp and re-tell the story of life and hope. He helps us to work and walk in the garden of this world. Not by just delegating and passing on, but by taking up the shovel... By example, he breathes hope into our everyday existence. Many doors were locked and countless fears came to the surface, before Jesus showed Himself again. Yet the spotless is still working in a spotted world: He is finishing off, turning the garden into a beautiful place - to walk and feel the springtime sun. An invitation to work, to enjoy matching colours and restorative freshness... Just like that garden I see in East London: changed and restored after a decade, it has become a playground for children and an oasis for the homeless and the seeking.

This East London garden brings me back to the Easter truth that I saw on that dull Monday morning: My eye saw a Gardener who wouldn’t just leave behind his allotment.

I believe it is true.
He is still painting Paradise...

Kerst

 


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