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Column Beurskens: The middle way

A young convent-sister comes into my office. She has a severe pain in her back. On the X-ray no abnormalities are seen. Physiotherapy doesn’t help. Strong pain-killers have no effect. They don’t alleviate even a little. At night she doesn’t sleep and often the pain makes her cry. I sense what it is about. Once I already went out of my bounds by suggesting something of a psychological source for her problems. The German doctor who gave injections and prescribed mud-baths knew it much better. The thing is only that he is not being paid for anymore by Dutch health insurance.

The sister makes me think of Sybille. Her husband died years ago after a long illness. She took care of him at home all that time. One of her children has cancer. And a son is an addict. When he was out prison once, he stole her money and her sleeping pills. Sybille might have reasons to be disappointed in live. She isn’t though. It seems that her setbacks in the end increased the joy she experiences in existence. She thinks she has to look well and she makes much of her friends. She loves nice things. Live won’t put her off and she is determined to even like it.

The sister visits a confessor who is very severe. I have a lot of work because of this confessor. Probably she does exactly what he tells her to and even a little more. She thinks she has everything rounded up. Her view of live is complete. If there weren=t only this horrible pain in the back. Sybille knows that complete certainty cannot be had in this live. No system, not even the monastic one, makes that happen. No system is conclusive, otherwise after all there wouldn’t be place for faith and hope. Any man has to cut his own path through the jungle. Real asceticism is then to accept the crosses which come your way. And usually there are enough of them. And if you can’t bear it cheerfully, bear it manfully says Thomas à Kempis. There is no necessity for ourselves to make much up to add to this. We need to try to find our mission in this live and make the best of it. That already requires enough effort from our part. Even the monastic vocation is there for happiness in this live. To hate live and to want to cash the reward in the end is a terrible mistake. It is the error of the Manicheans and Kathars. It happened on a big scale in the history of the church, but it happens also on a small scale in the live of individual human beings. And it always ends badly. Sybille knows that this live in all its relativity makes sense. To love creation is not only allowed, it is even required. Truth is beauty and beauty is truth says John Keats.

To make something of the seemingly fleeting, the apparently impermanent, the seemingly meaningless, it is the very thing the Creator did, He has given meaning to something which for man who only thinks has no meaning. Otherwise he didn’t think enough.

Siddhartha Gautama already taught the middle way. The lute which strings are too taut and the lute which strings are too slack, both sound false. That is what I have to think about when I feel the hard back-muscles of the sister. And now I am hoping she also takes her vow of obedience seriously. But that was not meant for the doctor a religious person once told me.