In this world wracked with need, disaster necessarily manifests itself in many forms: pandemics, wars, personal tragedies; the list can be extended endlessly. As a result, people are often desperately looking for something to hold on to, but that footing is already there. Those who have the courage to face their own shortcomings and ignorance, those who have the courage to let go of everything, will find in their deepest self an almost inexhaustible source. This need not always be done in asceticism or seclusion; it can also be done in a pleasing, euphonious way, for instance through poetry. For me, the following poem (‘The soul seeks the nearness of God’) by Jan Luyken (1649-1712) has been a clear expression of God’s all-presence for many years and a moment of inspiration to continue on the path once chosen.
I also thought God lived far away,
on a throne [heaven], high above moon and star,
and frequently lifted my eye
with deep anticipation from on high;
but when you pleased to reveal yourself,
then I saw nothing of my mind,
then it became fresh and sweet.
There thou camest pushing forth from the depths,
and like a well-spring pounced on my thirsting heart,
so that I, O God! found You
to be the ground of my ground.
(from: Jesus and the Soul)
For the poet, then, God is not someone above or outside our world, but within us. We can come to know God from the world and from ourselves. God and nature are identical, as Spinoza repeatedly said and wrote: God or Nature. Of course, nature should not be understood as a beautiful heath landscape or as marshy green meadows with wide panoramas, but nature as the endless Universe. Because we are part of it ourselves, we can get to know God/Nature. Instead of believing in dogmas and blindly accepting Biblical scriptures, it then becomes a matter of knowledge and self-experience. That is what I would call the eternal consolation, “the consolation of Bethlehem,” as the Cathars called it.
Jan Luyken is a classic example of a poet who through a ‘Damascus moment’ – as Paul had it – became a guide to the life of the searching man. His well-known collection of poems Duytse Lier still bears witness to the frivolous impetuosity of his younger years. But when a close friend died suddenly at the age of twenty-six, he drastically took the path of repentance and asceticism. He withdrew from Amsterdam to Haarlem and later to Schellinkhout in order to address the people only in edifying poetry. In his choice of words and thinking he found support in the well-known mystic from Görlitz, Jakob Böhme. The closing lines of the quoted poem seem almost literally borrowed from him.
According to a contemporary, Luyken’s exuberant life made way from one day to the next for permanent inner deepening:
In his dealings he was quiet, dignified (sedate) and affable, but familiar with few [with few people on familiar terms],
loved the lonely walks outside, to feel more ‘the sweet pleasures of God’. Of this he said:
that he regarded the created things of nature as a letter written by the hand of his Beloved, which made him fall in love with the origin of all things.
He often visited “the godly people, but mostly the needy and poor” and helped them in their need with great discretion. He was often visited in his house, also “by people from other places“. And though he was of few words, everyone went away from him “edified and convinced.” For ‘he expressed high things with simple words’.