Friday, December 18, 2009

We serve a modest king

I have a memory of Christmas time as a child, when my father used to read his favourite Christmas stories to us. Many of them came from a colourful and richly illustrated book by the famous American preacher, Peter Marshall. My father had bought the book as a young man and cherished it for many years. Although all of the stories were special, there was one particular story, which somehow touched me more deeply than the others.

This story was about some children who had received the almost unimaginable news that the king of that country was planning to pay them a visit. What news, what discussion, what excitement!!

On the day that the king was due the children got up very early to prepare everything for this very special occasion. All on their own they decorated their back garden with flowers and holly; they laid some tables with cookies and drinks that they had specially prepared. And then they sat down to wait. In my mind’s eye I can still see the picture in the book, of the children sitting on the wall, staring out in eager anticipation, waiting for the king.

But the king never came. This was the disappointing truth that started to dawn on them as the hours dragged on and nothing appeared on the horizon. However, just as they had started to accept that the news had been all rumour and were ready to pack up, something unforeseen happened. Looking up, they saw a stranger standing at their front gate. He was shabbily dressed and looked extremely weary. So the children invited him in and offered him what they had prepared for the king, what he had failed to claim.

The encounter with the stranger turned into a special occasion: the children served him with all their pent up energy and he graciously accepted their gifts of generosity and kindness, also allowing them to share in his gifts of love, acceptance and concern. In fact, their time with the stranger became such a happy and intriguing experience that their disappointment about the king’s aborted visit gradually disappeared.

When the stranger eventually continued his journey, slowly disappearing into the distance with the setting sun catching his golden hair, the children suddenly realised that a king had been with them. This king was indeed totally different from the one they had imagined and expected. He was a much more humble and simple person, without conspicuous glamour, influence or following. He came as a lonely and weary traveller with friendly eyes and a loving aura.

Peter Marshall of course told this story to remind us of the very old truth that the God who came to us on Christmas day came to us as a stranger, in the guise of an ordinary humble person. The God who appeared in Christ came to serve us with love and forgiveness and not in the first place with all the material goods or glamour that we tend to seek or strive for so anxiously. His spirit of childlike modesty and sobriety should also inform our lifestyle and outlook this Christmas, especially where we are tempted once again to buy indiscriminately and consume unabatedly. According to the gospel, the gift of modesty and containment is God’s great gift to us at Christmas. In the words of an old Irish song:

It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free
It’s a gift to come round where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in a way that’s right
We will live in a valley of love and delight.

Carel Anthonissen

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent, a time to learn from the poor

According to the church calendar, as Christians we are currently in the season of Advent. During this time two important traditions of our faith usually come together. First of all we are invited to remember and to celebrate the birth of Jesus with joy and happiness. Yes, there is joy and happiness because His coming, according to the Bible, marks the breaking through of God’s kingdom on earth, the fulfillment of his redemptive and hope giving promise for all humanity. It is indeed as someone wrote, a season of outrageous promise!

Since Jesus’ coming we may therefore start believing, as many did whose lives were touched by His presence and inspired by his words and deeds, that there is hope for tomorrow. Nothing needs to stay the same anymore. In the words of one faithful prayer, all battered souls and bodies can be healed, the hungry can be fed, the imprisoned set free, the weary eyes lifted up and the splendour and dignity of the earth restored.

In and through Jesus we are offered a glimpse of this new world – a world where enemies embrace, criminals are healed and peace and justice may reign. This does give cause for joy and gladness, for exuberant celebration.

But advent – and this is the other side, the second part of our tradition – is also a time of waiting patiently, of watching and praying; it is a time of urgent invocation, of crying to God, of deep longing. Because although we believe that Jesus brought and introduced God’s kingdom to us, we also know that this kingdom has not yet been fully realised, that it is still coming and that the new possibilities it offers are only grasped and experienced in faith. In fact, the promises of God’s kingdom of which Jesus gave us a glimpse, are challenged daily by the harsh and dark realities of our materialistic, greedy and violent world. In such a world we are constantly reminded that we still live between the times – the time of Jesus’ first coming and that time when God Himself will come to live among us… so that there shall be no more death, grief, crying and pain (Revelations 21:3-4).

During advent we are invited not to give up our longing, to keep praying that something of this tremendous vision and dream may be seen and experienced, even if only provisionally. We are offered a glimpse, allowed a soft leap, given an encouraging nudge, an unassailable intuition, a new but firm knowledge.

Being modern people living today, how do we embark on such a prayer? How do modern consumerists like us overcome our insatiable and selfish needs (and moans) for more and change it into a true prayer for justice and peace. Perhaps we should follow Janet Morley’s considered suggestion to learn from the poor and reclaim prayer as desire – real desire for the kind of justice that will make all of us whole. In fact “our very salvation depends on our response to the poor, in whom God waits to be recognised” (Janet Morley).

Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Onbeing naked and vulnerable

This week I received this moving letter from a dear friend. He is a very private person but was not unwilling to share this with us. May it touch you as it did me. It goes as follows:

“Every December I write a letter to my friends. This year the letter has a different tone. It is a little more quiet. A little softer. But still hopeful.

In my dreams I am naked, vulnerable. When I wake up I toss around, restless, and I wonder about the fear that sits so heavily upon me, just by the mentioning of a single small word. Our whole life we run away from being naked and vulnerable. We build walls and windows with bars and doors with trelllidoors. We buy toy guns as well as the real thing. We become able-bodied, defensible, secure, entrenched. We prove our manliness or our own maturity. The map of our life should run along straight lines. So we believe. So we insist.

We hide it away, this nakedness – in our poems and our favourite songs, and deep, deep within ourselves. We find our security in our gods – they who are supposed to put forward nakedness, even real knowledge and open hearts. We destroy nakedness in nature, in our dialogue, in ourselves, in each other. Naked and vulnerable children live in danger. Defenseless hearts break. Naked lovers are far too early. Then never. To be defenseless and naked is to be poor, is to be delivered, is to be sad and therefore not suited for us.

Even our language makes our nakedness something to fear, to flee from.
But that is the truth in us. That is where we store love, charity and compassion. This is where our heart abides. My heart, that is where you abide!

Fear is anger, is fear. I fear because I am angry, because I fear. I am angry because I fear, because I am angry. Vulnerability, nakedness. Deeply buried and walled in and secure as I was taught and my parents were taught and all before them were taught. But it is all around me and in all that I find beautiful. A wheel that is only half can’t turn. Defensive and vulnerable.

Shall I risk to find it in myself?

In the year that lies ahead I consider to find out. At least to make a beginning. Too much fear, angry for too long, being fortified out of proportion can teach me nothing of myself, or of you. And it leaves me fearful. Yes, barricading and defending myself all the time leaves me fearful.

Tread softly my friends because I am on the lookout for my open vulnerable heart and I am still thrown into panic much too easily.

With love for the part of the year that remains and for that which is coming.

Your friend”

Carel Anthonissen

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The remarkable gift of the flute

In a wonderful little book on old age called “Dancing towards the light” a former hospital chaplain and pastoral theologian reminds us that in caring for people, especially those who are ill, it is often the small, almost insignificant deeds of love that count most.

According to him one of the big frustrations for those who really want to give care and make a difference when a friend or family member falls critically ill, is the discovery that in certain circumstances so little can actually be said and done to relieve the pain or plight of the other. Then we should realise that just being there, close and available - handing a glass of water, or just holding a hand when the other becomes restless - is often enough, the strongest evidence of sincere love and support. In the words of the Dutch writer Cornelis Verhoefen: “When true things happen, no words are needed”

To illustrate what this can mean the author-chaplain recounts a moving incident he experienced one day while doing his rounds in a rehabilitation centre for people paralyzed by a stroke. He was almost at the end of his visit, moving through the last ward, when he heard an unfamiliar sound. Moving closer he discovered a patient in a remote corner who for many months had been lying in a coma. According to the doctors there was no hope of any recovery. On a chair close to his bed an attractive young woman wearing a sparkling red dress was sitting, softly playing a flute.

Responding to the questioning look on the chaplain’s face she pointed at the patient and explained. “He used to be the minister of our parish, someone with a deep love for music; and he especially liked the psalms. Given that he has so little left, I have decided to come here every day, just to play for him. I think he hears me”. And then with her voice faltering slightly, she added: “You see, he is my father and I am his only daughter. This is all I can do”.

Reading this very touching story I was deeply consoled. Because apart from realising that those who are helpless can often still hear and appreciate their loved ones and the gifts they bring, it was also clear that the daughter’s unique gift, the flowing and soothing sounds of the wonderful flute, was more than enough.

Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When the pain of injustice strikes

Reading through the psalms the other day, it struck me how many of them deal with the pain of persecution and injustice. There are indeed very few psalms which do not in some way or another refer to certain opponents or adversaries who at a time harshly oppressed God’s people and did them enormous harm through words and deeds. It is against this background that Israel often talks about her opponents as wicked men who plot against the good and the righteous (ps 37:12). They refer to evil persons who are full of poison, like snakes (58:3-4), who aim cruel words like arrows (64:3) and are constantly planning to hurt the other.

Most of us know the emotional pain and damage caused by injustices and although the latter can have many faces it is most hurtful when caused by those who are close to us – a loyal compatriot, a dependable ally, a good colleague, trusted friend, beloved spouse, etc. In such instances the pain of injustice is often experienced as a form of betrayal.

The big question is what to do when this happens, how to act when you feel betrayed or suffer the pain of injustice? One of the most common reactions is to retreat into a state of selfpity where you can lick your wounds while seeking the sympathy of others. Another reaction would be to stand your ground and defend or explain the motive for your actions. Still another way to deal with injustice would be to expose the harmful intentions or agenda of the unjust so that others can also recognise the evil and you can be justified. A more extreme choice would be for outright revenge and retribution.

Although all the above mentioned ways of reaction are understandable and in certain cases perhaps legitimate, the danger with most of them is that the deeper roots of evil and injustice are not always fully recognised or aknowledged. The dark and dangerous undercurrents are not in control and may be allowed to keep on flooding into thoughts and actions of either the victim or the perpetrator of injustice.

In essence all injustice, whether it is committed in a crude or subtle way, boils down to a disregard of human dignity. In order to honour and guard this, whether as a victim or an offender, we should never lose sight of our divine origins and vocation as humans. This will not only help us to refrain from acting unjustly, but also to handle the pain of injustice with dignity and hope.

What this means in practical terms was never better illustrated than in ps 37. There we are encouraged not to give in to worry or anger (v 8), but to give ourselves to the Lord (v 5), to be patient and wait for God to act. Because surely those who do wrong will eventually disappear like grass that dries up (v 2) because the Lord will vanguish all evil – God will take away the strength of the wicked (v 17). What is more: the Lord will take care of those who obey him (v 18). God wil never abandon a good person (v 25). In fact, God saves righteous people and protects them in times trouble. He helps them and rescues them; he saves them from the wicked, because they go to Him for protection (v. 39).

Perhaps that is the big challenge for us as christians when the pain of injustice strikes. To remain upright, patient and keep doing good, while we allow God to handle our case. It is only when we surrender our pain to God that we are also guided in the way that we should go (v 23).

Carel Anthonissen

Clothed in gold

Many years ago, and my husband still alive, a friend came to visit us, accompanied by his two young children. We were sitting next to the swimming pool under the wide canopy of a white stinkwood tree, and the children insisted on swimming. I was none too keen, it was May and the water already chilly, but their father allowed them to undress and to jump naked into the pool, where they swam and played like two little fish.

But the cold did get to them eventually, and they were very pleased to be hugged into the big towels I had fetched from the house to be rubbed dry. Then they lent, still unclothed, content against their father’s knee in the dappled sunlight under the tree.
As we watched, a wind sprang up, turning into a small whirlwind, a dust devil as it’s called. It spun into the tree and in a moment, stripped it of its yellow autumn leaves and whirled them around the two small bodies, clothing them for one wonderful instant, in a cloth of gold.

I was reminded of that incident when two or three Sundays ago, I attended my usual early morning service. I was ill at ease and lonely, missing my late husband and my children, all of whom live overseas.
And the weather certainly did not improve my mood. Summer is usually late in coming to Cape Town, but it has been particularly so this year, and days of grey with intermittent showers left me with a deep melancholy.
It was still early, and the church was dark and still and cold, and I toyed with the idea of just leaving, driving until I found a restaurant with hot coffee and a fire in the hearth.

As I stood uncertainly in the aisle, the sun broke through the clouds and fell in a wide beam through the rose window of the nave. Suddenly I was standing in a warm, bright light and I felt God’s presence like a cloak about my shoulders : like the children on that long ago day, I was clothed in gold.

Is there a moral to this story? Yes indeed. God’s blessings are all around us – all we need do is to look up and find his loving face.

Cecile Cilliers

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The righteous will occupy the land

Recently a friend who lives in Cape Town shared a very interesting and encouraging story with me.

Due to repeated incidents of crime and harassment, many of the parks in the upper part of Cape Town city, specifically some higher up against the mountain, have become no-go areas for many people. Even the so-called hobos, who often used to hang around in these parks and find a refuge there - especially at night - have become vulnerable to such criminal activities. However, according to our friend, some families and groups of friends who live in the neighbourhood recently decided that the time has come to claim back some of these parks and restore them to their original purpose, namely to serve as spaces in which people can freely enjoy being outdoors in peaceful leisure. So, over the weekend many of them now come together in groups, pack a picnic bag and set off to these parks, determined to show that these public spaces truly belong to ordinary citizens. Once in the park, they find a comfortable spot, unpack and enjoy their meal, play with the children or just walk around while they enjoy the sunshine and the gift of nature.

How widespread and significant this trend currently is, is not that easy to estimate. That it is a crucially important initiative is however not that difficult to see. In fact the time has really come for ordinary people, or what is popularly known today as “civil society”, to stand up and reclaim those spaces where peace, security and dignity – the normal rights of all citizens – can be enjoyed. And this can be done in a very concrete, simple and creative way, like coming together in bigger and safer groups to occupy and utilize the desolated parks anew. In a similar way the people of Gugulethu township came together after some policemen were killed in their community, to organise a street -or neighbourhoodwatch which can patrol the streets on a regular basis.

Such actions, which to some extent defy risk, can and must of course be applied to other sectors of the public domain as well, thus sending out a strong message to those who target such quiet and vulnerable spots for their own mean interests. At least it will remind them that they have no undisputed right or ownership to these areas. More importantly (and this is the ideal) it may just inspire growing numbers of people to move into a similar mode of action, thereby creating a wave of ongoing initiative and support – a wave which will not only neutralise and even eliminate threatening elements, but also empower more ordinary people to take responsibility for the well being and integrity of our society.

According to the Bible – and this is one of the more inspiring and hopeful texts in the Old Testament - “the righteous will indeed possess the land and live in it forever (29)… while the wicked will be driven out (v 28). Quite literally, some who long for a just and caring community are reclaiming what truly belongs to the just.

Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The miracle of touch

An Anglican colleague this week told me an interesting story of an invitation he had several years ago to stay with friends in America. During this time he was asked by the local priest to help with the morning services. And so it happened that one specific morning he was sharing from the gospels, talking about Jesus’s ministry of healing. In his sermon he told the congregation how healing was one of the sure signs of the coming of God’s kingdom – also of how Jesus, while healing different people, made a special effort to embrace and touch them with compassion and love.

To make his own sermon more tangible, my friend, who is a very warm and approachable person, on this specific morning left the pulpit and started to walk from person to person, touching and embracing them just as he imagined Jesus would have done. As a stranger among them he felt more free and entitled to take this risk than he perhaps otherwise would have.

For him it was immediately clear that the people in the congregation were not used to this kind of expression of affection, but that they were also not overly suspicious of his unconventional action. In fact, from their warm and appreciative expressions he could see that they were willing to receive his unexpected and spontaneous gift of loving touch and to embrace it with open arms and hearts.

However, to his surprise the local minister came to him afterwards with an almost bewildered look on his face. Although not angry or overly upset – he was more surprised and uncertain about what had happened - he informed my friend that what he had done had been a total novelty in the church. He also explained clearly why such a thing had never happened before. Apparently many, even within the safe space of the church, felt reluctant to reach out and touch indiscriminately for fear of - listen to this - trespassing a law that protected people from sexual harassment or harm.

My friend, coming from a context where sharing in a personal way was part and parcel of the service, was completely taken aback by the minister’s reaction and especially by the reasons he offered. This however did not inhibit him. It also did not change his conviction that what he had done in a moment of spontaneity, was important and also uplifting and healing for the members of the congregation. So the following Sunday he repeated the ritual. This time, according to him, the reaction was even more positive, if not overwhelming.

In fact when he left after a month there was a visible change in the atmosphere of the service, as well as the attitude and well-being of the members. Apart from showering him with goodwill and affection, his perception was that they were also more free and relaxed in relating to one another. Even the minister eventually came to give him a hug and thank him for what he observed as his invaluable contribution to a significant change in the life and culture of the congregation. And that: because one person simply dared to follow the example of Christ … to reach out and embrace.

While we are cautious not to intrude or abuse another’s personal space or privacy, as Christians who believe in the power of love, we should also be brave enough to reach out and draw others close, especially where the other person’s eyes tell us that they need to be healed.

Carel Anthonissen

Remembering the rythm of our togetherness

For a long time people in our country, we have been able to find far too many reasons for excluding, for keeping things and people apart. We have emphasised almost solely the differences between people. But this has caused devastation as it broke people’s lives into millions of pieces – it caused widespread fragmentation and destruction in our society. Today we want to choose differently – we are seeking a new vision: we are remembering the rhythm of our togetherness.

We come from a beautiful but troubled mother Africa. The gift that we received from this mother of ours is a gift of wholeness, of being one with the whole world. But beyond the good gift, our mother also carries the scars of distortion and fear. She has almost forgotten her dream of ubuntu; her passion has devoured her; she has all but forgotten her beauty.

In traditional African cultures and religions one finds appreciation for community. Harvey Sindima of Malawi says: “The African idea of community refers to bondedness, the act of sharing and living in the one common symbol – life – which enables people to live in communion and communication with each other and with nature”.

How necessary it is in our time to re-find this rhythm of togetherness – of that which needs to be held together rather than be kept apart. Things like body and spirit, male and female, humanity and nature. Drawing strict lines between these things causes pain. We’ve just seen it again being played out in references to the body of a young athlete, one who deserves to be embraced - Caster Semenya.

A biographer writes about Brother Roger, the founder of the Taizé community in France, that he "always thought that Christians would be reconciled by broadening their horizons, by going out to those who differed from themselves, by being open to non-believers, by carrying the preoccupations of those who were in difficulty and by being attentive to the poorest of the poor. It was the vision of reconciliation of the whole of humanity which made the effort of striving for reconciliation between Christians worthwhile".

Surely this gives us an agenda to work for. Like Brother Roger we should have a reconciled world in mind. This means, amongst other things, that peace needs to be made between the sexes and sexual orientations; peace needs to be made between a frustrated Malema-generation of claiming rights and a UDF-generation of non-racialism. Real peace needs to be made when the dangerous rhetoric of “shoot to kill” is doing the rounds as response to a violent society.

We need to piece the fragmented parts of our lives and our world together to bring about the healing which our society desperately yearns for. Perhaps we should start by sharing the stories of spaces where we have encountered or been able to create such healing?

Laurie Gaum

Please go to: to see Laurie's blog

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The courage to enter the palace

There is a very strange story in the Bible (Judges 3:12-30) about an extremely fat Moabite king, Eglon, who was brutally killed by Ehud, one of the first Judges in the history of Israel. Eglon was at the height of his reign of terror when this happened, and Ehud had to work in a rather underhand way to succeed in assassinating the king. Although the story is one of extreme violence, it is clear that the writer was very animated in telling and retelling it to a next generation. This partly explains the gruesome detail of how Ehud plunged his sword into the king’s belly…and how the whole sword disappeared, handle and all, because it was covered by the abundance of soft flesh, and also how Ehud did not pull out the sword, which had entered deep enough, humiliatingly to stick out at the back between the king’s legs (v. 21-22).

As a young minister I was intrigued by this strange story, wondering why it had been recorded in the Bible and how one could (or should) present it in a sermon. Recently I had to study the book of Judges in more detail, and then discovered to my surprise that there was indeed a strong message, in fact a challenge in this unusual and rather offensive story – one, which proves to be quite relevant for our time.

To begin with – and this is one of the vital keys to understanding this story – one should remember that Ehud’s story forms part of Israel’s popular folklore. In telling this particular folk tale Israel recalled and commemorated with pleasure one of the truly great moments in their history. It was the time when God lifted the yoke of slavery from their shoulders and restored their dignity as a nation. For eighteen years Israel had been harshly oppressed and exploited by their archenemies the Moabites - and now, through the brave deed of Ehud their woes were brought to an end. God’s people could now celebrate, singing and telling tales that were to inspire a next generation ... also through this story.

This gives another clue as to why Israel loved retelling this story. It reminded them of the surprising and highly creative way in which God had liberated them and changed their destiny. Given that he belonged to the smallest tribe in Israel, the Benjamites, and that to compound things he was left-handed, Ehud must surely have been an unlikely candidate to bring Israel relief from their suffering. But in an unprecedented turn of events God chose him, showing how the course of history can often be dramatically changed by the courage and ingenuity of an ordinary person. By using his apparent weakness as a strategic and secret weapon, he not only succeeded in entering the royal court, but also in eliminating the king. Once their leader was removed the Moabites were helpless and vulnerable to defeat.

It is of course not possible to apply Ehud’s story directly to our context – in that his actions were too violent, committed from a position where Israel felt assured of their status as God’s chosen people and of their right to take revenge. The time and context was vastly different to ours. Nevertheless, the story does pose the age-old question of civil society’s relationship to those in positions of power. Put differently, it obliges us to reflect on our responsibility as ordinary citizens in situations of extreme oppression, exploitation, corruption and suffering – whether this is caused by dictatorial and corrupt political leaders, by an unjust economic and social system, or by criminals who have succeed in intimidating a whole society, causing fear and paralysis by their brutal actions.

According to the Ehud story there are two options when we are faced by improper whims of the powerful. We can take on a victim-mentality and, like most Israelites in the time of Ehud, remain passive, subservient, fearful and fettered. Or we can stand up as Ehud did, “enter the palace” as it were, and confront the powers in new and surprising ways. What we need today as much as ever, is exactly this: courageous people who can come up with creative ideas and solutions that have not been tried or tested before, but that can make a difference in liberating the oppressed and making our society more open, humane and just. What we need are imaginative initiatives – actions that are totally unorthodox and different, deeds that can surprise and shake people up, inspiring them to live – perhaps for the first time - with those traits that Christ introduced: greater modesty, more respect, more kindness, more love, more tolerance. True liberation that we so urgently long for depends on this.

For Christians the call to such initiatives need not be difficult – in fact, our normal way of life should embody these values, because we confess and claim to follow an extremely original and imaginative God – a God who has not only conquered all evil, but has redeemed the world by giving himself in love and humility. The question remains: are we brave and trustful enough to follow the crucified and suffering God on such a journey?

Carel Anthonissen

Monday, October 5, 2009

A community of calm commuters!

A clear symptom of the pressures that we are living under in SA today, the rising fever as one of my friends called it, is illustrated in the way people drive, in how we behave on our roads. Even big trucks and lorries have become part of the hectic and impolite push, weaving and speeding their way through normal traffic.

Perhaps I am oversensitive to this madness or have an overdeveloped sense of what is good ‘crowd behaviour’; perhaps more honestly, I have a hang-up about misbehaviour on the roads. In a time when we desperately need ordinary citizens to be law-abiding and to live according to established values, it seems out of place, even arrogant to speed along without any respect for rules, for road safety, for values or the well-being of other people. My reaction until fairly recently whenever I encountered people who sped past me, jumped a red robot or held their cellphones to their ears while driving, was that I would start to fume and fight, even using my hooter to indicate that their behaviour is unacceptable, that I disapprove…

However, since returning from holiday not long ago where I, almost like during a retreat, could relax and gain new perspective on my own unhealthy habits from a distance, I have made some firm decisions, one of which is to calm down and not allow the bad behaviour of others, however out of line, to determine my mood or actions for the day. I have realised that my main challenge as an ordinary citizen and as a Christian, is to take the gift of quietness and peace that was granted to me during my holidays, into my day-to-day context and very specifically into my manner of driving on our busy roads.

Thus, when I am on the road - which is at least an hour every day - I now deliberately drive in the slow lane, diligently keep to the speed limit and do not allow the Speedy Gonzaleses to distract me too much. Not that I do not notice them or have lost my sense of righteousness, but I don’t allow them to get to me in a way that can spoil my day. Going more slowly has additionally offered me some observations, which currently make my travelling a much bigger pleasure than before.

I have, for instance, noticed that travelling in a slow civilized manner does not necessarily cost you time or cause you to arrive later than the others. In fact I am amazed some days at how, in a strange way, I often reach my destination at exactly the same time as those who passed me along the road at high speed. Sometimes I catch up with them and even pass them where they are held up at a traffic light. Leaving earlier and travelling in a more leisurely fashion, I have also experienced a strange shift in my experience of time. Don’t ask me how it works, but nowadays I have the experience that I travel faster and reach my destinations earlier than I planned.

The biggest surprise, however, is that I have discovered many others that have made a similar choice. In fact by just travelling more slowly you find yourself becoming part of a totally new group of travellers – a community of calm commuters. Once you have joined them you make a next surprising discovery: that this community is not only much bigger than the hectic hoppers, but also much more friendly, patient and civilized. You discover that it is actually a pleasure to share the road with them.

So next time when you take to the road, try this. Leave a little bit earlier than usual, take a deep breath as you turn onto the highway, deliberately move to the slow lane and enjoy the ride. In short, come and join the community of calm commuters. And really, don’t be surprised when you turn up at your work or at whichever destination earlier than you had planned to. It happens, and it does wonders for freeing your attention to things that really matter in life!

Carel Anthonissen

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The tender gravity of kindness

In a recent TV programme called Focus, Nico Smith – formerly a professor in theology at Stellenbosch, who left his academic position during the 1980s for a ministry in a black township – expressed his concern that as South Africans coming from different cultural traditions, backgrounds and histories, we have still not met one another with significant trust and understanding. Even after our transition into a so-called non-racial democracy the expectation that we would become one rainbow nation has not really materialised. In fact, it seems that exactly the opposite is currently happening – partly also due to former social and geographical divisions which are still in place.

What we find now is growing concern about crime and corruption, about economic inequality – things that feed into increasing distrust, strengthening of old prejudices, new forms of racism and even hate speech. All of these make our future in this beautiful country precarious and uncertain. In Smith’s words: “We don’t know what can happen tomorrow…anything is possible in Africa”.

Among the many possible solutions that one can think of to counter this problem, Smith went on to suggest a very straightforward and simple one, namely to take the step of deliberately crossing the boundaries that divide us and to meet one other with kindness. In fact the practice of kindness, of reaching out with a smile and embracing the other with goodwill should, according to Smith, become a national project, a long-term campaign. As with the AIDS awareness campaigns where people wear a red slipknot as a sign of empathy and concern, we should consider wearing a similar sign – perhaps a green slipknot – whereby we indicate our intention to be kind to one another.

There is no more timely call than this one today: that South Africans rediscover and deliberately practice the virtue of kindness, and eventually even make it a public and long-term campaign. Perhaps people with the same concern for a peaceful and sheltered future should come together to organise such a campaign. But then we should also remember that real kindness, however simple it may seem, is much more than just a friendly smile. It is a way of life, an act of ongoing understanding and solidarity, which will also involve some sacrifices – the value and richness of which you won’t always be able to calculate immediately.

Nowhere has the profound richness and sacrifice of kindness been expressed more movingly than in Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetic work “Kindness”. She writes:

”Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment, like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness…Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive…Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend”.

If kindness is indeed the deepest thing inside, the only thing that makes sense and can secure a peaceful future, why not try it today?

Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Between an hasty reaction and a considered response

In appreciation to Richard Martin who reminded me again of this important distinction.
Not long ago I was invited by the Beyers Naude Centre at Stellenbosch to participate in a conference on Culture, Identity and Spirit. My assignment was quite easy, namely to share something of the Centre’s history and work. Although it took me a while to select the content and structure it in an interesting way, so that I felt some pressure in the preparation, in the end I really enjoyed offering a glimpse into the heart of our organization to an audience of mostly ‘outsiders’ – some of whom were visiting academics from the Netherlands. I felt relaxed and was enthusiastic as I took my listeners through our story, highlighting my own involvement as well as some of the very exciting challenges we currently face. From the expressions on people’s faces I could see that the talk was well received.

However, when question time came, it was a different story. I found myself at the receiving end of incisive questions, having to elucidate some of the information I had shared as well as having to explain some of the statements I had made. I knew the questions were asked in honesty and good faith, and yet I felt under attack. Some questions were sharp and critical, forcing me to articulate more clearly – which looking back, I felt I had not done as well as I would have liked to. In fact, some of my answers were vague, incomplete, disputable and far too hastily articulated. This was clear also from the frowns with which some of my answers were received. So, in the end I left the session feeling unsatisfied and a bit annoyed with myself.

Reflecting afterwards on what had happened, I realised that I had in that moment forgotten an important distinction which is often vital in communication, in dialogue with others. That is the distinction between a hasty reaction, (ie. giving an immediate, unconsidered answer to people’s questions, ideas or opinions), and giving a thoughtful and honest response.

Many of our hasty reactions or answers to people’s honest scrutiny come from a place of insecurity – in some instances even from a deep felt woundedness – and come across as overly defensive, if not outrightly aggressive. This is understandable because probing questions that seem to raise dispute, can irritate, put you under pressure and suggest that you don’t know. In turn, a hasty response to such questions and the apparent misunderstanding implied in that, can frustrate and even offend. There is an alternative to this: a considered and honest response that comes from a place of conviction and of quiet assurance.

A sincere response would entail the willingness to listen carefully, to understand deeply and then to respond cautiously; giving brief and clear answers, acknowledging where one does not know and indicating an openness to new perspectives. Such a response can disarm those who interrogate, can help us overcome a feeling of being under threat and can take forward useful discussion.

In a wider context, in our country and in other than the spiritual domain, there are far too many of us who do not recognize this important distinction. Many in positions of leadership react blindly and much too hastily to honest questions, projecting their own fears, anxieties and prejudices onto others, defending what is indefensible and stubbornly maintaining their own viewpoints. We could really do with growing numbers of ordinary people who can discern, who can listen carefully and respond thoughtfully and honestly. Then we may discover that the questioning voice is the voice of a friend from whom we can learn, rather than the voice of a foe with whom we need to do battle.

Carel Anthonissen

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Between the rabbits and the snobs

I love to watch a game of tennis as is currently possible with the US Open championships. For me it offers a glimpse of life where winning and losing is part of the journey and where people are constantly challenged to handle both with dignity. And then of course it always remains intriguing to see the good players construct a point – outmanoeuvering their opponents, playing delicate angles and then, when they seem stranded, clinching the point with a spectacular winner.

Until some injuries started to hamper me, I enjoyed playing tennis myself. For many years hitting and chasing a tennis ball and competing with passion and commitment, was an important part of my life and my main form of exercise. Tennis also offered a context in which I was privileged to meet many new people and over the years, make some of my very best friends.

Way back, when I was on my way to my first parish in Somerset East, the news of my love for tennis travelled fast, so that shortly before my wife and I arrived there, I received a letter from the chairperson of the local tennis club, welcoming us to their town and inviting me warmly to join their club. I was of course thrilled and appreciated this friendly gesture. What I did not know at the time - and that we only discovered on our arrival - was that the town had two tennis clubs. We also discovered that the clubs used to be united, but had split because of internal differences, jealousy and strife. At the time the split caused a lot of unhappiness, bitterness and anxiety – a history that was reflected in the different names that were used to signify the clubs. The one club was referred to as “rabbits” and the other as “snobs”.

You can imagine the dilemma it created at the time for me as a new minister. Not only was I suddenly drawn into a history of strife and division, forcing me to take sides - it even put my vocation and my deeper motive for playing tennis under scrutiny. Did I play tennis primarily for the sake of competing and developing my own game? Or was it supposed to be for the social good, to meet kindred spirits regardless of the standard of their game? Or could it be both? This was my further problem: most of the so-called rabbits were members of our church, but the standard of their club’s tennis was as their name suggested, pretty average. The so-called snobs on the other hand, were generally very good players, but in terms of commitment to religion and church, many either belonged to another denomination, or were more sceptical and less involved.

It did not take me too long to make my decision. I joined the snobs – not because I felt snobbish or had any missionary intention, but simply because I wanted to be able to relax and enjoy my tennis - and for me strong, honest competition had always been part of this enjoyment. In making the choice I felt I remained true to myself, living out one of my keener passions and also acknowledging and honouring what I saw as a God-given talent – that is, to play a good game of tennis and enjoy it with others.

Looking back today I know that, in terms of Ignatian wisdom, deciding for any of the two clubs had benefits and would have been a good choice, but that taking everything into account and especially who I was as a person and player, I had made the better choice. What I soon found out, was that most people in the weaker, so-called rabbit-club did not blindly project the snob-image onto me; in fact, many with whom I had played the odd privately organised game, accepted and respected my choice, some even saying that they felt I fitted there. What is more, most of the so-called snobs – whom I soon discovered were never really that arrogant – became very good friends. Some also became interested in my spiritual work and moved closer to the church, which again helped to break down many of the prejudices and skewed perceptions that informed the enmity between the clubs.

This, together with the growing conviction that one should never ignore or compromise the voice of your inner and deeper passions, made the four years we spent in Somerset-East an outstandingly happy and blessed period of our lives.

Carel Anthonissen

Monday, August 31, 2009

From selfdoubt to faith

Psalm 42 has always been one of my favourites, probably because it movingly portrays a person who was overwhelmed by life’s burdens, who felt overcome by sorrow and selfdoubt, but who eventually stood up, regained his faith and started living with new confidence. It shows how a person who had been through a time of darkness and depression, who was paralyzed by his unfortunate circumstances, starts seeing the light again so that, contrary to his earlier agony, we can hear him singing songs of praise and joy (v. 11).

To appreciate this remarkable transition from desperation and despondency to deep content and good faith, we have first to understand the reason for this man’s tremendous sorrow and disillusionment. He belonged to a nation that, in the sixth century before Christ, suffered a most terrible fate: the Babylonians had destroyed their land, killed their loved ones and had taken their leadership, their most talented people, into exile. Perhaps the most shattering part of this humiliating experience was that it also put their faith in jeopardy as for many years they had believed that they were God’s chosen people, that God permanently resided with them in His temple and would therefore never forsake them. But now the holy city together with the temple were gone, totally destroyed by an enemy who, adding insult to their injury, kept mocking them daily with the question: “Where is your God? Why has He forsaken you?” In their lonely hours these were the recurring questions, which haunted them day and night.

However, as one reads through the psalm you can’t help sensing a slow and very subtle change in mood. This is the beauty of psalm 42, that while we see the psalmist battling as if in helpless despair, we also see that his struggle is no passive surrender to the terrors of the night. In fact, slowly and determinately he rises up and comes through, almost like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. When we reach the end of the psalm the tone of sadness, although still there, has been subdued, integrated and eventually transcended by a tone of hope and joy. “Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my saviour and my God.”

Perhaps this is the great art of living – that we learn to embrace the paradoxes of life and remain hopeful in spite of the ambiguities; or as someone else put it, that we accept our lives as reflections of a line which constantly twists and turns in an up- and downward fashion, and still keep trusting and seeing to it that the main trajectory of this line holds a steady upward curve. And we may indeed believe that this is possible because as the psalmist slowly realised, God remains the living God, our Defender, the One who will again show his constant love during the day, so that we may have a song at night, a prayer to the God of our lives (v 8). We can feel secure even if our prayer is at times only uttered by way of a deep sigh, an honest longing for God like a deer panting for water.

Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The courage to surrender

Recently a retired professor in Theology, who played a major role in helping to facilitate change in the church and society in South Africa, was honoured for his life work by the University of the Western Cape where he had taught and eventually also served as Vice Rector. Of the many things he did to contribute to a more reasonable and just society, he also was involved in the drafting of the much discussed Belhar confession, and he was the first chairperson of the Western Cape Peace Committee that was established to monitor and assist in the run-up to the 1994 elections. As part of the celebratory occasion a “Festschrift”, a compilation of articles and personal anecdotes, written by some of his colleagues, friends and former students, was offered to him.

On reading one of the articles in this Festschrift which analyses the main trends, characteristics and development of his theology I picked up something, which I had not realised before. In the course of his personal journey and struggle as a Reformed Christian who wanted to keep the faith even in difficult times, he had gradually begun to realise the importance of the mystical tradition. For me this came as a surprise because within the broader Reformed circles there has long been certain reservations if not outright scepticism towards mysticism, and especially to its claim that humans are able to unify with God and experience God’s love in a direct, almost virginal, way. Here however was somebody, a respected theologian who knew all the arguments, who surprisingly reminded us that perhaps, as Frederick Bauerschmidt puts it, the mystics do matter after all.

Because I was curious and intrigued, I made an appointment for the following week - specifically to enquire about such a shift in his own theological journey and his own understanding of mysticism. His answer touched me deeply and although simple and straightforward it offered a profound insight. “In essence”, he said, “mysticism is about the very core of our Christian faith and that is the courage to surrender”.

To illustrate what he meant he picked up a book that was lying next to him and started to read from it. In this book titled “The Language of God”, one of the world’s leading scientists and a former atheist, Francois Collins, presents evidence he finds for believing in God; he also recounts in a moving way the decisive moment in his own life when he surrendered to the God of Christ. In his words: “A full year had passed since I decided to believe in some God, and now I was being called to account. On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ”.

Listening while my professor read this gripping account of God’s amazing grace breaking through in the life of such a man, I suddenly knew why the atheist viewpoint would never attract me. Apart from it being, in the Jungian James Hollis’s words “a posture of ignorance”, it also lacks the courage of true surrender. Because it is only by surrendering in faith, that we discover the living springs of God’s amazing love in our lives; so also do we experience our mystical bond with Christ. Louis Armstrong expressed something similar regarding the art of jazz: “Those who have to have it explained to them, will never know”.

We need to surrender to know. We need to love to understand. That is the constant challenge and invitation of the gospel, expressed so profoundly by the mystical tradition.

Carel Anthonissen

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A rare mystical experience

Grace is often the experience of God’s consoling and loving presence in circumstances where we least expect or deserve it – as I experienced it one afternoon on the Klipfontein road in the Somerset East district where as a young minister I had to conduct a prayer meeting on a fairly remote farm. On this particular day I was not looking forward to the meeting. For whatever reason I felt tired, moody and uninspired, almost like a soldier who had become weary of battle and had only one wish: to retreat and get some rest. But there was no way out – I had to see through my designated task, although I silently hoped for some special grace or outcome.

What happened in the next 40 minutes – the time it took me to reach the farm – was something rare I had not anticipated. Looking back on it today I still count what happened that afternoon as a profound mystical experience which restored my lost energy in an instant, and at the same time strengthened my awareness of God’s unique involvement in our lives. Such involvement never fails to surprise, even overwhelm us when we are open and attentive enough to receive it.

The surprise started just outside of town when I noticed a group of about fifteen baboons to the left hand side of the road. Although I had to stop to allow them to pass safely, this was not too unusual. Baboons were a common feature of the district. They mostly roamed the mountains, but from time to time came down to feed near the road. Then, a bit further on, just after I had turned onto the Klipfontein road, I came across a second group of animals – this time two meerkats (mongooses) basking in the sun in touching distance from where I passed. Again, this was no big surprise. But then two or three kilometeres on I had to stop unexpectedly again to allow a really big lizard (a leguana) to slowly make her way across the road, forcing me to wait ... and to reflect.

I think it was at this moment that I felt that something unusual was taking place, because from that point onwards, for the next 30 kilometeres, I was confronted by all the familiar animals of the veld and of farms along the road: grazing sheep, staring cattle, playing buck and even some runaway horses. At one stage two startling white horses suddenly appeared in the veld close to the road as if out of nowhere, frolicking - I just watched in silent amazement with cold shivers running down my spine. And this was not the end of the spectacle, because as I was about to take the last turn towards the farm, an enormous eagle was waiting there for me, sitting on a post at the entrance as if to guide me in.

I know that for many people this story may sound either incredulous, or a report of a merely accidental chain of events without any hidden significance. For me however, to this day it remains a benchmark experience on my spiritual journey; something I often remember and draw on when my mood turns black or I tend to lose faith. Not that I fully understand what happened that day, but as with Job (in Job 38-42) I could not escape the feeling that God had spoken to me in a unique way. By offering me a glimpse into the wonder of his creation, I was not only reminded of my own special place and value as a human being on earth, but more specifically of God’s constant love and concern for us, even as sinful creatures. The fact that God’s love was offered to me in this very concrete, and yet in a strange, mystical way, and on a day when I felt down and undeserving, was particularly consoling.

This is of course what God’s amazing grace and concern for us is all about!

Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The tragic fruits of ignorance

During a retreat last year I read again the story of the judge Jephtah (Judges 11-12). What an extremely sad, tragic and heart-rending story – this tale of a man who, in a moment of thoughtless over-enthusiasm, made a preposterous if not completely outrageous promise to God. “I will sacrifice whoever comes out to meet me first if you will let me defeat the Ammonites and come home safely” (Judges 11:34) - that was what he whispered in prayer before going into battle. And we read that God heard his plea, gave him victory and brought him home safely…

But then, of all unthinkable possibilities, who should come out to meet him first? – It turned out to be his one and only daughter, playing a tambourine, laughing and dancing wildly to celebrate his victory. Surely it must have been the most devastating experience of Jephtah’s life - that moment when he saw her coming towards him, realising that he had just lost this child, his most precious gift, the innocent young woman who had been the constant light in his eyes. No wonder we read that he cried out in agony and tore his clothes in sorrow and dismay (Judges 11:35).

There are many theories on how it came about that Jephtah got himself into this predicament. Some see it as the bitter fruits of blind ambition. Others blame it on what they call, his overexuberant and misplaced diplomacy with God. According to the commentary of yet others, who take into account the testing circumstances of his childhood and youth as the son of a prostitute who had been rejected and driven into the wilderness at an early age – there is however, a deeper reason for Jephtah’s tragic lapse in discernment and judgement. They refer to it as ignorance.

Sadly, denied the opportunity of experiencing the warmth and safety of a normal home; also not being exposed to the traditions of his people – the stories of God’s dealings with them – he lacked some fundamental knowledge. In the words of one commentator: “Jephtah’s fatal flaw, his error portrays a lack of comprehension of the basic tenets of Jahwist belief…He does not comprehend the spirit of his faith and commits a basic error against God”.

If Jephtah had known God better he may timeously have reconsidered his own foolish pledge. Perhaps he would have pleaded and struggled with God more earnestly. Perhaps then he would have discovered that God is a God of mercy and love, a God who never intended children to be sacrificed in such a way, a God who offers life and who is willing to forgive us when we become foolish or make stupid decisions. Tragically, Jephtah did not know God. He persisted in his ignorant ways, thereby robbing his only child of her youth as well as ruining his own life.

The sad fact of Jephtah’s life is that, although he experienced a brief moment of glory in victory over enemies, he eventually died alone, almost in shame, without any descendants, without public recognition, without reaping the fruits of upright morality – all because he had been ignorant and foolish. A highly talented person, his life seems wasted because he failed to grasp the immensity of God’s love – the very same love that kept calling him, even after his tragic death, a hero of faith. Jephtah’s story not only calls us to review the course and meaning of our own life, but also to scrutinize again our relationship to, and our knowledge of, God.

Carel Anthonissen

Recognising and showing our "soft spots"

This week, during a time of quiet meditation, the leader of the session encouraged participants to become aware of and connect with what he called our “soft spot” – that is, a place in our body or psyche where we, at that moment, imagine or feel ourselves to be more open, vulnerable and endearing towards ourselves and others.

For me this was something new. It made me aware that, although we normally tend to identify our so-called soft spot as a place where our heart is, where there is an emotional attachment, it can also be more material. Sitting quietly, I discovered that my soft spot, at least during that hour, was a place somewhere on my forehead, close to my eyes – perhaps in the way I look and see. For others it turned out to be their stomach or their hands or even their whole body.

Apart from becoming aware of the shifting quality of our imagined soft spot, the exercise also turned my attention to how difficult it can often be to find and embrace such a soft spot. It seems we often shy away from, or deliberately conceal, the vulnerable and more emotional sides of our personality, fearing that it may disclose a weakness or an inappropriate emotion that can embarrass ourself or another.

In this regard I remember an occasion of probably 25 years ago, when during a circle meeting of ministers in Johannesburg an older colleague, who was an extremely sensitive, thoughtful person with a keen sense of humour, dared to show his soft spot to the rest of us. At the time he was asked as part of a group activity to share his thoughts on the value, riches and necessity of true community. Lamenting the lack of spiritual community, the enmity and competition that often prevail amongst colleagues, he suddenly broke down in tears. Not being used to such an unexpected flood of emotion, many felt uncomfortable. Afterwards one minister who had obviously been irritated by this expression of raw emotion, actually complained. He felt awkward he said, even angry at this man, for burdening us with what he perceived to be some hidden and unprocessed frustration.

As a younger minister however, I experienced it differently. The sudden and surprising outpour of emotion became a moment of truth, an extraordinary and profound experience, which I remember and treasure to this day. Something in me resonated with our colleague’s sincerity in addressing a core issue of our identity as ministers and as a church; I appreciated his courage in acknowledging a painful inadequacy in such an unpremeditated way. He had at the time recognised and embraced our shared soft spot: an inability to open our hearts and in complete honesty declare our love and care for each other. He could weep in sadness over our incapacity, if not outright unwillingness, to live compassionately.

This incident reminds me of the day when Jesus took it upon himself to show his disciples and the following crowds where his soft spot was. Looking at the multitude he did not, according to Matthew 9:35-38, become hard and irritated as had his disciples who wanted to send them away. To the contrary, we read that his heart was filled with pity for them, because he saw that they were worried and helpless like sheep without any shepherd.

Is this not the supreme example of love and compassion that as Christians, we are called upon to follow daily? We have an enduring invitation to recognise, embrace and show our own “soft spot”, even when in some instances it may bring tears, or cause embarrassment.

Carel Anthonissen

Friday, July 24, 2009

The power of small miracles

Many fascinating stories are told about what can be called the power of small miracles. That is when a simple, almost insignificant word or remark or incident, something which we hear or see or experience as if for the first time, can unexpectedly cause the clouds of darkness to lift and disappear from our lives - helping us, almost in an instant, to overcome a paralyzing depression, to regain our sense of reality and to start living again with new hope, joy and excitement.

In this regard, just this week, someone told me the wonderful story of the theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s miraculous survival in a prison camp during the Second World War. Unable to cope with the reality of war and the harrowing circumstances in the camp at the time, Moltmann fell into a deep depression. In his own words: “Everything in and around me became darkness. Life lost its meaning. I had no desire or energy to get up in the morning, or even to wash my face or shave. I became like a living corpse”.

And then one morning while he was labouring with some of the other prisoners in the muddy courtyard, cleaning up the dirt and filth, something unusual moved him to look up. At that moment his eyes fell on a chestnut tree in the distance, which was standing in full bloom. This unexpected sight, which almost had the quality of a vision, suddenly reminded him of the miracle of life. It became a ray of new light pouring into his life, lifting the cloud of darkness and reviving his spirit. Looking back on this event, Moltmann always recognised it as a turning point in his life, a moment of enlightenment, a small but powerful miracle, offered to him by the God of life.

Most of us know these times of darkness and depression, those periods when life loses it meaning and attraction – when you can’t sleep at night, when fear and anxiety rules and when long forgotten memories appear, making you feel miserable and worthless. Perhaps Moltmann’s story is a reminder that we should never lose hope, that we should keep looking out for those small miracles which can change our moods and even our lives in an instant. Because they are always there…waiting to be discovered…and to be shared.

Carel Anthonissen

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The need for discipline, routine and ritual

I have a family member who firmly believes that the way you start your day determines its outcome and especially the mood or attitude with which you live and relate. For this reason she gets up early each morning to follow a definite routine – one in which she consciously practices a set of very specific rituals or disciplines. These rituals include a brisk walk, some breathing exercises, a time of silence and prayer and the writing of, what Julia Cameron calls, her morning papers. The latter are two pages of uninhibited long hand writing to help you access and express your feelings. According to this family member: “These exercises not only help me to remain calm, alert and positive throughout the day. As a believer it also helps me to remember that there is a God in heaven who cares”.

For some people, especially those who struggle to relax or to find time for leisure, mostly due to a hectic work schedule, these kinds of rituals or disciplines often sound eccentric and unnecessary, almost like an exclusive and excessive luxury. Others again are so caught up in the fancies and pleasures of society that they merely float along without even knowing or thinking about an alternative style of living. However the life giving, if not life changing and necessary value of the abovementioned routine with its rituals or disciplines should not be underestimated, especially in a culture like ours.

Because despite its many amazing feats and benefits, it is clear today that our modern society has a darker and disturbing downside. In its hectic drive to produce and to generate money, our current information-based economy has not only increased our pace of living dramatically – it has also altered our needs to such an extent that the human spirit has been deeply affected. According to some analysts a large part of our generation has become socially saturated, distracted and even worse, multifrenic. It has become a generation, which increasingly suffers from a fragmented and disconnected identity.

Luckily there are those who, like my family-member, has sensed this darker and more destructive side of our society, these so called unhealthy and distractive compulsions, and who tries to deal with it in a more imaginative and creative way, thereby reminding us of some irreplaceable values and rituals and offering us an alternative and more integrated and connected way of living.

In this regard there is a wonderful little anecdote about the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While in prison during the years of the second world war, he also had to deal with the problem of ongoing distractions and disturbances, the most familiar being his constant and often overwhelming longing for family and friends, for company, for intimacy.

To counter and channel these strong and often distracting emotions in a healthy and constructive way, he deliberately chose a life of discipline and routine, starting with an early morning shower, some exercises, prayer and then his daily programme of specific and carefully planned reading and writing. These disciplines or rituals not only helped him to produce his marvellous letters from prison, but also showed through them a way of hope and peace for a next generation.

Those who have discovered the liberating effects of a well structure life of discipline, ritual and routine know that it can never be a burden. To the contrary, it is something that should be sought, celebrated and enjoyed. Especially today.

Carel Anthonissen

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dolls that empower our children

From time to time I am asked to lead a prayer meeting at one of the retirement centres in Stellenbosch. I always enjoy doing so. Apart from feeling useful, the colourful stories of older people, often borne from a rich and eventful life, always intrigue me. Like many others, I am painfully aware of the frailty of old age and the limitations it brings. Then one also tends sometimes to view older people as a passive community, a group whose chances to serve others and make constructive new contributions have passed, as if they are left only with good memories and the prospect of death.

During the past week I was forced in a surprising way to review my somewhat stereotypical perception, and to reflect anew on my own responsibilities regarding the well-being of our society. It happened when, on a regular, routine visit, I came across some residents, mostly women, who defy any categorisation as bystanders or onlookers. In a remarkable way they use what talents they have, to make a difference in a wider context.

The women in the group are all part of a project called “Valuable to God” – a project which aims to counter the sexual abuse of small children in our country in a significant way. They sit together every day enthusiastically and committedly producing hundreds of hand knit dolls. These little dolls are passed on and distributed to children across the peninsula - the aim being to make them aware that, just like the little dolls, they are unique and precious in God’s eyes. Also that they are, just like the dolls in their hands, being held and cared for by God, no matter what experiences they may have.

Looking at these older women in action and taking their works of art into my hands was a special, in fact deeply humbling experience. Apart from sensing the profound symbolic meaning of these dolls, especially when they end up in the hands of children from poor and vulnerable communities, I also realised how important it is to be a part of South Africa’s positive and healing history. Such histories are often less conspicuous, and certainly less newsworthy than stories of violence and crime. Healing and restorative experiences are often similar to the knitted dolls: created in obscurity by unknown and seemingly insignificant people, they are vital for a hopeful future.

We must never forget this – it also reminds of how we can all contribute to the care of our children.

Carel Anthonissen

The gift of discernment

If there is one thing we dearly need in many parts of our confused and deeply insecure society, it is leaders with the gift of discernment. This gift presents itself as that rare ability to know and to do the right thing at the right time; or in terms of biblical imagery: to read and interpret the signs of the times, then to act responsibly and appropriately to the challenges they offer. Ignatius of Loyola defined it even more poignantly when he said: discernment is about recognizing and choosing not only the good, but the better.

One of our most celebrated modern Christian leaders who became renowned for his ability to discern, to read the signs of his time and to act accordingly, was the German theologian of the 1930s and early 1940s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. More than most of his contemporaries he was able to foresee certain events with almost prophetic clarity, to fathom their meaning and to predict their outcome. To illustrate: he was the first theologian to note that Germany’s fate during the second world war would eventually be determined by the so called Jewish problem. He was also one of the first who, long before anyone else gave it a thought, predicted that Hitler’s policies meant war. So how does a person attain this ability? Where does it come from?

From his writings it is clear that for Bonhoeffer this ability to discern, that is, to see clearly and act soundly, is founded in good information, in keeping up to date, having an ear to the ground. Discernment relies on trustworthy sources, on following regular news reports, and even more importantly, it develops when people do not shy away from direct exposure to and first hand experience of critical, sensitive issues of the day. For a Christian, however, according to Bonhoeffer, there is always an additional, perhaps deeper more crucial source from which true discernment flows and that is a personal encounter with God’s love and forgiveness as it was revealed in Christ.

Such encounters, Bonhoeffer and Ignatius teach us, usually come through constant prayer and by attending to the movement of the Spirit in one’s own life; they always inspire new, courageous acts of love which in turn bring new insight and knowledge. In Bonhoeffer’s words: “The person who is enlightened by Christ, lives a truly earthly life. He or she is grounded in love, and this love brings insights which few other people see and which inspires to new action. He who loves most, also discerns and sees deepest.”

To an outsider these simple guidelines to acquire discernment may sound overly pious and unrealistic. Even to Christians, this is not an easy assignment or a quick fix. Nevertheless, for the Christian who has honestly, unreservedly tested God’s spirit in faith and has discovered the unique insight and fruits of love, this is the real stuff of life. No wonder that Paul in Phillipians 1:9-11 implores us: “I pray that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God”.

Can there be anything more important to try, to develop, to experience and eventually to share in our own time, even today?

Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Leaving a sparkle in her eyes


In a time when the social and economic downslope globally and locally tends to make many people feel depressed and insecure, how good it is to have people around us with a sense of realism and good humour; people who keep smiling and laughing, reminding us constantly that, although at times a tough and serious business, life is not all about toil and suffering. It also contains some lighter, entertaining and enjoyable moments.

Too much lightheartedness or silliness can of course be misplaced and irritating, especially when it trivializes the gravity or urgency of a situation. One can also hide one’s insecurities and hurt behind a joke. However, a good dose of healthy humour at the right time - one which rightfully acknowledges our regular concerns, but then makes them relative by putting them into a broader perspective - can also relieve the tension, thereby creating a sense of relief, hope and even a good laugh.

I have a friend whose mere presence enables a sense of goodwill and laughter. I know that he also has his vulnerable moments, but you rarely meet him without a mischievous smile. He is always ready to entertain one with his most recent joke or comical anecdote. It is possible that such a way of always highlighting the bright and funny side of life can be too much for some people. For me however, this rare ability to relieve others from the weightiness of life by introducing humour, has always been a real tonic, especially in times of turmoil and pressure.

No wonder that the nurse in the frail care division, where he regularly used to visit his endearing grandmother, held him in such high esteem. In her words: “Her illness had made the grandmother quiet and glum, but after a visit from him, she always had a sparkle in her eyes. It was wonderful to see. Like sunlight pouring into a dark room, his presence, honest concern and particularly his sense of humour, always seemed to transform her dark mood in an instant. She seemed to wake up to life again”.

Is this not a unique feature of the Christian testimony in a time like ours - to make people feel happy and positive, to leave a sparkle in their eyes despite so many things that threaten to destroy our ability to be joyful. In fact it remains a terrible accusation against our faith when we confess the Lordship of Christ and yet continue to live and speak as if the darkness prevails…as if there is no space for faith and humour.

Carel AnthonisseN

Friday, May 22, 2009

The courage to become naked

An amazing series of films are currently being shown at the Nouveau film theatres in the city. They are part of a project, which aims to bring some of the larger and famous opera productions, specifically those that are performed in the Metropolitan in New York, directly onto the doorstep of people who cannot be there and share in the production otherwise. Using the most modern audio-visual technology and equipment these operas are filmed and then broadcast directly from the theatre, making it possible for the viewer to enter first hand into the unique atmosphere of this magnificent opera house and to bask in the delight and wonder of the singing voice.

What is unique about these films is that they, through interviews with the artists and the production team, also take you behind the scenes. In this way you are able to meet the artists close up, to hear their voices, to share in their feelings and listen to their joys and anxieties.

One of the very special moments in one such film was when the interviewer managed to catch up with the French soprano Natalie Dessay just as she was coming off the stage after the first scene of Bellini’s divine opera, La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker). Dessay is a small woman with a marvellous voice and a lively, charming personality. She has become famous and yet does not come across as conceited or snooty - to the contrary, she seems to be a delightful person who is friendly and unpretentious. Listening to her you feel as if she could have been a dear friend living just around the corner from you.

What I recall now is the wonder with which I saw and heard her for the first time; I was touched and impressed by these personal qualities. During this particular backstage interview she gave viewers a glimpse of the secret behind her art. Asked by the interviewer how she felt after the first scene and what it was like to sing Bellini’s moving lyrics, she answered that it was always thrilling, but never easy. To express the range and depth of emotions and feelings that characterises his operas, you have to let go of your own way of dealing with things, make yourself vulnerable and allow the music to touch, penetrate and open up the very core of your being. In her words, you have to risk becoming naked.

In this sense ‘becoming naked’ does not refer to that artificial form of physical exposure or exhibitionism, aimed at shocking or entertaining. Although the physical is never excluded - we are after all em-bodied beings - Dessay’s use of the phrase refers to something more profound. It designates the courage to be open, honest and vulnerable, to disclose one’s true feelings and emotions, even if it means to risk getting hurt, being misunderstood or rejected. It is to show and give more of yourself, to lower the mask behind which you were hiding - often in fear and anxiety. The effect, as with Dessay’s performances, could be a gain in authenticity. In short, becoming naked is to summon the courage to love freely and unconditionally, as did the woman who annointed Jesus with extraordinary, expensive perfume (John 12:3), thereby showing how she valued his worth.

In a highly competitive and individualistic society where fraud, violence, exploitation, suspicion and cynicism are rife, we often don’t achieve as much. This, however, does not deny the enduring importance of the challenge. The courage to become more naked, vulnerable and caring is not an embarrassment; rather, it is a sound asset, and it is key to a more healthy reconciled and human society.

Carel Anthonissen

Monday, May 11, 2009

Have you spoken to God about this?

It is not so difficult to be happy and to believe in God’s goodness and care when we are in control of our lives, when our circumstances are favourable and things are going our way. Then it is even easy to share our good fortune with others and to relate it to God’s loving care and kindness.
The real test comes when we lose control; when our good fortune or happy circumstances one day suddenly change or get out of hand; when like the waves in a stormy sea, life seems to turn against us, showing us its darker face and threatening to overwhelm and even to destroy us.
We don’t often consciously reflect on it, but most people of course go through such bad experiences some or other time - disappointment and disillusionment, the death of a loved one, the shattering news of loss or betrayal, the illnesses of old age, etc. These are all things that can plunge us into a state of anxiety and deep depression, a dark abyss of hopelessness. As with Peter in Matt 14:30 such experiences can overwhelm us, make us sink, especially when we did not expect them, when we were still counting on the sheltering and protective care of the Lord.
What do we do when this happens? How do we go about it when life, so to speak, shows us its darker side? Like Peter we are called to do what is really difficult, to deliberately turn our eyes away from our depressing circumstances and to focus on Him who is Lord - the One who walks on water (Matt 14:25) and calms the seas (Matt 8:26). The message is that however dark and rough our life may become, He is still in control - He is the risen One who is holding us and carrying us forward, our good Shepherd who promised to be with us even if we go through the deepest darkness (Ps 23:4).
In practice this amounts to nothing more than a simple act of faith - one in which we should discipline ourselves to become quiet, to breathe deeply and to lift our eyes and hearts again to God, even to kneel like a child and to start speaking to Him directly. Don’t think this act too small or insignificant. If you can wait patiently and persevere, this may just become the place from where you, sometimes unexpectedly, might gain new perspective, also the energy to deal with your pressing circumstances. Many believers through the ages can testify to this.
This week I was reminded again of how crucial such a small act of faith is. Complaining about a setback in my own life the other day, a friend who was listening, simply asked me this one question: “Have you ever spoken to the Lord about it? Have you ever brought it to God in prayer?”
Is it possible that we, who profess to follow the living Christ, can forget this?
Carel Anthonissen

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Images from a scrapyard

I met Willie Bester when he was still a young, developing artist. At the time he used to take me along to the townships to meet his friends and to take some photos, which he used in some of his amazing collages. These collages, which he carefully constructed by shaping together different elements, mostly small pieces of metal, cardboard or paper, always against the backdrop of some gripping photos and newspaper headings, became Willie’s very special hallmark. They brought him international fame. Through them he documented the history, colour and liveliness of township life of the 1980s and 1990s. In these collages you could see and touch the bumpers of old lorries, double storied shacks, buzzing shops, corrugated roofs, rusted bicycles and moving trains.

Later when the painting and putting together of collages became almost second nature and less challenging, Willie switched to making smaller paintings. Through them he depicted at close range people of different walks in the township - an innocent child playing, an old man smoking a pipe, a woman toiling away at her daily tasks. Alongside these collages and paintings he also portrayed the dehumanizing effects of the political system of the day by building majestic structures, even whole laboratories, layered with guns, wheels, clocks and pipes and always a bible somewhere to remind us of how religion was often used to justify an intricate and oppressive ideology.

During the past few years Willie has been focussing more on creating life size sculptures, mostly from pieces of waste iron and car parts that he collects in scrap yards. People watching these rough but true to life images, are suddenly confronted by a rare talent - the ability to recognise in the jungle of scrap yard rubble the image of a growling dog, a gallant horse, a smiling harp player, a child carrying a gun, or a dignified old woman. This is Willie Bester’s rare achievement: to give new life to cast aside and forgotten waste by transforming it into lively images which, when closely observed, stir the heart and imagination, and leave you in awe and wonder.

Looking again at some of Willie’s startling images of child soldiers and missing children at a recent exhibition, I was reminded of the way God deals with us humans. In many ways our lives, though they do also carry reflections of God, so easily become skewed, depressed, out of hand, inhuman - to the extent that we suffer, lose our confidence, feel miserable, unworthy, dumped, almost like rubble on a scrap yard. How well do we all know this feeling, especially when we find that we repeatedly make the wrong choices, lose our discipline, give in to temptations and allow ourselves to be swept away by our darker and destructive impulses. Often only our belief in God’s constant grace, in God’s resurrecting and all renewing power, can save us. In the words of Paul: “You used to be in the darkness, but now in the Lord you are light” (Ephes 5:8).

Today we may count again on this amazing fact that God can transform what seems to be a mere piece of scrap into an image of beauty and wonder. Also, that bewildering piece of my life that I am experiencing and looking at right now.

Carel Anthonissen

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The honesty shop

About 80 kilometers beyond Laingsburg in the heart of the Klein Swartberge and close to the Gamtoosdam there is an amazing little shop. It contains all kind of local products from preserved jams and fruit rolls to hand made articles like handbags and purses. For the tired traveller there is also the usual stock of coke and chocolates, but they are not the main items. These are all locally produced. However what makes the little shop particularly unique is not its local features, but its name and the special ethos it represents. It is called the honesty shop. Which means that there are no shop attendants, nobody to serve or look after you, nobody to check that you have paid. It is up to the customers to make their choice, check the price and then to leave the correct amount in a bottle put out for that purpose on one of the tables.

Many years ago while visiting Vienna in Austria I came upon a similar custom. There you could buy some of the city’s main newspapers on the street without anyone attending or checking. As at the Gamtoosdam you could take the magazine of your choice and then leave the right amount in an attached container. Apparently there are other cities and places in the world where the same principle is applied. The wonderful thing is that in all these places honesty appears to be a way of life, a spontaneous act, a honoured tradition. People don’t even think about or consider the possibility of cheating or stealing. They just do what is right and asked for.

While visiting the honesty shop at the Gamtoosdam some other visitors remarked that it is only the remoteness of the place and the fact that criminals don’t usually go there, which makes such an experiment possible. Perhaps this is true, but then still it remains a brave and extraordinary venture, especially in a country where we have come to expect the opposite. For me the honesty shop at Gamtoosdam, however small and obscure, today represents a tremendous sign of hope. While it remains a monument to courage and trust, it is also an appeal to seek and express the very best that is in all of us. In fact after taking the items of my choice I had this strange inclination to leave behind more than the asked price. And I was certainly not the only one. It truly shows us what faith and a little trust in our neighbour can do.

Carel Anthonissen

Friday, April 17, 2009

Consider your hands

Five years ago, at the Centre for Christian Spirituality, I made the acquaintance of a delightful nun, Sister Winifred O’Brien. She was one of The Little Sisters of the Assumption, and a team member at the Centre. As I recall, she worked as a caregiver for the carers of those ill with HIV and AIDS, which might account for the theme of her meditation one morning. She spoke movingly about the role hands play in people’s lives - their own and those of others - and then asked that we hold one another’s hands and lovingly explore them, touching and stroking every ridge, every callous, every knuckle thickened by age or arthritis. She encouraged us to put ourselves, in a manner of speaking, into someone else’s hands….

Our hands are programmed to do almost anything. They can comfort and nurture, create and clean and cook. They can sew and knit and write and hold and hug. They can be folded in prayer or cupped for a blessing. They can make a cross on the body - or on a ballot paper. But hands can also resist being held, they can hurt and hit or make an angry fist. They can withdraw coldly from this world of politics, poverty and pain.

I was reminded of Sister Win’s meditation when I heard Barack Obama’s summary of America’s new foreign policy: We will extend the hand of friendship to every nation which does not hold out a clenched fist…

How we use our hands, these miraculous, intricate, God-given objects, is our own choice. Their function is governed by our hearts and our minds, making them instruments of love or of discord. As always, on the eve of an election, it is fitting that we keep that in mind.

Cecile Cilliers

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It is you!

In his recently published memoirs South African author Andre P Brink recounts his own journey through life and love. He attends specifically to what he had learnt about love, this most central aspect of our lives, over many years and through different relationships. He recalls one moment when he had what he called the most intense awareness of the other. In his own words: “I had never before experienced this!”

It happened when he went for a walk with his beloved one evening through the woods above Grahamstown. It became an unbelievable, almost magical night where everything started to glitter with the light of thousands of fireflies around them. At that moment they briefly stopped among the dark trees and then, with the moon above them, he took her face in his hands and whispered, just this one simple phrase: “It is you!”

Reading this moving episode from his life I realised that this little phrase, however simple and brief, does indeed suggest in a very powerful way, what love is really about. Because by saying this we say that we have recognised the other, that we are willing to accept and embrace him or her as a unique human being. Through this simple statement, which can also be seen as a confession, we acknowledge that the other has a face, a name, an own identity and that we fully grant and offer it to them - thereby creating the space in which they may also experience themselves as unique, special, human.

Is this not the very essence of the Biblical message? Is this not what God said to each one of us when he entered our world through Christ: “It is you”! Or in the words of Isaiah 43:1 “Do not be afraid, I will save you. I have called you by name, you are mine”.

May we hear these words again during this coming Easter. And may it inspire us to say the same to others. As we claim a space in which we can ourselves be recognised for who we are, we need to grant the same to each other. So many of our own difficulties could become less if we could start by seeing the other, recognising who they are, saying “It is you”! The people of our country, yes of the whole world, need to hear it constantly: “It is you”.

Carel Anthonissen

Monday, March 30, 2009

On the meaning of grafitti and the Dalai Lama

Not long ago Basil Manning, who was an exile in Botswana during the 1980s, gave me an interesting perspective on the role and meaning of grafitti. Apparently his son picked this up while studying in America where grafitti can be found on numerous buses, trains and the walls of certain neighbourhoods.

According to him the painting of grafitti represents a way of making your presence felt, of stating that you also have a place and a right in a particular place, neighbourhood or area, of saying: “I was here and I belong here!”

Of course, grafitti is often also used by hooligans to shock people by confronting them with their own vulgar and obscene impulses in public spaces. But in most instances, according to my friend, it is an act of protest, a way of standing up against the more powerful who, for whatever reason, discriminate against others by not even noticing them, thus excluding those they count as less significant from certain places and denying them freedom of movement and expression. In essence it is a bold statement (“Hello, I’m here as well, you know!”) and even an honest cry for acceptance.

Against this background, it is a great pity when these or similar signs of human struggle, such traces of the need and suffering of relatively marginalised people, are deliberately and blatantly ignored, scorned or carelessly removed. This was part of the sad discovery of the author Andre P Brink after his visit to the scant remains of the concentration camp at Dachau in the south of Germany - there is not even the slightest reminder left of the former inhabitants; their captors had not allowed, in fact severely punished, any attempt at scribbling a message how ever cursory and anonymous, thus one finds no initials scratched into wood or paint, no last message, no grafitti on a wall. This discovery not only drove Brink to tears, it also brought him to write in his latest Memoirs: Nobody should ever be denied the right to cry out: I was here. I am!

Is this not to some extent what happened to the Dalai Lama during the past week? The denial of a visa is also a denial of the opportunity to make any kind of contribution. Sadly, such limitation comes from people, from a government, who should have known better; who during a period of our own history also had to struggle for recognition, for a space in which to be heard, for the right to be. And now they have obviously forgotten, have denied that same right to a figure of undisputed integrity, a man who has become a symbol of peaceful resistance to unchecked, ruthless authority. And that in exchange for financial gain! How sad can it still become?

Carel Anthonissen

Friday, March 20, 2009

On projections and honest confrontations

The other evening I took our dog, a tiny Maltese, for a walk in the neighbourhood. On leaving the house she suddenly took off and started chasing and barking after a neighbour who was on a similar stroll. Contrary to ours, the neighbour’s dog was on a respectable lead. It was obvious that this unsolicited interruption had disturbed the neighbour’s evening peace and irritated him. He deliberately ignored the commotion behind him and just walked on with an air of indifference.

I felt rather embarrassed at first and while mumbling an apology, started to run after my dog, trying to get her back into our garden. Noticing the neighbour’s indifferent and almost arrogant attitude I became upset, in fact slightly angry, with him. I felt that it would have been polite of him at least to greet me, or pay some attention to the barking dogs in an attempt to settle them. But with a stiff neck (and upper lip) he just walked on. Instead of acting in accordance with my real feelings, which meant that I should have spoken to him, I directed my frustration at my own dog. Ignoring the neighbour, I started to talk more loudly at my dog, shooing her back into the house.

It was the psychologist Jung who first made us aware of this strange tendency in our psyche when, reluctant to face the real source of our own fears, shame, anger and other similar natural instincts, the so-called shadow, we tend to shift or blame it on others. He called it projection and signified this as one of the interesting manoeuvres of the unconscious self, which prevent us from being completely honest and open. Rather than admitting to and confronting our shadow side, we unconsciously find another and expect that person to carry the shadow, to take responsibility for those things we struggle to abide in ourselves. In the little confrontation I refer to here, my poor dog had to suffer my suppressed and brewing anger at the unfriendly neighbour.

Projections occur daily in our relationships with one another and with groups of people, and in many instances they are relatively harmless. But they can become unhelpful and even destructive when they give us an excuse for bad behaviour towards others - when they move the guilt or anger away from ourselves and set the innocent other up as an offender. In fact, at the root of many negative emotions that we carry within ourselves and that are potentially damaging to others, lies the inability to recognise and confront our own, often unconscious and unintegrated, fears and prejudices. This is also recognisable in the way that irrational behaviour rooted in xenophobia or homophobia, is founded on unattended racial and sexual fears and prejudices.

In South Africa it has become crucial, especially for the sake of more transparent governance and a peaceful society that individuals and groups acknowledge and confront their fears and prejudices and especially the projections they effect. However difficult and painful it may be, the victims of such projections are called upon to resist and unmask these hidden agendas. For Christians this can be a way of serving and furthering the Kingdom of God in our society. In confronting the unwarranted negative projections that are so evident and addressing them with integrity, we can remember the words of Jesus when he said: “Happy are those whose hearts are pure, because they shall see God.”

Carel Anthonissen