Thomas à Kempis on Mount Saint Agnes – (1569)
I hear the roaring of the morning wind, which comes over the mountains. The night is overcome, when all my
life was subject to eternal confusion and stretched out between the poles of fire.
My soul speaks to me in a bright voice: “The door should be lifted off its hinges to provide a free passage between here and there, between yes and no, between above and below, between left and right. Airy passages should be built between all opposed things, light smooth streets should lead from one pole to the other. Scales should be set up, whose pointer sways gently A flame should burn that cannot be blown out by the wind. A stream should flow to its deepest goal. The herds of wild animals should move to their feeding grounds along their old game paths. Life should proceed, from birth to death, from death to birth, unbroken like the path of the sun. Everything should proceed on this path.”
Thus speaks my soul. But I toy casually and terribly with myself Is it day or night? Am I asleep or awake? Am I alive or have I already died?
Blind darkness besieges me-a great wall-a gray worm of twilight crawls along it. It has a round face and laughs. The laughter is convulsive and actually relieving. I open my eyes: the fat cook is standing before me: “You’re a sound sleeper, I must say. You’ve slept for more than an hour.”
I: “Really? Have I slept? I .. must have dreamed, what a dreadful play! Did I fall asleep in this kitchen? Is this really the realm of mothers?”
“Have a glass of water, you’re still thoroughly drowsy”
I: ‘Yes, this sleep can make one drunk Where is my Thomas? There it lies, open at the twenty-first chapter: “My soul, in everything and yet beyond everything, you must find your rest in the Lord, for he is the eternal rest of the saints.”
I read this sentence aloud. Is not every word followed by a question mark?
“If you fell asleep with this sentence, you must really have had a beautiful dream.”
I: “I certainly dreamed, and I will think about the dream. Incidentally; can you tell me whose cook you are?”
“The librarian’s. He loves good cooking and I have been with him for many years.”
I: “Oh, I had no idea that the librarian had such a cook”
“Yes, you must know that he’s a gourmet.”
I: “Farewell, madam cook, and thank you for the accommodation.”
“You are most welcome and the pleasure was entirely mine.”
Now I am outside. So that was the librarian’s cook. Does he really know what food is prepared inside? He has certainly never gone in there for a temple sleep.I think that I’ll return the Thomas a Kempis to him. I enter the library.
L: “Good evening, here you are again.”
I: “Good evening, Sir, I’ve come to return the Thomas. I sat down for a bit in your kitchen next door to read, without suspecting that it’s your kitchen.”
L: “Please, there’s no problem whatsoever. Hopefully my cook
received you well.”
I: “I can’t complain about the reception. I even had an afternoon sleep over Thomas.”
L: “That doesn’t surprise me. These prayer books are terribly boring.”
I: “Yes, for people like us. But your cook finds the little book very edifying.” /
L: “Well yes, for the cook”
I: ”Allow me the indiscrete question: have you ever had an incubation sleep in your kitchen?”
1: “No, I’ve never entertained such a strange idea.”
I: “Let me say that you’d learn a lot that way about the nature of your kitchen. Good night, Sir!”
After this conversation I left the library and went outside into the anteroom where I approached the green curtains. I pushed them aside, and what did I see? I saw a high-ceilinged hall before me-with a supposedly magnificent garden in the background Klingsor’s magical garden, it occurred to me at once. I had entered a theater; those two over there are part of the play:
Amfortas and Kundry; or rather, just what am I looking at? It is the librarian and his cook He is ailing and pale, and has a bad stomach, she is disappointed and furious. Klingsor is standing to the left, holding the feather the librarian used to tuck behind his ear. How closely Klingsor resembles me! What a repulsive play! But look, Parsifal enters from the left. How strange, he also looks like me. Klingsor venomously throws the feather at Parsifal. But the latter catches it calmly The scene changes: It appears that the audience, in this case me, joins in during the last act. One must kneel down as the Good Friday service begins: Parsifal enters-slowly; his head covered with a black helmet. The lions skin of Hercules adorns his shoulders and he holds the club in his hand; he is also wearing modern black trousers in honor of the church holiday. I bristle and stretch out my hand avertingly, but the play goes on. Parsifal takes off his helmet. Yet there is no Gurnemanz to atone for and consecrate him. Kundry stands in the distance, covering her head and laughing. The audience is enraptured and recognizes itself in Parsifal. He is I. I take off my armor layered with history and my chimerical decoration and go to the spring wearing a white penitent’s shirt, where I wash my feet and hands without the help of a stranger. Then I also take off my penitent’s shirt and put on my civilian clothes. I walk out of the scene and approach myself-I who am still kneeling down in prayer as the audience.
I rise and become one with myself
What would mockery be, if it were not true mockery? What would doubt be, if it were not true doubt? What would opposition be, it if were not true opposition? He who wants to accept himself must also really accept his other. But in the yes not every no is true, and in the no every yes is a lie. But since I can be in the yes today and in the no tomorrow, yes and no are both true and untrue. Whereas yes and no cannot yield because they exist, our concepts of truth and error can.
I presume you would like to have certainty with regard to truth and error? Certainty within one or the other is not only possible, but also necessary, although certainty in one is protection and resistance against the other. If you are in one, your certainty about the one excludes the other. But how can you then reach the other? And why can the one not be enough for us? One cannot be enough for us since the other is in us. And if we were content with one, the other would suffer great need and afflict us with its hunger. But we misunderstand this hunger and still believe that we are hungry for the one and strive for it even more adamantly.
Through this we cause the other in us to assert its demands on us even more strongly. If we are then ready to recognize the claim of the other in us, we can cross over into the other to satisfy it. But we can thus reach across, since the other has become conscious to us. Yet if our blinding through the one is strong, we become even more distant from the other, and a disastrous chasm between the one and the other opens up in us. The one becomes surfeited and the other becomes too hungry. The satiated grows lazy and the hungry grows weak. And so we suffocate in fat,consumed by lack.
This is sickness, but you see a lot of this type. It must be so, but it need not be so. There are grounds and causes enough that it is so, but we also want it not to be so. For man is afforded the freedom to overcome the cause, for he is creative in and of himself If you have reached that freedom through the suffering of your spirit to accept the other despite your highest belief in the one, since you are it too, then your growth begins. If others mock me, it is nevertheless them doing this, and I can attribute guilt to them for this, and forget to mock myself. But he who cannot mock himself will be mocked by others.
So accept your self-mockery so that everything divine and heroic falls from you and you become completely human. What is divine and heroic in you is a mockery to the other in you. For the sake of the other in you, set off your admired role which you previously performed for your own self and become who you are. He who has the luck and misfortune of a particular talent falls prey to believing that he is this gift. Hence he is also often its fool. A special gift is something outside of me. I am not the same as it. The nature of the gift has nothing to do with the nature of the man who carries it. It often even lives at the expense of the bearer’s character. His character is marked by the disadvantage of his gift, indeed even through its opposite.
Consequently he is never at the height of his gift but always beneath it. If he accepts his other he becomes capable of bearing his gift without disadvantage. But if he only wants to live in his gift and consequently rejects his other, he oversteps the mark, since the essence of his gift is extra-human and a natural phenomenon, which he in reality is not. All the world sees his error, and he becomes the victim of its mockery. Then he says that others mock him, while it is only the disregard of his other that makes him ridiculous.
When the God enters my life, I return to my poverty for the sake of the God. I accept the burden of poverty and bear all my ugliness and ridiculousness, and also everything reprehensible in me. I thus relieve the God of all the confusion and absurdity that would befall him if I did not accept it. With this I prepare the way for the God’s doing. What should happen? Has the darkest abyss been emptied and exhausted? Or what stands and waits down there, impending and red-hot? Which fire has not been put out and which embers are still ablaze? We sacrificed innumerable victims to the dark depths, and yet it still demands more. What is this crazy desire craving satisfaction? Whose mad cries are these? Who among the dead suffers thus? Come here and drink blood, so that you can speak Why do you reject the blood? Would you like milk? Or the red juice of the vine? Perhaps you would rather have love? Love for the dead? Being in love with the dead? Are you perhaps demanding the seeds of life for the faded thousand-year-old body of the underworld? An unchaste incestuous lust for the dead? Something that makes the blood run cold. Are you demanding a lusty commingling with corpses? I spoke of “acceptance” -but you demand “to seize, embrace, copulate?” Are you demanding the desecration of the dead? That prophet, you say; lay on the child, and placed his mouth on the child’s mouth, and his eyes on its eyes, and his hands on its hands and he thus splays himself over the boy; so that the child’s body became warm. But he rose again and went here and there in the house before he mounted anew and spread himself over him again. The boy snorted seven times.
Then the boy opened his eyes. So shall your acceptance be, so shall you accept, not cool, not superior, not thought out,not obsequious, not as a self-chastisement, but with pleasure, precisely with this ambiguous impure pleasure, whose ambiguity enables it to unite with the higher, with that holy-evil pleasure of which you do not know whether it be virtue or vice, with that pleasure which is lusty repulsiveness, lecherous fear, sexual immaturity One wakens the dead with this pleasure. Your lowest is in a sleep resembling death and needs the warmth of life which contains good and evil inseparably and indistinguishably. ‘That is the way of life; you can call it neither evil nor good, neither pure nor impure. Yet this is not the goal, but the way and the crossing. It is also sickness and the beginning of recovery. It is the mother of all abominable deeds and all salutary symbols. It is the most primordial form of creation, the very first dark urge that flows through all secret hiding places and dark passages, with the unintentional lawfulness of water and from unexpected places in the loose soil, swelling from the finest cracks to fructify the dry soil. It is the very first, secret teacher of nature, teaching plants and animals the most astonishing and supremely clever skills and tricks, which we hardly know how to fathom. It is the great sage who has superhuman knowledge, who has the greatest of all the sciences, who makes order out of confusion, and who prophesies the future clairvoyantly out of ungraspable fullness. It is the serpent-like, perishable and beneficial, the dreadfully and ridiculously daimonic. It is the arrow that always hits the weakest spot, the spring root which opens the sealed treasure chambers.
You can call it neither clever nor stupid, neither good nor evil, since its nature is inhuman throughout. It is the son of the earth, the dark one whom you should awaken is man and woman at the same time and immature sex, rich in interpretation and misinterpretation, so poor in meaning and yet so rich. This is the dead that cried loudest, that stood right at the bottom and waited, that suffered worst. It desired neither blood nor milk nor wine for the sacrifice of the dead, but the willingness of our flesh. Its longing paid no heed to the torment of our spirit which struggled
and tortured itself to devise what cannot be devised, that hence tore itself apart and sacrificed itself. Not until our spirit lay dismembered on the altar did I hear the voice of the son of the earth, and only then did I see that he was the great suffering one, who needed salvation. He is the chosen one since he was the most rejected. It is bad to have to say this, but perhaps I hear badly; or perhaps I misunderstand what the depths say. It is miserable to say as much, and yet I must say it.
The depths are silent. He has arisen and now beholds the light of the sun and is among the living. Restlessness and discord rose up with him, doubt and the fullness of life. Amen, it is finished. What was unreal is real, what was real is unreal. However, I may not, I do not want to, I cannot. Oh human wretchedness! Oh unwillingness in us! Oh doubt and despair. This is really Good Friday; upon which the Lord died and descended into Hell and completed the mysteries. This is the Good Friday when we complete the Christ in us and we descend to Hell ourselves. This the Good Friday on which we moan and cry to will the completion of Christ, for after his completion we go to Hell. Christ was so powerful that his realm covered all the world and only Hell lay outside it.
Who succeeded in crossing the borders of this realm with good grounds, pure conscience, and obeying the law of love? Who among the living is Christ and journeys to Hell in living flesh? Who is it that expands the realm of Christ with Hell? Who is it that is full of drunkenness while sober? Who is it that descended from being one into being two? Who is it that tore apart his own heart to unite what has been separated?
I am he, the nameless one, who does not know himself and whose name is concealed even from himself I have no name, since I have not yet existed, but have only just become. To myself I am an Anabaptist and a stranger. I, who I am, am not it. But I, who will be I before me and after me, am it. In that I abased myself I elevated myself as another. In that I accepted myself. I divided myself into two, and in that I united myself with myself I became the smaller part of myself I am this in my consciousness. However, I am thus in my consciousness as if I were also separated from it. I am not in my second and greater state, as if I were this second and greater one myself f but I am always . in ordinary consciousness, yet so separate and distinct from it, as if I were in my second and greater state, but without the consciousness of really being it. I have even become smaller and poorer, but precisely because of my smallness I can be conscious of the nearness of the great.