juni var jeg med med å arrangerte en meget vellykket retreat på Ildjarntunet,
leder av benediktinermunken fr. Laurence Freeman, som er leder av det
verdensomspennede World Community for Christian Meditation, med
meditasjonsgrupper er 200 land. Vi var 25 deltakere, de fleste katolikker.
På lørdag kveld hadde vi en messe i stavkirken. I ettertid har Freeman
skrevet vedlagte betraktning som han har sendt ut til hele sitt nettverk.
Tablet July 09 Norway
Providentially it was Midsummer Eve and the white night of Scandinavia was
reaching its zenith. So, late but in preternatural light we walked up the
hill to Hedalen church. It stands commanding a view over the forested hills
and valleys, its generations of worshippers sleeping in the graveyard around
it. It is one of the 29 remaining wooden medieval churches of Norway, a
survivor of more than a thousand that were constructed after Olaf Haraldsson
had returned home in 1015 with a new faith in the White Christ whom he was
determined would drive out the old Norse gods.
The Vikings had perfected the arts of timber construction in shipbuilding
and log houses and the stave churches adopted them to create these forceful
places of Christian worship, built generally on old Norse sacred sites.
Externally they can look like smaller, wooden versions of Thai temples.
Graceful and ascending with their shingled roofs like pinecones, they are
also heavily solid and earthed. These last of the wooden temples that were
once spread throughout Europe are so called because of the stafr or load
bearing posts that in so virile a way embody the verticality of the theology.
The doorway into a Norwegian stave church is narrow. Like everything in
these self-confident, self-contained material symbols of spiritual
experience this has a point. It seems to reminds you that entering the
presence of God means passing through a portal of consciousness. We enter
the sacred alone and with a minimum of baggage. The narrowness is
single-mindedness. Whatever worship is conducted on the other side of this
entrance is not the light stuff of a Sunday routine but an encounter that
brings psyche and cosmos closer.
It is hard not to stop half way through and become absorbed into the
elaborate carving all round the portal, that is the portal, and try to
decipher its meaning or story. After a while you trace the dragons heads and
tails as they curl round each other in a frenzy of snarling, sneering battle.
Disturbingly, it seems not just a conventional illustration of the duel of
good and evil but a deeper insight into the self-destructiveness of evil.
These dark forces that separate us from the holy and the good spend
themselves at the entrance to the very place they came to destroy. But to
pass through them is unsettlingly ambiguous. The battle is won but not over.
Inside the church you are in the midst of a deep but peaceful forest, a
human dwelling in the heart of nature. Your eyes accommodate in the darkness
and you become a citizen of this new world that first envelops your sense of
smell. Wood, tar, maybe the wool clothes of generations lost and a trace of
incense. In the late 12th century it was originally a simple square room
with a chancel for the altar but the cruciform extension has not diminished
its intimacy and immediacy. Near the soapstone font is a rosy-cheeked
Madonna and child imposing a gentler authority. The Crucifix over the altar
is one of the great works of medieval art in Norway. The feet and toes of
Jesus are spread out in graphic pain but the face has already found peace.
According to an undoubtedly true legend the Black Death had depopulated the
valley in the 14th century. The forest encroached and the church was
forgotten. Two hundred years later a hunter shot an arrow and missed. As it
penetrated the forest he heard a metallic ring and discovered the church
bell. Believing the church belonged to a huldra or forest spirit he threw
metal over it and thus reclaimed it for human use. Inside he found a bear
hibernating in front of the altar, killed it and the skin is still hanging
in the sacristy, too small, however, to be my vestment for mass as I had
hoped on first hearing the story.
As several stave churches have legends of animals being killed within them I
am suspicious of this one. Maybe some old Norse gods slipped through the
portal of the writhing dragons and indulged a little in the old-fashioned
kind of sacrifice. As we know today, people can be very nostalgic for
old-time religion. At midsummer the people of Valdres and Adal used to come
for several days of revelry (as Vikings, this meant drinking and fighting).
The church atmosphere restrained but did not extinguish this custom until,
sadly, in the late 19th century a firmer pastor banned it
We were a very different congregation. New secular legends have replaced the
old myths. Old certainties have met other certainties. But something - that
the stave church embraces - is timeless. We broke bread and meditated after
communion. When we went outside again the night was still bright
With much love