The Red Lantern

As the wheel of time turns slowly on and on, the lighting of the red lanterns during the winter solstice ceremony has faded far into the past. On the rhythm of new winter mornings the oak tree has lost most of its last and crackly leafs down the hill slope. There they are picked up by the icy winds blowing from the east. Dancing around in corners like dervishes. A red ribbon remains between the stony grey roots of the tree.

It is deep winter now and freezing. The bleak afternoon sun is hiding behind the clouds. A pair of tits chases each other through the branches and bushes below, in search for grains and berries. The air is filled with small twinkling snow crystals.

Inside, at the table in front of the window, I’ve lit one of the lanterns. Outside, but very near to this silence in the ‘oak tree room’, the old guardian remains utterly indifferent to my mood of security, comfort and relief. I wonder and shiver. How can you ever live up to that unshakable big smile, inner as well as outer, unattouched by the icy cold, the drizzling snow or the fainting sun?

I look into the blazing flame of the red lantern in front of the window, looking for an answer. Does it help? Looking up answers in one of the many books around – will it bring past comfort back again? Or is it better to search for inspiration in the unknown depths beyond our own inner voice?

Let’s try anyway and read Frederik van Eeden´s Het Rode Lampje (The Red Lantern). Van Eeden is one of my favorite literary writers, a psychiatrist and spiritual reformist, who lived and worked in Holland over a century ago. He is known as the founder of ‘Walden’, an alternative spiritual working and living community at the beginning of the 20th century, inspired by D.H. Thoreau’s Walden.

Here’s a small fragment from Van Eeden’s silent dialogue with the red lantern:

“Anyone who is in search of a satisfying worldview, will unrelentingly be placed in front of the terrible riddles of Old Age and Death. Thereof no solution is possible, no reconciliation thinkable. One can close the eyes and hide the face in the pillows, but the threat of Old Age and Death keeps grinning from the deepest darkness.“

What is Van Eeden’s answer confronted with bitter, unbearable suffering? Listen:

„Here I can give no answer other than this: I can’t believe in a supreme Power without infinite Love nor a Universe without infinite Harmony. Light-and-Dark, Joy-in-Pain, Truth-in-Illusion, that is the Eternal Being. He, that drives the clockwork of the Universe, will prepare from our pain the joy essence in full measure.”

As the evening falls, the silhouette of the oak tree silently embraces this memorable meditation.