In 1997 I embarked on a pilgrimage. Together with three friends we were to walk from Lubeck in northern Germany, to Rome and then onwards to Jerusalem. It was a momentous journey for us all and it changed us all in several ways. On our pilgrimage we made a point of begging our board and lodgings for the night and not bringing too much in terms of supplies. Even so, we were still loaded like mules once we set off.
When we had walked for three days and stayed the night at the church of a friendly Catholic priest, we sent half the stuff back home in a large box. What a relief! Things went well and we progressed down through Germany – wonderful but nothing that would change a life! That is until we came upon the ancient city of Augsburg, built by the Romans and a cultural metropolis ever since. We flipped though the telephone book until we found the Franziskanerzentrum (Franciscan Centre). We gave them a ring and got a positive reply – they said we could stay. At the address we found out that it was actually a monastery for the Capucinian order. The order strives to get back to the basics of the Franciscan rule as laid down by St.Francis, and was established as a part of the early counterreformation against the protestant reformation (and also against the corrupted medieval church).
We were invited in by a kind woman who worked in the kitchens, and were shown to two spartan but very homely rooms on the second floor where we stacked our backpacks. Earlier we had been invited to come down to the refectory for something to eat as it was late in the day. Once there, we sat down in a spacious room with wooden panels along the walls, and sturdy tables and benches. I guess we had been munching for some twenty minutes when the door at the far end opened, and father Heinz Naab stepped in. I could not help but stare – he was a tall man in his fifties, with long backswept hair reaching well below the shoulders and by nature cut off in an almost perfect line from ear to ear over the forehead. To complete the picture a golden earring and eyes that literally bubbled with laughter. Father Heinz strolled over and we all greeted him in turn. He was very warm and kind, and sat down with us and asked about our little venture.
It turned out that he had also done pilgrimages in his youth with his father, and was very fond of the practice. His advice on pilgrimages was very simple: you must travel in a simple and humble way. Do not bring a lot of stuff, beg for food and shelter. By doing that you will travel back to both yourself and to God by moving with and through the land. ‘Being’ more than ‘Doing’ was his prescription, giving God both a time and a place in the journey.
Father Heinz had some things to attend to, so Peter and I went out into the garden. As soon as we had entered the monastery we had discovered that this garden was the pet project of Father Heinz, built entirely by him over many years. We stepped out into a small yard set with small round stones, and after a second I said: “Peter, isn’t there a pattern here?” And there was: a spiral maze set in stone. ‘Very odd for a catholic priest!’ we thought. But we walked on and hummed and I lit a cigarette, and nearly dropped it into my shorts. I was looking out over a large area of green grass, and in the centre of it, a true maze cut into the turf and set with stones. It must have been more than 10m across.
Father Heinz later told me that he used it for sacred dances. Slightly out of balance, I sat down on the rim of an old well that stood very nicely under a large Rowan tree. As I looked down I saw another pattern: the well was set at the very centre of a pentagram, set in stones. By this time, I had a feeling that reality was slipping slowly away as the twilight began to set. I saw Peter walking around further away and wobbled over to join him. “This is no ordinary priest; we are not in Kansas anymore!” I remember saying. “No shit, Sherlock!” came the reply.
We rounded a bush with a small stone bench and had our next surprise. Staring at us was the mask of the Green Man set into the trunk of a large oak. Both of us stopped dead in our tracks and just stared. I will not bore you with all the other things we saw there in that garden and in the house, and the wonderful masses we went to. But when I asked Father Heinz about these things, he just laughed out loud and said, “A Christian must be esoteric!”
Father Heinz combined all the best elements of both worlds; he was a Druid without any doubt. But he was also a priest and a believer in Jesus Christ, and he showed me that not only is there no conflict here, but on the contrary there could be mutual support, help and respect. If only we have the courage to let it happen and drop all the old grudges that both sides hold so dear, but that are of no value or importance today. But this garden, oh the sights, the smells and the peace! It was unbelievable in the very centre of a large modern city. The tranquillity held you and in that place I was convinced that Christ is very much in love with nature as well as with humanity. How could it be otherwise?
David Lindholm Stockholm, Sweden April 2005