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Novalis Project Notes May, 2004.

May 2nd marked the birthday of Novalis (born in Germany in 1772) and the opening of the Novalis Project's 2004 Summer Season, at Novalis Hall, Angus, Ontario. A large audience of villagers and friends sat spellbound as master storyteller, Glen Williamson, brought Goethe's epic story of Faust to vivid life in our imaginations. I marvel at this actor's adaptation of the comprehensive sweep of Goethe's twenty- four- hour play into a concise ninety minute presentation that kept us on the edge of our seats. The memory and technical skill of Glen Williamson are legendary now for those who attended one or all of the four performances, on different themes, that he gave in our area in as many days. He brought us riches beyond compare, speaking with the sensitivity and confidence of a feeling heart and a sense of language that is hard won, pure .

The larynx simultaneously forms the vowels and consonants as we listen to the spoken words. I rarely hear such clear articulation and my larynx got a great workout as I listened to Glen Williamson speak. Lines from Rilke's Ninth Elegy came simultaneously to mind, calling forth the dormant speaker in me:

"…Here is the time

for the sayable

here is its home.

Speak, bear witness,…"

While speech is one of the first things everyone learns, it may be the last thing that we learn to do well. The speech that heals and transforms supersedes technique. In Glen Williamson, I recognize a true Knight of the Word, for which Parcival is the prototype. The grail story turns on an act of speech, formed in the words, "What ails thee?", spoken out of genuine compassion. Those on the path of the grail are called to this path of knighthood, not of the sword but of the conscious expression of the spoken word. This founding myth of western civilization, stands behind Glen Williamson's enactment of The Tragedy of Mephistopheles, which is based on Faust, a work begun by Goethe when he was only twenty one. Its powerful message for social renewal is infinitely relevant in the twenty first century. Faust discovers the necessity of accepting the imperfection one's own ordinary humanity while tirelessly striving towards greater heights of spiritual achievment , not for personal satisfaction but for the sake of the whole earth and one's fellow man.

Goethe was himself a mythic hero, gathering practical wisdom though consistent grappling with the complex issues of life. His artistic works are the legacy of his individual journey of initiation, and are as such transformative in essence. His biography reveals an exhaustive pattern of rhythmic dying and becoming, the lessons of which are reflected in Faust's archetypal wrestling with the devil. Both Parcival and Faust are models of the initiatory process. Both these heros have to encounter their own limiting attitudes, bred of the unexamined assumptions and rigid conventions of their time and place. Painful encounters with others always bring about an inner confrontation between self and soul, that helps to free the hero (and we are all heros in this) from self satisfaction, vanity and habit. The devil has no hold over the soul of Faust as long as he continues to question and strive. He is thus ultimately redeemed and the clever Mephistopheles is outwitted by the uncompromising humanity of his would- be victim. Faust's struggle is everyone's struggle to accept the ordinariness and imperfection of our common humanity, even loving it, while holding to a vision of what we might become.

Similarly Parcival's dauntless striving in the face of his imperfection won him unusual distinction. His enunciation of a question that effected simultaneous healing of the wasteland that surrounded him, completed a process of initiation in him that began with a childhood vision. Vision is always at the root of the initiatory process, a vision that is never strictly personal . Linda Sussman writes, a true vision always leads the individual into service of the community but also the earth and her creatures. Initiation therefore is the process through which the initiate absorbs and becomes the vision. Glen Williamson ended his performance with Faust's vision of future humanity. I quote the passage in full because this compelling imagination of Goethe's lies close to the bone of our present civilization. It demands a more urgent striving and spirit of cooperation amongst human beings than anything the earth has ever known. Goethe's selfless commitment in every enterprise of his life exemplified the energy that many now must muster if the purpose of our humanity is ever to be realized. It is a vision of the future far removed from the lures of material security and perpetual leisure that vie for our attention on all sides. The radical appeal of Goethe's urgent vision takes time to absorb and I recommend it as a meditation.

The night grew darker and darker. Outwardly Faust was now blind, but within there shone a bright light. Faust stumbled out in the darkness. He was determined not to rest, and he ordered that the work continue, not realizing that it was his own grave that was being dug. There was a morass that had formed along the hills on the new land spreading pestilence and disease, and he ordered that the morass be drained and cleaned up. Then he envisioned opening up new land for many millions of people to live on in peace, equality and freedom – not in security, for they would always live in danger from the impending waters of the ocean. They would have to work together every day to earn their freedom, to maintain the dams and the dykes and to hold back and fight back the waters. Faust envisioned living a free human being on this new land among free human beings. And in anticipation of that future society he said, "That moment would be so beautiful, I would want it to last, and I would be satisfied." And then he died.

What does it take for this vision to be realized in our time and our community I ask myself? How is it seeking to come forth and in what way can I serve its emergence?

Everyone has his or her unique answer to questions such as these. Mine arise out of the train of thought I have been sharing with you which leads me to the following conclusion. A cultivation of a speech that heals, a form of non violent, non judgemental communication is an essential step I must take if I am to foster the motivation to fully relate to and work with members of any group or community in which I find myself. This is a discipline, a practice of virtue, which can lay the foundation for a new way of seeing and supporting the autonomy and special gifts each one has to offer. Joyful striving will inexorably flourish in such a climate and lead us from foolishness to wisdom so that we can take up the mature and yet childlike mood of soul that Novalis advocated and lived. His admonition is highlighted in gold lettering in our brochure for this year,

" …become masters of an endless play and forget all our foolish striving in an eternal, self-nourishing , and ever-increasing pleasure…"

I would welcome the opportunity to engage in dialogue with others who have attended this performance. This article will be posted on our website www.novalisproject.com and I invite your participation and comments.

Treasa O'Driscoll

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