Project Notes May, 2004.
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 .
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:
is the time
is its home.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
become masters of an endless play and forget all our
foolish striving in an eternal, self-nourishing , and ever-increasing
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