Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: benoit vermander
Tuesday, 25 June 2013 11:19

After the Quake: Rituals in North Western Sichuan


Rituals organize and symbolize a way of living together. Through the enactment of rituals, a community expresses its fear, its solidarity and its longings. In traditional societies, performing rituals enables people to organize time and space into a meaningful universe, to renew their commitment to the group to which they belong, and to cement an alliance among them, with nature and with the supernatural.
The variety of ritual forms is astounding. It reflects the richness of cultural forms, artworks and humane inventiveness. Among the ethnic minorities who, all together, account for almost ten percent of China's population, those living in the southwest may offer the widest repertoire of ritual performances. Caring for the souls of the dead, exorcising ghosts so as to cure illnesses, rejoicing at marriages, New Year or at harvest time. The four rituals mentioned here all take place in Sichuan province, among people of Yi, Qiang and Ersu ethnic origins.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013 18:48

Little Umbrella

As Little Umbrella opened her eyes for the first time, she found herself hanging on a hook near the exit door of a bright and spacious convenience store. The space around her was filled with toothpaste, sandwiches or cold drinks, and was enlivened with the concert made by tinkling coins, automated musical doors and cashiers’ greetings. The lights and the voices both hurt and stimulated her senses, not yet used to the hubbub of the world.

The rain was pouring outside… It was not long before a middle-aged lady came into the shop and bought Little Umbrella, finding her the cutest of all the umbrellas gracing the shop with the rainbow of their colors. Balancing in the streets over the head of the lady, Little Umbrella felt very joyful: she had found someone to whom she could dedicate her existence, making sure that her owner, well protected from the rain, would never catch a cold. The lady had a soft and firm grasp on her handle. Little Umbrellas looked at storefronts together with her friend and possessor, while waving to the other umbrellas nearby – and in that kind weather there were many, many of them.

The lady got into a bus, and carefully folded Little Umbrella, whom she placed at her side. Then, both the lady and Little Umbrella fell half asleep. The lady suddenly woke up just when the bus was reaching her usual stop, and she went off in such a haste that she forgot Little Umbrella on the seat... When Little Umbrella opened up her eyes, the lady was not here anymore. Instead, an old man was looking at her with perplexity. She was certainly a cute and brand-new umbrella, but she was unfit for a man, especially a man of his age. Still, he took her with him, and soon they both arrived at his house.

This was a large house, a house for an extended family. The old man fetched his granddaughter and gave her Little Umbrella. The little girl was overjoyed and brought her to her bedroom. She was duly introduced to Teddy Bear, to the dolls, the giraffe, the miniature lion and the she-duck. That night, lying at the foot of the bed, Little Umbrella felt deeply happy, and she entered naturally into all little umbrellas’ dreamland.

They spent a very happy weekend together. The little girl was incessantly folding and unfolding her umbrella, posing with her as a ballerina or a princess. The following Monday was one of these Rainy Mondays, and the girl went to school with Little Umbrella, who arose much envy from the girls’ schoolmates. Still, on the last day of the same week, it was a boy – the bully of the class – who stole Little Umbrella from the schoolbag of her young owner, and started to parade with her on the streets, handling her brutally, and threatening people with her as if holding a sword.

One day, he went too far: in a fit of rage he raised his weapon against his mother. She immediately confiscated Little Umbrella, without ever asking where she came from and how she happened to be in the possession of the boy. The mother was a busy and rather impatient woman, with little time left for her son. She put Little Umbrella deep into the big bag that she always carried, and took her in all her travels, from the plane to the hotel, from an appointment to a business meeting, unfolding her from time to time when the rain was really too strong. Handled without care, treated with much indifference, Little Umbrella was not feeling happy at all, but she did discover the world, and grew both in weariness and wisdom.

It just so happened that, after one of these intercontinental travels she was now used to undergoing, Little Umbrella found herself on a chair, in an outdoor café of southern Europe; in a sleepy back street of an ancient city. The storm had now receded. Her owner, exhausted by her unceasing business trips and lost in her thoughts, had paid the bill, and she was now leaving the place without turning back - forgetting Little Umbrella on the chair where she had absent-mindedly placed her after the rain. The cat of the café slowly approached her.

She was a good and playful cat, who knew how to use her paws. She made Little Umbrella fall from the chair, took her cautiously with her teeth and transported her into the adjacent garden. With a few skillful moves, she unfolded Little Umbrella, kept the handle between her pawns, and laid down under her shadow, with a purr of satisfaction. Little Umbrella felt happier she had ever felt, standing right between the cat and the sun, and dancing to the rhythm of a tune coming from the house bordering the garden.

From then on, the cat and Little Umbrella spent all their days together – the rainy days, the sunny days. The cat who was always holding the umbrella became so famous in the neighborhood that the café was adorned with a new post sign, showing the affectionate embrace of the two friends. But the cat and the umbrella were not concerned with their newfound glory, and, carefree, continued to enjoy the sun, the rain and their own company. And they lived happily ever after.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013 15:20

The extraordinary challenge of living an ordinary life

There are extraordinary moments in life. Moments of deep, soul-shaking happiness, moments of tremendous discovery, moments where the mountain we climb during the entirety of our existence suddenly offers us a glance of the richness of its landscape – valleys, clouds, streams and lofty peaks... There are also moments of extraordinary misery, when a beloved one disappears, when one's love is betrayed, when sickness is diagnosed, or when goals and dreams prove impossible to fulfill.


Friday, 26 April 2013 12:52

Religious Colonialism: Cultural Loss in the Solomon Islands

Sitting nearby his canoe Thomas speaks more at length of his sense of cultural loss. Like the rest of his family and the whole village, he defines himself as a Catholic. But he speaks of the missionaries of the ancient time with a thinly veiled resentment: "They took everything away from us... they were very clever... They alienated us from our customs by making us afraid that our ancestral ways would lead us to death, and also by pointing out that the sacrifice of pigs and other rituals were all very expensive. They took away the skulls, and dumped them into the bush... They told us that they was only God, no spirits or ancestors... No, we cannot come back to the past, we cannot retrieve ancient sacrificial ways. We would be afraid to do so. If they had only suppressed bad customs.... But they took everything away, the good with the bad."


Friday, 26 April 2013 12:46

A Vibrant Culture with an Ugly Facade: Honiara and the Pacific Art Festival

Let me admit it: Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, situated on the Guadalcanal Island, does not strike the visitor with awe. Cavernous Chinese shops filled with all kinds of goods, administrative buildings and houses in concrete scattered around the roads that run parallel to the coastline, commercials for "Solomon Telekom" and the "SolBrew" beer, the two brands that seem to monopolize the advertising expenditures of the country... nothing that really draws the attention. On the hills, a monument adorned with granite plaques recalls the naval battles that ravaged the island during WWII. Modest but numerous Adventist, Catholic and Protestant churches are landmarks all along the way. In the haven and on the beaches, carcasses of warships still lay down, giant ghostly presences. But there is also a kind of softness in the atmosphere, a mixture of gentleness and restraint in people's conduct that, from the start, intrigues and seduces the newcomer.

In Honiara, a wide field has been surrounded by high fences in preparation for the festival, and is divided into two villages – traditional houses hosting on the one side the different provinces and cultural groups from SI, on the other the delegations from abroad, among them the Taiwanese one. A vast public, mainly local, attends the dance and music performances, looks at the handicrafts for show or for sale, marvels at the similarities and differences of languages and customs witnessed from one island to another.

I am usually a bit dreary of festivals and other public events, but this time I find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. I especially like to stay in the SI village, with the huts under the shadow of the giant trees, and to watch the performances offered by tribal groups from the mountains and the coast. The dancers from Isabel Island are my favorites.festivalIsabel05-copyONLINE

Contacts are easy and relaxed. Dancing, panpipes and drums, tattoos, weapons, canoes... I enjoy myself like a child, far away from the megacity of Shanghai where I usually live. Near the main venue of the festival, the little village of Doma, right on the seashore, offers performances from the various tribes living in Guadalcanal Island. Children play on the sand, the music of the drums and that of the waves join into one. The Pacific starts to operate its magic.

Not far away, within walking distance of the fishing village of Lilisiana, the festival gathers local people between the seashore and a lake. The setting is modest, but groups are coming from far away villages, some of them from the mountain bush, and other from the coast. Mathilde, a woman form the Lau tribe, tells me that she takes care alone of a plot of land, where she cultivates cabbage. Her English is quite good: she has worked for five years for a Catholic NGO, she tells me, and in 1997 she even went to the World Youth Day in Paris. She directs the dancers' troop of her village, and performs with much gusto and sense of humor.

Photos by B.V.

The following video is an interview and a performance by Arasuka'aniwara, a panpipe collective from the Solomon Islands:

This video is currently not available for readers in Mainland China.

 


Friday, 26 April 2013 12:39

Swept away from Sinology by the Allure of Taiwan's Pacific coast


I have been living in Taiwan since 1992, but, like most inhabitants of the island, I have been turning westwards more often than eastwards. And when I was leaving on research trips, most of the time they took me to southwest China, to remote mountainous areas, to study religious rituals and social changes, seemingly as far away from the Pacific world as possible. Still, a few months after my arrival in Taiwan, I spent some time in Taitung County, and, since then, the Pacific coastline entered my vision and my imagination. As the years went by I returned more frequently to Eastern Taiwan, as if drawn by a mysterious force leading me away from what had been my center of gravity. In 2008, I spent around 4 months of rest in Tafalong, an Amis village in Hualien County. festivalDoma06ONLINEThat was a hot summer, and there were few trees around. I was often lying down, trying to recover from the heat as well as from the state of exhaustion that had led me to this refuge. When I was able to, I wandered around, most of the time in the early morning or in the late afternoon, and later on I painted – painted the fields, the mountains and the houses that were surrounding me, painted the feelings of heat and exhaustion which were sometimes overwhelming, and painted also the stories, chants and myths I heard. I also listened to family tales and to ancestors' genealogies. The documentary we subsequently produced with the Renlai team is called "On the Fifth day, the Tide Rose", referring to the chant that describes the deluge from which the first couple that inhabited the village escaped. I still remember the struggle against heat and exhaustion, my reactions to the personal and collective stories I was listening to, the strange and enchanting beauty of this part of Eastern Taiwan, situated between two mountain ranges, and the mysterious attraction of the sea nearby. You do not see the ocean from Tafalong, but the Pacific is waiting a few kilometers away, like a giant, threatening and captivating presence. You do not see the ocean in the paintings created at that time, but it is hidden into them – for the Ocean is the primal force that made me come with these tiny islets of ink, colors and paper scattered among the Sea of Unknowing.

Along the years, the experience of standing on the Eastern seashore gave rise to a pervading feeling: I started to see the Pacific Ocean not only as a physical but as a "mystical" space as well; and reading more about the Pacific world I realized intimately that its immensity and the experience of its crossing had inspired in-depth spiritual experiences expressed through stories, myths, poems, music and epics; its borders and islands have witnessed the coming and melting of all the world's mystical traditions breaking along its shore wave after wave; it is ultimately one of the privileged spaces where humankind has refined and chanted the experience and "resonance" of the Divine. The commonality of such spiritual experience is sometimes summarized by the term of "oceanic feeling", though such wording remains open to challenges and controversies. The metaphors of "depth", "abyss', 'water", "resonance', "oneness" and "circularity" also find special echo through the physical experience specific to the Pacific world. Linguistic and musical expression, mystical experience, literary and artistic metaphors, and cross-cultural synthesis here melt into one.

And Taiwan is a point of departure, of melting and of destination of the stories weaved by the waves...


But does Taiwan's youth, especially its indigenous youth, nurture a sense of belonging to the Pacific world? Does its original connection with this open world encourage its creativity, its perception of the "resonance" that related stories, music and art forms take throughout this oceanic interchange? Such questions have been shared and debated by more and more people, as Taiwan's quest for meaning and spiritual depthwarcanoes48ONLINE has intensified and evolved during the last ten years or so. The quest for the Pacific connection (a quest often inchoative and ambiguous,) has been part of a shifting Taiwanese identity. Taipei Ricci Institute and Renlai have been actors in such endeavors, and have gathered a wealth of material on Taiwanese indigenous people and Pacific arts and stories, accumulated through filmed interviews, field trips and documentary records of international conferences. Ricci Institute and Renlai have also played a role in the formation of the Taiwan Pacific Studies Association, and have led groups of indigenous youth to Canada and to Fiji. This is how the project of making a documentary revolving around Taiwan's indigenous youth and the Pacific took shape – and this is how I went to the Solomon Islands in the summer of 2012. The timing of our trip coincided with the 11th Pacific Arts Festival that was drawing Pacific islanders from the entirety of the Melanesian and Polynesian worlds. Therefore the experience was twofold: it was an authentic meeting with the Solomon archipelago, and also an encounter with the diversity of cultures and people that together weave into one the Pacific family. And indeed, feelings of diversity and of commonality were continuously intertwined during all the encounters that took place during our time in the Solomon Islands.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013 15:27

Preaching Tenderness

When you are playing Word Association I guess that "Papacy" usually does not trigger the response "Tenderness" - neither does "Tenderness" elicit the word "Papacy"...

Still, "Tenderness" was the central word in the homely pronounced by Pope Francis at his inaugural Mass on March 19. He repeated the theme several times, saying: "We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness! Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!"

Let me say something that will sound strange to many people: I think that Francis has learnt something about tenderness not only in his family and through his whole life (which is obviously the case) but also in St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits... Strange indeed! Most of the time, the Jesuits do not have the reputation to indulge in tenderness. Stern, rigid intellectuals – such goes the cliché even up until this day, and I must confess that sometimes the cliché is not without truth, at least in part... But I have found in many of my brothers a real, discreet and truly delicate tenderness. Let me recall here René-Claude Baud, a big, strong tower of a Jesuit whom I got to know during my noviciate in Lyons – Rene-Claude had spent most of his active life as a caregiver in the emergency room of a hospital, and the delicacy of his presence was a testimony to the humaneness he had fostered while confronted daily by the naked presence of Life and Death.

Ignatius and his first companions had not given to the Jesuits a more precise task than the one of "helping the souls" as they were fond of saying, when the Order was founded, in and around 1530-1540. Early in the history of the Jesuits, this general direction translated into tasks that have been called "ministries of consolation." "To console" was a master word for Ignatius: Console when you preach and confess, when you visit prisoners and sick people, when you reconcile enemies (those were indeed the first missions that the Jesuits embarked upon) and even – yes- when you teach...

There was a spiritual, even mystical foundation to this focus on consolation. The experience that the "Spiritual Exercises" (the spiritual guide for advancing in spiritual life) that Ignatius wanted to nurture was the one of the Consoling Christ, the one who comes to heal our most secret pains and mourning when one progressively opens up to his presence in our heart. When inviting meditation on the Resurrection, Ignatius asks the one doing the Exercises "to consider the office of consoling which Christ our Lord bears, and to compare how friends are accustomed to console friends." Deep, real, overwhelming, often unexpected consolation is indeed what the Spiritual Exercises are meant to bring to the soul. It comes with a refining and an enlargement not of our reason but rather of our emotions. Ignatius himself was a man of emotions, as testified to by his friends, who recalled him sitting on the roof of the Jesuit house in Rome at night and looking at the stars, tears rolling down his cheeks. One of his companions wrote: "From seeing a plant, foliage, a leaf, a flower, any fruit, from the consideration of a little worm or any other animal, he raised himself above the heavens." Tears of consolation were so abundant in Ignatius that he asked for the grace of not experiencing them anymore, fearing for his sight.

For sure, such an inspiration – which was actually very close to the spirit of St Francis of Assisi, a saint most dear to Ignatius – was often betrayed in the history of the Society of Jesus. But it always remained present, at times hidden like a spring under the ground. Pope Francis seems to me to have drawn from the spring, and now shares its water with the whole world. I rejoice deeply that what he is proclaiming first is nothing else than the centrality for life and faith of tenderness, and of heartfelt consolation.

Image source: Wikimedia


Monday, 18 February 2013 11:36

A Pope between Winter and Spring

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has come for most commentators as a big surprise. How can someone in a position of power voluntarily relinquish it? Power and honors exert so strong an attraction on us that we often see political, economic or clerical leaders cling to them till the end of their lives. Therefore, the departure of the Pope comes as a testimony of personal humility: Benedict XVI has recognized publicly the fact that he no longer had the physical strength necessary to carry on. The fact that he made this announcement on the day marked on the Catholic liturgical calendar for praying specially for the sick makes such recognition even more moving. The gesture made by Benedict reminds me of the words addressed by Jesus to Peter: "I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21,18) Let us first admire the courage and clarity of someone able to evaluate what he still can reasonably do or not do. This is certainly a lesson in inner freedom.

But two additional questions were raised when Benedict XVI's resignation was made public. The first one might have troubled many Catholics - though it has been asked also by many people who do not belong to the Church: is not the office of the Pope "something special", something sacred somehow? Did not his predecessor, John-Paul II, and several other popes before him, show another example when they persevered till the end, notwithstanding the burden of their illness? Benedict XVI alluded clearly to this when he said in his declaration that the office of the Pope was not carried on simply by "doing things' but also by prayer and by offering one's sufferings. It is not primarily an administrative office, but a spiritual one as well. Still, he also made it very clear that personal discernment could lead different people to reach different decisions. This Pope, whose style has often been presented as conservative, finished his Pontificate with a revolutionary decision, one that will have a profound impact. A Pope is no longer a "prisoner" of his own status, but rather someone who, like many elderly people nowadays, must cope with an ever evolving health situation: what is the best way to live the remaining years of ones' life? Silence and prayer are indeed an option worth considering. By doing so, the Pope has highlighted the humanity, the frailty of any spiritual leader – and spiritual leaders may show also their leadership in the way they renounce their charge. I personally think that the Pope's decision will help advance towards Christian unity: the Bishop of Rome can peacefully resign when his health compels him to do so, as every other bishop and Church leader does The Pope is not "divine", he is a man who can recognize the moment when someone else must take charge. A humbler vision of the Papacy may help to cement unity around it, as many Protestant leaders have already noted in the past. Relinquishing the "magic" of the Papacy will actually make the Papacy stronger, by highlighting the role it can play for all Christians.

The second question that has been raised is to know whether the Pope resigned because of the crises that have agitated the Catholic Church these last years. It seems that Benedict XVI rather thinks that he has helped the Church to return to the basics, that he has put the house more or less in order, and that he can thus leave without failing his duties. For sure, his pontificate has been a tormented period. May Spring now come on the Church, and may she become able to better listen to the voices coming from Asia, Africa and South America, so as not to be only a house of sorrow but also and foremost of praise and of joy. This is certainly the wish of Benedict XVI himself, and he has certainly sacrificed much of himself in order to allow other people able to harvest one day what he has sown.

Photo by Giuseppe Ruggirello [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Friday, 17 February 2012 00:00

China's Challenges in the Year of the Dragon

Benoît Vermander comments on challenges that China needs to face in 2012, the Year of the Dragon.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011 11:46

The Gift of Attentiveness

At the beginning of a new year, what wish do I want to express for myself and for the people whom I know and love? Let me think… Maybe, you’ll consider my wish to be rather unambitious (but think twice); I just wish all of us to cherish and nurture a tiny little virtue – a virtue often neglected: Attentiveness. Attentiveness to what? Well… to nothing in particular. Pure attentiveness. Attention to anything that may happen, to silence as well as music - to the changes that are occurring within oneself, society, the cosmos… Or, maybe, if such attentiveness is truly to be assigned an object: attention to the current of life that runs within the depth of my inner being.

There are privileged moments when the breeze of the night, the smell of incense or an unexpected moment of solitude will suddenly free us from our occupations. Our social Self is no longer our center. We calmly descend into depths that we had not explored yet, discerning layers of feelings and existence that challenge the way we used to perceive ourselves. This might happen indeed at specific, privileged times, but it is always prepared by long periods of maturing – periods that may have been marked by troubles and sorrow as well as by peace. Things just happen within us because we have been attentive, even if we were not fully conscious of the attentiveness we were exerting. Pure attention is not truly an effort we make - rather it is a state into which we enter. And the abyss of life opens up at some point, so that we may penetrate the inner grottoes, and contemplate the running water that bring us to our Origin.

In keeping with the water metaphor: Looking at the sea from the shore, till the waves have become the very music of our soul, may tell us something about entering pure attentiveness. The peace that comes from our surrendering to the current of life makes the same sound as the waves do. Taken into the interplay between the waves, the sand and the wind, we experience the innermost and outermost of our Being – what is more external to me than the external world, what is more internal to me that my most secret thoughts, all fuse into One…

In the ordinary situations of our life it is often very difficult to sense this secret world that inhabits us. We rather feel prisoners of a courtyard of bricks and mortar, and have to take solace from the rarefied foliage of a lonely tree… Still, Hope helps us to grow in the virtue of attentiveness, so as to make us able to fracture the closed walls of our courtyard. Here is my wish for you, dear readers of Renlai and of eRenlai: in 2012, may you be rewarded of your efforts at patience, hope and attention, so as to experience anew the current of life that runs deep within the universe, within humankind, and within your own souls…

Painting by Bendu


Wednesday, 09 November 2011 11:51

Breathing and Painting

"What I try to paint is the very breathing that makes me paint." This is the way Benoit Vermander introduced his works during the opening of his exhibit at DPARK, Shanghai (November 5-30). The seventy ink and oil paintings gathered in this beautiful location were mainly organized around three topics: faces, birds and forest. But each time, explained Benoit, the underlying element was the breeze - the inner breeze that makes the face change and come anew to the light of the day; the breeze that supports the flight of the bird; the breeze that makes the forest palpitate and become the place where one wishes to wander and lose oneself.

Chinese paintings and oil paintings seemed to be melting into one, as the one and the same breath guides the hand that painted them, beyond differences in techniques and cultural undertones. The breath of the painter became the one inhaled by the visitors who had come to take new strength and inspiration in a show made even more poetic by the large windows of the main exhibit room, opening up on a landscape of high-rise buildings and slowly balancing bamboos....

bendu_shanghai_dpark_02

bendu_shanghai_dpark_03

bendu_shanghai_dpark_04

 


Wednesday, 19 January 2011 14:50

尋求內心的安寧

內心的安寧是,即使我們正經歷著猶如地獄般的情況,心中卻仍存著平靜與和諧。前提是我們對自己誠實自在,並相信我們在人生裡尚有目標要達成。維持這份安寧是人一生的功課。

 


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