At the Mennonites we’re having a series of sermons on values, based on a list made by Noel Moules of Workshop and Peace School, a mentor for many in the church. Today’s was supposed to be on patience, but the preacher chose to concentrate instead on a German word which many have encountered through the film Witness, when the Amish used the word: Gelassenheit. It’s almost untranslatable – in fact he said that it took 14 English words to tranlate it. He chose to render it as ‘let-go-ness’, though it could also be ‘let-be-ness’. Serenity, surrender, even being relaxed, would be other ways to suggest its meaning.
I used the word in a poem once, and it’s something I aspire to, not with a great deal of success, it has to be said. It was a concept popular with the early Anabaptists, not least because, being at constant risk of arrest, torture and death, they had to learn to live without anxiety. It could be a really useful value, or virtue, for the parent of a child with special needs to cultivate – not to mention for a long term depressive.
So how does one achieve ‘Gelassenheit’? I suspect it’s not something one achieves at all; rather, it’s a gift for which we have to ask God. But certain practices, such as living in the moment and not constantly thinking of the next thing, could help to foster it. I have been thinking lately that on the path to practising the presence of God, the first step is practising the presence of oneself: being truly present to the world in each moment, not always mentally or emotionally somewhere else. Perhaps that’s a step towards Gelassenheit too.