Anders Laugesen - Interview


Anders Laugesen – Radio host (“Mennesker og Tro”), "People and Faith", Danish National Radio, active in numerous dialogue forums on Christianity and spirituality inside and outside the Lutheran Danish church.

NV: Why is it that we need a contemplative “folk high school”. Why combine the two traditions??

Well exactly! When the folk high school is at its best, it is deeply contemporary. This has really been its hallmark in an interesting way, all the way back to its 19th century roots where it helped create the historical awareness and style of shared political discussion we have now. And right now we live in a time where the contemplative is becoming necessary for the human integration, because it can make it possible to shape and to experience the necessary future changes as changes for the better. The contemplative is simply a necessity, a necessary part of what it will mean in the future to be a “life-competent” human being and citizen. Therefore, it is natural for a folk high school now, to take the contemplative into focus. Not the contemplative as a specific religious movement’s type of awakening – a kind of movement we have already had many times – but the contemplative life itself, nourished and shared.

I think it is a fantastic initiative. Showing the contemplative as a basic outlook and approach to life is deeply resonant with some of the core themes of the folk high school:

Curiosity about life both outside and on the inside of oneself. Such a curiosity is deeply involved in learning about living, being a “life-competent” citizen, isn’t it? Again, of course the idea is that life competence must relate to challenges on the outside as well as the inside – they are deeply connected.
Creativity – which has also been a main expression of the folk high school. We need to find where the sources of creativity are, how we can use the contact with the inner, the journey within, to inspire the impulse to be creative.
Community – to realize that when we are something more together, brotherhood, fellowship… it is not about just marching in the same direction, but about a resonance of hearts. That is, when Grundtvig (founder of the folk high school movement) talked about community, it was to a large extent a community built on a deep resonance. A deep resonance of cordiality. Resonating brotherhood of hearts. And we know this can fostered by the contemplative.
The poetic dimension is also something we shouldn’t forget – the “poetic-historical” approach that is so fundamental to the folk high school. You could say that the poetic space is an inner space that is lit and is kindled in contemplation. A contemplative folk high school can help sharpen the perception of poetry…

….It lies in the heart of the Nordic folk high school movement to be on the move. It has always been on its way. I think a contemplative summer institute is a natural, timely and potentially very lively new branch on this big old tree…

So a lot of things connect very well, between the “old” folk high school and the “new” contemplative culture. Also, it lies in the lifeblood of the folk high school to be always renewing itself. It is always on its way, the folk high school movement has always been on its way. I think a contemplative folk high school is a natural, timely and potentially very lively new branch on this big old tree.

NV:  I know we agree that it is very fortunate that the contemplative, as a mentality or “form of spirit” is softly finding its way, in many forms, into many aspects of life in our time. But then it also seems, in many places, to become restricted by being patented or made into package deals – maybe this is why it needs a new kind of more open forum?

Yes exactly, that is what it needs. And what the folk high school has been really good at, throughout its history, is to make things available to the whole community, not just the elite. We have taken important things in the spirit of the time and lifted them, made them shared property and heritage, transcending social groups and other groups. This is the real and full meaning of “folk” in the context. The contemplative folk high school has the important potential of broadening, deepening and qualifying a new “folk” tradition of the contemplative  – a shared or “folk” tradition, in the best sense of the word. I believe this is a very real and important potential.

NV: Lastly, perhaps we can tune in on what you might particularly like to bring into such a contemplative folk high school. That is, what could be a kind of course or theme that you would  find it interesting to join us in teaching or facilitating?

One thing – it just jumps to my mind that yesterday Sara and I played with the idea of what might be called “mindful hymn singing” – I don’t think we’ve used that word before. In a way, being aware of what language does when it unfolds itself in depth. Of course, it could be with many other songs than traditional church hymns as well. But to play with actually becoming awake with the poetic process of language, while singing. Perhaps this is a whole new field, something we could explore together, right?

NV: Yes, contemplative singing! And it would be very exciting to do it together with David Hykes.

Yes, exactly! But apart from that, what I would basically like to contribute with is explorations and interpretations of what the language of the heart is. Because the language of the heart, as the commonness that binds us together – the true “folk” connection, if you like —  is a connecting thread in the history of the folk high school, right? I think we can give a new interpretation of that, of the meaning of the language of the heart, by seeing it in the light of contemplation and contemplative practice.

NV: well, great! And surprising. I had actually thought this interview would manly be about East-West dialogue – the kind of cross-cultural or global spirituality the two of us have been offering workshops about before. But we can still cover that elsewhere in the seminars and on the website. Perhaps we don’t need to mention it here.

Yes – let’s take that part in here, as well! Regarding East-West dialogue you could say that the folk high school – with its historical awareness and poetic narrativity – has played a central role in developing “education” in the fullest sense, “Bildung“ (“dannelse” in Danish). And the full human education needed today is globalized, isn’t it? It is no longer enough to talk about the grand European narratives. We have to talk about what stretches further out, throughout a complex global reality, right? So there is a natural and necessary extension of the good old “Bildung” project, in creating a genuine understanding between East and West  – an understanding rooted in the best spiritual core values of the cultures.