Traveling Companions - Contributions from others

Photo courtesy of Johannes Falk at MySpace

An Interview with Johannes Falk

Johannes, you stayed at a monastery recently.  Why did you want to go there?

I wanted to reflect on the past year, and I wanted a quiet place where I could think about the coming year.

Was that a good experience?

Yes, it was.  I liked the ordered prayer times and the liturgy.  It's completely different from the kind of church I grew up in. 

Would you say that you've always been on a pilgrimage - during your entire lifetime?

Yes, and I still am.  I grew up in a Christian family.  Faith was always an important part of our everyday lives.  I'm always finding myself thinking about God and faith issues, and I think that will be the case until the day I die.

Is there a difference between a pilgrim and another person?  You said in an interview elsewhere that every human being is on a pilgrimage.

Yes.  The picture fits everyone.  We were all born under different circumstances, but the older we all get, the more our perceptions of life change. We are constantly in the process of abandoning certain habits and relationships and forming new ones.  Our life is one of constant leave-taking, and that is an important part of the pilgrim experience.   We are all on a journey, coming from somewhere, going somewhere.  We go to bed, get up the next day and are on the road again.

In another interview, you mentioned the importance of having a goal as part of a pilgrimage.   Do you think that most people have a conscious goal in life?

It may be unconscious, but I think we do all have goals, nevertheless.  In every life, at some point we come face to face with our mortality.  We realize that there must be more to life than simply living and dying.  I think we all have an inner need to think about this.  The question is simply, at which point do we begin thinking about our mortality?  Also, in which circumstances do we start thinking about these things?  I think we're programmed to reflect on these things.

What do you think about the dead-end streets and the traps we encounter while on our journey?

Well, they're certainly a part of life.  Also the one-way streets.  The question is, how do we deal with these things when we find ourselves there?  Do I stay stuck and try to break down a wall that can't be broken, or do I accept the situation and walk back to where I went wrong, in order to get onto the right track again?  That differs from person to person and the way we're all made.  We differ in how prepared we are to realize when we've been going the wrong way, to pick up our backpacks and head back to where we went wrong.  I think this ability is becoming more and rare, especially when you look at some of the politicians in the German news these days.  These people are our examples, the ones we look up to, and yet they are making mistakes that they refuse to acknowledge.  They seem to be incapable of saying, "I've certainly dumped a load of shit on my country.  I'm very sorry about that, and I apologize."

You read the book by John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress.  How did you happen to discover this book?

It was a coincidence.  I knew that my mother had the book, and I also saw it at my grandfather's, and actually read it when I was about twelve or thirteen.  But I couldn't make much sense of it at that time.  Then, I came upon it again, about three years ago, when I was visiting a friend.  I saw it in her bookshelf.  She lent it to me and I then read it again.

Have others read the book since you made the CD with the same title? (Pilgerreise can also be translated as "Pilgrim's Progress".)

Yes.  I've received emails from several people who told me they had listened to my CD and then read the book afterwards.  People who listen to my CD are usually young people who aren't familiar with the way this book was interpreted in previous generations.  They read it in a more unprejudiced mindset, not as a dogmatic, theological treatise.

I can't imagine most people your age being motivated to read such a book.  What was your motivation?

It was purely coincidental.  After I started reading it, I saw it in an entirely new light.  The theological metaphors that I had previously internalized suddenly took on a new meaning.  With the difference of these few years, I saw it completely differently, and interpreted it differently.  After reading only a few pages, I already had ideas for song lyrics and an outline of how I could make an entire project out of this.  I didn't need to motivate myself - I was absolutely inspired - in picking it up, and in the ideas that followed.

Did you find any correlation in the book to your own life?

I think there are lots of parallels here.  I think everyone would find parallels to their own life in this book.  It is authentic - true to life.  In this book there are all the ups and downs of real life.  It describes the normal human existence - with all the questions about truth, happiness and life after death.  I find it really true to life.

You were on a pilgrimage from Fulda to Thüringen (both are in Germany).  What made you decide to go on a real-life pilgrimage?

I wanted to see what it is like to be physically on a pilgrimage.  First of all, I was consumed with the subject anyway, as an allegory with music, but I wanted to experience it all for myself - the silence, with having a physical goal to reach, and with moving from one spot to the next.

You came into contact with people from all sorts of backrounds in faith.

That's right.  There were Protestants from the State Church, Catholics, Baptists, teachers were there too.  It was really an interesting mixture of people.

Did it broaden your horizon?


Did the pilgrimage change you in any other ways?

It influenced my entire relationship with God.  If you grow up as I did, in a confined Protestant (evangelical) context, it's a bit narrow.  For example, there's the things I had always heard about liturgy.  Before, I had always thought of liturgy as - well, I didn't exactly despise it, but I certainly didn't see it as anything particularly important or relevant.  I'm modern, I thought - and so I saw liturgy as somethig old-fashioned, dusty and traditional.  But here on the pilgrimage, in contact with others, I gave myself over to the liturgy I heard in church services.  I was able to experience the deep meaning in the liturgy, and to see that people who consciously identify with it, do it with utter sincerity.  Who am I then, to judge such people and say, "That's a load of crap.  We're the ones who do it right."

Is a pilgrimage something different for you than a vacation trip?

Absolutely.  I go on vacation with friends and family.  On the pilgrimage, I met the rest of the group entirely on my own.  I didn't know any of these people beforehand.  And I was alone a lot during the pilgrimage.  Then, on a pilgrimage you deny yourself lots of things you wouldn't think twice about otherwise.  There are rules on a pilgrimage.  For instance, you can't have anything along that could entertain you or distract you.  Computers and cell phones aren't allowed.  You simply leave the world behind for a week.  We only got one cup of coffee in the mornings.  We had no alcohol, no ice cream or cola, no cigarettes, no wine or beer.

How long was this pilgrimage?

Seven days.

You said, a pilgrimage is a journey with a goal.  What is your goal?

You mean now?  In my everyday life?


My next goal is my second CD.  I'm in the process of writing songs right now. 

Do have any idea of which direction your CD is heading?

It will be about my relationship with God and my questions about faith.  It won't be what you'd call a "worship" CD, but rather, as in "Pilgerreise", an album that is concerned with personal questions and doubts that come up in a relationship with God.

I heard some people commenting about your "Pilgerreise" CD.  One said he felt it was lacking a really positive statement.  For him it needed a louder proclamation of faith.  Someone else said, the CD has so many questions and comparatively few answers.

Of course you can't fulfill everybody's wishes when you make a CD.  Everyone has some idea of what they are looking for in a CD.  But I didn't make this CD for Christians only - I wanted it to be a CD that would touch all sorts of people.  If Christians think they've found all the answers, and everything is crystal clear for them...Actually, I wrote this CD as a sort of concert that begins with a question, but there are plenty of answers in the CD as well.  For instance, what I said in my song "Auf nie mehr Wiedersehen"  ("Until we never meet again") - it is all about the crucified and resurrected Christ.  If that is no answer, then I don't know what they're talking about. I often hear this kind of thing from Christians who think you just can't be pious enough.

I think those kinds of people don't want questions - they only want answers.

Yes, exactly.  But I have questions for God.  I also have a good relationship with him, and I certainly wouldn't want to be without it, but the questions are still there, I have to say.  I have questions about the things God does.  I've got lots of questions about life.  But that doesn't change the fact that God is still my hope in life. 

Can you say anything about hindrances or peak experiences on your life journey?

I think everybody is down in the pits sometimes.  As I began to grow up, I couldn't find a way to relate to God because everything was so "religious", so traditional.  God was for me someone who was always watching, someone who would punish me immediately if I ever did something wrong.  Such was my upbringing.

I think of you as a serious person.  Do people ever make fun of you for that?

Actually, I think I've got a good sense of humor and I'm basically a person with a healthy love of life.  But, it's true, I do think about serious topics.  I've never been made fun of for that.

You sing in your song "Auf nie mehr wiedersehen" (Until We Never Meet Again), "He gave his life for me...he healed me with his wounds."  How does Jesus make a difference in your life?

That text comes from the Bible in Isaiah 53.  This passage is a key passage because it shows that the pinnacle of everything was reached there, at the cross.  This passage shows that all the suffering of this world goes through his death, and that through his death we have been healed, made whole.

I know people who are just as serious and sincere as I, on their own pilgrimage through life, but Jesus is no conscious presence in their lives.  Nevertheless, similar things happen to them as to me, and they have similar insights.  That's puzzling to me.

Well, of course that's puzzling to me too, because I don't know these people, and I don't know what's going on in their lives.  For me, though, Jesus is the central figure of my life.  Everything has to do with the God who became human.  We can't get around that fact, either.  Jesus is so important for me, partly because he took an awful lot of pressure off of theology and tradition.  He took the pressure out of the Old Testament, and did away with legalism, with having to live by rules.  The things he said in the Gospels - in the Sermon on the Mount, for example - are central to me.  I find that Jesus shows me the way I truly am.  But he also turned so many traditions of his day on their head.  When I look at Jesus, it calms me down considerably.  Looking at him helps me to look at my own goals with a peaceful attitude.

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading a book by Richard Daniel Precht, a young philosoper from Cologne and Luxembourg - Wer bin ich, und wenn ja, wie viele?  (Who Am I, and If Yes, How Many?).    It's a witty philosophical book about the ego, about human beings, their ability to check reality, and the search for God.

Did you bring it with you to the monastery?

I bought it after my stay there, in the train station.

Are your trips to and from your gigs also a part of your pilgrimage?

For sure, as far as they have to do with my relationship with God.  I use the time while traveling to stay in touch with God - to speak, to pray.  Yes - I spend the time traveling with God.

Thank you!

You're welcome. 

This interview was conducted by telephone in German with Noreen Nanz on January 16, 2012, and translated into English by Noreen Nanz.  

1 comment:

barbara schreiber said...

I found this interview very inspiring, honest and uplifting.
And I like Johannes Falk's voice and lyrics - I often listen to his CD whilst painting.