The Three Gifts

…We are given mistakes,
we are given nightmares-
and our task is to turn them into poetry.
And were I truly a poet
I would feel that every moment of my life is poetic,
every moment of my life is a kind of clay I have to mould.

 

“The actual poet’s task is true for the poetic spirit in everyone-the work of giving form, expression to everything that happens, thus discovering and revealing meaning, the ‘pattern of the glory,’ discovering that all experiences, light or dark, are stars and take their place in the constellation of wholeness.”

~from the journals of Helen M. Luke.

It is the last week of Epiphany, the festival of Candlemas, when we burn the last candles as a sign of the end of this holy time of inner light. We have been touched by the star of Grace. The three gifts which the Kings brought to the Child are also to given to us, to the “Christ in us.” Each one helps us to make “poetry” out of our experiences.

The first one is gold, the most condensed form of sunlight, pressed into a precious metal. Gold is pure, warm, soft, transparent as a crystal in the New Jerusalem. It once served as a foundation for our currency, and now “waits” perhaps, for our consciousness to catch up with the idea that money is there to cultivate brotherhood, not for greed and accumulation.

Gold has other properties in the human being. It is used in the remedy “boswellia” along with frankincense and myrrh to promote health and wholeness. Rudolf Steiner also says that gold has the same physical relationship to other substances that “thinking the thought of God” has to other thought.

So perhaps with the help of the gift of gold, we can learn to listen to the thought of God.Then there is frankincense, the rising smoke of prayer and offering. Reverence and devotion open out hearts in humility. Devotion is almost a lost quality in our times and yet, it is the first step on the path of spiritual knowledge of any kind.

And the third, and perhaps most obscure gift of the Kings, was myrrh which has to do with healing, preservation and immortality. That which is immortal in us, which will move on into future earth existence, needs strengthening, through recognition. We are destined for eternal life. Our higher selves need to be honored, protected, given space, given utterance! For the higher self is indeed the “poet,” giving meaning to our experiences.

We are not merely victims down in the valley, to which good and many bad things happen, but we are on the mountaintop, watching from above, saying “Aha, there is the pattern, there is the difficulty: how can I be of service? How can I make it whole? Make it poetry?

Thoughts on the New Year

And the one sitting on the throne spoke: See: I am making all things new. And he says: Write: These words are trustworthy and true. And he said to me: It has happened. I AM the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.

—Revelation 21—

More than six hundred years ago, Guillaume de Machaut, whom one could call the first composer of something like modern music, wrote a rather remarkable song for three voices. The text is very simple: In my beginning is my end, and in my end is my beginning. The two upper voices have exactly the same melody, except that the second voice is note for note the reverse of the first. The bass or tenor voice is a melody that goes forward to the middle of the song, and then winds its way back, so that it ends at its beginning. This song became one of the underlying themes for T. S. Eliot’s last great cycle of poems, the Four Quartets. And it is a theme that we can turn to as we look from an old year into a new, as from any ending to an new beginning.

What underlies the poems of T. S. Eliot is the truth that every end is a beginning and vice versa. Every sequence of development leads to a point of culmination. At that point we may leave the sequence behind—for instance, with the words “and they lived happily ever after”—or we must begin a new sequence. And as we follow events, we may begin to be able to form a picture of where in the sequence certain events belong.

To a large extent we imagine things around us at high points of their development. The fairy tale culminates with the wedding. We look at the roses on the altar, and we carry what we see there as our mental image of a rose. Who would imagine a rose that is not in bloom? And yet, most of the time, the rose is not in bloom. Indeed, a flower in bloom is for the plant a transitional stage. The plant does not cease to develop until it produces seeds, and then, especially in the case of the annuals, it withers away, leaving a seed pod which releases its seeds to be scattered on the ground. And there we come to the essential question as we regard the seed: is this an end or a beginning?

We may regard the events of the world in a similar way. Some of them carry qualities primarily of the beginning, germinating seedling. In others we may watch the possibility of growth and the spreading of foliage. There are the great culminating events where we sense that something in long preparation has come to blossom. Then there are those events, which come at the end of a sequence, where we may recognize how the activity has turned to contraction, withering, dying away. But in and around these latter end-events it is especially necessary that we look for the seeds from which new beginnings can spring.

In the past year we have seen world events and events in our lives which bear all of these characteristics. A great deal of our focus will have been on those events which are endings—endings involving destruction of one kind or another. In such situations it is all too easy to fall into a justification of quid pro quo, and the destruction becomes more widespread and universal. Or one can retreat into a protective position, attempting to preserve what is inevitably falling away. What is helpful to remember is that when something is destroyed, a space is created. The question can then be asked: what new thing can be built in that space?

Those of us with a more optimistic disposition may well turn to other great events. In some we may think to recognize a possibility for new beginnings. But we must be all the more concerned—are not many of those events like the roses in bloom on the altar? They have been years in preparation; many people have worked and sacrificed to bring about the conditions for such a moment. But a flower preserved has not completed its cycle; to be truly a flower means to wither away and scatter its seeds so that in the future more flowers may bloom. Perhaps we may even realize that some of the spaces opened up by the catastrophes we have experienced are the spaces to be filled by those future flowers.

Underlying all of these ends and beginnings—as both Guillaume de Machaut and T.S. Eliot well knew—is the alpha and the omega, the first and last of the letters of the alphabet of sounds from which all words are formed. At every moment, now and always, he is taking up the substance we are producing, errors and all, and transforming it into the substance from which he can make all things new. I can think of no better awareness to accompany us out of the year which is ending into the one which is beginning.

 

The Root of Fear [i]

After Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, …the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”[ii] Later we read: Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden … and … stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.[iii]

Being afraid is the very first human emotion the Bible explicitly mentions. It appears immediately when the ‘Fall’ into the world of sense-experience is initiated by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. In the biblical account, fear appears to be joined with all that we experience in the earthly world. This description of fear is coupled with God’s first question to the ‘fallen’ human being, “Where are you?” Notice that the question is not answered. The man only says, I hid myself, seemingly not knowing where or who he is and thus being afraid. Jewish legend refers to “naked” as the loss of the “cloud of glory,” [the sheaths of auric light] that surrounded the human being before the Fall. [iv]

The original fear led to hiding to avoid being “seen,” that is, being known in the “fallen” state. Since the way back into the garden was blocked, this leads us to consider that our state of being alienated from both our true being and the divine world, as well as being mortal, arose out of divine intention.

Obviously, this original fear originated earlier and lies deeper than any of the fears we normally experience in today’s life.

[i] Most of this article’s content is based upon statements about fear that were made by Rudolf Steiner. Most of the translations of his remarks are my own. Bible passages are from the New American Standard Version, but in places indicated with [ ] I have substituted my own renderings. Quotations or paraphrases from Rudolf Steiner are referenced by the volume of the ‘Gesamtausgabe’ (GA) or collected works. All quotations are given in italics.

[ii] Gn 3:9 – 11.

[iii] Gn 3:22 – 24.

[iv] L. Ginzberg. Legends of the Bible, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia & Jerusalem, 1992, 647 pp.

 

Read the entire article here.

The Periodic Table and Christianity

The Periodic Table and Christianity: Patterns in the Universe and in Human Lives

When God made the universe and the human race he used many of the same patterns for both. The physical universe in which we live came from the spiritual world in a series of steps. Using heat, pressure and a great deal of time, the angels formed the 92 naturally occurring elements crystallizing spirit into matter. They began with hydrogen, a substance so light that it rises up through the atmosphere toward the stars whenever it is left alone by itself. So close to the spirit, just barely matter, it seems to want to go home back to the spiritual world. However, hydrogen is needed here to keep the earth from becoming too hard, too dense too fast. Usually it is bound up with other elements. Water, for example is made of two atoms of hydrogen tightly hugging one atom of oxygen, which only feels complete in their embrace: H2O. Without hydrogen we would have no water, no life on earth.

Scientists over the last 200 years have identified the 92 basic elements, as well as the complex patterns found in their interactions with one another.

The result of all that research is known as the Periodic Table, an arrangement that assigns numbers one (hydrogen) through 92 (uranium) to the naturally occurring elements and reveals an amazing array of patterns. The simplest pattern shown is size and weight: during creation every element appears to have arrived out of the spiritual world bigger and heavier (and often denser) than the preceding element. This is reflected in the periodic table in the “atomic weights” attached to each element. Scientists arbitrarily assigned the first element, hydrogen, an “atomic weight” of one. Each succeeding element has been “weighed” and then assigned a number to express its own atomic weight.

These weights are measured as multiples of hydrogen’s number one. Helium is twice as heavy as hydrogen and yet will still rise up through the air because it is lighter than air. Oxygen (the 8th element) for example is 16 times heavier than hydrogen, nitrogen (the 7th element) 14 times heavier.

At first the ability to react and combine with other elements increases very quickly and each new element is very different from the last: nitrogen (7) follows carbon (6), chlorine (17) follows sulfur (16) while aluminum, silicon and phosphorus are element numbers 13, 14, 15. Each new element brings something radically new making the world much richer and far more interesting. However, as the elements become heavier, they become increasingly similar to the preceding element. For example, iron (26), cobalt (27) and nickel (28) are very similar, though not identical. They are strong, sometimes brittle, metals with atomic weights of 56, 59 and 59. Already they are approximately 59 times heavier than hydrogen.

A pattern very similar to this is seen also in human lives: as a human soul is descending into the earthly realm the first 20 or 30 years are usually very different from each other, bringing new and interesting experiences that enrich and enliven one’s biography. Often thereafter questions of professional life, domestic situation and circle of friends become so settled that, in retrospect, the years become very similar, even blending into one another. Then heaviness can set in.

In the periodic table, by the time we get to elements numbered 57 (Lanthanum) through 71 (Lutetium) we are in a world of deadly monotony.

These elements, sometimes called rare earth elements (although not all are rare) are so similar in appearance, chemistry and physical properties that they are nearly impossible to separate from one another. Hence, their discovery and identification extended well into the 20th century. It can appear as if each new element were merely a repeat of the previous. Even though the elements numbered beyond 71 occasionally display very different characteristics, for example, gold (79), mercury (80) and lead (82), which has an atomic weight of 207, nevertheless, heaviness, density and repetition are the rule.

Then something entirely new and unexpected enters the picture, an impulse that could not have been predicted from what had gone before. The last naturally occurring element, Uranium (92), 238 times heavier than hydrogen, displays best this new phenomenon. There is a natural limit to how densely matter can crystalize. When earthly matter becomes too heavy, too dense, it begins to fall apart and “dis-integrate” from within the very core of the atom, the nucleus. Atomic radiation is given off: gamma rays, alpha and beta particles.

This radiation is deadly to life. Radioactivity leads to death which is the end of the road for matter, and the death of matter means the end of earthly life.

Death is not simply the opposite of life; it is a force that destroys life. The opposite of death is resurrection, the power to wrest life from death. In the world of earthly matter there is no power to resurrect. Like matter itself that power comes from the world of spirit. But it can only come through human beings. We have the task of overcoming the death of matter. As Paul said, all creation awaits redemption; this includes the very atoms of matter.

How are we to do this? We can only begin by overcoming death in all its forms in our own lives. The same pattern seen in spirit’s descent into matter is seen in our lives. Once we have passed through the adventures and transformations of youth, we must face increasing seriousness in our lives. The heaviness of karma, the weight of our personal obligations and the dark threat of life’s dreary repetitions can depress and discourage us. We sometimes even fear that matter’s destiny could be ours: disintegration. These difficulties are the consequence of our living in a universe made of matter.

However, the advantages of living in such a universe are even greater: we are free to think, feel and act as we see fit. In this, our freedom, we can think and question; we can wake up to the gifts, abilities and powers that are ours by virtue of being human beings. Fundamentally, we can inquire as to the meaning of life, the meaning of our own personal lives. We are free to think of, and long for, the virtues and human qualities that give life meaning: goodness, beauty, courage, faithfulness, honesty, hope, integrity, persistence, forgiveness, compassion, purity, self-restrain, sacrifice and, most importantly, love, which we can learn only in freedom. Longing for these virtues with clarity, which means thinking them in full consciousness, is actually another way to describe prayer. We are praying when we deeply long to do better, to help others and to improve ourselves.

When we pray again and again, that is, repetitively, something entirely new can come into our lives that could not have been predicted from what has gone before. Christ’s strength and spiritual light will enter our souls; this is the strength to carry and transform the burdens of our lives. Christ does not free us from the weight of the world by magically lifting us out of the world of matter and back into the world of spirit. He came to earth; he took on the weight of an earthly body to bring the power of resurrection to earthly matter. Salvation is not from the weight of our burdens and the earth; Salvation is transformation of the earth through us; in doing so we ourselves are healed as the weight of our burdens becomes less and less.

God could only help by becoming a human being. That is because we human beings are the only spiritual beings possessing consciousness of self, who actually live in this world of matter; matter permeates the essence of our physical bodies. That is why the power of resurrection began in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. With Christ’ power in our souls we can, with time and prayer, overcome the death in our soul and then resurrect this world whose natural fate would otherwise be the death of matter.

The new impulse that enters our lives is not disintegration, as with matter, but integration. The dark, all too human, corners of our soul are integrated with our higher self, which is carried by Christ. His transforming light streams into our souls, and thus into our bodies, bearing our true self; that self then can truly say, “Not I, but Christ in me.” Thus integrated we become an “integer,” a wholeness possessing integrity. Together with Christ we can then help to carry and transform the weight of the world.

Christianity

The earth is not our home. Our true home is in the heavens, a picture for the spiritual world. The earth is our school. We come to earth to learn to love, to learn selflessness. Paradoxically, the more powerful a human self becomes, the greater is his or her power to do good through selflessness.

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The Face of God and the Dragon in Our Consciousness

The presence of the soul is no where more powerfully to be found than in the miracle of the human face.

Think of someone, someone important to you, someone you love. When we do this, what is it that appears before our mind’s eye? The answer will always be: the face of our loved one. The face, the countenance, is that physical part of someone that most manifests their soul, their inner being. In their eyes, their mouth, their subtle movements of eyebrow and chin, whole inner worlds of feeling and experience are revealed. No shoulder, elbow or knee cap will ever reveal to us what a smile or a raised eyebrow can. The inner world of the soul is revealed in the landscape of the human face and the inner essence of a being shines out of their eyes. The face is the one part of our visible, physical body that most reveals the invisible, spiritual being.

In searching for the inner essence of the divine, the invisible reality of God’s being, where, on the great body of the world, can we look? Where can we turn out gaze to discover the countenance of the divine? Read More

Reflections on InPower

The InPower International Youth Conference was held in Spring Valley, NY, this past June. 

The weeks following an event can feel either like I’m soaring, mourning or some combination of the two. I experienced neither after InPower. I have felt in myself and those friends around me, a serenity, calm strength and joy. The conference seems to reverberate in the way the world appears to me now. The possibility of approaching our lives out of hope and confidence has left the trees shining and the future possible. A group of people can take something on in a week spent with one another, and this particular group of 80 fresh and earnest people took responsibility for something much larger than their own lives. The capacities bursting from each room we inhabited promised that we are as brave as the world needs us to be. Feeling supported by those next to us, led by those in front of us, and nudged by those behind us, we found ways to discover something new within ourselves – maybe something scary and needing of attention. An ability to face ourselves clearly and with love enabled the possibility to approach the world’s struggles with an equal clarity and abounding love. We desired an introduction to moral development in order to accomplish transformational work in the world. We honestly tried to do that, and we watched it happen. I believe we created something we could call goodness, within us and around us.

Written by Abigail Dancey, one of the conference organizers.

Sunday’s Massacre and Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Life

The caterpillar becomes the butterfly, Jesus becomes the Risen Christ, that which is bound to earth transforms so that it can live in the heavens. And yet, as Jesus must go through suffering to become new, the butterfly must awaken out of the pain of the cocoon. 

Each human heart is also a cocoon meant to become a butterfly in us, meant to become something heavenly in us. For the Christ in us is not something that is simply there, something static. The Christ in us must be awakened again and again out of the painful cocoon of our hearts. 

For pain rules this world. Is this not so? All around us there is more and more hate, anger, egotism; unbelievable acts of violence and deception. We just have to think of Columbine, Universal surveillance, economic hit men or yesterday’s tragic massacre in Gaza, and we can see, evil holds sway in this world.

But there is another world, a heavenly world, to which our hearts belong.

But this other world, which is called The kingdom of heaven, is not an afterlife reward for those who follow the rules; The kingdom of heaven is here, with us, intertwined with this evil, intertwined with the world of power and pain. They live together, because evil is the hard cocoon of His kingdom which we must bring to life if we are to see its wings.

The kingdom of heaven is brought to life when a Palestinian father whose daughters are murdered breaks through the cocoon of his hate and pain and forgives.

The kingdom of heaven is brought to life when an Israeli breaks through the mental cocoon-like prison that killing is justified if it is defensive and is transformed through deep compassion for the oppressed.  

The kingdom of heaven is brought to life when the slave finds a new strength and freedom in and through the cocoon of his oppressive suffering.

The kingdom of heaven is brought to life whenever human souls use their suffering and pain as a cocoon to become more loving, more compassionate, grace-filled. 

For the Christ in you is powerless love born from a wound.

Christ’s Fragrance Fills Our Cracks

This contemplation was inspired from John 16.

There is, in our time, a fascination with perfection. We long for the problem-less life, the cushy job, the perfect partner. We long for the safe painless world where are children never have to suffer. Even in our spiritual life, we are so easily lured to think that by attaining to our true self we will have no more pain, no weakness. For there is a powerful part in all of us that longs to be the superman, with special powers, with no pain, all our problems transcended, above the muck and mire.

And yet, within each human being, there is something imperfect, unwell, brokenhearted. We know this part of ourselves intimately because of how traumatic life is. And our brokenness is not illusion. The cracks are real. This is so because the cracks are how the light is to shine in…

During The Act of Consecration, smoke rises up from the altar. And even though the smoke begins at the altar, it eventually fills the whole chapel, envelopes our broken-hearts, permeates the cracks with its fragrance…

The secret of Ascension, which we celebrate this week, is that the Christ’s being too rises up, like the smoke at the altar, but He doesn’t abandon us, He fills the whole earth with His being, permeating our imperfect humanity, enveloping our broken world.

Dear friends, Ascension shows us that Christian perfection is not this world’s idea of perfection. Christ did not come to make us into superheros. He came to envelop our cracks, to bear us with our pain.

For Christ’s touch gives us…
the strength to walk with our broken-hearts,
the faith that there is meaning in this imperfect world; the compassion to love what is sick.

May His fragrance fill us!

Turning Suffering Into a Pearl

The oyster is an amazing being! For they hold within themselves a secret – the secret of how suffering can be useful – of how the pearl comes into being. First, sand gets caught between the shell and the membrane of the oyster, irritating it. The oyster responds to the irritant by giving it something. And little by little, this substance, called mother of pearl, that the oyster gives to the irritant, becomes the pearl.

From time to time, for each and every one of us, certain irritants also get caught in our shells. Read More