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Outer Works, Inner Deeds

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

-Ozymandias by Percy Shelley

 

Shelley wrote Ozymandias as a meditation on the transience of human achievement and power. He referred to an antique land, but knew that his own time and ‘land’ would soon be antique, just as every epoch must become. His particular time saw huge technological advances in industry. Since then, time has marched on. Shelley’s time is already for us an ‘antique land’.

The Romantics sank into melancholy when they pondered the ephemeral vista of human existence and achievement (‘that colossal wreck, boundless and bare’). But it also inspired them to revolution and the fiery will to change. They easily saw through the artifice of established beliefs and philosophies. They saw the certainty with which empires ruled, the opportunity for success and wealth that industrialism presented, the complacent dogmas of worldly religions, and they scorned them. They knew that nothing would remain of such ozymandian works.

Shelley famously wrote in his A Defence of Poetry that it was poets and artists who were the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’. This meant that the creative processes of artists were the real life of the world—not the sham dogmas, politics, and works of institutions, or the limited paradigms of current thinking. No, it was the creating principle that bore and ordered the world’s life—the Son-God principle. In this sense, the Romantics were the true Christians of their time.

It was not human works that were important, but the creating, the working from Christ that was essential.

The Romantic philosophy rejected the materialistic rationalism of the Enlightenment. Out of it came the tender shoots of Coleridge’s philosophical musings on the power of imagination as a spiritual force. In central Europe, Goethe quietly developed a human-centered form of science, beyond the limits of materialism.

Their ‘works’ too have almost disappeared from human culture—but not quite. They have continued to flow as a source of life for the human spirit in the modern world, a world which is full of the ‘lifeless things’ of which Shelley writes the empty and crumbling edifices of much of our mainstream culture. One might say that modern culture is like the pedestal that Shelley describes. It boasts much, but there is nothing actually there.

The central lines that I would like to concentrate upon here are those of the long-forgotten King Ozymandias: Look on my Works, Ye Mighty, and despair. These words resound in an otherwise dead landscape.

They are narcissistic words, of a soul caught up in itself. The words return, empty, to themselves. They eradicate life around them. They offer no way forward. Nothing can live when such words are spoken. The ‘lone and level sands’ are testimony to that.

What if we were to say, ‘Look on my Works’? What would we refer to if we did so? What body of work could we point to? Would we perceive some coherence in its patterns? If we addressed it to ‘Ye Mighty’ then we would not mean the ephemeral might of earthly sovereigns, but perhaps the spiritual world. Would they despair? Only at our myopia and hubris.

All of our works eventually recede in memory. Everything that we do is swallowed up into life. Our successes and our failures, our originality and genius, our sufferings and torments. We pour ourselves into life— and eventually we are poured out and emptied. Everything passes, and quiet inevitably descends upon even the most cacophonous of lives. Paradoxically, the transience of human existence is intransient.

Our external works will all pass away. But that which lived in the soul, as we ‘worked’, that will surely remain. Did we work with joy, love, imagination, freedom? Were we ‘working from Christ?’ I would like to draw a clear distinction here between two aspects of human working. Let us call them ‘works’ and ‘deeds’. ‘Works’ are everything that we put out into the world. They are the sum of all our outer activity. One may think of a ‘body of works’; also our daily work and livelihoods. All of this will be no more, just as the everyday life of ancient Egyptians in their ‘antique land’ is lost to us. Work is subject to the forces of transience and will pass away when ‘heaven and earth pass away’.

Let us call ‘deed’ that which lives in our work. This is not what we did, but how we did our work. Deed is the mood and gesture of our activity. It is the manner in which we applied our will. ‘Deed’ is the enduring life of the will. ‘When heaven and earth pass away, my words remain’. Such are our deeds, like words spoken into the eternal. It is the deed which gives meaning to our work.

Our work will not remain. But our deeds do. Our will is inscribed through our deeds, however slightly, into the earth. In the 8th chapter of St. John, there is the scene of the woman caught committing adultery. This scene captures the imagination almost like no other, because something powerful happens here: Christ inscribes his will into the earth. A deed is written into it. The quiet deed causes the extraordinary turnabout. What remains is an unforgettable picture, sublime, simple and profound.

There is a moment (in our service) towards the end of the Transubstantiation where we acknowledge that before the Father God, we can do no works. Without wishing to pin down an interpretation, or take it out of the context of the living liturgy, it may be helpful to consider a perspective on this.

Our ‘works’ often have an egotistical character. We invest so much in our earthly works that we can become proud of them. We want to bring something good into the world. But inevitably, there is a degree of self-gratification involved. And there is also the intractable web of karma that we become further entangled in, when we bring our work into the world.

What the Act of Consecration asks us to concentrate on again and again is not our work, but our ‘offering’. This is the will-life at its most religious. ‘Offering’ is more inward, more spiritual than our ‘work’. Everything that is true and serving in our works—our will’s deeds— has an offering gesture; and this is what can flow onwards and evolve through all cycles of time yet to come. At the very beginning of the Act of Consecration, we invoke our own powers to be mindful of the deed of Christ; that is, to enter into the mood of sacrifice that concentrates around the mystery of Golgotha, not the external events of ‘the life of Christ’ and Golgotha. And so we come to the crux of our existence. For it is not our works upon which the Mighty (‘Before You…’) should look, but our deeds. And we hear soon enough what the inner dynamic of these deeds is: the overcoming of sin.

This is what we would do. This is the mystery and deepest desire of our will. What lives in our will is a desire to overcome sin. Sin sunders our Self from itself. It has a deathly grip on the human being, causing a sickness unto death in our being itself. All our works should be directed to this purpose: joining with the deed of Christ that overcame death—and thereby also overcame the dynamics of sin.

Let us return to the scene in John 8. The death of the ‘adulteress’* was practically inevitable. This is because she was ensnared in sin. In this sense, whatever her ‘crime’ was, is irrelevant. Her fundamental tragedy (her sin), is that she is sundered from her true self; she is living inauthentically. She is caught in externals (‘works’) and is sundered from her will—God’s will. And it soon becomes clear to her accusers that they all share in this ensnarement—and they are not alone in this: we are all in the same boat.

It was no longer enough merely to keep the Law. Our outer works could do that. But now it was being shown that the Law had been covering a deep underlying sickness. Christ’s sojourn on earth provided a diagnosis of this sickness. The deed on Golgotha begins the healing process.

Faced with the accusers, Jesus doesn’t try to reason with the mob, which would catch him in their intended trap. Instead, he allows the Christ in him to work. He is working from Christ. Externally, he does little—outwardly a few words are spoken and the hand writes into the dust. But this allows Christ’s will to work all the more powerfully. Jesus makes himself a vessel through which Christ can write a deed of freedom into the dying earth existence, thereby re-enlivening it. The deed of Christ Jesus in this episode already overcomes the forces of death. Everyone becomes potentially more free. It is with this that we would join. In this way, we would overcome sin. For we are all adulterating souls. We all join ourselves too much with what we do (our works), often at the expense of our relationship to what we might call God’s will. So it is that the adulterating soul is told to ‘go—and sin no more’.

‘Go—and sin no more’. We could express this thus: Go on your life’s path—and learn to receive your will. For when we learn to truly listen to our will, then we receive our will, like a longed for guest.

The scene with the ‘adulteress’ is an exemplary picture of freedom, a deed which frees her and us from the iron consequences of the Law, of karma. It shines like a light in our imaginations. It is what a human Self—an ‘I am’—can do. Therefore, ‘(the) I am (is) the Light of the World’ (John 8:12).

If we failed to learn this working from Christ, we would enmesh the earth further in our works until finally it would no longer breathe and live—and become a dead being (‘boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.’) And the human being would then become merely a ‘colossal wreck’ in the cosmos.

Finding a relationship to our inner life of deeds, as opposed to our outer works, involves a fundamental acceptance of our status as spiritual beings. It asks us to learn to know who we truly are: that we are not protagonists of the project of earthly permanence. It is not ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty’, that we should stamp on the life of the soul, but rather, ‘before the Almighty, no works can be done’. Otherwise, the heart feeds upon the purblind vanity, and becomes sick. To ‘see’ our life of deeds, our will, requires a completely different attitude of soul: a modesty and an ability to put our lives into true proportion. That is our work. In this way, we find our true place in life. All this contributes to the overcoming of the sickness of sin.

When our outer work can begin to be informed by such thoughts, then perhaps we can approach the mystery of our own will—that mysterious force within, which causes so much chaos in the world-harmony. It is so sensitive and embryonic that it can easily be swayed by adversarial might. CCan we learn to see beyond the work of the adversaries in our souls? Can we begin to get to know the will’s unique dynamic, and align ourselves with it? Can we learn to receive this will? If so, then perhaps we begin to live into those words of the Lord’s Prayer which calls for the will of the Father – which is our deepest will – to be done as deeds on earth, as it lives in the heavens.

We were inhabitants of an ‘antique land’ – an earth which was constantly passing away, dying, subject to transience. The Law had covered up this fact. Then an ‘unacknowledged legislator’ came and made us the new executors of the Father’s will. Such are our deeds. It is these which gradually lay the foundation [can a basis unfold?] for the preservation of our life, destined for eternity.

 

*We will call her this without implying judgment, and take it as an allegorical picture of the state of the soul.

 


This essay was written by Luke Barr, a priest of The Christian Community in Aberdeen, Scotland. It appears in the summer 2018 issue of Perspectives on the theme of Inner Activism, and it is posted here by permission of the editor. To subscribe to Perspectives, and receive issues via email, please visit their site.

In this essay, Luke refers to the adult service of the Christian Community, called the Act of Consecration of Man. You can read more about our service here.

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Three Gifts of the Trinity

The Earth has sometimes been compared to a spaceship, a machine hurling through the black void of outer space. In this scientific vision, space is stunningly cold and inimical to all life. But this simplified picture is wrong; it leaves out the Sun.

The Earth is not alone. The Sun’s gravity, warmth, and light, a trinity of forces, constantly bless the Earth.

Gravity holds the Earth in place, spiraling in orbit around the Sun so that it can never be lost in space. (And the Earth’s own gravity holds the Earth together.)

Warmth from the Sun gives the Earth energy so that life can unfold. In all grasses, plants, flowers, trees and all animals, life is ultimately a gift from the Sun brought by its warmth.

Light from the Sun allows life on Earth to become conscious. Animals use many different senses to be aware of where they are and where they need to go next, but it is light that enables the predominant sense of sight. We human beings can only see and understand the things in the world, their connections to one another, and our own relationship to them because of light. Ultimately human insight, the inner light of reason, begins with sunlight.

We human beings are like the Earth with its unknown depths, (if the Earth were an apple, then the deepest well ever drilled goes no deeper than the red skin on the surface), abundant life on the surface and a great being of light that sustains and supports it. There is also a trinity of forces that blesses us constantly. God in his three-foldedness is always with us.

The power of the Father God is much like the Earth’s gravity that reaches us from unknown depths, holding us up and keeping us grounded. We can never be lost for very long from our destiny. The Father God’s laws of destiny and karma give us a solid foundation for our lives. These laws are the manifestation of His love. He pulls us back to those, with whom we are to work out the mysteries of love and forgiveness. The Father’s power is seen both in the forces of our will that rise up from the depths of our unconscious and in the effects on us of all those people who are a part of our lives, past, present and future. The gravity of the Father may teach us through the pain of falling down, through teaching us balance that can only be learned when gravity is present or sending us people who belong in our lives as surely as the Earth is tied to the sun. We can never be far from the Father God because our substance is ultimately His substance as surely as all physical matter is governed by the force of gravity. His love guarantees that every human being has a destiny, a path on the Earth that belongs to us.

God’s warmth comes to us through the Son God. From this second aspect of God, the second person of the Trinity, God’s son, the power to create is constantly flowing to humanity. His love is in the strength and energy he sends to us so that we might deal with every situation in which we find ourselves. This is the power of resurrection available to us through Christ Jesus, in whom the Son God came to earth, gained an understanding of what it feels like to be human and then overcame death. Since that time we have the strength to embrace any destiny given by the Father. We can live life fully knowing that we have the power to rise again after any failure, death or defeat; we can create a path for ourselves where there was no path before. Christ’s love is always flowing toward us bearing within it the power to change things. All of our creating, our becoming and evolving are ultimately the Son God’s power to create at work in us.

God’s light is also always shining in our human consciousness. The spirit in our mind may not yet, or no longer be holy, but it is an ongoing gift from this third aspect of God’s being, the Spirit God. The Spirit God sends God’s love shining as light into our minds and our lives in all our insights into life’s mysteries. Prayer is a conscious activity made possible only because God gave us the power to think. Sometimes the pain that life brings us is a riddle, but it can lead us to pray. “Given my present situation, where do I go from here? What future should I envision and work toward?” We have the power of thought in order to work through such questions, to try to discern God’s wisdom in what is happening.

The Spirit God is known also as the Healing God. Just as light allows us to see each part of the world in relation to every other part, that is, to see everything as a whole, unified by our understanding, so the Spirit God helps us to bring wholeness to our fragmented lives. This is God’s love as the power to unite, starting in human consciousness, what has been separated. Ultimately, it is the love’s power to heal human hearts and destinies through human consciousness. The more we seek to live in the light of God’s Spirit, the more everything we see will be drenched with understanding; God’s wisdom at work in the world will be revealed to us.

The structure of the physical world is not an accident. It is a reflection of the wisdom of God, which originates in the invisible world of the spirit. That is why the substance, laws and dynamic found in the physical universe are a reflection of higher truths. Just as the Sun, Earth’s star, holds, warms and illuminates the Earth, so too human souls are blessed by God’s threefold being: His love, His life and His light shine on us every minute of every day of every year without pause.

(This blog post originally appeared in February 2013).

 

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Ascension – the Marriage of Heaven and Earth

In a good partnership between two human beings, such as a marriage, each brings who they are as a gift to the other. What each one has, flows to the other, changing them, lifting them. And the union of the two creates something more than just the sum of one and one.

One can also experience Ascension in this way. Ascension can be seen as the marriage of Heaven and Earth.

The highest of Heavenly beings came down to Earth and incarnated in the being of Jesus of Nazareth. He lived and loved, and felt the joy and sorrow of being human. This Heavenly being penetrated all the way down into the physical, even unto death.

Then came the resurrection, and Christ began the process of raising the physical, the process of transfiguring the Earthly into the Heavenly. He appeared as the Risen One. He taught his disciples for 40 days, helping them to transform into true leaders of humanity. Then at Ascension, Christ rose into the clouds before them, lifting all that was physical towards the spiritual — lifting the Earthly up to the Heavenly.

We can have an experience of these uplifting forces at this time of year whenever we walk outside. All of nature turns upward towards the warmth of the sun. Everything seems to call to you: Look out, look up! The blue sky, the leaves unfurling on the trees, the blossoms… they are irresistible. One cannot feel down, or inward. One steps lightly, stands taller, and feels the joy of life.

At Ascension, our souls are lifted. Our souls are opened. We prepare, like the disciples, for the gift of the holy spirit that comes at Pentecost. Heaven and Earth are united again, and we find that both are our true homes. And what is created is more than just the sum of one and one.

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This originally appeared as an article in the Spring 2017 North American Newsletter.

To read how Ascension is celebrated in the Christian Community, visit our festivals page. This theme of the Earth’s relationship to Heaven is also taken up in the beautiful children’s story, A Journey to the Heavens.

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What is truth?

And heaved and heaved, still unrestingly heaved the black sea, as if its vast tides were a conscience.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

The altar is a mysterious place. It renders its mysteries only slowly and in stillness. This is why the altar wants to be visited more than once. The religious experience is nourished by its repetition. Religiousness therefore roots in the essence of all things: the sun rises more than one morning; we get to know the seasons through their returning; day and night live by their alternation. The altar gathers the pathways and orbits out of which all repetition can unfold. We come to the altar, leave, and come back. This breathing of coming and going, of appearing and disappearing, gives life not only to the human but also to the divine being. In the interplay of giving and receiving, of concealing and revealing, the divine can mirror itself in the human. For what does it mean to be human? The human being shows and hides itself at the same time. We stand in the world. We live and work in it, experiencing joy and sorrow. That part of us is visible. Another part of us, though, cannot be found in this world. It remains invisible. It withdraws itself. It is there and it asserts itself, but remains removed never the less. This is our spiritual being. We carry this secret part of ourselves to the altar in the Act of Consecration of Man. In doing so, the altar becomes an image of our own being: it is both visible and veiled. It waits and is patient. It grants the fullness of its secrets only to those who return. Faith, Goethe said, is love for the invisible. It is an openness for the secret, a willingness to be addressed. This willingness to receive a revealing word, a blessing gesture, or the silence in between them, is a condition for experiencing the elusive thing that we call truth. For truth is not the mere establishing of a fact. It is not the rendering of a correct assessment or the verification of certain circumstances. Truth is much more than that. “The truth is not a fixed system of concepts that can manifest itself in only one way, but is a living ocean in which the spirit of man lives, and that can bring forth waves of the most different kind at its surface.”[1] (Rudolf Steiner)

The notion that truth is not correctness but a deep, moving force with a surface and hidden depths, opens up new possibilities of thought. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was able to delve into these possibilities with pertinent skill. Versed in Greek, he let the original words speak for themselves. Truth is called aletheia in Greek. This sparked the imagination of Heidegger. Because for the good listener this means, that according to the Greek truth meant bringing something or someone out into the open. The word aletheia is a compound of the word Lethe and its negation, a. In Greek mythology the Lethe is the river that brings forgetfulness. In that respect it is the counterpart of the river Styx, that brings remembrance. Just before a human being is born, he or she wades through the river Lethe. Human beings forget the life they led before they were born. The part of ourselves that we forget about when we enter this world, is the part we leave behind. It is the part of us that remains hidden, sheltered in the spirit. When we die, we remember who we are. Dying is disclosing. We are reunited with our essence, our eternal being, and we awaken. This awakening is brought by wading through the river Styx. When truth is called aletheia, the word itself thus indicates that truth shreds all veils of ignorance. Aletheia means the vindication of what was left behind. It means the opening up of what was closed at birth. The truthful person or truthful event is therefore he or that which stands in the unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) of things. For Heidegger it became a matter of great importance not just to grasp this intellectually. He wanted to live this to the fullest of all extents. This he did in thought. It became clear to him that truth is less like a field of stones and more like water. He crossed and followed the Lethe and the ocean of Being opened up to him…

[1] GA 6 Goethes Weltansschauung, Kapittel 1, Persönlichkeit und Weltanschauung.

This post is from an article published in the spring 2018 issue of Perspectives, and can be found in its entirety with the editor’s permission here. To subscribe to Perspectives, and receive issues via email, please visit their site.

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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?

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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