The Rituals of Prayer and Meditation – Building Bridges to the Spiritual World

More and more, human beings today are asking themselves, “How can I overcome the anxiety, loneliness, and sense of meaninglessness in my life?” We find signs of this searching everywhere: in the dramatic increase of anxiety medication, in the overflow of self-help books, and in the spiritual materialism of the quick-fix “you-can-have-it-all” mentality of some popular contemporary spiritual teachers. Even after feasting at the spiritual smorgasbord offered at bookstores or yoga studios, our souls very often still feel empty. We long for a real connection to our human brothers and sisters, to the world of nature, and to ourselves, but because our actual hunger is for the world of the spirit, we seem to fall short of our goals again and again.

And yet there is always hope. There are real pathways to the spirit. There can be real healing of anxiety, loneliness, and our sense of meaninglessness, but these can be found only through conscious and reliable entrance into what is spiritual, across a bridge that we must travel again and again in order to bring the spirit’s riches into our daily lives. For it is in the spirit that we are rejuvenated, truly met, and strengthened for earthly existence. How then can such a true bridge be built today? Developing an inner practice, a rhythmical ritual in our daily lives is the starting point.

Why Ritual?

The practices of all religious and spiritual life have their source in ritual. While limiting oneself to a specific form of ritual practice today is often considered rigid and un-free, without dedication to real ritual our efforts to cultivate life in the spirit will be in vain.

A true ritual has a specific form that we engage repeatedly on a rhythmical basis. All true meditations have a specific form, specific instructions, and must be practiced regularly in order to be effective. In the same way, true prayer also has a specific form, for example the Lord’s Prayer, which bears fruit through repetition1. True ritual is a bridge, because its devoted practice builds the path that leads us from our world to the spiritual world—and back again.

There are different ways to build bridges. One method would be to toss a looped rope across the given chasm. The rope immediately connects us to the other side, but this connection must then be built up with other ropes, wood, and other materials in order to make it secure. Such a bridge is akin to prayer, whereby the soul immediately reaches out to a spiritual being across the abyss. However, in order for this type of connection to our chosen spiritual being to become a secure path, it must be strengthened through practice.

Another bridge is one that we build step by step across the abyss, and which only at the end of our work culminates in our experience of the other side. This is the bridge of meditation, which does not initially grant us the experience of a spiritual being, but builds up our souls in such a way that we eventually become conscious and cognizant of the one or ones, we seek, to reach on the other side. Prayer begins with a conscious, even if perhaps dim and foggy, connection to a spiritual being, which clarifies over time.  Meditation builds up capacities in the soul—organs of spiritual perception that reveal clear and conscious relationships with spiritual beings only when the soul has ripened. While prayer and meditation differ in method, if they are authentic, they ultimately lead us across the chasm that separates us from communion with the world of spiritual beings for which we hunger, whether or not we know it.

Prayer

The spiritual world is populated by hierarchies of differentiated beings. Prayer always starts with a relationship to one of these beings: We pray to Christ, or we pray to the guardian angels of our loved ones. When we pray, we immediately make a feeling-connection to a specific spiritual being. For Origin, one of the early church fathers, prayer was less about petitioning than about bridging the gap between God and ourselves: “In the first place…[the one who prays] is placing himself before God and speaking to him as present, convinced that he is present and looking at him.” 2  True prayer is a conversation with spiritual beings. 3

The more we engage in this conversation, this connecting with the spiritual being whom we seek, the more our prayer life will be strengthened. An example of a way to practice prayer is in the modern Sacrament of the Eucharist, The Act of Consecration of Man. The four steps which are taken in this Sacrament, the central ritual of The Christian Community- Movement for Religious Renewal, create a living bridge to the presence of Christ Jesus. First, we invite him to make our hearts pure for hearing his revelation in the gospel. We then respond to His revelation by emptying and offering our souls to Him. In the third step called Transubstantiation, Christ Jesus Himself then transforms our offering by entering into it. And finally we unite with this transformed offering through taking communion, taking Him into ourselves.

Prayer is strengthened through repetition. We will know it is being strengthened because we will feel peace, clarity, and warmth in our hearts. As we advance in our practice, we begin to realize that this warmth and peace we feel are not ours, but are in fact the feelings, thoughts, and intentions of the spiritual being to whom we are praying, awakening in us. We will feel this presence more and more as its peace, its light, its joy come to life in us. We can even open our thinking to this being in prayer and begin to experience its thoughts. The Apostle Paul encouraged us toward this when he wrote, “Pray with the spirit and understanding.”4 The Act of Consecration of Man that was just mentioned makes this clear in the Transubstantiation. There, we are called to take Christ into our thinking. Christ’s thoughts and deeds begin then to think in us, so that our whole being begins to become a vessel for His life.

This is how transformation takes place through prayer: His thoughts, feelings, and intentions become alive in us. The essential formula for this type of transformation is “Not I, but Christ in me”5. What’s more, we may even hope in this way, to become gradually transformed into His image. Paul speaks of this as, “Beholding the glory of the Lord with open face and being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” 6  “…just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”7

If we are praying for a friend or a loved one, the power of our goodwill toward our friend through his guardian angel will strengthen both the angel and our friend to better carry his destiny. We do not pray for any outer results, because we lack the wisdom to know what destiny requires.8 We pray that our loved one can meet his life’s destiny with strength, peace and courage.9

Indeed, one’s life can itself become a prayer if it is approached as a spiritual being. Then we can practice devotion and reverence to the being of our own life—that Individuality whom we rarely glimpse in our preoccupation with our petty, personal selves, but whose purpose we have come to earth to manifest.

Prayer is often thought of today as something we do when we want something from God. True prayer, however, never has egotistical aims. Thus, praying for our team to win, a new car, or a better job is not prayer. True prayer always has the gesture of surrender: “…not my will, but Thy will be done.” 10

There are four types of prayer: 11

  1. Prayer for our friends and loved ones (Also called intercessory prayer, always addressed through our loved-one’s guardian angel, and, in order to honor the integrity of the other’s destiny and freedom, without asking for any outer result.
  2. Prayer for the inner strength and courage to meet what our lives bring.
  3. Prayer that is a path of transformation and leads us to an ever deeper experience and knowledge of a specific spiritual being ( The Act of Consecration, for example)
  4. Prayer as thanksgiving and praise for the deeds of a spiritual being (perhaps the highest form of prayer, in that it is also the continual activity of the angelic hierarchies).

To really get to know what prayer is, one must do it, and learn by doing; there is no substitute. True prayer, when practiced with one’s whole being in devotion again and again, becomes a bridge to the spring of life.12 We know we have found this spring when we begin to feel that our soul would actually perish without its spiritual sustenance.

Meditation

Meditation always starts from a search for knowledge. Unlike prayer, which always begins with a conscious relationship to a spiritual being, meditation begins from a quest for such a relationship that will inform the practitioner: How can I acquire more peace in my life? How can I know the spiritual world? How do I attain enlightenment? What is the meaning behind the appearances of the world that I meet daily?

Today, it is common to think of meditation as something that simply calms the soul and quiets the mind. One very popular example is watching, or counting one’s breaths in order to combat stress and quiet the “monkey mind.”  While such techniques can be valuable for achieving a quiet and focused soul, which is necessary as a first step in both prayer and meditation, true meditation only can begin with this foundation.

For those who are ready to take them up, a comprehensive source of techniques of meditation for the modern western person of today can be found in the works of Rudolf Steiner. In two of his basic books, An Outline of Esoteric Science and How to Know Higher Worlds, Steiner gives many examples of meditation. Each begins by building up a thought or a thought-picture in the quieted soul. “In the beginning was the Word…” is an example of a thought-meditation; vividly picturing an actual blossoming plant or one dying away would be an example of a thought-picture. We are then asked to concentrate on this built up thought or thought-picture. A simple example of a thought-picture given by Steiner would be what was just mentioned; find an actual blossoming plant in nature and then picture it in your mind. The mental picture of a blossoming plant and the thought of ‘blossoming forth’ is focused on until a specific type of feeling is awakened. This feeling evoked by the image of the blossoming plant is then held in the soul after the thought-picture is dissolved, and the next step is to dissolve the feeling as well, and simply listen. This whole process is repeated with the thought-picture of a dying or decaying plant.

Practicing meditation in this way begins to form organs for spiritual perception in the soul. The exercises themselves, like the materials of a bridge built step by step, shape and awaken these organs, which eventually reveal to us the spiritual world. Patience and persistence without attachment to results is crucial.

There are many examples of these meditations in Steiner’s works, from systematic contemplations of natural phenomena to the essential Ross Cross Meditation in An Outline of Esoteric Science, but the gesture in each is the movement from concentrating on a built-up thought-picture to a specific feeling; it is the meditant’s independent guiding of these transitions that develops organs of spiritual perception in his soul. These spiritual organs developed through meditation are inner bridges that lead us to conscious relationships with spiritual beings, by awakening faculties that have lain dormant in most of humanity for millennia.

“For students of the spirit, this quiet contemplation must become a necessity in life.  At first, we are wholly absorbed in the world of thought. We must develop a living feeling for this silent thinking activity. We must learn to love what streams toward us from the spirit….And then the moment will approach when we begin to realize that what is revealed to us in the silence of inner thinking activity is more real than the physical objects around us. We experience that life speaks in this world of thoughts. We realize that thoughts are not mere shadow pictures and that hidden beings speak to us through thoughts. Out of the silence something begins to speak to us. Previously we could hear speech only with our ears, but now words resound in our souls. An inner speech, an inner word, is disclosed to us. The first time we experience this we feel supremely blessed. Our outer world is suffused with an inner light. A second life begins for us. A divine, bliss-bestowing world streams through us.

This life of the soul in thoughts, gradually broadening into life in the world of spiritual beings, is called in spiritual science or gnosis “meditation”. Meditation, in this sense, is the way to supersensible knowledge.” 13

What will ultimately heal our anxiety, loneliness, and sense of meaninglessness is not the attempt to assuage them with specialized techniques, but by connecting with the spiritual beings who are the foundation of reality. Prayer and meditation can form bridges to the source of this healing.

Endnotes

  1. In moments of critical need, however, prayer is always effective, even without prior practice, but this not the case for meditation, which requires greater independence on the part of the practitioner.
  2. McGinn, Bernard: The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, Origin on ‘Prayer in General’
  3. Hafner, Daniel: Prayers Given by Rudolf Steiner, p. 1.
  4. 1 Corinthians 14:15
  5. Galatians 2:20
  6. 2 Corinthians 3:18
  7. 1 Corinthians 15:49
  8. Hafner, Daniel: Prayers Given by Rudolf Steiner
  9. The Carlmelite lay brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (ca. 1614-1691) put this plainly in a letter to a suffering friend: “I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains, but I pray to God earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases.” This is also a test for our trust that what pleases God is in fact for our own ultimate good.
  10. Mt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42
  11. Of course, these distinctions are not exclusive, as each of the four types of prayer contains elements of the other three.
  12. John 4:10-13
  13. Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds, Chapter 1

Mary, Sophia and the New Advent of Christ (On the Source of Renewal in Christianity)

In an open conversation last year someone asked about the nature of the second coming of Christ and what connection, if any, this might have with the emerging awareness in our time of the divine feminine, or “Sophia”. This question touches on the deepest realities of our time and on what must begin to happen within Christianity if it is to have any positive future, so I offered to address it within a longer talk. The few thoughts offered here can only be taken as one aspect of an unendingly deep subject.

Christ’s “Second” Coming

First, we need to explore our assumptions about the nature of the “second coming”, a name or title which itself is very misleading. Why? Because it implies that Christ has left! Yet, if we alone follow what the gospels tell us on this subject, he has not left us at all. In the Gospel of Matthew it is Christ who promised “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matt 28:20) or “wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am also” (Matt 18:20). The traditional conception of Christ’s “leaving” – as well as the promise of his “return” – comes, of course, from the story of his “ascension” (Acts 1:9-11), where the disciples follow his rising into the clouds and hear the words of the attending angels that he will return in the same way. What can be made of these discrepancies? Either these two parts of the Gospel are in direct contradiction to each other or we need to gain a different understanding of what is meant by ascension and return.

The essential new understanding, attainable through modern Spiritual Science, of the meaning of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, is that Christ’s inmost being was united with the earth’s being, with the processes and substances of the earth. This truth is expressed in all the central images of the event of Golgotha itself: On the cross we see his blood flowing into the ground and his body was laid into a cave, into the depths of the earth itself. Why would he come so deep into our experience, into human-ness, into the depths of matter, only to abandon the earth for the heavens again? St. Paul can provide us a key to understanding the ascension in a way that harmonizes with the comforting words of Matthew: “behold, I am with you always…”:

In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.(Ephesians 4:9-10, author’s emphasis)

Through all that happened on the mount known as Golgotha, Paul leads us to see his ascension into “heaven” as something that could more accurately be called the “expansion”. Christ does not abandon the earth, but expands into and permeates all earthly and heavenly spheres. What the gospels and the esoteric teacher we know as St. Paul show us – and what the open eyes of the heart can perceive – is that Christ did not abandon us here on the earth; he has simply grown beyond the limits of the human form into a new cosmic level, permeating the earth with heavenly being. Christ is with us; with his “ascension” he had simply grown beyond our capacity to “see” him.

But if Christ is with us, what is meant by the “second coming”? If he permeates our earthly reality, why is it that so many souls cannot perceive him, acknowledge his presence, or know him? What is it that has left us; what have we lost?

The Fall of Human Consciousness

As a way to illustrate what is now missing for us, that is, what we in humanity have lost here on the earth, one can begin by listing the traditional doctrines and tenets of Christianity and honestly asking: what of these can we understand? Which of these fundamental teachings of Christianity can be comprehended and grasped by modern, Western souls? I did this recently at a talk given on this subject. The list began slowly and then began to pick up pace until the entire writing pad was covered with all the fundamental truths of Christianity. For example:

  • the “virgin birth”
  • why Jesus has two different lineages in the bible
  • angels – of all ranks
  • any of the miracles – the healings, walking on water, feeding the 5000, etc.
  • the trinity
  • the transubstantiation, and most importantly-
  • the resurrection – the central truth and signature of Christianity

We had to acknowledge that for the modern soul, Christianity and Christ himself had become incomprehensible, something we simply no longer understand. Clearly what we have lost is our understanding, our knowledge of Christ. What is missing is the “Sophia” or Christ-Wisdom.

Following the trajectory of human thinking and inner understanding of the nature and reality of Christ over the course of the centuries from the beginnings of Christianity, we see a very clear trajectory. The early centuries reveal a consciousness still very much open to the reality and light of the spirit and of the divine, cosmic dimensions of the being that incarnated in Jesus. By the middle ages the light begins to darken, the doors to heaven begin to close and the church desperately tries to hold onto its truths through the establishment of official “dogma” (teaching). By the 19th century, almost everything has been lost and the great theologians of the day can only honestly stand behind the figure of Jesus as the “simple man of Nazareth” who was deluded that the culmination of time had arrived. Thus, in terms of our consciousness, Nietzsche could honestly declare, “God is dead”. From the time of Christ’s appearance in Palestine to the 19th and 20th Centuries we can follow how Western souls are less and less able to recognize, acknowledge or understand the divine reality of Christ or the essence of Christianity. Our minds fell into the darkness of materialistic consciousness; our “soul eyes” became blind to the presence of Christ.

The Fructification of the Individual Soul by the Spirit – or Mary and the Moment of “Conception”

So what is it that could bring about the renewal of Christianity? What is it that could bring about a new perception of Christ? Nothing other than a search for the Sophia, the knowledge or wisdom of Christ. This was – and is – the mission of that spiritual movement that goes by the name of Anthroposophy. Modern spiritual science, or Anthroposophy, provides the means to understand everything that has become non-understandable in Christianity (including each of the items listed above!). The path to rediscovering the Sophia begins with taking in the fruits of Spiritual Scientific research on the nature of the being of Christ and his transformative life and death. Thinking these thoughts through with honest reflection and sound judgment begins the process of shaping new eyes for perceiving the reality of Christ. However, higher knowledge of the reality of this being requires more than learning new facts; it requires a total revolution and transformation of the soul. This soul transformation for the reception of the spirit is often called “initiation” for it is the process whereby one is led, or initiated, into the knowledge of worlds hidden from the senses. The process of initiation is the process to prepare the soul for the birth of the spirit. This preparation can be achieved through what is sometimes called ‘catharsis’, or the purification of the soul. Exercises in moral development, meditation and prayer, taking in thoughts of the spirit, of the eternal, work to transform the soul and awaken the slumbering, higher Human Being within. Ultimately this leads to a transformation of the forces already found in the soul: our thinking, feeling and willing. Before initiation they were haphazardly developed in response to life and directed towards the transitory world of the senses. Through esoteric training these powers are “lifted” up to the highest, the eternal world of the spirit and brought under the direction of these spiritual principals. In the path laid out by Rudolf Steiner in his book, How to Know Higher Worlds, the student is first directed to wrap their inner life in a mantle of feelings of reverence, wonder and devotion. This comes out of a deep knowledge of the laws of the soul and spirit worlds which Socrates once explained, “Wisdom begins in wonder”. The inner experience of the Sophia (Wisdom) is made possible through the cultivation of reverential wonder and devotion. The next step is to carefully educate the three forces of the soul. Our thoughts are to be brought into a harmonious, logical flow and educated in careful attention. With our feelings we are led to three different qualities that must be developed. We are taught to develop an objective relationship to our feelings, no longer overwhelmed by the highs and lows of our soul, the exaltations and lamentations, developing the power of equanimity. Openness to everything that comes our way in true interest and trust that all that comes our way is directed by the guiding wisdom of the universe is a second important quality to develop for our feeling. This is expressed in Mary’s words, “may it come to pass as you have said” (Luke 1:38). A third quality of feeling that we must ever strive to develop is the ability to focus our attention on what is good and true, to focus on the positive. This is a very important quality to develop, for as inner vision develops, more and more of the world begins to reveal itself to the esoteric student. This includes the detailed and easily overwhelming vision of all that is imperfect, untrue, ugly and evil in the world and other people. It often happens, if the student of the inner path has not attended enough to this exercise, that the person on the spiritual path becomes more intolerant, judgemental and negative than before they started!

In the case of the higher development of our willing, it is to be born anew out of our own direction and guidance, not constantly in reaction to the world nor involuntarily following passions and drives. The esoteric student is called to open their will to the needs of others and of the earth and to give their actions a guidance born of insight and inner wisdom. In summary – if one were to use the words of the Act of Consecration of Man – you could say that the intention of the esoteric student is to develop: pure thinking, loving heart, and willing devotion.

The transformation of the forces of the soul, the purification of our feeling, thinking and willing, is what one can call “making one’s soul a ‘virgin’ soul”. Now, when the student of the inner worlds approaches the world, another person, a higher thought in meditation and prayer, their pure thinking, loving feeling, devoted and accepting willing, open up the soul to more than the abstract truths of existence. They enable an encounter, a moment of fructification. This opening allows a moment of grace to take place, the moment of inner “conception”. It is a real event in the life of the person on the path in which a new, higher life stirs within the soul, which, through the path of intimate careful development – referred to in simple sketch form above – transforms the soul into a womb, a place in which the delicate development of the spirit can unfold, be fed and nourished and protected by the purified soul. This event in the life of the initiate has been portrayed artistically over millennia. Think of Isis holding Horus, of images of the Madonna shown with the child, often emerging from an opening in her midsection. In Mary, the artists depicted the purified soul, expressing pure devotion, openness, equanimity and trust in every gesture and colour. All of these images are a representation of a higher experience of knowing, of inner wisdom being fructified by the spirit. In medieval annunciation paintings, Mary is almost always shown reading a book (the scriptures), meditatively pursuing knowledge. And we see her at the moment when this knowledge becomes something much more than what we normally associate with knowing: it becomes new life within. We see her head lifting from the page and a ray of light shines down from the heights and touches her head. It is the moment of the conception of the “divine child”, the higher human within, the one “born of God”. These images of Mary are a depiction not only of a historical figure but of the human soul itself, and the Christ child presents to us an image of the eternal human spirit, the higher self. Anyone who seriously and devotedly follows the path laid out in Anthroposophy will themselves experience this annunciation moment. It is an intimate but completely real and objective experience of the striving individual that comes as a moment of grace on the path of self-development, where they begin to experience “Not I, but Christ in me”. The Fructification of the Community Soul – or The Moment of Conception in the Congregation

Gathered Around the Altar

But how does this relate to the specific mission of The Christian Community? One could say that our mission is to facilitate this spiritual conception, this higher knowing, in community through the Eucharist, the centre of the seven sacraments. There too, it requires a “Mary-Sophia-Soul” to receive the new presence of Christ. In the service, this higher, generative knowing is spoken of in an amazing way. We follow the movement of the book from the right to the inside left of the altar – from outside to inside – a representation of crossing over from the outer world to the inner world, the crossing of the threshold. There, during the stage of the service traditionally known as the transubstantiation but perhaps better understood as the Transformation, the priest speaks for the soul of the community, praying that the offering be brought through “our pure thinking, our loving heart, our willing devotion”. Here the three forces of the soul are attributed to a “we” not an “I”. A few moments later, the sacred act of inner knowing is described this way: the congregation knows Christ in freedom.These thoughts may at first seem abstract. However, when we take them into our souls and enter into the Act of Consecration of Man with this thought: together we are building a higher, community soul, that can receive – as Mary did – the being of Christ – this thought can open the doorway to whole new experiences in our celebrating together. Through this we can begin to feel into how in the Act of Consecration of Man, we approach the divine ground of existence through the purified Mary-Soul of the community who is able to be the “virgin soul” in which the Christ-Spirit can be born. In the service, it is the community that becomes the bearer of Christ. It is the gathered devoted community and the eternal forms expressed in the ritual that creates a new vessel for Christ’s “re-appearance”.

Human souls are in desperate need of the experience of the one who brings peace to human hearts, strengthens their wills and unites us in a new humanity. This is the deepest longing of every soul. Since the time Jesus Christ walked the earth, our souls have grown ever less able to perceive his nearness, his presence. Though he is here, radiant and bright, we have grown blind; we have lost the Sophia who knows Christ in the highest sense. I hope that this article can help us to gain a sense of how the power of the Sophia can be found again as the essential, receptive power on the individual path of initiation and on the community path of offering.

Based on a talk given by Patrick Kennedy, priest in the Washington D.C. area, during a recent visit to the affiliate congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Summarized by Linda Finigan, edited and reworked by Patrick Kennedy).

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“by Hanging Him From a Tree…”

Let us love the trees,
to us the trees are good.
Within their shoots of green
streams God’s own living blood.
Once the wood did harden,
so Christ hung thereupon.
To nourish us with new food
eternal flow’ring was won.
(Albert Steffen 1921)[i]

HOLY WEEK AND TREES

Trees permeate Holy Week. On Palm Sunday branches are torn from trees (Gk: den’-dron) and placed on the road into Jerusalem (Mt 21:8). On Monday the fig tree (soo-kay’) is cursed, on Tuesday it is dead (Mk 11:13, 20). Also on Tuesday, in his apocalyptic discourse, Christ says: “Observe the fig tree and all the other trees (den’-dron).” (Lk 21:29).[i] On Thursday he refers to himself as the vine (essentially a water-laden prostrate tree) (Jn 15:1-5). On Good Friday Christ says: “…if they do these things when the wood (or ‘tree”) (xoo’-lon) is full of water (or “green”), what will happen when it is dry” (Lk 23:31)[ii]

Read more

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On Miracles and Recognizing the Saints in our Midst

The following short article was written in response to an article by Ann Marcaida, which was originally published on the website, “Gather”. Her article was titled, “Unconditional Love and a Modern-Day Saint”, and she recommended the writer and memoirist Deborah Digges for sainthood. This was written in support of her article and also originally published on “Gather”. She inaugurated the Losing Your Religion Sainthood Program and I hope to offer some thoughts that may strengthen her canonization work.
Ms. Marcaida did a first great deed in redeeming the idea of the saint by breaking away from the simplistic and inaccurate idea of saint as opposed to sinner, that is, Saints are “good” Sinners are “bad”. Read more

Growing Up in the Christian Community

Children have a natural and evolving relationship to God and to the earth. At birth they come to us from another home, their home with God. With us, they hope to find on earth a memory and a reflection of the home from which they have come.

The Christian Community offers several religious activities for children. First there is the Baptism. In this sacrament, the child is received like a seed into a community that promises to carry this child within itself, and to help nourish the child’s relationship with God. Baptism does not make the child a member of the church; for membership will be his or her free choice as an adult.

With their entry into first grade, children step into the wider community as a learners. Now religious instruction begins. It is given mostly in the form of stories, plays, songs and verses that show the divine wisdom in nature, in  the Old Testament history, and in the New Testament. For school age children, the practice of religion is now widened to include worshipping  together with other children at the Sunday Service for Children. The content emphasizes the importance of learning the great lesson of earthly life: that Christ is love’s teacher in life’s learning and work.

In the Sunday Service for Children, the heart gently awakens the will to worship God. In religious instruction, the heart gently awakens the head to the understanding of the working of God. These two complement and balance one another, developing the child’s religious life from both sides, in a way that will enable him or her later to make a free but informed choice about religion as an adult.

During the summer there are two-week children’s sleep-away camps and in some regions family camps. These constellations provide another level for the healthy weaving of the religious life into a communal life, forming a reservoir of inspiration for the children for the rest of their lives. Confirmation at age fourteen is both a culmination and a new beginning.  The seed of the young person’s religious life, which has been surrounded and nourished by the community, is released into life. The young person attends The Act of Consecration of Man as an independent adult, and at Confirmation receives his/her first Communion. After this, their attendance is their choice. Many still attend with their families. Much depends on whether there is a group of people their own age.

They may later want to become counselors in the children’s camps or to attend Youth Conferences or camps.  There are also International Youth Conferences where older teens and those in their twenties find their own connections before settling down into the more local communities as young adults. Often it is the arrival and Baptism of their own children which stimulates their re-entry as active participants and creators of the life of The Christian Community.

Thoughts on Life and Death

Human life and its death is a singular thing. Animals live, and then they die, and their life is done. They are simply absorbed back into the great mother soul of which their lives on earth were extensions.

But human life and death is different. Our births on earth are already a death. Part of our spiritual being dies into the world of matter. Our births are occasions of mingled hope and sadness for the angels who watch us drop away into the far country. Our birth on earth is a death in heaven.

But each of us is given a seed to take along with us on the journey. This seed is present from the day we are born, safely embedded in our physical nature. It slowly germinates during the course of our lives. It is a fearsome gift, but nonetheless most precious, for it guarantees that we will be able to find the doorway back into heaven again. It is the seed of death.

The gradual growth of the death seed in us means on the one hand a gradual damping down of the power of life in the body. But it is meant to be accompanied by a corresponding growth in the scope, the depth, the breadth of our our consciousness. As we age on earth our death seed is meant to be growing and ripening fruits of inner awareness for us to bring back to heaven. The fruits of

  • deep, rich memories of our past
  • of clear wakefulness in the present
  • of vigorous and enthusiastic plans for the future.

We meet the young man of Nain at the point of his earthly death. His fruits of past, present and future had fully ripened. He had brought to fruition all of his inwardness. And so his earthly life had come to its end. Seen from the outside this death is cause for weeping. But seen from the world of the angels, his death is cause for rejoicing; for as he was dying on earth, he was being born into the spiritual world;not merely absorbed back, like an animal, but born there again as a discrete entity bringing back ripened fruits from afar. The angels rejoiced at the arrival of this richly laden human soul in their midst.

Christ blesses the young man’s ripeness; and he empathizes with the suffering of those left behind-especially the mother, widowed and destitute, who has no future. Perhaps He recognizes that this particular man’s fruits are needed on the earth. And so the angels and perhaps even the young man himself, are asked to make a sacrifice.

Christ brings the young man’s ripeness back to earth. It is as though the young man is born again on earth, but this time out of the spirit. We can imagine the spiritual power of his words as he begins to speak.

Perhaps he would say, as does the poet:

Death is strange and hard
if it is not our death, but a death
that takes us by storm, when we’ve ripened none within us.*

He might remind us, as do the words of the burial service: that we are beholden to the spiritual world for every thing that we think and say and do.

In the depths of our being we know that the death seed within comes wrapped with this encouragement written in angelic script: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply your gifts of consciousness. And bring us back the fruits.

And we, musing:

We stand in your garden year after year.We are trees for yielding a sweet death.But fearful, we wither before the harvest.*

And, just beyond our ordinary hearing, they reply what angels always say:

“Fear not! Do not be afraid! Have no fear! For Christ, the Wakener of the Dead, is with you always.”

And so we pray:

God, give each of us our own death,
the dying that proceeds
from each of our lives

the way we loved
the meanings we made…*

*Rilke, Book of Hours

Prayers for Difficult Times, A Small Collection

Composure

We must root out of the soul all fear and horror of that which is approaching mankind from the future. How fearful and anxious man makes himself today before that which lies in the future, and especially before the hour of death! Man must make his own a calm composure in connection with all feelings and sensations directed toward the future, behold with absolute equanimity everything that may come, and think only that no matter what comes, it comes to us out of the wisdom-filled guidance of the world. This must be placed ever and again before the soul.

Rudolf Steiner, Nov. 27, 1910
(Beiträge #98, 1987, P. 21)


Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.


For The Many Who Have Died

The Good Shepherd lead them
Where they are transformed
That they may breathe
The air of eternal Being.

Where they work as soul
For worlds to come
The grace of the Spirit
Unite us with them.

adapted from Adam Bittleston*

*Adam Bittleston, Meditative Prayers for Today, Floris Books


For the Ill

Hearts which love,
Sun which warms,
You footprints of Christ
In the Father’s Universe,
We call to you from our own hearts,
We search for you in our own spirits:
O stream toward him! [them]

Rays from human hearts,
Longing, warm with devotion
You homes of Christ
In the Father’s house of earth.
We call to you from our own hearts,
We search for you in our own spirits:
O live with him! [them]

Radiant human love
Warming sunshine.
You soul garment of Christ
in the Father’s human temple.
We call to you from our own hearts
We search for you in our own spirits:
O help within him![them]

Given by Rudolf Steiner for one severely ill.


For our Country

O Christ, you know
The souls and spirits
Whose deeds have woven
This country’s destiny.

May we who today
Are bearers of this destiny
Find the strength and the light
Of your servant Michael.

And our hearts be warmed
By your blessing, O Christ,
That our deeds may serve
Your work of world healing.

adapted from Adam Bittleston


Short Intercession
(for those who mourn)

May the Good Shepherd lead (him, her, them)
Into peace of heart
Into hopeful thinking,
Into patient strength of will;
Health of body,
Harmony of soul,
Clarity of spirit,
Now, and in the time to come.

Adam Bittleston

Approaching Christ in Freedom

The world of divine beings has enormous respect for our freedom. After all, God said, ‘Let us make the human being in our image and after our likeness. ’ Genesis 1:26 Since God is obviously a creator, and we are made in His image, made like Him, it follows that we were made to be creators as well. But how could we create, how could we be creative, if we did not have freedom of choice?

True freedom of choice also includes the choice to be destructive instead of creative. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be true freedom of choice. It even includes the choice not to decide. But its real creativity rests in our ability to make choices that support the good, the true and the beautiful.

Where freedom of choice really shines is in our ability to make choices that disregard our own instinct for self-preservation. We have the freedom to decide to give freely and lovingly to another, even to our own detriment. This kind of choice isn’t ‘natural’. It isn’t dictated by necessity. It is the expression of a true freedom of choice. It is an expression of our true humanity.

Christ, God’s Son, is the God who became a human being; He is our divine human brother. He confirmed that we are to exercise our God-given creative freedom of choice, our creative freedom to decide. ‘You shall be as gods’, He said. John 10:34. He was quoting Psalm 82, which says ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’

He said to those becoming His students, that in studying with Him, ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ John 8:32.

He also said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” John 14:6.

Therefore, to approach Christ is to approach the truth; and at the same time to approach Christ is to approach the truth of our humanity. For our true humanity resides in our ability to make creative choices, self-forgetting choices, good moral choices uninfluenced by outer necessity. To approach the truth that resides in Christ, is at the same time to approach the very freedom that lies at the core of our God-given humanity. ‘Then you will know the truth [Me], and the truth [I, Christ] will set you free.’ John 8:32.

In the Act of Consecration of Man, the Communion service of The Christian Community, we pray that the Son God be the creative force in us. We also pray for the gift of the creating fire of love. Real love, capable of setting oneself aside, operates out of a truly human depth of freedom. It is indeed Christ’s self-sacrificing love, working in us, that ignites a creative fire in us. He is the guide for our use of our freedom.

Nevertheless, Christ, the Divine Human, has enormous respect for our freedom to choose. ‘Here I am!’ He says. ‘I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’. Rev. 3:20 He stands outside, and knocks, and waits.

Seeking One’s True Self at the Altar

“Philosophy of Freedom #8” by Laura Summer

In the Sunday Service for the Children, we hear that we have come to earth to learn and to work. We hear that human life becomes desolate without enlivening force of love in our work. We hear that Christ is love’s Teacher. For the children, a direction and focus for any life is gently indicated—learning to develop love as a capacity.

One can see the communion service for adults, the Act of Consecration of Man, as an extension of the path suggested in childhood. For, by its very nature, this Act is an offering of self to God. We offer our purest thoughts, our heart’s love, and a will devoted to Him, to Him who is the very essence of love. We perform an act that He asked us to do in memory of Him—the offering in gratitude of substances of earth—bread, water, wine, to our Father, so that He can be present in them.

We bind our noble thoughts, feelings and devotion to the substances that we, too, are offering, noting that we do so in connection with the working of the Trinity. We pray that the Son God be the creative force in us. We pray for the gift of the creating fire of love.

Christ comes to dwell in them, to concentrate His power in them, in such a way that, through taking in His substances in communion, we can take the creating fire of His love as well, and He can be present in us. He, whose whole life was Love incarnate, sacrifices Himself ever and again for our well-being, for the nourishment and strengthening of the creating power of love in us. Christ dies again and again. But He, the essence of Love, rises again in the hearts of those who give Him a dwelling place.

Our truest, deepest self, our true being, resides in this capacity to develop creative love. Our true self is capable of transforming our narrow egotism into a broader concern for the furtherance of the world. This capacity exists in us as potential, as a seed planted in us by God. At the altar, in any of the sacraments, but especially in the Act of Consecration of Man, this potential to develop love, the characteristic of our truest self, is nurtured and strengthened.

Paul says, ‘your life is now hidden with Christ in God’. Col 3:3 Our true being, our true creative potential, resides with Christ. At the altar we practice offering ourselves to Him in love, taking Him into our selves. At the altar, we are nurturing and developing the life of our true self, with His help. For our true self is Christ, creating Love, in us.

God Becomes Perceptible in the Sacraments

The sacraments are liturgical acts performed by the community, in which the working of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy, Healing Spirit can become visible and audible.

In the Baptism, substances of water, salt and ash are re-united with their original power. They are brought into relationship with the qualities of the Father’s substance, the Son’s renewal, and the Spirit’s light. These regenerated substances are then inscribed on the head and breast of the child, that heaven and earth may come together in a fruitful way in his or her life.

In the Confirmation, we see and hear Christ’s intimate companionship on the young person’s individual path of life; He brings light, power, guidance and comfort.

In the Sacrament of Consultation, the renewed confession, we can hear the words of Christ, in Whose heart the red threads of all human destinies are joined. He encourages us to learn to offer and to receive.

In the Act of Consecration of Man, the communion service, Christ becomes visible in the elevation of bread and wine, transformed into His Body and His Blood, vessels of His Life. He becomes audible in His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, and in His promise of peace.

In Marriage, the couple’s decision to join two lives together is strengthened in a way that creates the space for a third entity. This space is a place where Christ can appear, as His loving power of sacrifice.

In the Sacraments around death—a Sacrament of Consultation, a Communion and an Anointing— Christ accompanies our crossing of the threshold between earthly life, and the life after earthly life. We hear the words He speaks to His Father the night before He dies, His prayer for us. He opens the eye of the soul to life after life.

In the Ordination of Priests, embedded in the Act of Consecration of Man, the power to celebrate all the sacraments is conferred as a gift from the divine world. The candidate’s soul forces of thinking, feeling and willing are linked to the Trinity, so that the words and actions of the Trinity, and Christ especially, can be conveyed to the congregation in the sacraments.