Tag Archives: Easter

Being human is an Easter experience

Some months ago, I was asked by the committee of the Anthroposophical Society in Sussex to give an address on a theme of my choice at our Easter Festival, which was to be held at Emerson College on Easter Day, 12th April 2020. I was honoured and enthused by this request and decided to give a talk on the theme of ‘Anthroposophy as an Easter experience.’

The inspiration for this theme came from a remark by Rudolf Steiner during a lecture he gave on April 22nd 1924: “Anthroposophy in all its working, is an Easter experience, an experience of resurrection bound up with the experience of the grave.” Steiner was speaking in the context of the deliberate destruction by arson of the first Goetheanum on New Year’s Eve 1922, an event which he was able to relate to the similar destruction of the Temple at Ephesus in the year 356 BC by the arsonist Herostratus.

The Goetheanum had been intended as a modern mystery temple; its burning had been for Steiner a kind of crucifixion.  Steiner now called for a renewal of the Mysteries, saying that: “The Anthroposophical Society must consciously cultivate this renewal. The Society was, after all, witness to an event that, like the burning of the Temple at Ephesus, can be turned to good historical account. In both cases a grievous wrong was perpetrated. However, what is a terrible wrong on one level can turn out to be useful for human freedom on another level. Such harrowing events can indeed call forth a true step forward in human evolution.”

Steiner also recognised that the destiny of human beings is to achieve freedom, “which meant that the Mysteries’ powerful influence had to diminish and for a time leave human beings more or less to their own devices.”  This, of course, in the age of the Consciousness Soul, is where we are today, with many people pulled this way and that because they have no foundational philosophical base on which to gauge their response to world phenomena.

All of this was to have been the context for my talk, which cannot now take place owing to the Covid-19 pandemic which has closed down Emerson College and many of the other aspects of our normal, everyday life. I would also have talked about some of the anthroposophical enterprises which have experienced significant difficulties in recent times, particularly the Steiner schools. I had even found a quotation from Steiner, to the effect that whatever good intention we start off with, it is inevitable that the way of the world will eventually turn it into its opposite. It comes from Lecture 4 in the cycle ‘The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness’, given in Dornach on 6thOctober 1917:

“ ‘Surely’, people will say, ‘it must be a good thing to be more and more perfect?’ And ‘What better ideal can there be but to have a programme that will make us more and more perfect?’ But this is not in accord with the law of reality. It is right, and good, to be more and more perfect, or at least aim to be so, but when people are actually seeking to be perfect in a particular direction, this search for perfection will after a time change into what in reality is imperfection. A change occurs through which the desire for perfection becomes a weakness. Benevolence will after a time become prejudicial behaviour. And however good the right may be that you want to bring to realisation — it will turn into a wrong in the course of time. The reality is that there are no absolutes in this world. You work towards something that is good, and the way of the world will turn it into something bad. We therefore must seek ever-new ways, look for new forms over and over again. This is what really matters.”

But to have confined my remarks to the original theme of this talk would at the time of this pandemic have seemed not only beside the point but even frivolous, given the scale of what human beings are currently facing. It is not only anthroposophy which is having an Easter experience but humanity as a whole.

Each one of us is familiar in these apocalyptic times with what Steiner called ‘the experience of the grave’ . For many areas here in the UK, 2019 ended and 2020 continued with day after day of heavy rain and disastrous flooding. The rain never seemed to stop. On the other side of the world, Australia suffered huge bush fires which were then followed by floods. Climate change, which is affecting all parts of the world, is having a marked effect on weather patterns. Pollution is poisoning our land, seas and rivers and much of nature, including us. Migration and the associated resurgence of nationalism encouraged by populist politicians is undermining our sense of shared humanity and common goals. We know that the Sixth Great Extinction of species is underway, and this and so many other human-made problems are casting long shadows over all life on Earth. And just to add to the Biblical scenes of apocalypse, in Africa we are even seeing a vast plague of locusts, the worst there has been for nearly a century. Now the Covid-19 pandemic has joined these other phenomena to reinforce our sense of all-consuming crisis. For me this is epitomised by the “social distancing” that we are being exhorted to practise – literally to keep our distance one from another.

In Judith von Halle’s book Illness and Healing, she suggests that in this present age of the Consciousness Soul, many modern illnesses are in fact illnesses of the organism of humanity, ie the totality of all human beings. These illnesses arise from the collective effect of the actions, thoughts and feelings of each one of us and express themselves through human beings in the form of pandemics; but they also manifest in the Earth as extreme weather events, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and so on.

This will, no doubt, strike many people as just fanciful – but as Steiner observed in another context, “Present day materialism will find it very hard to admit that the spirit creates everything material. It is, however, the tragedy of materialism that it understands the nature of matter least of all…”

But could it be, as ‘Midnight Rambler’ recently suggested on this blog, that the current pandemic may have a potentially positive outcome? His view was that, if we can grasp it, this global event could be an example of metanoia – a John the Baptist moment for a re-evaluation of how we want to live and how we want society to function. He also said: “Is everyone noticing how Natura is breathing more easily now that the world is slowing down?”

Let us hope so – we should never waste a good crisis; and unlike the Member of Parliament I heard on the radio the other week, I do not want to “get back to normal as soon as possible” after this crisis is over; because if we do go straight back to how life was before, we will soon have to suffer even more pandemics, extreme weather events, societal breakdowns etc., until we finally learn the lesson.

The lesson we need to learn is actually quite a simple one: how can we meet real human needs and care for each other and all life on Earth through our work? If we are to experience the resurrection as well as the grave, it is human solidarity, which is love expressed in practical action, which will get us through this present crisis and take us on to a better future. We are seeing this now, in the countless deeds of selfless work on behalf of the sick by hospital and health workers; and we see it, too, in the myriad acts of kindness offered towards the elderly and vulnerable by their neighbours.

At my own local level here in Forest Row, I’m often reminded of these simple truths; at Tablehurst Farm, for example, where I work at the farm’s care home, a small residential home for three adults with learning disabilities. I’m reminded of this, too, by the farm’s work in producing biodynamic and organic food for local people while demonstrating strong community values. The farm has recently started home deliveries for the elderly and those who are self-isolating (a service which I’ve just taken advantage of, as my wife Sophia and I are recovering from symptoms of the virus and so unable to leave home). Will this epidemic help society to make these kinds of initiatives part of the new normal, so that we don’t have to go back to what we had before?

Even better, might this experience make it possible for us humans to realise we can change our habits and our expectations without too much pain? Could those of us in the West learn to do with less so that the rest of the world can have a little more?  Can we prolong this welcome mini-break that the Earth has had from our polluting activities? It’s been wonderful to see evidence of reduced air pollution across major cities and I’m sure we’re all enjoying the diminution in aircraft and traffic noise. Could this be maintained into the future? Probably not, unless we can persuade governments that we do not want to resume the relentless emphasis on economic growth, even though it’s obvious that this is the only way for us to achieve the reduction in carbon emissions necessary if the twin crises of climate change and species extinction are to be averted. If change is what we want, then we all need to let our politicians know it, loud and clear.

I’ve been veering towards the positive so far on what this pandemic might mean for us; but there is also a possibility that I am being naïve and that we are all being ‘played’ by forces that are very far from benign towards human beings. One of the many disturbing features of this crisis is the astonishing speed with which our civil liberties have been taken away from us. At Easter time, amid all the other restrictions being placed on us, it is very strange that Covid-19 is making it impossible for churches to be open and for services to be held; and therefore “where two or more are gathered together in my Name, there I am present among them” is also rendered impossible. Sophia, who is a French national, tells me that in France people are now only allowed out of their homes if they are on their own – and only for one hour at a time and they can only go one kilometre from their home. This pandemic has created the circumstances in which all the aspects of a totalitarian dictatorship can be justified by governments and accepted meekly by most of us, not only in France but also in the UK and across the world.

Who would wish to bring about such a situation? Anthroposophists will of course have a ready candidate in mind, the infinitely clever being whom Jesus Christ called the Ruler of this World and whom Steiner called Ahriman.  It would be very much in the interests of Ahriman, whose incarnation may be imminent, to close down Easter and to force every person on the planet to submit themselves to government diktat for reasons that are apparently benign and claimed to be for the greater good.

What can we do as a form of gentle resistance to this closing-down of Easter and normal life? This Good Friday morning Sophia and I lit a candle and read through the Gospel of John, from the account of the last supper in the Upper Room through to the events of the Crucifixion; this was an incredibly powerful and moving experience for both of us. We will continue to read the rest of the story in the coming days. Outside, the sun was shining, the plants are burgeoning and there was a very strong sense of the Christ-filled elementals celebrating in the garden.

If I could have given my talk at Emerson College on Easter Day, Sunday 12th April, I would have begun with the great Easter poem by the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser. This is Sonnet 68 from the ‘Amoretti’ sequence of 89 sonnets, first published in 1595, which Spenser wrote for his fiancée, Elizabeth Boyle. Now it seems an appropriate way to end this piece:

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,

Didst make thy triumph over death and sin:

And having harrow’d hell, didst bring away

Captivity thence captive, us to win:

This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,

And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,

Being with thy dear blood clean wash’d from sin,

May live for ever in felicity.

And that thy love we weighing worthily,

May likewise love thee for the same again:

And for thy sake, that all life dear didst buy,

With love may one another entertain.

So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,

Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

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Filed under Ahriman, Covid-19 pandemic, Easter

The Archbishop of Canterbury wants to sabotage Easter

My positive Easter mood, as conveyed in my last post, was quickly overshadowed by no less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby.

Archbishop Justin was heard on the news programmes brightly announcing how, after more than a thousand years of Easter being a moveable feast, he had hopes of reaching agreement with the other churches to settle upon a fixed date for Easter. He said he would “love” to see Easter become a fixed date by the time he retires. But he added that it might take up to a decade for that to happen:

“I would expect between five and 10 years’ time – I wouldn’t expect it earlier than that not least because most people have probably printed their calendars for the next five years.”

Mr Welby said that he will consult with other authorities including Pope Francis and the Coptic Pope to negotiate a change to the date. It is very unlikely that any change will be made without the full assent of all those authorities.

Mr Welby did warn however that churches have been attempting since the tenth century to fix the date of the festival, which at the moment is set with reference to the moon and the sun. The legal foundation for changing the date of Easter has been in law since the Easter Act of 1928. But for it to be changed, churches need to assent to it — though the law allows the Government to simply decide to fix the date, authorities have deferred to churches since it was passed.

Since the fourth century, the date of Easter has fallen on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the spring equinox. That means that it can vary hugely from year-to-year. In 2017 for example, Easter Sunday will fall on April 16, and in 2018 it will be on April 1.

I wrote about this a year ago, in my post “Why Easter should remain a moveable feast” and there I set out details of some fascinating experiments done by the late Lili Kolisko, following indications given by Rudolf Steiner. These experiments demonstrate clearly that on the true date of Easter, there is an influx of cosmic energies of resurrection to the Earth. When worked with by priests and worshippers in Easter services, these energies have a hugely beneficial influence on all creation, whether the priests and congregations are aware of it or not. It will be yet another triumph for the oppositional forces if this energy is not used on the true Easter day.

Just before Easter, I decided to write to Justin Welby to ask him to re-consider. The reply I got from his correspondence secretary was very worrying:

“Dear Mr Smith – Archbishop Justin has now left London to spend Holy Week and Easter in Canterbury and so I have been asked to write thanking you for your message.  The proposal to fix the date of Easter was made by the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, after discussions with Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch.  The proposal is at an early stage of discussion between the main Christian denominations.  The world-wide Anglican Communion is not leading on this but the Primates of the Communion, meeting in Canterbury recently, were supportive of the idea.”

How sad it is that these princes of the Christian church seem to have no knowledge of the true esoteric meaning and power of Easter. On March 25th, I sat with the farm team at Tablehurst Community Farm to listen to a reading of a passage from Emil Bock’s book, “The Three Years”, which described the real meaning of what was happening on that first Good Friday. It was a sobering thought to discover there was more true feeling and understanding of Easter in that simple gathering than exists among all the primates and popes of the Christian denominations.

Perhaps Archbishop Justin sees himself as a moderniser, in the mould of Tony Blair, bringing new thinking to fusty old institutions. But perhaps, also like Tony Blair, he hasn’t got the first idea of what it is he is tinkering with, and will bring disaster in his wake. Mr Welby would like to retire knowing that he has secured a fixed date for Easter – this would be his legacy. Instead, it will be another triumph for those who hate the spirit, if all the churches celebrate Easter on a day when none of the great Easter cosmic energies of resurrection is coming into the Earth. For anyone who cares about this, it’s time to start writing to these churchmen – we’ve got five years or so to get them to think again.

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Filed under Archbishop of Canterbury, Easter, Justin Welby, Lili Kolisko, Rudolf Steiner

Thoughts on Easter

Tablehurst sheep and lamb

Proud mother and 10-minute old lamb at Tablehurst Community Farm

 

After a hectic but very enjoyable Lambing Day on March 19th, with hundreds of visitors at Tablehurst Farm, we went in the evening to Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, for an inspiring performance of Bach’s St John Passion. To go from little lambs to the Lamb of God is a wonderful way to get into the Easter mood; and it also got me reflecting on Easter as the festival of death and resurrection, the death of Jesus Christ and his subsequent rebirth into a new life.

When I was a child and indeed for many years afterwards, I could never understand what was meant when teachers and priests said things like “Christ died to save our sins” and “Christ died that we may live”. And actually, I’m not sure that those teachers and priests knew what they meant, either. How could someone dying a horrible death 2000 years ago have had any practical effect on our lives today? And how did that death redeem my small sins or help me to live? There is a mystery here and I didn’t receive any explanation that made sense to me while I was growing up.

As I got older and particularly as I began to enquire more widely into esoteric matters, I started to get a glimmer of understanding into these questions. Rudolf Steiner’s works have been particularly helpful in this respect.

From his youth, Steiner possessed complete clairvoyance so that the spiritual worlds were as open to him as the material world is to us. Having developed this power of exploring higher worlds he set about his investigations and was able to research back to the dim past of human and planetary evolution. To his astonishment, he discovered that the descent of the Christ into physical existence was the absolutely central event of evolution, what he sometimes called “the turning point of time”. Of this period in his life Steiner writes in his autobiography: “I stood before the Mystery of Golgotha in a most profound inward festival of knowledge” and it is a fact that from about 1910 onwards Steiner’s entire teaching is Christo-centric.

Naturally this teaching does not always conform to church dogma, for Steiner’s spiritual research enabled him to arrive at esoteric truths and then express them without the need to pay lip service to what was taught by the churches. Some of you may remember David Jenkins, who was Bishop of Durham from 1984 to 1994. He enraged newspapers like the Daily Mail and the more thick-headed rent-a-quote type of MP by saying that the resurrection was not of a physical body, an idea which he described as “conjuring tricks with bones.” The poor bishop was trying to give out information from esoteric Christianity rather than the fairy story that the Church hitherto had thought was all we could understand – but clearly there were still some people who didn’t want to take off their baby shoes.

It’s also disappointing to have to spell out the following but if I don’t do so, there are people who will try to drive sectarian wedges between Steiner and others. So let it be understood that behind everything Steiner says is the concept that life is a divine oneness and that humankind is one great family. The Christ impulse illumines every race, creed and nation, and there is nothing sectarian about it – Truth and Love are there for every human being, of whatever race and whether atheist or believer.

Esoteric Christianity sees the man Jesus as the human vehicle for the cosmic being of the Christ. What do we mean by the Christ and why did this cosmic being need a human vehicle? The name “Christ” comes from the Greek “Christos” and it refers to an exalted being of the spiritual Sun. We need to re-think materialistic science’s view that the celestial bodies are just balls of gas or types of nuclear reactor in the skies – the solar system as seen with Steiner’s spiritual knowledge is a huge living organism filled with living thought. Here we have to try to encompass the concept of a solar system filled with spirit and being. This is not the time to go into Steiner’s picture of the evolution of the solar system and the way in which the celestial bodies became related to each other but those who are interested can read more in Steiner’s book, An Outline of Esoteric Science. If we can nevertheless hold on to this picture of the celestial bodies as spheres of activity for spiritual beings, then we might also see that evolution has both a spiritual and a physical aspect.

Steiner says that the overlighting of Jesus of Nazareth by the Cosmic Christ took place at the time when the 30-year old Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. This was when the Christ incarnated into the body of Jesus. In the Gospel of St Matthew we read: “and lo, the heavens were opened unto him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him.” For three years after the Baptism, the Christ lived in this body of Jesus until his death on the cross.

Turning now to Steiner’s comments on Easter, he says here something about the true significance of the Festival for us:

“When a mighty individuality like that of the Christ Jesus comes to the aid of entire humanity, it is his sacrifice in death which permeates the karma of mankind. He helped to carry the karma of the whole of humanity, and we may be quite sure that redemption through Christ Jesus was absorbed and assimilated by the totality of human karma.”

An amazing thought, and one which to me helps to make sense of the saying that Christ died to save us from our sins. What Steiner is conveying here is that when Christ died on the cross he took on a huge part of the karma of humanity, which had it not been redeemed in this way, would have led us into more and more darkness and materiality. Instead, Christ’s deed began the slow but sure upward ascent away from materialism in which we are now engaged. Now, this materialism still has a long way to run, apparently for another 2,500 years or so, and indeed it has not yet reached the peak of its intensity – but we are all now on an upward path.

Unusual and startling as some may find Steiner’s insights, personally I find them very helpful in understanding the true meaning of Easter. Steiner goes on to talk about the enormous significance of Easter for human evolution:

“Christ Jesus experiences death, as commemorated by Good Friday. He remains in the grave for the period of three days, this representing His coalescence with earthly existence. This period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is celebrated in Christendom as a festival of mourning. Finally, Easter Sunday is the day on which the central being of Christianity arises from the grave. It is the memorial day of this event. That is the essential substance of Easter: the death, the interval in the grave, and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.”

“The essential point is that in the thirtieth year of His life… the primal Being of the Sun, the Christ Himself…took up His abode in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. That is what underlies the Mystery of Golgotha as the primal fruit of the whole life of the Earth.”

“It is, however, characteristic of the modern evolution of Christianity that the thought of Good Friday (i.e. the Crucifixion)…has come ever more to the fore, and the thought of the Resurrection — the true Easter thought — has gradually retired. Thoughts on Easter must point especially to a time in which man must experience the resurrection of his being through the Spirit. We have need of Easter thoughts, and of a full understanding of such thoughts…It is the Christ we have need of, however, the Christ Whom we can seek in our own inner beings, and Who at once appears when we do seek Him…We have need of the vivid consciousness of the eternity of the Spirit.”

Notice there that Steiner has said that the true thought of Easter is Resurrection and not the concentration on the Crucifixion. In other words, the more important aspect of Easter is not death and mourning but the possibility of new life and the return of awareness of the spirit to human consciousness. He says:

“We will never be able to grasp the true thought of Easter unless we realise that in speaking of the Christ we must look upwards from what is merely earthly to what is cosmic….Christ came down among men in order to unite the souls of men with the Cosmic Spirit. Only a true expounder of the Gospel of Christ points out that what we see in the physical sun is the outward expression of the Spirit of our universe — the resurrecting Spirit of our universe.”

And in fact Steiner gives us the most tremendous thought, one which I find changes my conception of what it is to walk this Earth. He says that since Christ’s descent into hell and resurrection, Christ has lived in the etheric body of the Earth and can be experienced by those who have developed the necessary supersensible perception. Steiner says that there will be no Second Coming of Christ in a physical body. There is no need for the Christ to incarnate again and live through a physical body and so pass through death. That was done once and for all and will not be repeated.

So if the Christ really is in the etheric body of the Earth, what does that mean for us? Well, it certainly can make a difference to how you walk on the earth itself. If the Christ is there, then you are literally treading on holy ground every time you take a step, wherever you may be. And if He is indeed present invisibly throughout the whole etheric field of the Earth, then He is truly within the etheric body of every form, every tree and plant, every animal. Christ came for the benefit of all creation, not just human beings. But with our normal intellectual processes we cannot consciously experience this. If we can raise our thinking and awareness, however, there we shall find Him.

Now, here’s another thought – what would it mean for the world if instead of dashing about heedlessly, we walked with the awareness that we are treading on the etheric body of Christ, and that by doing this with loving consciousness, we are helping to release the spiritual substance locked up in matter and thereby transforming it – what might that do to the world? What might that do to our selves?

Happy Easter!

Easter languages

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Cosmic Christ, Easter, Jesus Christ, Rudolf Steiner