Christopher Bamford

Rudolf Steiner and the Masters of Esoteric Christianity

ANNOUNCING

AN EXTRAORDINARY AND INSPIRING NEW BOOK

BY SERGEI O. PROKOFIEFF

Rudolf Steiner and the Masters of Esoteric Christianity is a fitting and revelatory capstone to a life of extraordinary dedication to the beating heart—the very life—of Anthroposophy. It is also valedictory. Written in Sergei Prokofieff’s final years, it is clear, straightforward, luminous; it unfolds naturally, without haste, with magisterial clarity, and in perfect control of its material.

Prokofieff’s first book, Rudolf Steiner and the Founding of the New Mysteries, the first of more than forty books, in a sense already contains the seed of the last. For the New Mysteries brought into the world by Rudolf Steiner are in fact the Mysteries of Esoteric Christianity. Without this compass, Anthroposophy as Rudolf Steiner brought it into the world cannot be understood. To comprehend Rudolf Steiner as a Master of Esoteric Christianity, and Esoteric Christianity as the heart and life-blood of Anthroposophy, this is the essential book.

For those who may not know his name, Sergei Prokofieff, who died on July 26, 2014, was a true servant and, one might say, a Master of Anthroposophy, dedicated to revealing the true, esoteric Christianity by which, as he might put it, Anthroposophy lives. Russian born, but from the 1980s living in the West, in Dornach, Prokofieff brought to the research, study, practice, and interpretation of Rudolf Steiner’s teachings a deep, unwavering commitment to the task of unveiling the esoteric, living Christianity that is at the very foundation of Anthroposophy.

The story of the Masters begins in Berlin, at the turn of the twentieth century, when Rudolf Steiner is asked to give a lecture to the Theosophical Society on Nietzsche and then to follow it with two lectures of his own choosing. These two lectures already broached themes of esoteric Christianity and were, in fact, Christian and Rosicrucian in essence. They subsequently became the first properly anthroposophical/theosophical books, namely, Mystics at the Dawn of the Modern Age and Christianity as Mystical Fact.

All three lectures were very well received. Moreover, Rudolf Steiner, who was already familiar from his Vienna days with Theosophy, felt at home, perhaps unexpectedly, with the theosophists he met. The upshot was that he was asked to become the general secretary of the German Section.

Right away, he was faced with the reality that Theosophy, having first been Western (founded in New York) and Rosicrucian (Blavatsky’s first book, Isis Unveiled, was Rosicrucian in inspiration), was now explicitly Eastern (non-Christian) and showing signs of becoming anti-Christian. These signs, within a few years, would manifest in the proclamation of Krishnamurti as at once Christ and the Maitreya Bodhisattva.

It should not be forgotten that Rudolf Steiner was esoteric Christian and Rosicrucian from the beginning—from his days as an altar boy to his encounter with the Rosicrucian herb-gatherer Felix Kogutsky (who led him to M [the Master]), his Goethean studies, and his apprenticeship with the philosophies of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, as well as with those whom they had studied, namely, Meister Eckhart, Paracelsus, Jakob Boehme, and other Rosicrucians. More important perhaps, Rudolf Steiner had already undergone the initiatory Christ experience he describes in his Autobiography:

The Christianity that I had to find was not in any of the existing confessions. After the severe, inner struggles during that time of testing, I found it necessary to immerse myself in Christianity and, indeed, in the world where spirit itself speaks of it.

My relationship to Christianity should make it clear that my spiritual science cannot be attained through the kind of research ascribed to me by many people. They suggest that I have assembled a theory of spirit based on ancient traditions. They suppose that I have elaborated Gnosticism and other such teachings. The spiritual insight attained in Christianity as Mystical Fact is brought directly from the world of spirit itself. I examined the records of history and incorporated them into that work only because I wanted to demonstrate, both to the lecture audience and to the book’s readers, the harmony between history and what is perceived spiritually. But I took nothing from historical documents for the book’s content unless I had first experienced it in spirit.

During the period when my statements about Christianity seemed to contradict my later comments, a conscious knowledge of real Christianity began to dawn within me. Around the turn of the century, this seed of knowledge continued to develop. The soul test described here occurred shortly before the beginning of the twentieth century. It was decisive for my soul’s development that I stood spiritually before the Mystery of Golgotha in a deep and solemn celebration of knowledge.

Against this background, Rudolf Steiner’s task in becoming the general secretary of the German Section was to ween it gradually from its Eastern sources, while at the same time infusing it with Western and Rosicrucian esoteric Christianity. From the beginning, he was led to understand from higher sources that Theosophy was the natural and appropriate spiritual vehicle for our age, but to fulfil this task its universal origins had to be recovered; a task esoteric Christianity could accomplish. Indeed, there were not two esotericisms, but only one; for, as Rudolf Steiner said in a lecture on April 12,1909: “There is no wisdom of the East that has not streamed into Western occultism; and in Rosicrucianism you will find absolutely everything that the great sages of the East have preserved…. The wisdom of the West must embrace all the teachings of the East … and—without allowing any of it to be lost—illuminate it with the light kindled within humanity by the Christ impulse.”

The great pivot in this task of returning Theosophy to its universal origins through the infusion of esoteric Christianity came with the Theosophical Congress of 1907 at which Rudolf Steiner was given permission to create his own “Western” Esoteric Section and teaching. And so, at the very first meeting of the Esoteric Section following the Congress, Rudolf Steiner announced: “At the head of our Western School there are two Masters: The Master Jesus and the Master Christian Rosenkreutz.…What is given through me on behalf of the Masters of the West goes independently alongside what Mrs. Besant teaches on behalf of the Masters of the East.”

The nature and mission of the five additional Masters—Mani, Scythianos, Gautama Buddha, the Maitreya bodhisattva, and Novalis—emerge in Prokofieff’s narrative in concert with his exposition of the great fruits of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual research, including: Christ’s return in the etheric, the reality of and consequence of the two Jesus children, and the spiritual unveiling of the esoteric significance of the different Gospels. These are woven together with the other Christian Mysteries that open to us in our time, namely, the Michael Mysteries (Archangel Michael), the Sophia Mysteries (Divine Feminine Wisdom), and the Mysteries specific to Christ Jesus and the Mystery of Golgotha. These Mysteries, in some sense specific to Rudolf Steiner’s special mission, lead finally to a profound consideration of the spiritual individuality of Rudolf Steiner himself—to Rudolf Steiner as a true Master of Esoteric Christianity.

From this point of view, Prokofieff describes the “archetypal phenomenon” of Rudolf Steiner’s initiation as consisting of four aspects: First, “Not I, but the Christ in me,” exemplifying the highest stage of intuition, the receiving into himself the impression of the ‘I’ of Christ Jesus, which Prokofieff calls “the most important result of modern initiation.” Second, being overlighted by the Holy Spirit, whereby he was able to form a new connection to the cosmic sphere of the bodhisattvas. Third, the conscious experience of Sophia in her contemporary presence, enabling the spiritualization of the present Michaelic intelligence—the intelligence awakened in our time by the Archangel Michael that makes possible the entry into the spiritual world and the working with the etheric Christ. Fourth, the full spiritualization of the Michael intelligence through the path outlined in his Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. In Steiner’s words, “Michael wants a human being to become a free being who through the path of his concepts and ideas also finds an understanding of what comes to him from the spiritual world by way of revelation.” In this sense, the archetypal phenomenon of Rudolf Steiner’s initiation is available to anyone willing to undertake this path.

There is, of course, much more. What I have given here are only glimpses of what Prokofieff presents. Though this rich book is remarkably accessible, it requires deep reading and meditation to grasp its full significance. Every deep and life-changing book makes that demand of its readers. Reading this book with an open mind and an inner need to understand more deeply the significance of Anthroposophy as an esoteric Christian path and also—between the lines—Rudolf Steiner himself as a Master of Esoteric Christianity, the teacher of an esoteric Christianity of the present and the future, this book could be a life-changer.

Christopher Bamford

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Materialism and Spirituality—Life and Death

Materialism and Spirituality— Life and Death Berlin, February 6 , 1917

Rudolf Steiner

Let us turn our thoughts, dear friends, as we continually do, to the guardian spirits of those who are absent from us, taking their place where the great destinies of the time are being fulfilled:

Spirits ever watchful, Guardian of their souls!

May your vibrations waft

To the Earth human beings committed to your charge

Our souls’ petitioning love:

That, united with your power,

Our prayer may helpfully radiate

To the souls it lovingly seeks!


And to the spirits of those who have passed through the gate of death:


Spirits ever watchful, Guardians of their souls!

May your vibrations waft

To human beings of the spheres committed to your charge

Our souls’ petitioning love:

That, united with your power,

Our prayer may helpfully radiate

To the souls it lovingly seeks!


And that Spirit, Who for the healing of the Earth and for her progress,

and for the freedom and salvation of humankind, passed through

the Mystery of Golgotha;

The Spirit whom in our spiritual science we seek,

to whom we would draw near,

May he be at your side in all your difficult tasks!

Let me first express the deep satisfaction I have in being able to be once more in your midst. I would have come earlier, but for an urgent need, that kept me in Dornach until the work on “The Group” had reached a point at which it could be continued without me. You have often heard me speak of “The Group,” which will stand in the east end of the Goetheanum and presents the Representative of Humanity in relation to ahrimanic forces on the one hand, and on the other to luciferic forces. These days, one needs forethought for the future, and it seemed to me absolutely necessary, considering what may happen, to make that progress with “The Group” before leaving Dornach, which has now been possible. Furthermore, the times are certain to bring home to us with particular intensity the fact that meeting with one another here on the physical plane is not the only thing that sustains and strengthens us in the impulse of spiritual science. Rather, we must be born up through this difficult time of sorrow and trial by coming together in our anthroposophic efforts, even if together only in spirit. And indeed, this very thing is to be the test for our anthroposophic efforts.

Since we were together here previously, we have had to lament the loss from the physical plane of our dear Ms. Motzkus, as well as other dear friends who have left the physical plane because of the current terrible events. It is especially painful to see Ms. Motzkus no longer among the friends who have shared our anthroposophic efforts here for so many years. She had been 1 These meditations were repeated at the beginning of each lecture in the series. Materialism and Spirituality—Life and Death 3 a member of our movement since its beginning. From the first day, from the first meeting of a very small circle, she always showed the deepest and most heartfelt devotion to our movement and participated intimately and earnestly in all the phases it went through, in all its times of trial and testing. Above all, through the events and changes through which we had to pass, she preserved an invincible loyalty to the movement in the deepest sense of the word—loyalty through which she set an example to all those who would wish to be worthy members of the anthroposophic movement. Thus, with our gaze we follow this beloved and pure soul into the spiritual worlds to which she has ascended, still feeling toward her the bond of trust and confidence that has grown stronger and deeper over the years, knowing that our own souls are linked with hers forever. . . . Read more


A Christmas Address by Rudolf Steiner to the Children of the First Waldorf School

Address at the Christmas Assembly,
December 21, 1919

Rudolf Steiner

 

Dear children!

Several weeks ago, when we all came to this school for the first time, I visited you more often. Then there were a few weeks when I had to be quite far away from here, but each morning when I got up and went to work, I wondered, “What are my dear Waldorf children and their teachers doing now?” This thought came to me often during the day. And now, in the festive Christmas season, I have had the privilege of being able to visit you again. I went into all your classes and asked many of you, “Do you love your teachers?” [“Yes!” shout the children.] And you see, you answered me warmly, just like that. And then I said to you, “That is an especially nice Christmas gift for me!”

And it is a nice Christmas gift for me. You see, dear children, I have to think about how you have been spending your days since Herr Molt gave us the gift of this Waldorf School. After resting from evening until morning in the divine spirit that watches over your souls from the time you go to sleep until the time you wake up, and after you have washed and dressed and gotten all ready, you come up here to this beautiful schoolhouse. And I believe that many of you, maybe even all of you, look forward to everything that will be here for you in this beautiful schoolhouse. [“Yes!” shout the children.]

Dear children, you have reason to look forward to it. You see, while I was away from you I thought of you often, and in my thoughts I wondered, “What are my dear Waldorf children doing?” And I also said to myself, “They will be doing just fine, because they have nice capable teachers, and these nice capable teachers approach them with real love and are working very hard so that something good will come of the children.” And then I had to think of how you look forward to coming up here and of the love you show for your teachers. These teachers have to work long and hard to be able to teach you all the good and beautiful things that will make good and capable people out of you.

And you know, my dear children, I was especially pleased when I was in the classes and some children would come in playing the part of Ruprecht [Ruprecht: in the European tradition, the Moorish helper of St. Nicholas, who carries a black sack and administers symbolic punishments to children who have been bad during the past year.] or of little angels, and they sang and talked about the child Jesus, about the holy Christ Child. It was beautiful and grand that you could speak about the Christ with such love, and that you could listen with such love.

And do you know where your teachers get all the strength and ability they need so that they can teach you to grow up to be good and capable people? They get it from the Christ, whom we think about at Christmas. We think about how He came into the world to bring joy to all people, and you gave some beautiful presentations about Him today.

You see, my dear children, there are beings on earth that are not like human beings — for example, the animals around us — and we might often think that we should envy these animals. You can look up and see the birds flying, and perhaps then you might say, “Oh, if only we could fly, too! Then we would be able to soar into the air.” We human beings cannot fly like the birds because we have no wings. However, dear children, we can fly into the element of the spiritual, and we have two wings to fly there. The wing on the left is called “hard work,” and the other wing on the right is called “paying attention.” We cannot see them, but these two wings — hard work and paying attention — make it possible for us to fly into life and become people who are really ready for life. If we work hard and pay attention as children, and if we have teachers that are as good and capable as yours, then what makes us fit for life will come to us, and on the wings of hard work and paying attention we will be able to fly into life, where the love of our teachers carries us.

You know, you can sometimes think that there are things that are more fun than learning. But that is not really true; there is no greater joy than learning. You see, when you enjoy something that lets you be inattentive and does not make you work hard, then the joy is over immediately. You enjoy it, and then the joy is gone. But when you enjoy what you can learn, when you are flying on the wings of hard work and paying attention, then my dear children, something stays behind in your souls. (Later on you will know what the soul is.) Something stays in your soul, and you can enjoy that over and over again. When we have learned something good and proper, it comes back again and again; we enjoy it again and again with a joy that never stops. But the other fun things, the ones that come only from inattentiveness and laziness, they come to an end.

You see, because many of you — all of you, I would like to believe — want to work hard and pay attention to what your nice teachers are giving you, I was so glad to see your love for your teachers streaming out of your eyes when I saw you again. And so that you do not forget it, I would like to ask you again, “Don't you all sincerely love your teachers?” [“Yes, we do!” shout the children.] Now, that is what you should always say. That is what you should always feel, and then the spirit whose earthly life and birth we remember at Christmas time, the Christ spirit, will take joy in you.

Now, my dear children, when you have felt your teachers' love all day long up here, then you can go home again and tell your parents about what you have learned, and your parents will be glad and say to themselves, “Well, our children are going to grow up to be good and capable people.”

Make sure to write that in your souls, for now is a good time to do that. When we think of the great festival that reminds us that the Christ entered our world to bring comfort and joy to all human beings who turn their hearts and souls toward Him, then we can also inscribe in our souls the intention to become good human beings. Because the power of Christ is helping you, you will become what you write in your souls today, what you seriously intend to become. And when I come again and see that you have made even more progress, when I come again and see that you can once again show me that you have taken love for your teachers into your hearts and kept it there, then I will again be very glad. My warmest Christmas wish for you today is that this love will grow ever more perfect in you, and that you may continue to unfold the left wing of the human soul, which is hard work, and the right wing, which is paying attention.

And now that I have spoken to the children, let me still say a few words to those who have accompanied them here. What I just said to the children flows from a deeply satisfied heart, because I really have received the most beautiful Christmas greeting from them. When I came into the school, what wafted toward me was something I would like to call the good spirit of this school. It was the really good spirit, the good and unifying spirit, that brings teachers and children together here.

You see, in these days a Christmas mood was resting on all the serious teaching that was taking place, and it was deeply satisfying to perceive this Christmas mood, into which the revelation of Christ speaks, if I may put it like that, in all the corridors and especially in the classrooms. This was no mere supplement to the regular lessons. You could feel that our faculty managed to warm and enlighten everything that was being presented to the children's souls and hearts and understanding with the real, true spirit of Christ. Here, in accordance with the wishes of the divine spirit, we do not speak the name of Christ after every sentence — for “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain!” — but it is nonetheless true that this spirit of Christ is with us in all our individual subjects and in every teaching activity. This is something that can readily be felt, especially at this time of year. Perhaps you too have been able to feel it in what came to meet you out of this Christmas assembly.

And finally, to conclude my Christmas greeting, I would like to appeal to the children whom you have sent here. I hope their progress pleases you.

Children, when you enter these rooms with the other boys and girls, recall that you are meant to love each other warmly, to love each and every other one. If love prevails among you, you will thrive under the car e of your teachers, and your parents at home will have no concerns and will have loving thoughts of how you are spending your time here.

There is something we may say today, ladies and gentlemen, which should resound, as the spirit of this school, from every word and glance the children bring home to you who have sent them here, as an echo of what is meant to permeate all of our human journeying on earth since the mystery of Golgotha took place, to permeate all human work and activity, and especially all activity in which the spirit has work to do. May the words that ring in our souls today weave through everything that human beings do out of self-understanding, weave like a warming breath of air or beam of sunlight:

The revelation of the divine from heavenly heights,
And peace to human beings on earth who are of good Will
!
                                  [Luke 2:14.]

Our great ideal is to cultivate this good will in the children of the Waldorf School. Our concern must be to find the governance of the spirit of the world in our work, in everything we do. May the Christmas message, “The revelation of the spirit of God from the heavenly heights, and peace to human beings on earth who are of good will,” trickle down into all the work of the Waldorf School as well. May the school's working strength be governed by brotherly love and by the peace that inspires and supports all work! That, dear ladies and gentlemen, is my Christmas greeting to you today.

 
 

Why Books?

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Why Books?

Language, Speaking, Writing, Reading

In the Evolution of Consciousness


Before the human being was a self-conscious being in the way that he is today,

an artist was at work in him, active as the spirit of language, and our I is embedded in a place where previously an artist was at work. …Language is really cleverer than human beings, for it comes to us from primeval worlds. There is a deep reason why breathing was once called inspiration. In general, the words of our language say much more than we, in our abstract consciousness, feel them to contain.

(Rudolf Steiner,” Spiritual Science and Language”

in Metamorphoses of the Soul, Vol 2.)


Seek in reading and you will find in meditation;

know in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation.

St. John of the Cross

Language began in magic and, despite the invention of the printing press and its digital devolution through the internet, it may yet perhaps yet continue—at least for a while—to be the magical and principle factor in humanity’s spiritual evolution. Although in the distant future, humanity may have evolved to the point where intimate, meditative, inspired oral discourse renders books unnecessary, for the moment we must hope that books and reading them closely—deeply, meditatively—may, despite competition from the internet and its tools, continue their transformative and evolutionary mission.

In other words, books, especially serious books like those of Rudolf Steiner, which demand and require “deep” and “continually inwardly transforming” reading are at risk. This means that Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy which, through the deep digestion of its insights and practices, under the guidance of Michael, seeks to embody a new, evolutionary transformation of consciousness as the seed of a new World Culture, is potentially also at risk.

Certainly, if they wish to be part of the evolving world, Anthroposophists must use all the new media to make freely available in the most accessible ways the fruits of Anthroposophy. As publishers, we at SteinerBooks must also support the various daughter movements: Waldorf education, Biodynamics, Anthroposophical medicine and so on. But, unlike those movements, as publishers of Rudolf Steiner, I feel we also have a further and deeper duty toward Anthroposophy itself, as it contained in the Collected Works, to support and encourage the deep, meditative and transformative reading. As material objects, the books in this series, whether read now or in the future, will remain—deo volente—part of the historical record, thus safeguarding the precious deposit of Spiritual Science, for at least as long as history endures. SteinerBooks (alongside Rudolf Steiner Verlag in Dornach and Rudolf Steiner Press in the U.K, co-publisher of the Collected Works) are, in fact, the only Anthroposophical Institutions charged with that duty. For these, I believe it is a legitimate concern to ask whether Anthroposophy itself can fulfil its promise as a largely oral tradition, as it sometimes seems in danger of becoming, now that reading Rudolf Steiner seems largely to have been fragmented into the cursory reading of separate lectures, often based on individual needs for specific “bits” of “information.”

Rudolf Steiner himself, of course, was clearly a “book” person. His personal collection of books—his library—contained more than 9,000 volumes (many annotated) and countless magazines and journals. It began in adolescence (as he describes in his Autobiography) with the purchase of Kant’s Critique, Rottech’s nine volume History of the World, and an account of Herbart’s Philosophy and Psychology. Nor should we discount in this initiation of his reading life the physician from Wiener-Neustadt, who, in the context of extended literary and philosophical discussions, first introduced Rudolf Steiner to German literature, communicating his deep love of it, and allowing him to borrow books from his library. Thus, from such beginnings, Steiner’s own library and his own transformative reading would be built up over a lifetime of reading, accompanying him from place to place, until finally settling in Dornach.

Despite this, the place of “deep, meditative reading” in Rudolf Steiner’s creation and unfolding of Anthroposophy is seldom emphasized. In fact, it was the deep reading of what might be called his “platform” or “sources”—Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Nietzsche, as well as “Rosicrucians” such Paracelsus, Boehme, Basilius Valentine and others (not to mention The Secret Doctrine and other Theosophical works)— amplified by his own continuously evolving and developing cognitive and spiritual faculties that allowed him, as he put it, “to bring philosophy into the spiritual world,” where until then it had hovered only on its fringes. Witness this charming, early letter written when he was only nineteen (January 13, 1881)

It was the night from January 10th to the 11th. I didn’t sleep a wink. I was busy with philosophical problems until about 12.30 a.m. Then, finally, I threw myself down on my couch. All my striving during the previous year had been to research whether the following statement by Schelling was true or not: “Within everyone dwells a secret, marvelous capacity to draw back from the stream of time—out of the self that is clothed in all that comes to us from outside—into our innermost being and there, in the immutable form of the Eternal, to look into ourselves.” I believe, and I am still quite certain of it, that I discovered this capacity in myself. I had long had an inkling of it. Now the whole of idealist philosophy stands before me transformed in its essence. What’s a sleepless night compared to that!

Phenomenologically, the qualities that distinguish material books from digital media are easily noted. Gazing at a screen, or reading a download, is clearly a different experience to that of holding a printed book in one’s hand and reading it with care and attention. When one reads a book, one participates with one’s whole being in a context and process that involves a whole range of bodily proprioceptive sensory-haptic motions and gestures, affects and sensations, most of which are largely unavailable to the screen-reader. One’s sense of touch feels, even enjoys, for example, the edge of the pages as one turns them; one’s sense of hearing is comforted by the rustle of the pages as they turn: one’s sense of smell savors with pleasure the scent of the paper, the ink, the print. At the same time, one’s word sense forms an intimate, inner connection not just with the book itself, but above all with the words of the text, in all its re-readings, and interconnections, identified and counter-posed as one flips forward and back for confirmation of insights—all of which stimulates a deep, transformative immersion in the living reality of the text. In other words, when one reads a book one has the possibility of a deep, indeed continually deepening meditative, reading, in which one which one absorbs the content on multiple levels of body, soul, and spirit. That is, one does not read a book for information, but for transformation.

From this point of view, a book is a unique kind of object. Material, made of paper and ink, it lies before me inert and lifeless until I show an interest in it. Is it aware that we can become one in mutual transformation? It seemed so to the French critic Georges Poulet, who provides a good contemporary description of the beginning of this process:

Take a book, and you will find it offering itself, opening itself. It is this openness of the book that I find so moving. A book is not shut in by its contours, is not walled up as in a fortress. …. It asks nothing better than to exist outside itself, or to let you exist in it. In fact, the extraordinary fact in the case of a book is the falling away of the barriers between you and it. You are inside it; it is inside you; there is no longer either outside or inside.

Such is the initial phenomenon produced when I take up a book, and begin to read it. At the precise moment that I see, surging out of the object I hold open before me, a quantity of signification which my mind grasps, I realize that what I hold in my hands is no longer an object, or even simply a living thing. I am aware of a consciousness: the consciousness of another, no different from the one I assume in every human being I encounter, except that in this case the consciousness is open to me, welcomes me, lets me deep inside itself, and even allows me, with unheard-of license, to think what it thinks, to feel what it feels.

Unheard-of, I say. Unheard-of first is the disappearance of the “object.” …. For the book is no longer a material reality. It has become a series of words, of images, of ideas and concepts which in turn begin to exist. And where it this new existence? Surely not in the paper object. Nor, surely in external space. There is only one place left for this new existence: my innermost self.


To illuminate and understand something of the deeper issues at stake in this choice between older and newer technologies of reading—and, indeed writing—Rudolf Steiner, as always, gives us some indications:

…. Regarding the nature of language, it must be quite clearly understood that there is something in us which was there before the ego, which was then developed by the ego. But then, also, it cannot be claimed that language directly represents the ego, that it represents the spiritual aspect in us, everything which is intimate to our personality; but it must be understood that we can never see in language an immediate expression of the ego. The spirit of language works symbolically in the ether body, imitatively in the physical body; and this is linked with its creative activity in the sentient soul, forcing the inward experiences from it in such a manner that the sound is an expression of the inner life. In sum, language did not develop according to the conscious ego as it is today, but, if the development of language is to be compared to anything at all, its development can only be compared to artistic creation. Just as we cannot demand that the imitation of the artist corresponds to reality, we cannot demand that language copies those things which it is meant to represent. Language only imitates the outside world in a way similar to the picture, to the way that the artist as such imitates outside reality. Before the human being was a self-conscious being in the way that he is today, an artist was at work in him, active as the spirit of language, and our ego is embedded in a place where previously an artist was at work.

In other words:

Thus, before man became an individual soul another soul was working in the three members of his being of which we have knowledge today only through spiritual science, a soul which was the precursor of our individual ego. And this precursor of our ego, which then passed on to the ego the physical body, ether body and astral body in order that the ego might continue to transform them, this group-soul also transformed from within itself the physical body, ether body and astral body and ordered them according to itself. And the final activity of the human being before he was endowed with an ego, the final influence which lies before the birth of the ego, is present today in what we call human language. When we therefore consider what preceded the life of our consciousness soul, our intellectual or mind soul and our sentient soul, we come across an activity of the soul which is not yet transfused by the ego and its result is present today in the expression of language.

To begin to reimagine the role of language in this evolutionary sense —that is, including singing, speaking, writing, reading—a little history, and even prehistory, may provide a useful background to the issues we currently face.

*

While the origins of language are still hazy and largely speculative, a reasonable case can be made for the origins of speech in song. Most likely beginning in gesture, signs, in tandem with the beginnings of symbolic consciousness—as, for example, revealed in the earliest burial sites (around 100,000 BCE) in which heaps of stones are covered symbolically in ground red ochre—we can imagine these songs or articulated meaningful sounds or sonorities as oriented toward, receptive of, and addressing the invisible world of spirit and the dead. We may think of them as primordial prayer- or praise songs, and also, at the same time, as also as a form of sacrifice. As the Rig Veda put it centuries later, praise song comes first and creates the world: “Whatever the Gods do they do by song. The song is the sacrifice.” Not only that, for, on the human side: “The Gods are created through song.” The sacrifice is reciprocal. Thus, through sung speech humanity—human consciousness and consciousness of the world—evolved together.

Song in this early form did not depend on music: the sung words were initially themselves the music. As late as Plato, Socrates tells us in the The Republic that music “is composed of three things, the word, the harmony [of the words], and the rhythm [of the words]. The harmony and the rhythm must follow the words.” Thus, actual musical notation came relatively late in Greece and it was generally so into the early Middle Ages: to sing was the declaim the words. The sound of the words was the meaning, was already song. Finally, it was the effect of alphabetic writing that separated them. At the same time, alphabetization ultimately democratized reading, whereas the hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts of Sumeria, Egypt, and Babylon, important for the union of word and image, still remained largely the province of the priests, (though the merchant class used it for accounting etc).  

Alphabetic reading, however, could still unite word and song, if to a lesser degree. For this to occur, however, the written text or scripture had to speak. In the words of Augustine “when a word is written it makes a sign to the eyes whereby that which pertains to the ears enters the mind.” That is, “if writing speaks, to read is to listen.” Here the celebrated example was that of the Prophet Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, whose job it was to write down all that God had said on a scroll, and present it the people, who immediately asked him to “read it in their ears.” When was his reading was over, they asked him: “Tell us how didst thou write all these words at his mouth?” To which Baruch famously replied: “He pronounced these words unto me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in the book.” (Jeremiah 36, 15-18).

For this reason, during the Middle Ages and above all in monastic settings, readers would read their texts as much with their lips as their eyes. They would become the “voices of the pages.” The division between the material and the ideal did not then exist. Indeed, to think so made no sense to a world view in which bodily performance and intellectual comprehension were as viscerally linked as eating and digestion. Reading was basic food, like bread. It had to be thoroughly masticated, ruminated, chewed over. In this way, it not only entered the memory, it also could be raised up into the spiritual world. This meant, among other things, that the experience of reading was not linear in any purposive sense of getting through it. Rather, it was understood as a wandering journey, a path. A reader was a wayfarer in the text. Here we may note that, while the ancient Greek word for reading, anagignosco, meant to recollect, its Latin translation, lego, referred rather to collecting, or gathering, and was often described with allusions to hunting, fishing, or otherwise “tracking down prey.” In the words of Leroi-Gourhan, French archeologist, paleontologist and anthropologist: “Each piece of reading was a compact sequence, rhythmically broken up by seals, and marginal notes around which readers found their way like primitive hunters—by following a trail, rather than by studying a plan.” One thinks of the Celtic monk of Reichenau Abbey and his poem, “Pangur Ban”:

I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

……….

So, in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.


Faith in spiritual meaning guided the journey. The itinerary or ductus —dynamic movement of the text—was the guide to the wayfarer’s path as it was laid down in the walking of it. Sensing the guiding principles within the work as contemplation revealed them, the reader was led through the world of the work in harmony with the ever-transforming “con-duct” of the reader-wayfarer’s thinking, listening, feeling mind as it travelled the text, guided by the immanent shape of the whole, as this was expressed in its flow. Such reading requires a practice of obedience—or thorough listening (ob-audio)—to the text, so as follow its path and not one’s own. This practice was called lectio divina (sacred reading): meditative reading as prayer or contemplation.

Such listening to “the voices of the pages” was furthermore an activity of the whole person—body, mind, soul, and heart. Doctors prescribed it as an exercise, equivalent to walking or running. At the same time, the process was understood to be dialogic, to occur between self and other. To read was to create a relationship between language and the spirit. It was to enter the middle ground of participation between nature and grace: to be in-between the visible and the invisible.

Far from being a passive absorption of “information,” such reading was an existential act, a matter of life and death. It was not primarily a tool of edification or of spiritual improvement, and had nothing to do with interpretation—exegesis—scientific or otherwise. To read was to engage in a transformative event, the encounter with the living Word or Meaning. It was also to walk a path of cognition, one that led through thinking to knowing, and through knowing to wisdom, and through wisdom to union.

The classic formulation of lectio divina was The Ladder of Monks, written by a Carthusian solitary, Guigo II (d. 1188), the ninth Prior of the Grande Chartreuse. It tells of Guigo’s discovery of a ladder, “whose rungs are few, but whose length is so immense that it reaches from earth to pierce the clouds and touch the secrets of heaven.”

“One day,” Guigo writes, “while busy working with my hands, I began to think about our spiritual work, and all at once four stages in spiritual exercise came into my mind: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation…”

Reading is the careful study of scripture, concentrating all one’s powers on it. Meditation is the busy application of the mind to seek with the help of one’s own reason for knowledge of hidden truth. Prayer is the heart’s devoted turning to God to drive away evil and obtain what is good. Contemplation is when the mind is in some sort lifted up to God and held above itself, so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness.


In other words, what we have here is a prototype of Rudolf Steiner’s mantric or sentence meditions, a process extenable to all serious reading in general. Starting with ordinary thinking, one reads slowly, attentively, with great care, circle around each thought, each word. One associates, connects, recalls, tryingto gather everything one already know, seeking the essence, goodness, truth, and reality that these words—these thoughts—contain. Imperceptibly, the conviction gradually dawns that there is something more, something other than our ordinary thinking can attain. Thinking rises, opening to the spirutal world.  In Guigo’s words: “There is something good here. I shall return to my heart and try to understand and find this pure, precious, and desirable thing.”

We have found something, some insight, perhaps a thought, an incipient imagination, we have never had before. We sense the presence of something more, but we cannot reach it. We could perhaps remain satisfied with what we have discovered. Yet, rather than a conclusion, we know in our heart that actually we have reached only a kind of limit or boundary. Ordinary thinking seems to have exhausted itself.

So we turn our thinking around, upon ourselves. We take the subject of our thinking, our text, and apply it to ourselves. We enter into it. We go to the heart of it. We act as if these thoughts, these words, were addressed solely and singularly to us. We allow them to question us, to sink so deeply within us that they demand that we conform ourselves to them. Perhaps we feel compunction at our shortcomings. Like Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” there is no word, no letter, which does not “see us” and charge: “You must change your life.” In this way our mind is concentrated and a longing—Guigo calls it “sweet”—comes upon us.

This longing, Guigo says, is a gift “from above.” It kindles our soul, which as it were bursts into flame. And in that holocaust, we realize we cannot out of ourselves accomplish what is asked of us.  What are we to do? We are consumed by longing, yet can find no means of attaining what we long for. The more we search, the greater our thirst, the greater suffering. As Guigo puts it, “A man will not experience this sweetness while reading or meditating ‘unless it happened to be given him from above.’”

In many different ways, the path of reading-cognition—Lectio Divina—that Guigo described in his “Ladder for Monks” became the engine of the transformation of consciousness that was the “twelfth century renaissance.” It was practiced by monks of stripes, as well as scholars and teachers, not to mention laypeople like the Beguines, and also those who Rudof Steiner called the “old philosophers,” namely the alchemists whose much repeated motto was:

  ORA, LEGE, LEGE, LEGE, RELEGE, LABORA ET INVENIES

Pray, Read, Read, Read, Re-read, Work, and you will find

This path of reading-cognition (extendable to reading in the Book of Nature, not to mention the worls of Plato and Aristotle, as well as masters like Dionysius the Areopagite) made possible not only the fruits of the School of Chartres, including the Cistercian Alanus ab Insulis (Alain de Lille) but also but great Dominicans Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Meister Eckhart, not to mention the mystics that followed, among others: Ruysbroek, Susa, Tauler, Thomas a Kempis and the author of the Theologia Germanica, as well as to Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno and “Christian Rosenkreutz”: all authors that Rudolf Steiner read and read deeply. Thus consciousness evolved.

*

With the invention of the printing press around 1450-1455—that is, only thirty years after the beginning of the modern age (or Age of the Conciousness Soul) with Joan of Arc and the beginning of the modern nation-state—obviously much changed. It marked, among other things, the beginning of the dominance of linearity, science (linear thinking), the homogenizing primacy of vision (fulfilled in Newton’s “Single Vision”), and the relegation of the auditory and other sensuous complexity into the background. Clearly, then it was a mixed blessing, one which is it our task as pioneers of the Consciousness Soul to redeem.

On the one hand, however, it must be recognized that it is unlikely that, without the printing press we would have had Anthroposophy at all, or, at least have it in the form that we do. It was the printing press, after all, that made possible the wide distribution of Rosicrucian, Hermetic, Alchemical, and Masonic literature, which Rudolf Steiner studied deeply. Less esotericall, philosophy, for instance, would likewise not have reached its highpoint in German idealism if Spinoza and Liebnitz had not had easy access to the writings of Descartes and the same is true for works of Paraclesus, Boehme, and others. On the other hand, in Steiner’s words:

Since the fifteenth century, people by and by have received a great amount of spiritual content by means of the art of printing and through writing. But they absorb this content only outwardly; it is the main feature of this period that an overwhelming sum of spiritual content has been assimilated superficially. The nations of the civilized world have absorbed something outwardly which the great masses of people could receive only by means of audible speech in earlier times. It was true of the period of rational development, and in the age of the sentient soul it was all the truer that, fundamentally speaking, all dissemination of learning was based on oral teaching. Something of the psycho-spiritual element still resounds through speech. Especially in former days, what could be termed “the genius of language” definitely still lived in words. This ceased to be when the content of human learning began to be assimilated in abstract forms, through writing and printed works. Printed and written words have the peculiarity of in a sense extinguishing what the human being brings with him at birth from his pre-earthly, heavenly existence.

However, it goes without saying that this does not mean that you should forthwith cease to read or write. It does mean that today a more powerful force is needed in order to raise up what lies deep within the human being. But it is necessary that this stronger force be acquired. We have to arrive at self-awareness despite the fact that we read and write; we have to develop this stronger faculty, stronger in comparison to what was needed in earlier times. This is the task in the age of the development of the consciousness soul.

In other words, although “the art of printing was felt as an Ahrimanic art, as a ‘black’ art,” we must always remember that Lucifer and Ahriman “must be in external culture,” but must be held in balance by Christ. That is: “If we know that we follow what we have described so often as the Christ impulse, which lives in us, and if we get the spiritual sensations that that impose the intention to follow Christ in every moment of our life, then we are also able to read…” This, for Rudolf Steiner, is the more powerful, the stronger force that reading requires today. It is what he elsewhere describes as “Rosicrucian Study.” It is also similar to his counsel on “reading to the dead,” which requires us to resurrect and spiritualize the material words, by thinking them anew, enlivening, making them our own, raising them to the highest meaning we can attain. As such living thoughts, they can pass into the spiritual world and—in a certain sense—we with them.

It is something of this kind that Rudolf Steiner calls for in the reading of works of spiritual science—the Collected Works. Reading them in this way—or creating one’s own way of lectio divina or deep, meditative reading—given the necessity of its spiritual content for the Consciousness Soul in preparation for the coming Age the so-called Sixth Epoch, that of the Spirit Self. To do so is to enable language to continue magically as the engine of the evolution of human consciousness.

*

However valuable and important in the evolution of consciousness books may be, in order to fulfil their mission, these books must be read. SteinerBooks duty toward the sacred deposit of Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science is therefore not only to publish the books (the Collected Works) of Rudolf Steiner. The record demonstrates that this is not sufficient. Nor is it satisfactory: it is not a museum we are trying to erect. Our duty to the books we publish must include finding them readers. This is not an easy task. No clear, simple way presents itself. However, as publishers, the most obvious way would seem to use books—addressed to the world, yet connected to Anthroposophy—to draw readers to Anthroposophy: so-called “bridge” books. I can imagine that these would be of at least four kinds—serious, of contemporary relevance, inspirational, and general. However, to go into details, demands a discussion of its own. And I leave it to another occasion.

Gift of Life by Christopher Bamford

IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH; THE GIFT OF LIFE

By Christopher Bamford

For Tadea Dufault Bamford

(1947-1996)

Rose, o pure contradiction, to be no one’s sleep

under so many lids.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

It is a delicate task to broach a theme so close to the essential unknowingness we are that it seems to forbid all conceptual certainty and discount all speculation as idle and arising from questionable motives. All I can offer is whatever experience I have been able to distil. Therefore I shall try to speak personally, with as much intimacy and openness as I can muster. Rather than lay out a philosophy, I want to bear witness to a personal encounter with death, one that led me on a path toward reimagining life. The picture I shall paint is drawn from living memory, painful to recall and individual in character, but indicative I hope of a mood or atmosphere in which the change of being called for by the wholeness, the unity, life and death becomes apparent. The work is still in progress. What I have to say should be heard only as a progress report, a provisional account of my own still faltering, rudimentary attempt to reimagine death in the light of daily life lived in its presence.

Two years ago, I was granted the gift of accompanying my wife Tadea over the threshold. It was not the first death at which I was privileged to be present, but it was the first that I attended with the fullness of my being. It was an experience I shall never regret, a grace for which I am grateful. Psychologically, physically even, the personal loss, the pain, the grief, the disorientation remain—to be lived through, transformed, never to be forgotten. Not to be gotten over, certainly, but to be understood, illuminated, and gathered up in the greater light of the gift that came with them. The gift and the disorientation came together. It is not possible for me to imagine them apart. Both remain. I cannot say I have brought them together, but I have come to understand that life is praise and lamentation, and that these two are very close, perhaps one—and that they are transformative. Despite the almost constant sadness, confusion, daily setbacks, self-pity, and other burdens of ordinary egotism, I feel the wound, the opening, and sometimes the joy, the certainty of knowing that meaning exists, even if I am not yet able to cognize it fully.

Sergius Bulgakov, the Russian Orthodox priest and sophiologist, tells of a near-death experience in which he beheld two figures of light and recognized that they accompany each one of us through life. On one side, the Crucified One; on the other, radiant, serene, golden with light, the Risen One. These two figures frame the reimagination of death I am trying to live.

But it is with the gift that I wish to begin.

Tadea died very quickly—about six months from diagnosis to passing, about a month from when medicine gave up to when she died.

During that last month, I was with her about twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four. Tadea, or perhaps I should say death, “Brother Death” as St. Francis calls it, was my teacher. She sat very quietly, very consciously, with a certain peace and patience. She resisted nothing. The day consisted mostly in attending to the details of her care. Mostly she couldn’t eat, but she was always willing to try, knowing that was important to us. She had to be moved fairly regularly, an enormous bank of fifteen or so pillows constantly rearranged so that her posture and seat were slightly different. There were periodic bouts of vomiting, mostly bile, and some indescribably clear fluid. People visited and the ones who stayed mostly sat with her in silence. While she could, she knitted, and read a little. But soon that made very little sense, so she just sat, communing with whomever was with her, reassuring us in some way that all would be well. In the beginning she had been afraid of dying, while at the same time strangely realizing that it was something she could do. But everyone around her thought only of healing and life. There was really no one she could talk to about dying. All of us with her would hear nothing of it: we wanted only positive thinking. So she went on that inner journey by herself. And, by this time, she knew she was dying, while the rest of us still prayed for healing. So she just sat quietly, waiting for us to understand that all was as it should be.

Looking back, what seems most significant is the transformation that occurred in the experience of time. Everything slowed down, expanded, became qualitative, rather than quantitative. Those weeks seem like an eternity which I still inhabit. Each day stretched out until it became like a whole life; and within that life the full presence of every moment was itself like a day—a summer day with its flora and fauna, night stars and day stars, its sunrise and early morning, mid-morning and noontime, its long afternoons, evenings, and nights.

In a word, with its routines and rituals, its different kinds of silences, the time surrounding her passing became rhythm. Not in any mechanical way, but in the most alive way imaginable. Time became like a set of Chinese boxes, in which each moment, each movement, contained others within others, like a fugue within a fugue, so that I thought if I could but unpack one it would contain all.

To some extent, too, life took on the atmosphere of a dream or a memory. Daily reality ceased to be linear and became more like a field within which relations, connections, emerged and then disappeared, often several simultaneously. In that sense, time became space-like. Or rather, the experiences of time and space became so closely united that one could not separate them. Time became spatial, extended, volumetric, dense, while space, that is, the sickroom and the phenomena within it (the icons and flowers, the minerals and crystals, the vomit pail and the piles of papers and books and medicines, as well as the ever-changing light and air, the sounds and almost symphonic silences, filled with insects, breezes, and scents) became temporal, a rhythmic dance.

As in a dream, a great deal was happening continuously but instantaneously—as it were in the twinkling of an eye—within a context of changelessness. Huge meanings were palpable, but not graspable by the conscious mind. And as in a dream, I acted without reflection, without questioning. I found myself “living without a why”—repeating the same small tasks and gestures that a bedridden patient requires, always the same, always different. It was a life without discursive thought. As in a dream, too, it was difficult to concentrate, to focus in the usual way.And yet I found I gave my whole being, not just a part, to whatever activity was at hand.

To use another metaphor, time, each moment, became a gift, a grace. It was as if all rested in God’s hands. Everything was given over and became gift. I no longer experienced the movement of time, the current of life, as horizontal—as having a before and after, a past and a future, the one in some sense behind, pushing, and the other ahead, approaching—but as vertical. Each moment came as a miraculous opportunity. A gift that was realized, received, in the giving back. Because of this, the room was filled with a sense of sacrifice and also with gratitude and wonder: gratitude for every perception, every moment; wonder at the enormity of life, its unbelievable, perpetual abundance, and at death’s being a part of it.

Probably sensing this, Tadea would not tolerate any negative feelings in the room. Nor any overly discursive or philosophical conversation. No sermons, please, she said. No sad faces. No resistance. No pretence, no disguise. It seemed she wanted only the truth that we are, the reality of the moment. Around her, only praise or affirmation seemed appropriate.

Indeed, permeating everything and implicit everywhere was an atmosphere of devotion and prayer, praise and service. Every day unfolded almost as a liturgy. So time also became liturgical, the enactment of a divine service in which not just I and the others around me participated but the whole universe, with enormous love and reverence. None of this was heavy. It was nothing formal or organized. It was magically light, in fact, as if somewhere musicians with an extraordinary touch were playing through us and the world and thereby raising the hard materiality of the world into a song of praise. Holy! Holy! Holy!

When life is lived in the continuous presence of death, which is the presence of God, it is as if every moment becomes an offering, a communication, received from and given to the spiritual world—by which I mean the greater life of heaven whose entrance, though everywhere, is most obvious in death, which raises the life that is death into the reality of higher life.

Here, again, at the deathbed, time seems to become space, a journey to a destination that in one sense we never reach, and in another sense have already arrived at. So the repetitions, and the daily re-beginnings—of actual prayers and visualizations and of the simplest tasks relating to bodily function and psychic well-being—at once overcome the distance and reaffirm it, endlessly postponing the end.

Until the end comes or seems to, or ought to, but doesn’t. I mean that death when it comes to a loved one is much more not an end, than it is an end. Like the prayers and tasks, the repetitions and stammerings that preceded it, death, when it comes, seems only to open to greater fullness of life, however painful.

Three days before it came, we knew.

The day before we knew had been extraordinary. Previously, Tadea had been vomiting for hours—pitch black bile like tar. But, that morning, she woke up bright and cheerful. We had been attending the little Catholic Church at the bottom of the hill—the Eucharist especially had meant a great deal to her. But recently Tadea had realized that she had never even been baptized. She thought it time to take the step. So, this last morning before we knew should die the priest came and baptized and confirmed her in Christ. Friends and family stood around the bed. Tadea sat straight up, wide awake, smiling, winking at members of the audience when appropriate.

Next day, I stopped the little rituals that had to do with physical healing. Otherwise, outwardly all continued as before. Though her body was ravaged and wasted—she weighed less than eighty pounds—she still sat there patient and awake. And yet already everything was different. There was an awesome and still beauty about everything. Her physical body was there, now weakened almost to the extinction of her life in it. It was about to return to nature, bearing the marks of suffering, to carry into the earth the inscription of so much experience, of so many trials, mistakes, joys, disappointments, of moments of crystal clear penetrating consciousness as well as so much lived beneath the surface in the dark valleys and hidden places of a soul’s journey. But though she still sat with the tablet of her body, her presence now filled the room. Or rather, presence filled the room. Presences. The room became quieter, the silences more intense and filled with reality. There was a heightened sense of being, an exceptional clarity of perception, an interiority to space and silence I had not suspected before.

Looking back, I would say that I felt for the first time the perspective of heaven. And this changed the meaning of everything. Prayers, for instance, became much less personal. As I said the Lord’s Prayer, holding Tadea’s hand, I could feel that I was not saying it for myself, by myself, or for us alone, but that a vast chorus of beings, stretching to infinity and back again, was joining with us in a much greater cause than whatever personal desire I might subjectively have. It was now clear that the healing visualization we had been doing—imagining the golden stream of the spirit showering down and washing away all impurity— had to do with purification in a much larger sense than physical healing. One could feel beings gather.

Tadea died at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, surrounded by her brother, her three daughters, and myself. That morning, we washed her face with Kiehl’s lotion and freshened her cheeks with rose water. We brushed her teeth. She rinsed her mouth out herself, holding the glass in both hands.We combed her hair. The sun flooded in through the windows, rich and golden like wine.

She sat up very serene and straight. Her eyes were closed, and a smile played on her lips. For three days, she had been unable to lie down for fear of vomiting. She was uncomfortable, mostly from lying in bed for a month, and she was physically weak from lack of food and because she was already leaving her body, but she was in no pain and was taking no medication, except for a blood thinner.

At about 9:30, she suddenly raised her voice, as if to someone leaving the room, and said, almost sang, “‘Bye!” “Who’s leaving?” I asked. “I mean a generic good-bye,” she said.

We sat around her on the bed. “I could guzzle the ocean,” she said, enjoying the thought. Again, she seemed to smile. Then she said, “Its too bright, I can’t see.” Thinking that she was referring to the morning sun pouring through the windows, we pinned blankets over the windows, slowing the liquid golden flow to a trickle. “Its not cooperating...,” she muttered. Soon, it must have been: she smiled again.

Just before eleven, she asked to be put on the commode. She felt herself leaving. I lifted her onto it. Her face was very pale, bloodless, like marble. She could no longer hold up her head. I supported her as she did her business and then clumsily lifted her back onto the bed. She tottered slightly, then steadied herself, smiling, perhaps at us, but it seemed more likely at some inner experience of her own. Finally, she opened her eyes unnaturally wide and leaned forward ever so slightly as if entering into whatever it was that she was seeing.Then she was gone: no longer a sensible being in the sensible world. Her breath continued for a few moments. Then ceased. Time, which had been slowing down all through the last weeks, stopped. I thought of St. Therese realizing there was no time in heaven. The heavens opened and time ceased.Tadea’s journey in an earthly body was over. Physically, she was gone. Grief became the rupture between heaven and earth.

But the liturgy continued, life continued, on both planes. Her body, though it was only her body, had served nobly in the service of her life and was a sacred, numinous thing, to be handled and regarded with awe and reverence. The children bathed, oiled, and washed her with tenderness and love. The house was filled with people. There was an enormous sense of stasis, of in-betweenness, liminality. It was as if, like her, the space we occupied lay between worlds, not yet there, no longer completely here. Unaccustomed to the concrete reality of the spirit, of the living experience of what had before been just the philosophical problem of two worlds, we moved around in an air of trance.

Time was thick with memory—memories bursting with life that poured endlessly from the abyss of loss each person felt. Everyone was moving around absorbed in individual thoughts of her, all of these forming a dense knot that as it were recapitulated her life. Tadea’s presence was extraordinarily strong. She seemed gone, but not away. For the moment, lost from this world, but safe in another. What was the way back? How to join the two worlds?

The undertaker came and took her away to pump out the fluids. Forty minutes later, she was back. We dressed her, carried her downstairs, and laid her in her in a plain pine box in the living room. For three nights, she lay there, someone always with her. The fourth, she lay in the ground.

The experience of her death intensified. The gift—or, I should say, the giving, for it was an ongoing process, always changing, always transforming—never stopped. It was a continuous initiation, one not yet over. I understand now that it is the initiation of life itself. It is as if only death reveals the meaning of life. As if in death the whole of life—its task, its meaning, its fruit, above all, its mystery—is laid bare. But that is to run ahead of myself. Whatever little understanding I may have has come slowly, accompanied by inner tumult and confusion, tears, pain, and much foolishness. I am still in the midst of it all.

Right at the beginning, within days of her passing, I was given some little talismanic gifts, which I think helped me immeasurably to engage the process of what was to come. First—and this is so obvious, but it came with a startling newness—I realized that her life, that each person’s life, is a spiritual journey. I do not know whether it was she or death who taught me, but the lesson I learned was that life was not about getting or doing, but about creating virtues in one’s soul. I understood, seeing her life unfold before me, as it must have unfolded before her, that what she had sought all her life—through all the messiness, confusion, and struggle of a human life—were certain spiritual aptitudes or faculties. In her case, freedom, trust, spontaneity, the courage to lead from the heart, openness to the joyful intimacy of the present moment—and, above all, perhaps, the virtue of “peace.” And that, in a sense, dying was a step on that path, a momentous step perhaps, but the right step for her, at that moment the ripe fruit of her life. Realizing this, I suddenly felt enormous gratitude for having been permitted to be part of her journey. This gratitude filled me entirely. I felt enormous gratefulness for having known her and having been part of her life. And this feeling, opening me right up, spread to everything. Love of God and all God’s creation. I encountered every soul, every being, every living thing with the mantra “What do you seek in me? What can I give you?” And I realized how close gratitude is to praise, to sheer affirmation, as a fundamental gesture. And how close praise is to love, for, as the Troubadours knew, through praise the lover lays down self and becomes one with the beloved.

 At the same time, I was also confronted with the abyss of all my shortcoming in our life together, all the ways great and small in which I had let Tadea down. I knew that to dwell on these would have been catastrophic. But I was given the gift of recognizing that the way across the abyss of guilt lay in reconciliation or confession and forgiveness. For days, then, I moved through the house, reliving her life and our life together, as she must have been doing where she was. Filled with gratitude, I distilled all that I had learned from her into lessons that I would now take into my life. At the same time, I was overwhelmed again and again with compunction at my weaknesses, falls, and blindnesses. And I realized, painfully, that there was nothing to be done, but to seek forgiveness, to forgive and, through the process of forgiveness, find forgiveness. And forgiveness was granted, coming over me slowly like a fine rain over many weeks. Finally, release came, and a new task, when I stood at her grave, and heard her say, clearly, “Now, make a new life.” Easier said than done.

Looking back—and perhaps this is true of all initiations—I found myself plunged in the midst of paradoxes. It was as if death itself, and the fact of death, anyone’s death, one’s own certainly, and especially the death of a loved one, illuminated the fundamental paradox of life. Immediately, on first encounter, this paradox took three basic forms: three related, but separate struggles I had to pass through.

First, Tadea was away, but she was not gone. Nor was her journey finished. It continued, wherever she was, and that made “wherever she was” a human place, as human as earth, for I knew that she had not left herself behind when she left, but had taken all that she was with her, that she was not one whit less who she was where she was now than she had been when among us. Indeed, I suspected she was more herself, truer to herself, there. All this meant that not only was heaven a human place but that life, her story, was endless; that all our stories are endless. And that to understand the meaning of an endless story—mine, hers or yours—would require a new way of being in the world. And a new way of listening, an endless listening. For we are not used to stories that have no end. We know neither how to live them nor how to tell them nor how to listen to them.

Her presence was so powerful that I could not believe that she was gone. She was here, but not here. She was dead, but she was alive, she was living. That both were true, I knew with absolute certainty. I opened every closet, I ferreted through drawers, I wandered from room to room looking for her. I expected her to appear at every moment. I couldn’t believe she would not come back. That I wouldn’t find her standing where she ought to be standing, doing what she ought to be doing. On the other hand, I talked to her constantly, knowing that she was where she was, not here, and that she would not return to visibility, to the sense world. And I knew that she heard what I was saying and thinking and feeling, for sometimes she would respond in clear and distinct ways. I also understood that my relationship to her was changing, becoming different from what I had experienced while she was on earth. So many people mourned her passing, and each one had his or her own experiences. I recognized then that the dead belong to everyone—that they have a relationship to all the living and that they are “big” enough where they are so that each of these relationships could be unique and intimate. At other times, too, I understood how the dead participate in our lives, in the life of earth, that they never leave the earth, as it were, or lose their love for it, as Christ likewise is with us to the end of time.

The more I lived, then, with this paradox of “gone but not away,” the more it began to resolve itself for me into another that I called, felt, thought of, and lived, as the paradox of heaven and earth. I also thought of it as the Great Life and the lesser life. Joa Bolendas, the Swiss mystic and visionary, had relayed a message to me from Tadea. Joa had received it from her dead brother, Wilhelm. He had seen Tadea and heard her saying as she looked toward the earth, “Love me, and live with me in the great life.” But what was the relationship between life on earth and the Great Life? Was the Great Life present on earth, if only we could live in it? Or was it present always? Death opened this paradox for me, and the more I lived with death, with the reality of death as a part of life, as present in life at every moment, as its depth, the more the question for me became one of heaven and earth, invisible and visible, and how to integrate, or even unite, these. I realized that if I were to shut death out of life, pushing it into a realm of impossibility, then I would allow death as the absolute limit and negation of life to define life, and so sever heaven and Tadea forever from earth and me.

Both heaven and earth were now powerful realities for me. I had been given a visualization, which as I practiced and adapted it, brought me as it were imaginally into heaven. In this imagination, Tadea and I are floating down a river of liquid light. I am floating head first, face down. She turns me over to face the blue sky. She turns me round, so I float feet first. But I am in a numbed, comatose state. She wakes me up. I awake as if emerging from a dark tunnel. I see where I am. We float into a quiet pool, play for a while in the water, and then clamber out, and walk through a light-filled desert-like landscape, where we meet Mary and Jesus, and kneel before them in prayer. As I say, this imagination brought me imaginally into heaven, and united me with beings present there, but at the same time it strangely kept heaven and earth apart, as separate realities.

This disjuncture, the rupture—which I came to understand was the teaching of grief—focussed with exceptional clarity and penetration the third form of the existential paradox Tadea’s death posed for me. This was the paradox of old life/new life. Certainly, it was the hardest thing to realize that Tadea was never coming back. But did that mean that, if I wanted to remain close to her, I had to be where she was? And if it did, how could I be there and here. For equally certainly I had to be here: here was where my new life would be made, would come. I had to continue to grow and change. I was unwilling to accept that I had to make a choice: there or here. Live here, forget there; live there, forget here. I refused to chose. There had to be a third way, a middle way—a paradoxical place where one could be a being of light and an embodied, passionate, volatile, struggling earthy human with a life to live in the human world of earth in the twilight of the twentieth century.

Thus the journey continued, both the same and different. Many of the experiences that I had come to know during Tadea’s dying remained and even intensified. But at the same time I felt myself, split into three: as if my journey took place in three worlds, and it was my task somehow to make them one. There was the world of what I called Heaven, or the Great Life, with which I sought to stay in constant contact—through prayer and loving thoughts, and through the awareness that heaven surrounds us at all times and may speak to us in many different, subtle ways. Internally, I experienced intimations that thoughts and feelings and will impulses were prompted and sometimes finished not by me, but from somewhere else. And externally, in nature and in situations as humdrum as driving I recognized signs that I was thought of. There was almost a kind of reciprocity in this—as if my awareness of heaven was simultaneously heaven’s awareness of me. Very few of these intimations, however, were overt or startling, and when these came they came so quickly that mostly I was left with just the startle, the content gone, as when one awakens from a dream one knows occurred but cannot remember. Mostly, it was just a feeling, a sense of presence, a conviction, even, of heaven’s hiddenness within our world. I knew it was there, even if it did not reveal itself. It was as if death had revealed the hiddenness of life and was at the same time itself that hiddenness. So, while living with heaven’s presence, I also lived with its hiddenness.

And, all the while, constantly, overwhelming all my efforts to make sense of all this, waves of loss came hard and heavy, when least expected. Loss, too, became a world, a journey. In that place. At first, the absence of Tadea’s was hallucinatorily strong. There was a feeling of dismemberment. Of an abyss. My conscious mind kept repeating, “I can’t believe it. It’s impossible.” I had suffered loss before—in childhood and in divorce. But this was different. It forbade any illusions and would not allow itself to be rationalized. It simply was and is—a great truth. And yet, gradually, what felt for months both like an amputation that had severed an organ of my being and like an oppressive, amorphous, tangled, congested cloak of darkness and unknowing, clarified. The part that was made up of my own anger, my sense of betrayal and abandonment, my survivor’s guilt, and my fear of the unknown, slowly dropped away. The wound, the gap, the abyss remained, however. I still had no sense of where to go, what to do, and why. “Living without a why” no longer worked. And yet, around the edges, I began to recognize that this feeling of loss and disorientation—that death itself, for the living—could also be a threshold, a bridge to new experience. Indeed, I came to think that death is “threshold” itself, and that, insofar as I am able to not separate it from life, life itself becomes the threshold experience it seeks to be, forever and abundantly opening into newness.

And at the same time, like the stranger at one’s table, the third paradox came home to roost. There was my actual new world, my new life. That I would have to make, but how? I felt like a newborn child. Nothing from my old life worked anymore. The habits, the routines, all my old ways seemed dead, like a dead man’s clothes. I did not want to wear a dead man’s clothes. And besides, they no longer fit. I wondered desperately how you make a world. I kept trying. Inventing transitional objects as an infant does when making its world. Useless, of course, both the trying and the desperation. I realized that I could not make a new life with my thick head. That I would have to learn a new kind of patience and openness. I am still trying.

And so I began to live in what I learned to call “the middle voice.” This is a grammatical category in ancient Indo-European languages used to denote the action of verbs that are neither active nor passive, but, as it were, both at the same time—as, for instance, when what is received is what is given: the gift as both what we give and what we receive. In ancient times, this grammatical voice was used to express the mediation the divine in human action in ritual and liturgy. But as I lived into the experience of death and tried to hold death and life, heaven and earth, together in a single gesture, it came to have a more universal application. For I came to understand that the dead, and so the whole invisible world, are always with us, seeking to participate in all we do and all that is done on earth and that all our actions ask to be mediated, shared, by them.

I came to realize, too, the deeper meaning of what Rudolf Steiner meant when he said that humanity is the “religion” of the gods (as the “gods” are the source of our religion). He meant that the earth herself as we experience it with all our senses, faculties, feelings and so on, is the religion of the gods. I understood then that the beings of heaven, including the dead, look to our experience to allow them to participate in heaven in their “religion of the earth” and that thereby everything that takes place on earth takes place in heaven as well. So we are all called to be priests offering the liturgy of our experience to the spiritual world, thereby allowing it to participate, on its side, in its liturgy of service to the same evolution of the cosmos and the divine.

In other words, seeking to be true to the unity of life and death, heaven and earth, seeking an integrated duality, a cooperating polarity, gave life a sacramental quality. And I realized, too, that from the point of view of heaven only selfless experiences (actions, feelings, thoughts), or experiences offered up, even ever so slightly, so that they are somehow not for oneself alone but for the world, have value—that to the angels and the dead, experiences that are really only self-feeling, wholly closed in on themselves, are infinitely saddening, because they exclude heaven.

None of this, of course, came all at once; nor easily; nor was nearly as heavy as it sounds.

It was a sort of alchemical journey—separating the fixed from the volatile, the spirit from the body, and then reuniting them. In the first weeks, I lived, in a sense, more in heaven than on earth. It was as if I had actually passed over the threshold. My earthly part had to struggle to keep up. Things were certainly happening around me, destiny continued to mold and call me—after all, I lived my life on earth—but events on earth took a considerable time to filter through, or rather I did not realize what was going on, what new sequences of events were precipitating, until I came back over the threshold—crashed, as it were, and the world fell apart.

During those weeks before the crash, as if in a dream, the supersensible reality of the deathbed vigil continued—the changed sense of time, the sense of the world as liturgy, the feeling of gratitude and gift in every moment. Insights, too, kept coming, who knows from where, to help me perhaps, disconnected, but part of a whole. The first was the realization, focussed by death, that all of creation participates in every moment. At church one Sunday, celebrating the Eucharist, I recognized that just as all humanity (and thereby also the earth herself) was present and invoked and united in the sacrificial breaking of the bread, so too all the dead (and all the angels and spirits) were also present—that in some sense all humanity, whether embodied in heaven or on earth, is united, a single being. The sense of interconnection, of kinship, of solidarity, was overwhelming. I had a real sense that all are members of one body, speakers in a single conversation, and I understood that while living with death as the end of life has perhaps helped us evolve our individuality, it has also set us one against the other and promulgated the Darwinian world of each against all. It now seemed the reality was quite different. Life was without end. Therefore, every human being was connected to and responsible for every other. There was nothing of which I knew of which I could say: “That’s not my responsibility.”

At the simplest and the deepest level, this came down to the love of God and the love of every individual soul I met. I vowed to serve God and to serve every soul. To carry these in my heart and to rejoice in them for their own sake. I understood, too, the subtlety and gentleness this requires.

In fact, it seemed everything now taught and demanded subtlety and gentleness—a kind of delicate, watchful patience and the ability to wait, without expectation, but with open heart and mind. Strangely, I experienced this above all in nature. It was as if all my senses came alive in a new way. I had never experienced the rhythms, the colors, the diversity, the infinite richness of life so powerfully. I became aware of a vast current of life pulsing fecund and abundant through the world. Birds particularly took on a heraldic role. I had never noticed so many or, perceptually, entered into so intimate a relationship with them. They seemed the very embodiment of life between and uniting worlds. I could not speak the language of the birds, but I could understand why angels are always depicted with wings. And somehow this current of life was related to the transformed sense of time, where time became space, and unfolded not in lines, but in intricate, interwoven rhythms. Standing transfixed before nature— before a tree or a rock, or watching a bird, or the proliferation of weeds and herbs in an overgrown, unheeded corner—I had a profound sense of movement in place, of this current of life or time as a vortex opening vertically, uniting all worlds. And at each point, at each rhythmic vortex, I could sense the participation of heaven in earth. Perhaps it was my imagination that the early morning fog, coiling and trailing over the landscape, dense and white, was somehow fructifying the vegetation in ways undreamed of by botanists. Perhaps it was my imagination, too, that the dead likewise care for and love the earth as if it were their garden and rejoice in and in some strange way share in my perceptions.

Nor was this sense of the rhythmic vortex of time, in which all heaven sought to participate, limited to single perceptions of individual things. It also contained them all. So that the seasons, too, and the great round of the year, came alive for me in a new way and became a palpable, living whole, participated in by the gift of death.

On my side, no matter how great my disorientation, pain, and confusion, I was and remain filled with gratitude and, what is so close to it, praise. In heaven, says Elizabeth of the Trinity, each soul is a praise of glory. Each soul there, praising, lives no longer its own life, but lives in love, and knows as it is known.

I made a vow to receive all that came to me as a gift and, in the middle voice, transform it, make it human, and offer it up as gift of praise to the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of existence.

Thereby, I found myself loving the world more than I ever had.

I understood then that life itself, each moment as it becomes experience, perception, feeling, cognition, is such a gift—given in the receiving, received in the giving. I knew too that this giving and receiving demands absolute trust and confidence, nothing held back, no protection, no barriers, radical openness and receptivity.

I struggled with the problem that the concept of the Great Life was of no use it did not give meaning to this life—the life of the soul and human heart, with all its brokenness, confusion, and pain. But then I realized that just as the Risen Christ is the Crucified Christ, nothing of our experience is lost or worthless in the eyes of life. That, indeed, as Julian of Norwich affirmed, “in heaven our sins will be not shame but glory to us.”

Thus my life continues, a stammering liturgy, forever seeking to bring earth into heaven, heaven into earth, and forever falling back and down into the various abysses that hold the worlds apart. Sometimes there is conversation, sometimes there is holy silence, often there is a dark pit, close to depression, sleepless nights and pointless days. Rarely, but with a sweet promise, there is song. I think of the lines of the poet Hoelderlin in “Celebration of Peace:

Much have we learned, from morning on,

Since we have been a conversation and listen to each other,

— but soon we shall be song.