Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Letter from Philip Thatcher

Dear Friends,

To stand at the site of Thingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament came to birth, is to stand where Iceland pulls in two directions. The North American plate pulls westward and the European plate pulls to the east. Between the two escarpments that mark the meeting of the plates, I walked the rising pathway with my companion, Einar Gunnar. We passed the Lögberg or Law Rock where in the year 1000, Thorgeir, the pagan Law Speaker, decided that Iceland as a whole would embark on the Christian path, even though individuals could stay with their pagan practices. That step prevented Icelanders from tearing one another apart over the question of their religion.

Einar was one of several new friends who cared for me during those few days in Iceland. The family of Gudjon Arnason, the bus driver at the Waldorf School outside of Reykjavik and student of the Icelandic sagas, provided me with a room, while Sigrun Gunnarsdottir, the owner of the small but active Waldorf shop in town, walked me down a steep craggy valley to a hot spring not on the tourist map. Both Sigrun and Einar decided a year ago to join us for the Conference on the North in Whitehorse and are resolved to make that possible, despite the current economic crisis in Iceland. To aid them in their resolve, Vancouver members have agreed to cover the costs of their registration.

In early August the boat that travels the Norwegian coast brought me to Kirkenes, on the Norwegian/Russian border. I then spent the following three days exploring the reality of that boundary, by boat on the Pasvik River through which much of the border runs and on foot for a demanding six kilometers to Treriksrøysa, the place where Norway, Finland and Russia meet. The way into Finland was wide open; the way into Russia was closed to the point where even placing a finger across the borderline could result in a heavy fine by Norwegian authorities—even though there was no physical barrier and the Russian forest was only meters away from where I stood. Another moment of pulling apart—

In mid-August I travelled to Whitehorse for the meeting of our Council, where we were joined by Paul Mackay and Seija Zimmermann, two of our Goetheanum colleagues who will involved in the Conference on the North. As well as working through our Council business, we also came together as co-carriers of the Conference to prepare inwardly for this event. Another aspect of the weekend was a Saturday meeting at Marsh Lake with some of the First Nations’ friends who will be working with us. Our new colleagues wanted to know who we are, as a Society and as individuals. That question in turn flowed into a conversation about who we are as human beings. At one point, Diane Johns from Carcross exclaimed, “Ah! So we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” To which we replied, “Thank you! We will take with us what you have just said.”

A center-piece of my summer travels northward was the Creating the Future conference at Järna, Sweden. A report of this event appears in Anthroposophy Worldwide, 7/2008. As the week unfolded, I was particularly interested in what I would characterize as two nuances in dialogue, arising from the conversations between friends of anthroposophy engaged in political and financial structures of our time and our colleagues on the Executive Council. Our friends in political and economic institutions laid bare the extent to which those institutions are informed by premises that no longer hold true—for example, a limitless abundance of natural resources. They stressed the importance of understanding and penetrating those institutions; yet the capacity of those institutions to resolve the crises of our day is more and more in doubt. From our Goetheanum colleagues and others during the week came the corresponding nuance that we live in a reality that is first and last a spiritual reality. In such a reality, the actions of awakened individuals and networks of individuals can evoke the activity of the hierarchies and those who have crossed the threshold in ways that can transform seemingly small deeds into far-reaching change. Who can say in advance, for instance, what very local efforts toward responsibility for the environment could have?

I spoke recently with Tim Nadelle, an Ottawa member of the Society who is an investment broker. Tim suggested that during a downturn in the stock market such as we are now experiencing, reflecting a profound imbalance in the flow of capital, policy makers are too overcome with fear and the need for immediate action to think creatively about longer term transformative economic principles. Then as markets and economies return to apparent strength, the need for meaningful change is no longer compelling. So the first baby steps on a real path out of these volatile macroeconomic rhythms lie in the individual and local actions of those ready to move beyond fear and see what can be done, such as transforming corporate profits into gift money.

In Reykjavik I visited the museum housing the works of sculptor Einar Jónasson. Many of the sculptures were breathtaking, yet what captured me was a painting done in 1917. A dark escarpment rises up along the background; in the foreground is snow-packed earth. At the centre of the painting jagged pinnacles of rock push together above the dark, triangular opening at the base. The opening itself reveals a Madonna and Child huddled together, waiting out the cold.

With warm greetings as we move together toward the Holy Nights,

Philip Thatcher
General Secretary

1 comment:

Jim S said...

Thanks, Phillip - nice letter.