- by Arie van Ameringen
In several weeks it will be the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, an event that was to disrupt and change the entire course of the 20th century. This conflict, which resulted in the devastating events of the last century, was triggered by social and political decisions based on sentiments of nationalism. Today, when we observe the situation in Europe and elsewhere in the world, we note a resurgence of nationalism fired by slogans extolling pride, national or ethnic superiority and even in some cases the creation of independent regions or countries. It would seem that the tendency now is to fall back into old patterns where national and regional values trump universal human values, instead of working to create the new social forms which our contemporary world requires. And here in Canada we are not above using the same sort of tactics. You will perhaps recall how in 2012 our own government played on our sense of pride by bringing up the victory of Canada over the United States in a battle of the war of 1812, or how in the recent Quebec elections the Parti Québécois attempted to fire up a sense of national identity using the most simplistic of arguments.
On June 8th I attended the gathering of the Sophia Branch’s Whitsun festival in Montreal, where in both languages members exchanged thoughts regarding the descending of the tongues of fire described in the Acts of the Apostles. In the circle, each participant brought a personal contribution to share with the others as we all worked together to develop an understanding of the Festival of Whitsun. In this context we called to mind the image of a universal language, universally human, above and beyond regional languages – a highly spiritual language which unites all beings on earth and brings together human beings of all beliefs. In 1916 Rudolf Steiner spoke of Whitsun in the following way:
“And so for those who are seeking for the spiritual, this festival of Whitsun has a meaning and content of special profundity, calling ever and ever again for perpetual renewal of the spiritual quest. In our days it is necessary that these thoughts of the festival should be taken in a deeper sense than at other times. ..For how we shall emerge from the grievous events of this age will depend very largely upon how deeply men are able to experience these thoughts.” Cologne, June 6, 1916
Questions within the Society
Last April, following the Annual General Meeting at the Goetheanum, I became aware of how certain basic questions recur constantly and represent permanent challenges for the Society.
I shall mention some of them here and offer examples of these ever-present challenges:
· How do we protect Rudolf Steiner and his work?
· What attitude do we adopt regarding the question of “authority” within the Society?
· How do we deal with movements antagonistic to ours?
· How do we make decisions that take into consideration the opinions of all members?
Since the lifting of copyright restrictions Rudolf Steiner’s works can be published by anyone without the Rudolf Steiner Nachlass having any effective control over the matter (note: the Nachlass is the Dornach publishing house which owns all the original works – not to be confused with the Executive Committee which has no jurisdiction over this matter). This has led to the recent publication of several of Rudolf Steiner’s works by the prestigious German publishing house Frommann-Holzboog in a critical edition with comments by Christian Clement. The several volumes already published with commentary have raised many reactions - some say that the comments are a complete distortion of the nature of Rudolf Steiner’s work.
And sadly, much criticism heard (not always constructive in nature) regarding decisions made at the Goetheanum. The Executive Committee has chosen not to nominate a Society president; it now works with an extended committee including the General Secretaries of the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, and the various section leaders. Twice a year they also consult with all the General Secretaries. It is interesting to note that the term “authority” refers to the sense of self (“auto”). If we take this meaning to heart, decisions which affect the whole must be reached by consensus. The fact remains that our support for the Goetheanum and for the decisions made there is of vital importance.
There are times when opposing positions must be able to exist side by side. The recent debates regarding the writings of Judith Von Halle and Sergei Prokofieff’s publications commenting on these writings have resulted in a polarization among certain groups. The Michael epoch requires of us that we become more and more personally responsible and work to create new forms of collaboration that cannot be based on those that have traditionally served us in the past. Once again this year the Goetheanum has scheduled a “members’ day” (for November 8th) in order to create a space in which members can voice their concerns. This is most certainly a praiseworthy initiative, because it aims to facilitate a true meeting among members.
At the last meeting of the Society in Dornach, I was struck by the fact that most of the members present came from the bordering countries even though the decisions made at the AGM affected all members everywhere. In Canada we face the same challenges; when an AGM is held in one part of the country, the decisions made are approved by an assembly constituted primarily of local members.
The theme of the year
This year’s theme builds on that of last year: The “I” knows itself in the Light of Michaelic World Affirmation. The “I” can only know itself by meeting another human being. Karmic relationships that can be identified bring a special richness to the efforts we make towards finding a way of working together. And this knowing oneself can become a source of strength for one’s activity in the world – an activity based on an enlightened understanding for the needs of our time. In German, the word Bejahung (affirmation) contains the word “ja” (yes).
Saying “yes” to the world implies an intention which is in fact a call to action, unconventional, innovative and full of hope for the world of tomorrow despite the negative elements we see around us (pollution, violence, social inequality, etc.) We can wake up every morning with the affirmative thought that our inner work can be a support for our outer activity, a Michaelic affirmation challenging us to spiritualize the deeds we perform in the world.
Wishing you all a wonderful summer,
Arie van Ameringen