Friday, December 4, 2009

December Letter from Philip Thatcher

Dear Friends,
If you travel to the Goetheanum in November, you can expect any kind of weather. Some times it snows; rain is always more than a possibility; other times the skies are clear and the evening light lies low to the horizon, giving the Goetheanum and its surroundings a gentle, even tender touch.

A mood that pervades every visit I have made in November is a mood of rest. The leaves have either fallen or are about to drop. Cattle graze contentedly on the Goetheanum grounds. Nature has spent herself, is gathering herself in toward the coming of winter and is now at rest—a wonderful mood that opens a space for the inner activity ahead for those of us who will meet for several days as General Secretaries, together with the Executive Council and the Section Leaders of the School for Spiritual Science. Among the considerations taken up this past November, I would like to bring the following items.

Troels Ussing, General Secretary for Denmark, reported on anthroposophical work underway in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. There are close to 2500 students attending Waldorf Schools in these three countries. Against the background of European penetration of the African continent in search of slaves, ivory and rubber, and the resulting collapse of coherent African kingdoms, Troels noted the similarities between the social ethos of Africans and the social gestures of anthroposophy. Within a strong emphasis upon group identity and responsibility, the journey toward a heightened sense of individual consciousness goes forward, although the journey can be a difficult one. Troels observed that European cynicism and egotism can hinder Africans along that path. Yet good work is being done, especially in the Waldorf Schools, with the support of teacher training carried by colleagues from South Africa.

The September issue of Anthroposophy Worldwide (No. 7) has some good articles on work in Africa and ways in which African sensibilities speak to our common humanity.

We spent one session receiving a report from the Executive Council and the Section Leaders on the renewal of Bodo von Plato’s role as a member of the Executive Council. In recent years there has been a recognition that membership on the Executive Council should not be regarded as a “life term”; members should be free to move on to other work if they recognize that such a destiny moment has come. Likewise, if a member stays on after a number of years, the decision to do so should be taken in the light of a review of that member’s work, within a period of seven to twelve years after one first joins the Executive Council.

In speaking to his review and to his willingness to continue as a member of Executive Council, Bodo led us into the areas of responsibility at the Goetheanum that he has been carrying. One area of responsibility concerns study opportunities in German at the Goetheanum, including study modules for those in various professions, e.g. for bankers. A number of questions arise for him along the way: How to develop in the meditative life a spiritual competence that is universally human? How to develop spiritual scientific research that can engage the natural science of today? (In this context, Bodo observed that the spiritual paths typical of today are farther removed from anthroposophy than is natural science) And how can we develop a language able to articulate this developing activity?

Over the past few years, much of Bodo von Plato’s activity has been devoted to staging Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas in a renewed form. These dramas are, in his words, the “heart piece of anthroposophy”; staging them is integral to the task of the Goetheanum. Carrying them into the future, however, requires an element of spiritual and artistic risk in staging them. Producing the dramas is also a costly endeavour financially. Of the 1,100,100 Swiss francs needed for the production thus far, 185,000 CHF remains to be raised, along with a further 800,000 CHF needed to fund twenty performances of all four dramas.

This coming summer the four Mystery Dramas will be performed at the Goetheanum from July 29th through August 1st, the days just preceding the English Week, from August 2nd through August 7th. The performances will be in German, with actors speaking a translation of the text into English through headphones. The theme of the English Week itself will be Entering into the 21st Century Spiritually. More information about both events will be coming early on in 2010.

A third thread that ran through our meetings concerned the life of the Anthroposophical Society—a thread that has been present in every General Secretaries’ meeting in which I have taken part. The task of the Anthroposophical Society is to nurture the life of the soul, in the individual and in society, based on a true knowing of the spiritual world. Such a society must affirm the spiritual freedom of each individual member; cultivate trust and confidence between members; make possible encounters and meetings of members through which karma can work; work toward a culture of peace out of each of us working through his or her inner battles; be at the service of humanity out of the spirit of our time. The recognition of the above gestures sounded in varied ways during our meetings and was brought in a particularly clear and succinct way in a presentation by Paul Mackay.

At the core of each of these gestures is our consciousness of the threshold, integral to a true knowing of ourselves in our time. The awareness of the threshold is what distinguishes us from many other spiritual paths.

In recent years I have come to recognize Advent as the Festival of the Unveiling of the Threshold. The light in the world without gives way to darkness, so that another light may shine forth. Advent encourages us to let go of the outer light, to let the darkness fall and then to gaze into and through that darkness to the becoming that is who we truly are.

That is one way of saying it. The words that follow could be another way, words by David Zieroth, a long-time friend, former parent of the Vancouver Waldorf School, and winner of the 2009 Governor General’s Award for Poetry*:

The light that breaks with fall
slants against our eye
eager to penetrate flesh,
proclaiming no other way except our own.
We are the winter residence of light.

With good greetings for Advent and the Holy Nights,
Philip Thatcher,
General Secretary

* From “Winter Residence”, The Weight of My Raggedy Skin (Polestar, 1991)

1 comment:

Diane Walters said...

Thank you for these thoughts Philip,
the Spirit of Anthroposophy lives in them as with your choice to close with David's poem.
We are the Winter Residence of Light' are words which define how Anthroposophy lives within us.