The Season of Advent is when we prepare to receive the spiritual being of the Christ. This process is reflected in the story of the birth of the Christ Jesus on Earth. First, we need to explore our assumptions about the nature of the “second coming”, a name or title which itself is very misleading. Why? Because it implies that Christ has left! Yet, if we alone follow what the gospels tell us on this subject, he has not left us at all. In the Gospel of Matthew it is Christ who promised “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matt 28:20) or “wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am also” (Matt 18:20). The traditional conception of Christ’s “leaving” – as well as the promise of his “return” – comes, of course, from the story of his “ascension” (Acts 1:9-11), where the disciples follow his rising into the clouds and hear the words of the attending angels that he will return in the same way. What can be made of these discrepancies? Either these two parts of the Gospel are in direct contradiction to each other or we need to gain a different understanding of what is meant by ascension and return.
The essential new understanding, attainable through modern Spiritual Science, of the meaning of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, is that Christ’s inmost being was united with the earth’s being, with the processes and substances of the earth. This truth is expressed in all the central images of the event of Golgotha itself: On the cross we see his blood flowing into the ground and his body was laid into a cave, into the depths of the earth itself. Why would he come so deep into our experience, into the depths of matter, only to abandon the earth for the heavens again? St. Paul can provide us a key to understanding the ascension in a way that harmonizes with the comforting words of Matthew: “behold, I am with you always…”: In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.(Ephesians 4:9-10, author’s emphasis)
Through all that happened on the mount known as Golgotha, Paul leads us to see his ascension into “heaven” as something that could more accurately be called the “expansion”. Christ does not abandon the earth, but expands into and permeates all earthly and heavenly spheres. What the gospels and the esoteric teacher we know as St. Paul show us – and what the open eyes of the heart can perceive – is that Christ did not abandon us here on the earth; he has simply grown beyond the limits of the human form into a new cosmic level, permeating the earth with heavenly being. Christ is with us; with his “ascension” he had simply grown beyond our capacity to “see” him. But if Christ is with us, what is meant by the “second coming”? If he permeates our earthly reality, why is it that so many souls cannot perceive him, acknowledge his presence, or know him? What is it that has left us; what have we lost?
The Fall of Human Consciousness
As a way to illustrate what is now missing for us, that is, what we in humanity have lost here on the earth, one can begin by listing the traditional doctrines and tenets of Christianity and honestly asking: what of these can we understand? Which of these fundamental teachings of Christianity can be comprehended and grasped by modern, Western souls? I did this recently at a talk given on this subject. The list began slowly and then began to pick up pace until the entire writing pad was covered with all the fundamental truths of Christianity.
• the “virgin birth”
• why Jesus has two different lineages in the bible
• angels – of all ranks
• any of the miracles – healings, walking on water, feeding the 5000, etc.
• the trinity
• the transubstantiation, and most importantly –
• the resurrection – the central truth and signature of Christianity
We had to acknowledge that for the modern soul, Christianity and Christ himself had become incomprehensible, something we simply no longer understand. Clearly what we have lost is our understanding, our knowledge of Christ. What is missing is the “Sophia” or Christ-Wisdom. Following the trajectory of human thinking and inner understanding of the nature and reality of Christ over the course of the centuries from the beginnings of Christianity, we see a very clear trajectory. The early centuries reveal a consciousness still very much open to the reality and light of the spirit and of the divine, cosmic dimensions of the being that incarnated in Jesus. By the middle ages the light begins to darken, the doors to heaven begin to close and the church desperately tries to hold onto its truths through the establishment of official “dogma” (teaching). By the 19th century, almost everything has been lost and the great theologians of the day can only honestly stand behind the figure of Jesus as the “simple man of Nazareth” who was deluded that the culmination of time had arrived.
Thus, in terms of our consciousness, Nietzsche could honestly declare, “God is dead”. From the time of Christ’s appearance in Palestine to the 19th and 20th Centuries we can follow how Western souls are less and less able to recognize, acknowledge or understand the divine reality of Christ or the essence of Christianity. Our minds fell into the darkness of materialistic consciousness; our “soul eyes” became blind to the presence of Christ. The Fructification of the Individual Soul by the Spirit – or Mary and the Moment of “Conception.” So what is it that could bring about the renewal of Christianity? What is it that could bring about a new perception of Christ? Nothing other than a search for the Sophia, the knowledge or wisdom of Christ. This was – and is – the mission of that spiritual movement that goes by the name of Anthroposophy.
Modern spiritual science, or Anthroposophy, provides the means to understand everything that has become non-understandable in Christianity (including each of the items listed above!). The path to rediscovering the Sophia begins with taking in the fruits of Spiritual Scientific research on the nature of the being of Christ and his transformative life and death. Thinking these thoughts through with honest reflection and sound judgment begins the process of shaping new eyes for perceiving the reality of Christ. However, higher knowledge of the reality of this being requires more than learning new facts; it requires a total revolution and transformation of the soul. This soul transformation for the reception of the spirit is often called “initiation” for it is the process whereby one is led, or initiated, into the knowledge of worlds hidden from the senses.
The process of initiation is the process to prepare the soul for the birth of the spirit. This preparation can be achieved through what is sometimes called ‘catharsis’, or the purification of the soul. Exercises in moral development, meditation and prayer, taking in thoughts of the spirit, of the eternal, work to transform the soul and awaken the slumbering, higher Human Being within. Ultimately this leads to a transformation of the forces already found in the soul: our thinking, feeling and willing. Before initiation they were haphazardly developed in response to life and directed towards the transitory world of the senses. Through esoteric training these powers are “lifted” up to the highest, the eternal world of the spirit and brought under the direction of these spiritual principals. In the path laid out by Rudolf Steiner in his book, How to Know Higher Worlds, the student is first directed to wrap their inner life in a mantle of feelings of reverence, wonder and devotion.
This comes out of a deep knowledge of the laws of the soul and spirit worlds which Socrates once explained, “Wisdom begins in wonder”. The inner experience of the Sophia (Wisdom) is made possible through the cultivation of reverential wonder and devotion. The next step is to carefully educate the three forces of the soul. Our thoughts are to be brought into a harmonious, logical flow and educated in careful attention. With our feelings we are led to three different qualities that must be developed. We are taught to develop an objective relationship to our feelings, no longer overwhelmed by the highs and lows of our soul, the exaltations and lamentations, developing the power of equanimity. Openness to everything that comes our way in true interest and trust that all that comes our way is directed by the guiding wisdom of the universe is a second important quality to develop for our feeling.
This is expressed in Mary’s words, “may it come to pass as you have said” (Luke 1:38). A third quality of feeling that we must ever strive to develop is the ability to focus our attention on what is good and true, to focus on the positive. This is a very important quality to develop, for as inner vision develops, more and more of the world begins to reveal itself to the esoteric student. This includes the detailed and easily overwhelming vision of all that is imperfect, untrue, ugly and evil in the world and other people. It often happens, if the student of the inner path has not attended enough to this exercise, that the person on the spiritual path becomes more intolerant, judgmental and negative than before they started! In the case of the higher development of our willing, it is to be born anew out of our own direction and guidance, not constantly in reaction to the world nor involuntarily following passions and drives. The esoteric student is called to open their will to the needs of others and of the earth and to give their actions a guidance born of insight and inner wisdom.
In summary – if one were to use the words of the Act of Consecration of Man – you could say that the intention of the esoteric student is to develop: pure thinking, loving heart, and willing devotion. The transformation of the forces of the soul, the purification of our feeling, thinking and willing, is what one can call “making one’s soul a ‘virgin’ soul”. Now, when the student of the inner worlds approaches the world, another person, a higher thought in meditation and prayer, their pure thinking, loving feeling, devoted and accepting willing, open up the soul to more than the abstract truths of existence. They enable an encounter, a moment of fructification. This opening allows a moment of grace to take place, the moment of inner “conception”. It is a real event in the life of the person on the path in which a new, higher life stirs within the soul, which, through the path of intimate careful development – referred to in simple sketch form above – transforms the soul into a womb, a place in which the delicate development of the spirit can unfold, be fed and nourished and protected by the purified soul.
This event in the life of the initiate has been portrayed artistically over millennia. Think of Isis holding Horus, of images of the Madonna shown with the child, often emerging from an opening in her midsection. In Mary, the artists depicted the purified soul, expressing pure devotion, openness, equanimity and trust in every gesture and colour. All of these images are a representation of a higher experience of knowing, of inner wisdom being fructified by the spirit. In medieval annunciation paintings, Mary is almost always shown reading a book (the scriptures), meditatively pursuing knowledge. And we see her at the moment when this knowledge becomes something much more than what we normally associate with knowing: it becomes new life within. We see her head lifting from the page and a ray of light shines down from the heights and touches her head. It is the moment of the conception of the “divine child”, the higher human within, the one “born of God”.
These images of Mary are a depiction not only of a historical figure but of the human soul itself, and the Christ child presents to us an image of the eternal human spirit, the higher self. Anyone who seriously and devotedly follows the path laid out in Anthroposophy will themselves experience this annunciation moment. It is an intimate but completely real and objective experience of the striving individual that comes as a moment of grace on the path of self-development, where they begin to experience “Not I, but Christ in me”.
The Fructification of the Community Soul – or The Moment of Conception in the Congregation Gathered Around the Altar:
One could say that it is the mission of the Christian Community to facilitate this spiritual conception, this higher knowing, in community through the Eucharist, the center of the seven sacraments. There too, it requires a “Mary-Sophia-Soul” to receive the new presence of Christ. In the service, this higher, generative knowing is spoken of in an amazing way. We follow the movement of the book from the right to the inside left of the altar – from outside to inside – a representation of crossing over from the outer world to the inner world, the crossing of the threshold. There, during the stage of the service traditionally known as the transubstantiation, but perhaps better understood as the Transformation, the priest speaks for the soul of the community, praying that the offering be brought through “our pure thinking, our loving heart, our willing devotion”. Here the three forces of the soul are attributed to a “we” not an “I”. A few moments later, the sacred act of inner knowing is described this way: the congregation knows Christ in freedom.
These thoughts may at first seem abstract. However, when we take them into our souls and enter into the Act of Consecration of Man with this thought: together we are building a higher, community soul, that can receive – as Mary did – the being of Christ – this thought can open the doorway to whole new experiences in our celebrating together. Through this we can begin to feel into how in the Act of Consecration of Man, we approach the divine ground of existence through the purified Mary-Soul of the community who is able to be the “virgin soul” in which the Christ-Spirit can be born. In the service, it is the community that becomes the bearer of Christ. It is the gathered devoted community and the eternal forms expressed in the ritual that creates a new vessel for Christ’s “re-appearance”.
Human souls are in desperate need of the experience of the one who brings peace to human hearts, strengthens their wills and unites us in a new humanity. This is the deepest longing of every soul. Since the time Jesus Christ walked the earth, our souls have grown ever less able to perceive his nearness, his presence. Though he is here, radiant and bright, we have grown blind; we have lost the Sophia who knows Christ in the highest sense. I hope that this article can help us to gain a sense of how the power of the Sophia can be found again as the essential, receptive power on the individual path of initiation and on the community path of offering.
* Based on a talk given by Patrick Kennedy, priest in the Washington D.C. area, during a visit to the affiliate congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Summarized by Linda Finigan, edited and reworked by Patrick Kennedy).