What we might need to embrace in the next ninety years of The Christian Community
During my time as a student in Stuttgart in the 80’s one of the seminary leaders visited the United States of America for his first time. I remember him coming back and telling us of a question he had been asked at the end of one of his lectures: are you up to date? I experienced him addressing this question in his own way through his teaching, study and writing. I believe that we can ask this question of The Christian Community as an organization: are we up to date? We who feel a part of the community perceive ourselves as being an organism that allows the forces that flow on from the Mystery of Golgotha to work in the world in a contemporary way. By contemporary I mean in a way that both the spiritual-divine forces can work into the world, and in a way that the people of today can feel their religious needs being met. How do we present ourselves to a changing world in way that maintains our integrity to our task? Are we up to date?
I feel it is important for the life and growth of a religious organization to keep developing its forms and activities to meet the religious needs of contemporary society. Recently the Circle of Seven asked for feedback from around the world as to what works and does not work in The Christian Community. The published findings are called ‘frankly speaking’ and they are a wonderful tableau of themes and suggestions from communities around the world which reflect many common experiences amongst our communities. While this could set an agenda for our organizational learning and evolution, and hopefully will be part of how we reform certain aspects of our community life, I would like to point out some things I believe we will need to digest and gestate into our organisation in the coming decades.
Futurists like Peter Elyard work with organizations to recreate themselves. The key to such work is to imagine the needs, technologies and resources that will be needed in that field of work in twenty five years time. Then act accordingly now! This issue of perspectives has that kind of clarion call.
The Christian Community was formed by a group of people who found themselves at odds with the current theological teaching and religious practices of their times. The foundation group of young theologians and pastors worked with the advice of Rudolf Steiner and within a few years many of the community and cultural gestures of The Christian Community were established. One area where I think The Christian Community stands in strength is our understanding of the Christ. This includes a profound understanding of Christ as the Lord of the elements and of destiny and gives people an opportunity for deep insight into creation and their own lives. Many people come to our communities and experience the sacraments, lectures, studies, community festivals, children and youth work. They either feel at home and that the community religious life we lead addresses their inner core and step into community or they move on. This is not unique to our community life. This is what happens with all organizations and religious bodies. I know in the communities where I have worked or visited we all try to work out how to present our life so that more people feel they can step in. Yet we face a dilemma!
All over the world there is a growing dissatisfaction with ‘Religion’. Much of this is an expression of individualisation and enlightenment. Many people prefer dialogue and free liturgy to being told what the truth on any particular matter is, or having to comply with a particular form for their mystical or religious experiences. In many ways these are very good things and they challenge us in The Christian Community to take a look at where we may or may not be addressing the current religious needs of people.
Part of the dissatisfaction people have with religion is the apparent inflexibility or ‘dogma’. When pushed people will often admit that what they call their ‘atheism’ is actually not a denial of subtle ordering forces, but a stand against the dogmas of organized religions. People do want religious experience, but may term it spiritual or mystical. They also want to understand what their experiences mean and how they can become meaningful for their work and their place in the world. While organised religions facilitate the religious experience and hold too tightly to the interpretations they will lose ground.
In many ways The Christian Community has an ideal situation for growth and meeting the growing realizations of culture and individuals. From our very inception the core reality of our religious life has worked with the transubstantiation taking place through and with the understanding of the people present in the ritual. Many community members know how we concelebrate The Act of Consecration of Man and experience their inner devotion and understanding supporting and affecting the Christ’s light in the world for today. This understanding of sacramental efficacy means we have a journey to go together. This path requires the priests to educate the community on how to concelebrate the sacrament with them. The sacrament cannot take place without the community: for the living consciousness of the community before which, and with which, the sacrament takes place is an essential part of transubstantiation. If on a particular day there are no servers or community the sacrament does not take place on an outer level, but is fulfilled in a prayerful meditative process by the priest. I think we can also teach community members how to attune to this process each morning if they cannot make it to the altar on a particular day.
In my experience community members feel a need to be led, and taught the inner realities of how and what the sacrament really achieves in the life and light of the world. Through constructive schooling people grow to be present to the actual processes that the priest fulfils. We tell people that the sacrament is fulfilled in a worthy manner because the priest and servers are but an outer ritual form and articulation of the inner reality of what each community member is fulfilling in their inner sacramental working. We ask that people do not take the texts in a printed form but slowly learn to know them in their memory. I think a time is coming when this dynamic will need to change. I think during the next phase of The Christian Community’s growth the community members will need to have a spiritual schooling which includes a daily meditative or prayerful task relating to our spiritual effect in the world. This will need to be in conjunction with the priestly work.
Our community has been entrusted with an extremely important liturgy. Those of us who have participated in the annual cycle of the year many times attest to the depth of spiritual and personal growth it affords. In order for this gift to be further integrated into the world we will need to find further ways of presenting what they contain so that the broader community can engage with them beyond a liturgical experience only. We have a well spring of spiritual insight that can flow into the unfolding realizations of the broader Christian community. I think we will need to have more theologians writing on what can be gleaned from our Liturgy and Spiritual understanding. I am always amazed at how much spiritual scientific and metaphysical thinking is becoming part of main stream theological consideration. I have often thought how close our understandings are to some of our contemporary theologians and biblical scholars. If we find ways to illuminate our liturgy for others we will find easier to remain in serious dialogue with the broader community. Some people will find this thought fairly challenging or even counter to the heart of our identity. However, I am writing about what I think we will need to embrace in the future. There must be a path where the integrity of what is needed for conserving our custodianship of the rituals and being able to let them influence the world beyond the liturgical experience is possible. I believe we need to be in charge of how they are presented and interpreted or someone else will take the step and then we will become more and more the respondent or defendant against what is already said about us.
On another theological or doctrinal point of view, which is different to a dogmatic one, we will need to look at our understanding of the Divine Feminine. One of the more radical issues that Rudolf Steiner addressed was that of revisiting the Osiris-Isis Mystery and he challenges Christianity to include a reworking of the mystery as the crucifixion and resurrection of Isis-Sophia. He even states that in time a new cosmic imagination of the Trinity with a mother figure in it will arise. How can we as a religious movement that works on the renewal of religious practice take these indications and gestate them into our practices of prayer and liturgy? I know it is possible to read, study, discuss and write about this issue, but for us to keep up with the religious needs of the world a realistic expression of the Divine Feminine can be part of our community practices and religious experiences.
On this theme I find it important to consider the unfolding of our doctrinal and theological writings. While we do not have dogma, that is unquestionable teachings of truth, we do need an ongoing, unfolding theology and doctrine about our liturgy and spiritual philosophies. At our foundation ninety years ago many of the priests were theologians and a lot of very good writing has been produced. Over the years the number of classically trained theologians has waned and the writing, while important, relevant and good, has taken on a more pastoral approach. This does meet a need in the community. I see that there are a number of theologians and biblical scholars in our communities, both priests and community members. We will need to place a priority of some kind to supporting the collaboration of these people in producing more current theological works from within our ranks.
And then there is the current hot topic of same gender relationships. It is possible that this theme will cause great division and/or great harmony within communities. I think we in The Christian Community have an ideal opportunity in that we have a non-issue with at least two related themes; that of homosexuality not being an issue for a decision to ordination, and of communion not being withheld from people depending on of their sexual orientation. This is not yet a given in many other churches. I know the issue of marriage and a sacramental blessing is on another page, and possibly holds a seemingly inexhaustible and unanswerable list of ponderables, we need to include a spiritually real ritual or ceremony that blesses the reality of societies unfolding gestures in the realm of human relationships.
We might ask how can we know what is right in developing new forms and adapting existing ones to facilitate religious experiences? I think we can rely on two processes to keep a healthy balance in this journey. The first is that we are an organization with ninety years of tradition and experience. We have teachings, insights and important documentation from our founding that give us a solid source of guidance. We have used these treasures to adjust some things already. The changes in the length of the Whitsun season or the way we went about the retirement from office of our international leader serve as an example of gestating the needs of the community and making positive decisions for the future. The second is that of liturgical theology or knowledge that arises out of experience. We all have religious and mystical experiences and bring them into dialogue with the community so as to conceive new forms together. I think The Christian Community will have to further develop this aspect of valid spiritual insight beyond the traditions and teachings of our foundation if we are to grow into the needs of the future.
Some people may feel that some or all of these things are not a path forward, but the reality is that people will go and feel comfortable where the community life enfolds them lovingly out of the light of real insight. The Christian Community has a very strong reality of the light of insight that I think can be opened and shared in very constructive ways as explained above. I further feel that the life of our communities will flourish when people come into them for the first time and meet a real openness to the peculiarities of their own lives and conceptions and the complexities of societal issues. When we can genuinely embrace all issues into the full gestures of religious renewal then we will be a truly loving community.
If I look at what I have written as a list of what we need to address I see that this not really about the next ninety years, but things that need to enter our community process urgently so that we are in a good position to embrace the next set of challenges as they arise. I think what I have written here is an agenda for the next ten years so that we can remain an up to date community. If we continue embrace the really important, strong well developed and appreciated gestures of our achievements so far, and then unfold a dynamic understanding and practice of a spiritual development for the members that includes an inner participation in the sacraments, a self determined publication of a commentary and/or doctrine for the understanding of our liturgy, a re-visioning of the Divine Feminine, and addressing the blessing of same gender relationships in a real way I think we will have a good premise for being up to date in the world over the next ninety years.
Posted by Martin Samson