Africa Seminary Module 4 of 2023 on the theme Cultivating a relationship to the Etheric Christ with this module reflecting on The Way of Communion in and with Christ
by John-Peter Gernaat
We learn that we can only come into a relationship with the Divine through a true understanding of the human being. Rudolf Steiner explains that the human being is created in the image of the Divine and therefore to understand the Wisdom of the Divine (Theosophy) we should come to understand the human being. In this module the theme was communion or common union. Our relationship to the Etheric Christ is in community or common unity through communication or common unification. We developed a picture of the human being at hand of Form and Movement. Through our threefold and fourfold nature as human beings we recognise the working of the second and first Hierarchies in our development and creation.
The activities of the Saturday allowed us to work with the prayers that are said during the Communion part of the Act of Consecration of the Human Being. We worked by comparing the prayer as was previous prayed and as it has been renewed in our sacrament through image, written words, speaking an intuition that arose, and finally by reflecting in community.
The coming of Christ has brought about a major change in the human being. That which was outside has come to be inside of us. We can become aware that the Beings of Form that created this Heaven and this Earth as the servants of the Divine, are handing over the creative impulse to the Archai, the Spirits of Personality. We can no longer rely on outer forms to sustain us, individually or communally. It is now our inner activity that gives the form to our lives and through our inner activity we commune with Christ and through inner activity we form community with others. The form in the outer world has moved to the inner activity of movement within the human being.
The full report
Report by John-Peter Gernaat
This module is a consideration of our relationship with the Etheric Christ in Communion, in Communion with Christ, and in Communion in Christ, and one can add, in Communion through Christ. This is a Communion with the Etheric Christ in Him, with Him and through Him.
The word communion may be viewed as ‘comm-union’. One can express this as two words: common union. There are two other words that we may consider: community – very similar to communion – that may be expressed as ‘comm-unity’ that may also be split into two words as common unity. The third word is communication. This is a word that we will engage with throughout this module. The word communication may be split into common unification.
The word ‘common’ is common to all the word pairs above. The word has three main meanings and three lesser meanings. The original word from Latin is no longer the main meaning of the word in English. The main meaning in English is “something that is frequently occurring”. It means something that is regular, widespread, ordinary and prevalent. An example would be to speak of a ‘common sparrow’. This means that the sparrow is widespread and that it is ordinary, thereby lacking any specific identification, and it frequently occurs. We can have the same expression for the ‘common people’. We are all the ‘common people’ because we can be considered as ordinary, and there are people like us spread throughout the community and throughout the world, we appear fairly regular in our activities and we are prevalent, we are here a lot, and we occur all over. Because we do not have a high rank in society we would come together as the common folk and in England when the person in the street was given the opportunity to represent their own kind of people and they gathered in a parliament, they gathered in a House of the Common People, the House of Commons. Shakespeare uses the word in that meaning: “are you common, base and popular?” (Henry V). Another meaning of ‘common’, more closely related to the meaning in Latin, is that it is something that is shared, something that is collective, something that is communal. An example would be ‘common land’ because it is held by all in common with each other, shared by all. Another is ‘common law’ because it is shared by everyone and applied to every one of every rank. We also use this word in how we relate to the other; meaning that I share a particular quality with another, the quality may be decency, and so we speak of ‘common decency’. It is a quality that is common to many people in our circle or community. Everyone in the circle or community shares in the quality of decency. We can speak of a ‘common name’, a name that is shared by many, such as John is a common English name. A very different meaning for common is that it can be vulgar, uncouth, and unrefined: “what a common thing to say!” In law the word common is placed before another word to mean less severe, such as ‘common assault’ which is less severe than an ‘assault’. The Latin word from which ‘common’ is derived is ‘cummunis’, meaning ‘shared by all’.
Now we may consider the words ‘union’, ‘unity’ and ‘unification’ that all derive from the Latin ‘ūnus’ meaning ‘one’, or ‘unitas’ when applied as a description. In the word ‘unification’ there is also the Latin word ‘facere’ which is ‘to make one’. Thus, if we reflect on the Latin etymology for the word communion, we come to: ‘the one thing that is shared by all’: one belonging to all. The Latin etymology of communication would be ‘making one of what is common’. There is effort involved. Communion is something that exists and is common to all while communication requires effort.
Communication is something that is common to all people, we do it all the time, even when we are not speaking. We communicate in gestures and also in ways of which we are unaware.
How was the human being designed to communicate in the creation plan of the Divine?
The first thing to notice about human beings is that we have form, a structured form. The structured form requires a force or energy to express life; a formative force that moves the form, therefore: a formative force expressed in movement. Life requires movement, movement of air and fluids and digestion. Our communication requires meaning or intention to the movement; breathing has intention and the movement of our body during communication has intention. In order to be human we need mastery over our intentions. This is mastery based on conscious intention over the intention or meaning in our movement: mastery over self. This becomes important in our communication as there is a big difference between reacting and responding. Most communication is reactive, which starts with our inborn reflexes. Our ability of mastery over the reaction and to hold ourselves in order to respond, is the characteristic of being human.
In identifying the elements that are in the design of the human being for communication there is the four-fold human being: the physical, the etheric, the astral and the ‘I’-organisation.
Our structured form is our physical; formative force expressed in movement is our etheric; our meaning and intention is expressed in our astral; and mastery can be seen in the ‘I’-organisation. Rudolf Steiner, in one of his lectures, summarised this into the three-fold human being, body, soul and spirit using the words ‘form’ for Body, formative force expressed in movement as ‘Life’, and meaning and intention that is properly mastered as ‘Consciousness’. He spoke of Form, Life and Consciousness as another way of speaking about Body, Soul and Spirit. Our living body is a form when it is inhabited by the etheric. Our soul-life, the life of the soul; this is where we live in our thinking, feeling and willing, in the inner life of the soul. Consciousness is our spirit. This is where we are conscious that we are human, and not just reactive. This is where the reactive soul life is turned into the response of the soul.
The Angelic Hierarchies have been active participants in this process of building the human being as a structured form, a formative force expressed in movement, a form that has meaning and intention, and a form that has mastery. Rudolf Steiner describes the Angelic Beings we refer to as the Elohim or Exusiai as Beings of Form, they give us structured form. When we look at the structure of the Angelic World, the nine hierarchies of Angelic Beings, three form the First Hierarchy, three form the Second Hierarchy and three form the Third Hierarchy.
The Third Hierarchy is the Hierarchy we know well, we work with them. Rudolf Steiner gives a picture of the Angels as standing behind each human being resting their hands over the head of the human. He described the Angels as giving strength to the human being. Steiner speaks of the Circling Archangels who are in communication with each other. The communication of the Archangels brings courage to the work done by the human being. Then there is the Archai of the time (at this time it is Michael) who brings a drop of light that he drops into the crucible or chalice of the Archangelic movement so that they can capture the light and warm it with courage, and this provides the strength that the Angels can draw on for the human being to do his or her work. The human being can then work as a being of strong, courageous light. This picture was provided in the context of Waldorf education and is described as the College of Teachers Imagination.
The Beings who were forming the human being out of the design of the Divine are the Second Hierarchy. The Exusiai are the lowest rank of the Second Hierarchy. The next rank are the Dynamis or Beings of Movement. The highest rank of the Second Hierarchy are the Kyriotetes, also known as the Lords or Dominions. The Kyriotetes are the Lords and have charge over themselves, mastery; they have the capacity to bring about their intention.
Our formative force expressed in movement comes to us from the Dynamis, the Spirits of Movement. When Rudolf Steiner was asked to give a name to the renewal of religious life formed as The Christian Community, he said that this was a Movement. We are not just a form, there has to be life in the community; we are a formative force expressed in movement. The Spirits of Wisdom, the Kyriotetes, give us intention.
A valuable concept to hold in mind when addressing the ‘I’ is that our ‘I’ is connected to our higher ‘I’ and that our higher ‘I’ is connected to the Christ ‘I’. This means that the Trinity has something to do with the forming of the ‘I’. The Christ ‘I’ comes from the heart of the Trinity, from the Son God. The ‘I’ is endowed with characteristics that come from the First Hierarchy. The way that Rudolf Steiner describes the Beings of the First Hierarchy tells us about the way in which the ‘I’ needs to set about doing its work. The ‘I’, one could say, is the first part of the human being that was imagined in creation at a time when the Spirits of Form were still in the earlier part of their development. This was the time when the Thrones were the principal agents of the creative work of the Divine. It is the period that is referred to as Old Saturn. Steiner refers to the Thrones as the Spirits of Will. The ‘I’ must have a capacity to exercise a quality of will in its activity. Rudolf Steiner refers to the Cherubim as the Spirits of Harmony or Balance and the Seraphim as the Spirits of Love. The characteristics of our ‘I’ are therefore: will, balance and love. Our earthly ‘I’ has to tap into these characteristics that lives in our higher ‘I’, so that the higher ‘I’ can, like the First Hierarchy, be ever present to the Christ ‘I’.
In chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation John enters the Throne Room of Heaven and at first sees only the centre and slowly his vision widens as he sees more and more of what is around the central Throne of God. His first description is of the First Hierarchy around the Throne of God. The Seraphim and Cherubim were not involved in all the activity; the Thrones were involved, and the Spirits of Second Hierarchy have all been involved in the various aspects of world building and the shaping of the human being. Harmony and Love remained around the Throne of God. In this description we have the qualities of the First Hierarchy that makes it possible for our earthly ‘I’ to become the master of our intention, our movement, our vital force and our structured form.
We now have a picture of the human being because it is a picture of the human being that can communicate in this way. This way is different to the way that animals communicate. Animals cannot develop the complexity of language that we can develop. We create the sound form to which we add gestures.
The development of language is very specific to being human, and language is much more than what we say and how we say it, it is who we are in the saying. We become human when we master a language, because it expresses our being human. It allows our humanity to be recognised. It can also be extremely destructive. Our words have enormous power. The words we speak and write can uplift the human spirit and can equally be extremely destructive. The way we form our letters in our handwriting is a form of communication, it reflects how we inscribe ourselves into the world. This all has something to do with Communication.
This idea will be used further in this module in order to come to terms with what is happening in Communion, the fourth part of our eucharist service, the Act of Consecration of the Human Being. What does this fourth part communicate to us. What do we hear, what can we experience, and how can we respond in communication to what comes to us. It is in the Communion that we are asked to take our most responsive action in the service; our response to choose to stand up and to walk and receive Communion. We receive the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine and the sign of peace. We are asked to respond. The outer response cannot happen with any true meaning and intention without an inner response. During the next sessions the participants worked on their inner responses. There must be something that comes and leads up to the outer response that should be working in person sitting in the congregation. This will take the form of a journey for the form that was created and how it is renewed in our sacrament.
In the opening question session Michaël reiterated that there should be something of all the Hierarchies in the human being. There is love, and harmony, and will, and wisdom, and movement, and form and we should be in relationship to light that comes from the Archai, the courage that comes to us from the Archangels, and the strength that comes to us from the Angels. The task of human beings is to take these qualities a step further.
It is not an accident that the opening talk of every Africa Seminary presents a picture of the human being. Each time this picture is presented in a different way. Presenting this picture in these different views helps us to grasp how it is that we are a fourfold human being. In the image of yesterday we are introduced to a new word expression for body, soul and spirit: form, life and consciousness.
There is value in holding in mind that in the next great cycle of creative activity the Archai will be the Hierarchy of Beings driving the design of the Divine and acting as the creative agents of the Divine. The Archai are known as the Spirits of Personality. In the Fifth Post Atlantean Epoch the creative spirits of the Earth cycle of creative activity, the Elohim or Exusiai, have completed their work and are receding, making way for the Archai to prepare the seed with which their activity can begin. What is happening, as a result, is that the form is no longer holding us as strongly as it did before and has moving from outer structure to inner structure. We now must learn to hold the form in our inner life. The more that our own personal strength can be developed by the Archai, the more we have the capacity to discern and stand in opposition to the fallen Archai, the ones that will remove from us those areas of our soul where we remain unconscious. Their working is very subtle but much more destructive and is happening now.
The activities of Saturday were to focus on Communion. In order to do this it was important to hear the words. It is necessary to understand that the ritual words of the renewed sacrament are not available to be read. Therefore, it will not be possible to present the words here in this report. In engaging with the work that was asked to accompany the words something remained for the participants to take forward. The perspective for these exercises was to understand how the prayers that are said in the Act of Consecration of the Human Being have been renewed. Therefore, the words of the original eucharist were compared using the Catholic Mass (the Western Christian tradition).
The first exercise was to listen to the first prayer heard during the Communion after the Lord’s Prayer in the Catholic Mass and then in The Act of Consecration of The Human Being in which we understand the peace that Christ left with us, and then to draw a form in a single colour inspired by the original prayer and a second form (in a second single colour) inspired by the renewed prayer. The comparison of the two forms from each participant were very insightful.
The second exercise was to listen to the second prayer about what the body and blood of Christ does in us and to write descriptive words and to extract renewed ideas. What was very interesting was to compare the movement that has taken place from the original prayer to the renewed prayer. The renewed prayer is more direct, personal, asking us to take responsibility and has moved from past tense to present tense.
The third exercise was to work with the words of the third prayer that expresses the necessity for healing and to speak out an intuition that arose as a result of hearing the renewal of the prayer.
The final exercise was to reflect together in a communal gathering on a sentence spoken after the priest’s communion to consider the shift to the renewed words.
We came to realise that the sacraments are an outer sign of an inner grace that is made available to those who choose to work with it. This grace is present but is never imposed. We recognise that the Christ in me is the healing medicine that the Communion offers. What opens up in the Communion is: the Christ in me and my capacity to take this on and to transform me. This is a shift from the Lord working on us to Christ being in us.
Concluding presentation on Sunday
Friday evening began with the development of a picture of the human being at hand of two concepts: form and movement. We have a structured form – our physical body. There is more to us, a formative force, a force that enlivens the form and brings it into movement. Our words, movements and gestures can be done with intention. We also have the capacity to be master of it all, to have mastery over our intentions, our movements and our structured form. This builds up the four-fold human being and also the three-fold human being: form, life and consciousness – body, soul and spirit.
The ability to be master of ourselves is the key to being human in the Consciousness Soul Age. It is through mastery that we can develop traits like dignity, integrity, compassion, an interest in the other and a clear sense of self.
That picture helped us to penetrate the form of the words of the original sacrament at the time of Communion, the original words of the Mass. We used these words to discover what is now expressed in the renewed sacrament of the Act of Consecration of the Human Being. This was an exercise in discovering what has moved from the original to where we are now.
We discovered the following:
The movement is very much in the direction of being a conscious ‘I’; being able to take hold of ourselves in full consciousness, wide awake. Much of what disturbs us is when we are not consciously awake to ourselves. This happens for every human being. The importance of being consciously awake is very important to building the community.
In this there is a key idea: from external to internal. Here Michaël shared something that he would share in more detail in a presentation on the Early Gothic architectural style exemplified in the cathedrals of Salisbury and Wells. The French Gothic style, which originated in France, broke with the Romanesque style, which means going from a reasonably low-ceilinged building to the extraordinary height of the walls. These walls required support, and this is found in the arching that is seen in French Gothic cathedrals supporting the walls externally to the cathedrals. These are called flying buttresses. They allow a great height, but introduced a limitation in width and mostly a limitation in the length that could be achieved in this Gothic style. This style spread from northern France to southern France and across the Holy Roman Empire. When this style reached England, a new architectural style emerged without flying buttresses. The stone masons and architects managed to support the height of the walls internally rather than externally. The support was built into the design obviating the need for flying buttresses. This building style allowed for length and breadth to the building that brought them into balance with the height that could be achieved.
The picture is that one can reach one’s height by being externally formed or one can build one’s height and breadth and depth of being with an internal structure. This is exactly what it means to be in a relationship with the living Christ now. What is our Communion – our common union, our shared oneness – with Christ? It is no longer a shared oneness in which Christ is with us, it is a shared oneness in which Christ is with us, in us and works through us. We are moving from “The Lord be with you”, to “Christ in you”. We are taking the movement from having the external forming of the Elohim, the Exusiai (the Spirits of Form), to working on our internal structure so that the form can operate. This is at hand of the Elohim slowly withdrawing from the creative work of the Divine and making space for the Archai, the Spirits of Personality, to work on forming the seed for the next great cycle of creative work on behalf of the Divine. This takes the picture forward.
The Spirits of Will, the Thrones, the lowest rank of the First Hierarchy of Angels, handed over the creative work to the highest rank of the Second Hierarchy, the Spirits of Wisdom, the Kyriotetes or Dominions, who gave to creation meaning, purpose and intention. They handed over to the Dynamis, the Spirits of Movement, who brought the etheric living, moving aspect to the human being. They handed over to the Spirits of Form who have endowed the human being with the possibility of being active on the earth through our ability to interact with our environment through the form of our physical body. We express ourselves to the world through our physical form in movement, whether this is through word or gesture or activity.
We see in this how the human being has been built up, and now the development is moving on to Archai, the Spirits of Personality, and we now have to take a personal responsibility for our internal structures. We are no longer in an age where we can act because of an external instruction, we need to learn to act from a personal and considered choice. We must take the external information and process it with discernment and chose our own course of action from our internal, moral structure. This also adds to our role the possibility to accompany others in their taking responsibility for their own decisions. We can witness for others their actions. Our own higher self is always a witness to our action. This is where the relationship to the living Christ comes in, when we are in Communion with Him, in a shared oneness (comm-union giving us ‘common union’ or ‘shared oneness’) because He is not just with us, He is in us. The union with Christ has moved, to use a metaphor, from being a flying buttress to being internal within our structure. We have to recognise His presence to be able to build our height, to continue the metaphor. We can limit our height, but we have the internal scaffolding that we can take hold of in order to build our greatest height.
This is key in the Act of Consecration where we speak, before the Communion, of the Transubstantiation being a process that works “in us and through us”. It is in us so that we can open our doors, so that what is in us can pour out into the world. We take something of what happens in the internal space through The Act of Consecration of The Human Being and take it out with us into the world. The activity of what is in us must become the activity of our surrounding community. The life of Christ in us is not just for us, it is for the world and must work through us. Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses it in the words: “Christ is lovely in limbs not His, to the Father through the features of human faces”. We are the limbs for Christ. We carry Christ in us.
Christ is present and alive in the Act of Consecration of the Human Being in four ways. He is present and alive in the Gospel, he is present and alive in the Transubstantiated bread and wine that have become his Body and Blood, but Christ is not only present and alive in Word and Sacrament, He is also present and alive in the person of the priest and in the persons who congregate in the community. Eight times the Angelic World speaks through the priest and says: “Christ in you”. The Word and Sacrament come to an end (we do not preserve Communion), but Christ remains present in the priest and the community. The Sacrament of Communion helps us to re-enliven our connection to our ‘internal buttressing’. We are designed as an ‘English Gothic cathedral’.
Our relationship to Christ is that He is active in us and through us. The relationship is not out there, it is in us. The relationship that we have to Christ out there is to the Christ in the other out there. It is to the other that the relationship comes. When “Christ is lovely in limbs not His” He is not only “lovely” in my limbs but also in the limbs of the other, but only when my limbs are in His service. We can also operate in a way that is not out of Christ. We can operate out of our selfishness, our greed, etc. When we act out of compassion, truth, care, freedom, dignity, honour, respect we act out of qualities that are the qualities of the Divine and they are ours only because we are made in the image of the Divine. They are ours by Grace. We can rise above the limitation of ourselves and build height and length and breadth. Our whole way of being can be expansive. We looked at this in the Act of Consecration when we go from a very broad view to a very precise view, but also, we find in our ritual words of Communion, when we expand our understanding to incorporate the precise detail, an ability to see the whole picture, not in general but in a real specific sense of the expansive whole.
It is these words: ‘in, ‘with’, ‘through’; in Christ, with Christ, through Christ. We can reorder them: with Christ, in Christ, through Christ. It is important to feel that He is with us in the way that He is in us and in the way, because He is with us and in us, that He can work through us. This is why there is still a human being at the altar; because it takes a human being to act, to do the gestures and to speak the words. Our picture has not yet been fully realised where we become the sacrament. The picture of the priest at the altar is not just acting, but acting beyond, reminding us that we can aspire to act beyond – acting into our becoming. We can easily fall, fall back into what we have been. It requires work to build the wall that is properly buttressed and requires an architectural design. We are now co-creators in our design because we have been given the form and now we have to transform (trans-form) the form. We are not alone, we do this with Christ, but the work is ours to do. We can say that we rely on Christ in us to help us, but we must do it.
This module has been presented to show us how we must build ourselves up from the inside when we are in relationship to Christ in us.
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