The scripture, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living," was the springboard for the three-part sermon of which we have already heard the first and second parts. Two weeks ago, we heard from George MacDonald, commenting on the sacred physical body; last week we took a closer look at Jesus' peripheral comment about the body after death--the "angel" body--we talked about angels in different cultures and religions, mostly by way of description, and we suggested several different ways of thinking about the phenomenology of angels. This week we will hear what Rudolf Steiner has to say about the subtle spiritual bodies, and the way angels help us channel divine reality into the physical dimension. As, when I read the George MacDonald sermon, I will be reading not all, but a lot from The Work of the Angels In Man's Astral Body A Lecture By Rudolf Steiner, Zurich, 9th October, 1918.
For the purposes of this presentation, we don't need to repeat very much of the scripture we have been using--this much is plenty:
30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
25For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry , and are given in marriage :
35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage :
36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
In order to get into Steiner, a few introductory notes are in order. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), was a German philosopher, mystic, writer, and teacher. He founded both the Theosophical Society, and the Waldorf School. The impact of these two entities, worldwide, has been prodigious, both in terms of the activities and publications of the Theosophical Society, and in terms of the thousands of Waldorf schools that offer alternative education to children in a world in which public education is in serious decline. I became aware of Steiner when I got a job teaching violin at a Waldorf school in Santa Cruz. The very rigidly regimented teaching process implemented by this school was kind of a turn-off, but when I read some of Steiner's work, I realized I had found another powerful man of spirit--someone I could learn from.
You will soon see that much of Theosophy deals with occult subjects. My father-in-law used to make fun of occult jargon, calling it "gobble-dee-gook". At a superficial first glance, it might easily be so considered, if it were not for the fact that, as mentioned last week, occultists are quite scientific in their explanations for these phenomenologies. They may ultimately be wrong, and they may definitely be accused, (as in the case of all dogmatists), of putting the cart before the horse, but they are NOT flaky.
In the following statement from last week, we suggested a definition of the word "occult":
Angels, like magic, fall into the category of the "occult" or "knowledge of the hidden", and are therefore outside the general realm of "seeable" subjects. Thinking about angels can be a mere academic exercise, they being generally unseen, and largely unfelt. Of course, if we can learn to enter into a conscious dialogue with angels (note the word "conscious"), as in prayer or meditation, then we can get a whole new slant on the thing, discover a new dynamic that drives the relationship into matters of immediate real (rather than theoretical) significance, matters either spiritual or mundane--you can never predict. However, in such ecstatic dialogues the angels rarely talk about themselves.
Hence, a discussion of angels cannot be considered "helpful" in any direct way, since any delving into occult subjects, (delving into the phenomenology of the mysteries, you might say), may only be considered to be of mere intellectual interest. We have said many times that verbal descriptions of spiritual reality can only amount, ultimately, to pretty fictions, that satisfy our inquiring minds but which do not actually convey any real truth. Occult jargon can only hint at what must REALLY be the case, by pointing our minds in the direction of the great mysteries without truly getting around them. The way we reduce the great mysteries into tales of magic must be comical to higher beings.
The great thing about Jesus is that He threw away all the magic and superstition of His culture and presented a clear, practical, Earthbound philosophy of life. This is not to say that Jesus was not aware of the magic and superstition of His age, nor is it to say that something of that magic and superstition is not true--it is merely to say that Jesus was always pointing at something beyond the phenomenological baggage of the occult sciences, at something more immediate, and, ultimately more powerful.
Nevertheless, this occult discussion is interesting indeed, and is likely provoke a thought or two that may actually prove to be helpful after all--by focusing our mental attention on an issue, our hearts may follow and contribute their transcendental understanding to the problem.
The following Wikipedia summary gives a general overview of Theosophy in general, and of Theosophy's dogmatic views on the subject of angels in particular. This will lead directly into the following Steiner piece on angels. Both this article and the Steiner speech are crammed with jargon that is characteristic of most so-called "New Age" writing. We will pass over definitions of much of this jargon, since most of it is defined in the text to follow. Needless to say, like the disclaimers at the beginnings of movies that say, "The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect. . . blah blah blah,": but these ideas are pretty mainstream now, the New Age having substantially become the Now Age; and, as to their contribution to our attempts at "creating a pretty fiction" and calling it true", they make a lovely bouquet of details that lace around the central truth like ballerinas.
In the teachings of Theosophy, Devas are regarded as living either in the atmospheres of the planets of the solar system (Planetary Angels) or inside the Sun (Solar Angels) (presumably other planetary systems and stars have their own angels) and they help to guide the operation of the processes of nature such as the process of evolution and the growth of plants; their appearance is reputedly like colored flames about the size of a human. It is believed by Theosophists that devas can be observed when the third eye is activated. Some (but not most) devas originally incarnated as human beings.
It is believed by Theosophists that nature spirits, elementals (gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders), and fairies can be also be observed when the third eye is activated. It is maintained by Theosophists that these less evolutionarily developed beings have never been previously incarnated as humans; they are regarded as being on a separate line of spiritual evolution called the “deva evolution”; eventually, as their souls advance as they reincarnate, it is believed they will incarnate as devas.
It is asserted by Theosophists that all of the above mentioned beings possess etheric bodies that are composed of etheric matter, a type of matter finer and more pure that is composed of smaller particles than ordinary physical plane matter."
What follows is a lengthy excerpt from The Work of the Angels In Man's Astral Body A Lecture By Rudolf Steiner, Zurich, 9th October, 1918, Translated by D. S. Osmond with the help of Owen Barfield.
This lecture is regarded as one of the centerpieces of the so-called "New Age" thinking, even though it was composed in 1918. Its main purpose in the context of this sermon is to suggest a relationship between the physical body and the "equal unto the angels" body of Luke 20.
Moreover, it is a work of prophecy: as Steiner says later in the text, spiritual enlightenment promotes clairvoyance; thus, the things he says and predicts in this lecture can only be the result of a spectacular clairvoyance. We all experience little snatches of clairvoyance every day when we go to pick up the phone before it rings, or set out a dinner plate for company we didn't know was coming. Well, Steiner had a BIG talent for this, and I wouldn't say that if I didn't feel that, in a way, some of the things Steiner looked forward to, (almost a hundred years ago), seem to me to have come true. We will comment further on this at the appropriate place in the following material.
Now the Steiner:
". . . To arrive at a clear conception of these things, we must above all consider in greater detail the nature of man himself. In the sense of Spiritual Science, the members of man's being, beginning from above downwards, are: Ego, astral body, etheric body — which latterly I have also called the body of formative forces — and physical body. The Ego is the only one of these members in which we live and function as beings of spirit-and-soul. The Ego has been implanted in us by the Earth-evolution and the spirits of Form who direct it. Fundamentally speaking, everything that enters into our consciousness enters it through our Ego. And unless the Ego, as it unfolds itself, can remain connected — connected through the bodies — with the outer world, we have as little consciousness as we have during sleep. . . .
But if you study the description of these bodies given in the book, An Outline of Occult Science, you will realise by what a complicated process this fourfold constitution of man came into being. It is not evident from the facts presented in that book that Spirits belonging to all the Hierarchies participated in the formation of the three sheaths of man's being? Is it not evident that our threefold sheath composed of physical body, etheric body, astral body, is extremely complicated? It is not simply that these sheaths owe their origin to the co-operation of the Hierarchies; the Hierarchies are still constantly working within them. And those who believe that man is merely the apparatus of bones, blood, flesh and so forth, of which natural science, physiology, biology and anatomy speak, have no understanding of his nature.
If we genuinely study these sheaths of man, we realise that spiritual Beings of the higher Hierarchies are working together with wisdom and set purpose in everything that takes place, without our being conscious of it, in our bodily sheaths. . . .
What are the Angels — the spiritual Beings nearest to men — doing in the human astral body in the present cycle of evolution?
. . . What is there to be said in the general sense when it comes to answering a question such as this? It can only be said that spiritual investigation, when earnestly pursued, is not a matter of juggling with ideas or words, but works its way into the actual sphere where the spiritual world becomes perceptible. . .
What are the Angels doing in our astral body? Conviction of what they are doing can come to us only when we have achieved a certain degree of clairvoyance and are able to perceive what is actually going on in our astral body. A certain degree at least of Imaginative Knowledge must therefore have been attained if this question is to be answered.
It is then revealed that these Beings of the Hierarchy of the Angels — particularly through their concerted work, although in a certain sense each single Angel also has his task in connection with every individual human being — these Beings form pictures in man's astral body. Under the guidance of the Spirits of Form (Exusiai) the Angels form pictures. Unless we reach the level of Imaginative Cognition we do not know that pictures are all the time being formed in our astral body. They arise and pass away, but without them there would be for mankind no evolution into the future in accordance with the intentions of the Spirits of Form. The Spirits of Form are obliged, to begin with, to unfold in pictures what they desire to achieve with us during Earth-evolution and beyond. And then, later on, the pictures become reality in a humanity transformed.
Through the Angels, the Spirits of Form are already now shaping these pictures in our astral body. The Angels form pictures in man's astral body and these pictures are accessible to thinking that has become clairvoyant. If we are able to scrutinise these pictures, it becomes evident that they are woven in accordance with quite definite impulses and principles. Forces for the future evolution of mankind are contained in them. If we watch the Angels carrying out this work of theirs — strange as it sounds, one has to express it in this way — it is clear that they have a very definite plan for the future configuration of social life on earth; their aim is to engender in the astral bodies of men such pictures as will bring about definite conditions in the social life of the future.
That is the one principle in accordance with which the Angels form the pictures in man's astral body.
Simple, direct, practical, social, just like Jesus. The idea of clairvoyance is of particular interest to artists, because we all know that some significant percentage of what we create is given to us, transmitted through us without much act of will on our part. If this higher mind material can go out into the world and impress on people a vision of "a very definite plan for the future configuration of social life on earth", then art has served its spiritual purpose. A purpose manifested through the creation of IMAGES.]
But there is a second impulse in the work of the Angels. The Angels have certain objectives in view, not only in connection with the outer social life but also with man's life of soul. Through the pictures they inculcate into the astral body their aim is that in future time every human being shall see in each and all of his fellow-men a hidden divinity.
Quite clearly, then, according to the intention underlying the work of the Angels, things are to be very different in future. Neither in theory nor in practice shall we look only at man's physical qualities, regarding him as a more highly developed animal, but we must confront every human being with the full realisation that in him something is revealing itself from the divine foundations of the world, revealing itself through flesh and blood. To conceive man as a picture revealed from the spiritual world, to conceive this with all the earnestness, all the strength and all the insight at our command — this is the impulse laid by the Angels into the pictures.
The bestowal on man of complete freedom in the religious life — this underlies the impulses, at least, of the work of the Angels.
And there is a third objective: To make it possible for men to reach the Spirit through thinking, to cross the abyss and through thinking to experience the reality of the Spirit.
. . . These events can be characterised in greater detail, for to know what the Angel is doing is only the preparatory stage. The essential point is that at a definite time — depending, as I have said, upon the attitude men themselves adopt it will be earlier or later or at worst not at all — a threefold truth will be revealed to mankind by the Angels.
Firstly, it will be shown how his own genuine interest will enable man to understand the deeper side of human nature. A time will come — and it must not pass unnoticed — when out of the spiritual world men will receive through their Angel an impulse that will kindle a far deeper interest in every individual human being than we are inclined to have to-day. This enhanced interest in our fellow-men will not unfold in the subjective, leisurely way that people would prefer, but by a sudden impetus a certain secret will be inspired into man from the spiritual side, namely, what the other man really is. By this I mean something quite concrete — not any kind of theoretical consideration. Men will learn something whereby their interest in every individual can be kindled. That is the one point — and that is what will particularly affect the social life.
[It is worth interrupting the flow of this discourse to emphasize something about the word "concrete": as I have repeatedly stated, Jesus was nothing if not practical--He really wanted a heaven on earth. It is nice to see Steiner taking the same attitude: he wants the message of the angel to help us live here on Earth.
Furthermore, in regard to the afore-mentioned prophetic aspect of this piece, I feel that a good case can be made for the proposition that the reality of the world wide web constitutes "a far deeper interest in every individual human being than we are inclined to have to-day." In other words, it appears to me that, almost a hundred years ago, Steiner saw a heightened understanding of MAN, of himself, as a natural side-effect of the huge information explosion that has been made possible by the internet. True, the world is pretty messed up: there are pockets of serious problems in many places; but there are also numerous positive trends that I think will take hold soon enough, and usher in an age of peace.]
Secondly: From the spiritual world the Angel will reveal to man that, in addition to everything else, the Christ Impulse postulates complete freedom in matters of religions life, that the only true Christianity is the Christianity which makes possible absolute freedom in the religious life.
And thirdly: Unquestionable insight into the spiritual nature of the world.
As I have said, this event ought to take place in such a way that the Spiritual Soul in man participates in it. This is impending in the evolution of humanity, for the Angel is working to this end through the pictures woven in man's astral body.
But let it be emphasised that this impending event confronts the will of man. Many things that should lead to conscious awareness of this event may be and indeed are being left undone.
But as you know, there are other beings working in world-evolution, beings who are interested in deflecting man from his proper course: these are the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic beings. What I have just said belongs to the divinely-willed evolution of mankind. If man were to follow the dictates of his own proper nature, he could not very well fail to perceive what the Angel is unfolding in his astral body; but the aim of the Luciferic beings is to tear men away from insight into the work of the Angels. And they set about doing this by curbing man's free will. They try to cloud his understanding of the exercise of his free will. True, they desire to make him good — for from the aspect of which I am now speaking, Lucifer desires that there shall be goodness, spirituality, in man — but automatic goodness, automatic spirituality — without free will. Lucifer desires that man shall be led automatically, in accordance with perfectly good principles, to clairvoyance — but he wants to deprive him of his free will, to remove from him the possibility of evil-doing. Lucifer wants to make man into a being who, it is true, acts out of the spirit, but acts as a reflection, as an automaton, without free will.
[Sidebar: I had a lovely "Aha" moment when I read that bit about free will. You will remember that we have discussed free will in detail in past weeks, and have pretty much agreed that free will is one of the human qualities that is most like God. When I read that Lucifer wants to have "automatic spirituality — without free will", I thought of so many works of fiction that describe the ultimate evil as regimented conformity: the Empirial troops in Star Wars, the soldiers of the Wicked Witch of the West, (Yo-Hee-Ho, Yo-Ho), the Stepford Wives, and that chilling scene in A Wrinkle in Time when all those kids march outside their houses at once, and bounce their balls together in perfect unison, etc. Indeed, the aura of evil that emanates from the Glennallen High School was vastly intensified when they put up that horrible fence that makes the place look like a cage, a prison. Proseletyzing Jehovah's witnesses should think about the magnanimous, tender-hearted Satan who really, like them, only wants what's best for us--he wants to nurture and protect us, enfold us in his loving arms--as long as we do it his way; as long as we are willing to give what up what is most ourselves. Such a deal.]
But the Ahrimanic beings too are working to obscure this revelation. They are not at pains to make man particularly spiritual, but rather to kill out in him the consciousness of his own spirituality. They endeavour to instill into him the conviction that he is nothing but a completely developed animal. Ahriman is in truth the teacher par excellence of materialistic Darwinism. He is also the great teacher of all those technical and practical pursuits in Earth-evolution where there is refusal to acknowledge the validity of anything except the external life of the senses, where the only desire is for a widespread technology, so that with somewhat greater refinement, men shall satisfy their hunger, thirst and other needs in the same way as the animal. To kill, to darken in man the consciousness that he is an image of the Godhead — this is what the Ahrimanic beings are endeavouring by subtle scientific means of every kind to achieve in our age of the Spiritual Soul."
Here ends the reading of the Steiner lecture.
I find the idea of angels planting "pictures" in our heads to be one of those fascinating but obvious-when-revealed, "Well, duh!" insights. Of course good angels put good pictures in our heads--just as bad angels put bad pictures in our heads! Well, duh!
But the notion of PICTURE evokes ideas of conceptualization, memory, and projection of ego that lead to spiritual considerations. One common synonym for "picture" is: icon. An icon is more than a "representation" of a spiritual reality, it is a FOCUS of a spiritual reality, in the same way, on a more modest scale of course, that the Christ Consciousness is a FOCUS of the Mind of God. This passage is laden with implicit significance:
. . . we must confront every human being with the full realization that in him something is revealing itself from the divine foundations of the world, revealing itself through flesh and blood. To conceive man as a picture revealed from the spiritual world, to conceive this with all the earnestness, all the strength and all the insight at our command — this is the impulse laid by the Angels into the pictures.
"To conceive man as a picture revealed from the spiritual world" is to attribute to Man the ability to channel divine reality into the physical. The medium is the MIND, able to receive and maintain in consciousness an IMAGE, divinely inspired and transmitted for the edification and transformation of Mortal Men into Sons of God. I'm sure, if Steiner speaks rightly, that angels prefer to relay their messages through the human astral body because of the sympathy (the having-something-in-common-ness) between the astral body and their own subtle bodies. Must it be, then, that an angel imprints a picture on the face of another picture?
Can this angel body, then, be thought of as a "picture"? Are we to surrender our physical bodies, so sound and solid, in exchange for a flimsy little PICTURE--a momentary static electric charge? Or is the idea to be taken in the opposite sense, that Man's physical body is a mere picture, a formal articulation of divine intelligence and energy--energy that cannot be contained by any formal design, pattern, or shape? Last week we heard George MacDonald insisting that a body, matter in of some degree of fineness, was really necessary, if we were to continue thinking of God as a good guy. Remember? "What kind of God would create us and then not let us get together in heaven for parties and chamber music concerts?" Perhaps MacDonald didn't think quite enough about the concept of "IMAGE"--image as icon or focus of heavenly light. Perhaps the exalted body he imagined was just a plop in the cosmic stew, no less real or eternal than anything else, but always subject to change, transformation, transcendence. I wonder if he ever gave serious to thought to this idea: that the egoic essence of the image is contained in the selfless non-image.
The idea of non-image has been invading my thoughts a lot lately, as I contemplate the angel body, and these other types of finer bodies described by Steiner. Even though the new physics has discovered many different grades of matter density, (neutrinos and the like), using the density of matter as a way of describing the difference between the physical body and the angel body seems like a pseudoscientific way of describing something beyond science. Nevertheless, we must admit that the quality of our devotions in spiritual practice may be described, at different times, as areas on a continuum that is not fixed, and not finite. Sometimes we are a "plop" on the surface of the boiling stew, and sometimes we lose ourselves in the stew.
In C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces, a temple is described in which are situated two statues, representations of a lower and a higher goddess. The lower goddess, Ungit, is a great, round stone, of no particular shape; as the blood offerings trickle down its sides, the observer may see a face, or faces, or no face in the uninflected gray. The higher goddess is a white marble Grecian statue, beautiful, articulate, focused. A peasant woman has just come in and said prayers to Ungit, the lower goddess, and, as she is leaving, the the onlooking queen stops her:
"Has Ungit comforted you, child" I asked.
"Oh yes, Queen" said the woman, her face almost brightening, "Oh yes. Ungit has given me great comfort. There's no goddess like Ungit."
"Do you always pray to that Ungit," said I (nodding toward the shapeless stone), "and not to that?" here I nodded towards our new image, standing tall and straight in her robes and (whatever the Fox might say of it) the loveliest thing our land has ever seen.
"Oh, always this, Queen," said she. "That other, the Greek Ungit, she wouldn't understand my speech. She's only for nobles and learned men. There's no comfort in her."
The representations in this temple are very different faces of a single goddess, different phases of a single identity. Although the outer form of these representations are quite unlike each other, they both tend toward the same spiritual essence. Likewise, an artist has materials at his/her disposal which are of a contrasting character but which offer a similar opportunity to create synthetic works which integrate the various articulate voices of man into one great symphonic chorus.
The temple of art, usually thought to be inhabited by an exclusive brotherhood of high priests with nothing to say to the lowly men of earth, might become a popular emporium of enlightenment if composers could find a way to speak to the common man's higher mind by way of his/her lower referential vantage point. But why should they? Why might not the common man create his own music out of his own common materials? Is this possible? Does an association with a language automatically enable one to create discourses in that language? In Man and His Myths, Joseph Campbell makes the following insightful comment:
"There's an old romantic idea, in German, das Volk dichtet, which says that the poetry of the traditional cultures, and the ideas, come out of the folk. They do not. They come out of an elite experience, the experience of people particularly gifted, whose ears are open to the song of the universe. These people speak to the folk, and there is an answer from the folk which is then received as an interaction. But the first impulse in the shaping of a folk tradition comes from above, not from below." (p. 107)
This passage indicates that, traditionally, the task of creating art for the folk has been willingly shouldered by a trained elite; the passage implies that no matter how much the folk need to have their basic spiritual identities expressed, they cannot do it themselves—they need the help of experts. It is therefore incumbent upon the most gifted of our generation to speak to the people of their ultimate identification with super-personal reality. Those with the gift of articulation naturally feel responsible for their brothers and sisters who cry out in their dreams for someone to help them understand who they are, for someone to give them a jingle, a catch-phrase, a hook by the door to hang their identities on for awhile, to assuage their deep ontological insecurities. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Perhaps this is the angel's job.
The point here, is that: there are many levels of existence, like rungs on a ladder, or floors in an apartment building. The eternally now, changeless God lives on every floor, but the quality of our personal experience of God on every floor is different. Maybe our job is to move up the ladder, maybe our job is to just take in the whole ladder--I don't know.
Several times, in the above quoted material, angels are referred to as links between God and Man. Thus, there is one more hair to split: is the angel the link, or is it the message, the image, the picture? Does the picture have a will of its own, or is it fixed, defined, mortal? It is easy for me to imagine myself as an image, but I always keep sensing that connection with something deeper than the image, the source of the image, the shape without a shape.
I think it must be to this formless shape that our earthly bodies propend--that after these puny earthly dust balls fall apart, there will emerge a far more perfect representation of the spiritual identity that makes me me and you you. Now, we see this picture in a glass darkly, but then: there will be no distance between us, between me and you, nor between yourself and yourself. But, for now, always the picture, the IMAGE is necessary for the mind to grasp and contemplate in time. And with each layer of snakeskin we shed we get closer to the TRUE form, the formless form, the essence, the heart.
Let us pray:
Jesus, we stand silenced with awe before the vast cosmic structure you have given us to live in. We don't expect to make sense of most of it, but, thanks to the ideas, the forms, the pictures of divine reality you send down to us, through the angels, we can glimpse, even with vague human eyes, the glorified bodies our spirits will inhabit, indescribable heaven world which one day is to be our haven and home. Amen.