Blogging the Spirit: The Last Invocation

Afternoon in November by J. Francis Murphy – 1917 (source)


At the last, tenderly,
From the walls of the powerful fortress’d house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks, from the keep of the well-closed doors,
Let me be wafted.

Let me glide noiselessly forth;
With the key of softness unlock the locks–with a whisper,
Set ope the doors O soul.

Tenderly–be not impatient,
(Strong is your hold O mortal flesh.
Strong is your hold O love.)

–Walt Whitman

November is traditionally a time for thinking of those who have crossed the threshold of death, and who can feel very close to us in this season of mists and shadows. At a gathering that I attended earlier this month, the poem above was read, and continued to sound in my mind. Whitman evokes a quiet but powerful picture with the rhythm and sounds of his language.

What has spoken to your spirit lately? Please join us on the last Sunday of the month at Relevant Obscurity if you’d like to share in this topic.

Blogging the Spirit: What is love?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I watched the movie La La Land. While I did not think it was as amazing as some rave reviews and awards would have it, it did leave me with an interesting image. (Spoiler alert here, for anyone who wants the ending to remain a secret.)

At the end, former lovers Mia and Seb, who met and parted as struggling young performers in LA, glimpse one another five years later across the proverbial crowded room. They’ve since achieved success in their respective fields, and in Mia’s case, acquired a husband and child, but that one look sets off a movie-musical dance sequence of an alternate scenario in which their love remains unbroken as they follow their dreams together. But it is not to be — when they come back to reality, they realize they have to separate once again, with only a smile to indicate that each is glad for the other’s achievements.

What this seems to me to signify is that the most essential, lasting thing about their relationship is not the pleasure and satisfaction they might derive from being in one another’s physical presence, but the joy each experiences in the other’s creative potential. The first is what we normally think of as romantic love, the excitement and heightened sensation we get from being with a person who makes us feel wonderful. The second is a more selfless love, a wish for what is best for the other person even if it results in a loss to ourselves. Though not unmixed with sadness for what might have been, it seemed to me that Mia and Seb’s final glance represented at least a glimpse of this second kind of love.

In a 1912 lecture called “Love and Its Meaning in the World,” Rudolf Steiner says that we gain nothing for ourselves from true deeds of love; we can only offer them as payment toward the creative forces to which we are indebted for our very existence. Striving for wisdom and power, even toward spiritual ends, can lead us to become tremendous egotists, unless we also understand and practice love in this sense.

Steiner identifies this impulse of love with the Christ impulse:

“Christ who came forth from the realms of spirit has united wisdom with love and this love will overcome egoism. Such is its aim. But it must be offered independently and freely from one being to the other. Hence the beginning of the era of love coincided with that of the era of egoism. The cosmos has its source and origin in love; egoism was the natural and inevitable offshoot of love. Yet with time the Christ Impulse, the impulse of love, will overcome the element of separation that has crept into the world, and man can gradually become a participant in this force of love. In monumental words of Christ we feel love pouring into the hearts of men: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ “

In other words, it’s natural and good for us to want to develop ourselves, as Mia and Seb rightly wish to express their talents; this is one expression of the creative force of love. But this development into separate ego-beings should not become an end in itself; it is meant to be crowned by the free offering of a love that asks nothing for itself, as this couple slowly, painfully learns. Even in the unlikely form of a Hollywood musical, witnessing such a truth can be both profound and moving.

What have you been reading, or viewing, or pondering this month that speaks to your spirit? If you wish, join us at Blogging the Spirit hosted by Laurie of Relevant Obscurity, to share your thoughts or link up your posts.

#BloggingtheSpirit: A new monthly event

Laurie of Relevant Obscurity has started a new ongoing event: #BloggingtheSpirit, Adventures in Spirituality on the Last Sunday of the Month. Laurie says, “I am proposing that we connect on the last Sunday of this month, August 27th with any kind of post you chose: on a book, a piece of art or music, a photograph, a poem that inspires you, a word or a relationship…anything that speaks to your Spirit.”

Like Laurie, I usually feel a little shy about posting this kind of content on my blog. I don’t want to put off anyone who thinks I’m trying to impose a world view on them — I’m not. But it’s nice to have a chance to share some of my spiritually-oriented reading with others who might be interested, and anyone who isn’t can easily skip it. So here we go!

Lately I’ve been reading a little book called Everyone Belongs to God: Discovering the Hidden Christ (Plough, 2015). I received it via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program an embarrassingly long time ago, but I’ve finally picked it up and been pondering small chunks each morning.

It’s composed in a somewhat unusual way, as it is based on letters that a famous contrarian pastor in Germany wrote to his missionary son-in-law in China during the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. Extracts from the letters have been compiled into thematically organized chapters, with titles drawn from imperatives in the text: “See How Christ Is Already at Work,” for example, or “Always Hope.” The result hangs together fairly well, although one must bear in mind that the author didn’t know his words would be disseminated in this way, and that the editor has added bridging material which is not identified as such.

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt (1842-1919) sounds like a fascinating figure; the publisher describes him as “a pastor who hated religiosity, an evangelist who rejected proselytism.” His father was a faith healer, but he turned from this path toward an active and engaged role in society, thus also becoming “a politician who lost faith in politics”; after a six-year term in the legislature he returned to his pastorate until his death. He continued to maintain that a genuine attempt to follow Christ demands that we engage in a loving, compassionate, and open-hearted way with our fellow human beings, including those who are very different from us. His thoughts influenced better-known theologians like Dietriech Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth, and in many ways seem ahead of his time.

Here are some quotations that give a taste of his ideas:

“God’s love tears down walls. No longer religion against religion, Christians against non-Christians, but justice against sin, life against death.”

“As soon as you think of yourself as the moral and righteous one and others as immoral and unrighteous, you ruin what God wants to do. The power of the Spirit will flee. Never despise other people, no matter who they are or how far they have strayed. Have and show a deep respect for everyone you meet. How can others find the love of God, who is the Father of all and who is love, if we his representatives look down on them?”

“The world needs people of life, not pious hypocrites…We must advance the gospel only through our presence, which should be as simple and clear as possible, containing a life hidden in Christ.”

“Did the Savior concern himself only with some heavenly realm? No! He came to us and dwelt among us…Through Christ a hole has been broken through from above down to us, not the other way around. So be on your guard. Today’s Christianity has made all kinds of holes out of this world, falsely teaching that we can simply fly out of it, like pigeons, and be saved.”

“Take heart, and may God give his spirit to all you meet! Remember, they don’t need to become ‘Christians’ like us. This designation need not come up at all. Whoever does the will of God is a child of the kingdom of heaven, whether he takes his cue from Confucius, Buddha, Mohammad, or the Church Fathers.”

“There is something in each person that will never be lost, something that can always be resurrected. This is the gospel.”

This remarkably ecumenical viewpoint has become a strong stream today, but in his time Blumhardt was certainly swimming against the current of the established church. His deeply felt convictions shine through every word, and can become an inspiration for those trying to follow a Christian path based in humility and reverence, rather than spiritual arrogance and closed-mindedness.

Here’s one more quotation which seems especially poignant in light of recent events:

“It breaks my heart that there is so much nationalism and violence in the name of Christ. European Christians have brought a curse upon their own head by killing so many other peoples. Judgment has come upon Christianity because it lacks the strength to love its enemies. The salt has lost its savor and is of no use.”

Where do you find the salt that gives savor to life? How does the spirit move you? I would love to hear about your sources of inspiration, whatever they may be.

Thank you, Laurie, for hosting this event! I’m excited to see what other bloggers come up with.