What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. T.S. ELIOT
Today was the final of a run of meetings at the Goetheanum for this visit and as I wait to board a plane there’s time to reflect and share some of the experiences. The general secretaries’ meeting closed with Virginia Sease reflecting on her 33 years in the executive and the many changes that occurred. In 2001 Manfred Schmidt Brabant died, and as it turned out he was the last chairman of the executive. Following his death, the position was dissolved and the then executive, Virginia Sease, Heinz Zimmerman and Paul Mackay, shared the leadership role. Virginia gave tribute to Paul’s capacity and commitment to ensure the many tasks were covered. Virginia reflected that the changes have been positive.
In 1989, the unbelievable happened, the Berlin wall came down and within a few years many borders opened. People who had previously struggled to get visas, came to Dornach to visit and study. Enter the Goetheanum today and you’ll hear a rich variety of languages. The general secretaries’ meetings have expanded to embrace representatives from around the world. Today, the general secretaries’ contributions play an important role in the processes, considerations and decisions.
For several years, the executive has struggled to find a theme that has relevance beyond the Goetheanum. Is it possible to have a theme that resounds around the world, that finds its way into groups, conversations and professional life? Is there something that is meaningful for our work and life? In 2023/24, it will be one hundred years since the Christmas Conference. Rudolf Steiner brought the Foundation Stone Meditation as the renewing impulse for the Society. If we were to take up this meditation and really work with it, would it bring greater meaning to life, supporting us in our professional work and personal life? The question I took away was: Would working with this verse find resonance not only amongst Society members but also those working in the many organisations?
As part of a consultation process, we – the general secretaries – were asked for our reflections on the re-election of Bodo von Plato and Paul Mackay to the executive. This will be finalised at the AGM in 2018, seven years after their first review. In the process, we realise that there is some opposition to their reelection. Generally, the challenge comes from people in closer proximity to the Goetheanum. The more peripheral countries are (and this includes Scandinavia, Great Britain and France), the less aware they are of polarising elements around the Goetheanum. The general secretaries expressed their appreciation for the work done by the executive, and their interest and engagement, and supported the re-election of the two.
The challenges faced by the Goetheanum leadership reflects many of the struggles we see in the world. The expectations are diverse, some see a need for the Society to stand in the world, building relationships with impulses that extend beyond the Society. Others have a more inward and protective gesture, they want to nurture and guard the past and the knowledge. They have concerns regarding potential negative forces undermining the anthroposophical impulse. Both are valid, but if the life of the Society is to be healthy, they need to find ways to relate and work with the differences. When breathing is healthy, the space between inspiration and expiration allows for transformation. Can a human space be created where we break through the factions and polarisation?
Several years ago, the general secretaries extended a positive gesture of support towards the executive. An extended council was formed to reflect and advise on certain matters. Initially set up for three years, the supportive nature of the meetings has seen the work continue. This entails a monthly meeting in Dornach and consequently a real commitment from the three. Since its conception, the constellation has changed. Presently René Becker (France) and Gioia Folk (Germany) have been joined by Marjatta van Boeshotten (Great Britain). Potentially, this group can strengthen the executive’s relationship with the world by acting as conduits between the world and the Goetheanum.
The Goetheanum leadership includes the executive and the section leaders. In recent years, we have experience how the collegial work has strengthened, all share responsibility for tasks within the Goetheanum as well as engaging with outreach and worldwide initiatives. Looking forward, ten goals are being considered, some have yet to be fully formed, others, such as broadening the understanding for the School for Spiritual Science, have already been activated. A small but relevant change has been made to the title changing it from ‘the School of’ to ‘the School for’, suggesting a more open gesture to work with Spiritual Science. There is a call for greater interdisciplinary collaboration between the sections and people engaged in the various professions.
In New Zealand, we have yet to fully take up section work. People are busy in their professional and working life, questions arise on a daily basis. Where are they directed and how often do we approach them with a spiritual scientific perspective? The phrase ‘spiritual science’ is not easily grasped but it was in the Class Holders meeting that I heard a description of work in the US that excited and inspired me. There the Pedagogical Section are doing action research. The work is a direct response to teachers’ questions, for example, how can we research the effects of digitalisation on us, and can we bring any understanding into our work with children? Their approach is practical, experiential and such that teachers can take it back into their schools for further research. For the School for Spiritual Science to find its place in the world, we will need to build the relationship to practical life.
Throughout the week, we began the day with a lively and engaging session of eurythmy led by Jan Baker Finch. On our first morning, we were treated to a preview of Beethoven’s piano ‘Storm’ sonata No.17 in D minor in eurythmy. Leadership of the stage work is changing. At Easter 2018 Margarete Solstad will step back as from her position as stage director and responsibility for the stage eurythmy will shift from one to six eurythmists. Only one will be fulltime at the Goetheanum, the others will come for specific tasks or timeframes. Gioia Folk is already in action, preparing for a performance of the four Mystery Plays over Christmas. In 2021 there will be a performance with the Basel orchestra and in 2022 Faust with a rework of some scenes such as the Walpurgis Night will be performed. Costs of maintaining a stage group are formidable and next year the stage group will reduce to six permanent eurythmists. At the same time, now that Faust and the Mystery Plays are up and running, people will be engaged for specific roles and performances.
In 1935 Ita Wegman and Elizabeth Vreede along with others were expelled from the Society. At this year’s AGM, a motion requested the expulsion be revoked. Gerald Haffner is carrying this task, seeing that legal possibilities are investigated and working to find a resolution that all can agree to. From another perspective, plans are afoot to hold conferences that celebrate the work of Wegman and Vreede, at the Goetheanum and in other countries. The Dutch Society was intimately affected by the events of 1935. In Holland, there is deep respect for the work of both women and a conference is being planned. A newly renovated building has been named Vreede House in recognition of Vreede and her work.
In another gesture to build a bridge between two streams, ten of the general secretaries extended their stay, to meet with priests who are leaders (Lenkers) in the Christian Community. As far as I know this was a first of such meetings, though the Goetheanum executive and the circle of seven meet annually. 2022 will be the centenary of the founding of the Christian Community. The foundation of the Christian Community took place in the first Goetheanum and, at least annually, services are held in the Schreinerei. Rudolf Steiner was deeply connected with the Christian Community and it’s another tragic story in the history of the Society that for many years anthroposophists actively distanced the two movements. All priests work out of anthroposophy and in this meeting I learned that 90% of the priests are members of the School for Spiritual Science. There is no other profession with such a high percentage. The question many of us went away with is how can we better work with one another? Here in New Zealand, the council’s aim is to meet annually with the priests. We share common themes and realise that such meetings deepen and bring strength to our spiritual striving.
General secretaries had the opportunity to share questions arising from the work in their countries. Not surprisingly, a number dovetailed with the topics raised by the Goetheanum. My group first focused on ‘enthusiasm’ a quality that not only sustains but helps bridge relationships. What sustains is not that first flame that ignites like a piece of paper and quickly burns out, rather the flame that can be transformed in the dying embers of disillusionment and opposition, to ignite as an eternal flame in the heart. The flame that gives courage and hope! The tasks of today call us, the future is already at our door. Are we ready to act and live so that daily we experience in every end there is a beginning?
General Secretary, Anthroposophical Society in New Zealand