“Our brains are no longer conditioned for reverence and awe,” writes John Updike. “We cannot imagine a Second-Coming that would not be cut down to size by the televised evening news, or a Last Judgment not subject to holier-than-thou second-guessing in the New York Review of Books.”
We can certainly do with a lot more reverence and awe, but brains are not really at issue, rather hearts are. Rudolf Steiner’s view of the Second Coming of Christ, contrary to the view that John Updike seems to hold, is far from conventional. He suggests that this event will not be a physical reappearance, but rather an appearance “in the clouds”, i.e., in the etheric realm. Appearing in a non-material body, he will be visible to etheric vision, as well as be apparent in community life. Beginning from the year 1933, this will prove to be an unshakable experience for increasing numbers of people. Emphasizing that future consciousness will require humanity to recognize this Spirit of Love in all its true forms, regardless of how this Spirit might be named, he warns that while the traditional name “Christ” might be used, the true essence of this Being of Love might be altogether ignored. Asked how one could be sure that a person has had an authentic encounter with the etheric Christ, Steiner simply asked another question. “Has that person’s life-direction changed?”
As Robert Powell observes however in his essay “Reflections on the Second Coming”:
An acquaintance with Rudolf Steiner’s life’s work reveals that he was endowed with the faculty of being able to extend his consciousness not only to the Earth’s etheric aura but also to cosmic realms beyond, within which he could behold the descent of the Risen One towards the Earth. Hence he could be certain of the truth of his proclamation concerning the second coming, even to the extent of dating the onset of this event to begin one third of the way through [the twentieth] century. But for those whose consciousness has not yet developed to the extent of being able to perceive beyond the physical plane of existence into the etheric world, the question remains: Is it possible to know with certainty that the second coming within the Earth’s etheric aura has already begun?
One obvious way would be to listen to the stories of those who can testify to an encounter with the Risen One.
In November of 1934, Bill Wilson was again admitted to hospital to recover from a bout of drinking. This was his fourth stay at Towns hospital under Doctor Silkworth’s care. It was while undergoing treatment with the “Belladonna Cure”, according to Wilson, lying in bed depressed and despairing, that he cried out, “I’ll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let Him show Himself!” He then had an overwhelming experience of a bright light, a feeling of ecstasy, with a new serenity following. He never drank again for the remainder of his life. When Wilson described his experience to Doctor Silkworth, the doctor told him, “Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang on to it”.
Soon after this experience Wilson, in 1935, together with Dr. Bob Smith and some others, founded Alcoholics Anonymous.
According to Starr Daily in his book Love Can Open Prison Doors (Arthur James Ltd., 1967, 7th edition, pp. 30-1), imprisoned yet again in Texas sometime in the late 1930’s, beaten and hungry, thrown into solitary confinement with nobody to turn to, there came an hour when he had a dream that was more than a dream:
. . . There occurred in my dream the man whom I’d been trying to hate for years, Jesus the Christ.
He appeared in a garden in every way similar to the one I had seen Him in as a child. His physical appearance was also similar. The whole picture had that quiet clarity about it that draws out thematic details of expression, of feeling, of thought, of purpose. He came towards me, His lips moving as though in prayer. He stopped near me eventually and stood looking down. I had never seen such love in human eyes; I had never felt so utterly enveloped in love. I seemed to know consciously that I had seen and felt something that would influence my life throughout all eternity.
Presently, He began slowly to fade in the manner of some casual process of dematerialization. Out of what had been a vision of Him there emerged a vision of the word Love in large gossamer irregular letters, which remained a moment, and then as He had done, slowly vanished.
Following this particular dream I lay for a long time enveloped in a keen sense of awareness. Even though the visual aspects of the dream had disappeared, its quality lingered. It seemed to have become a part of me. Where I had been the recipient of the Master’s love, I now felt myself exuding love. It seemed to pour from me in the form of some mighty sense of blissful gratitude, not for any one thing or things, but for all things, for life. I had no discernment or consciousness apart from this enchantment of universal love. I seemed to have escaped from all the personal bodily and environmental limitations that had hitherto tortured me. I was not aware of dungeon walls, but my thoughts seemed to roam afar both in space and time. (In fact, neither time nor space appeared to have definition or the modification of boundary lines).
From that very moment he felt nothing but love for the prison guards, becoming a model prisoner. When he was released, he helped to set up halfway houses for freed prisoners, so that they could be monitored and supported as they tried to integrate again into society. Over the years he wrote many books on the Christ and His love for humanity.
On January 4, 1963, while reading the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, the Canadian poet Margaret Avison had a direct encounter with the living Christ, bringing about a profound reorganization of her spiritual and social life. Afraid initially that her experience would displace the poetry she had lived for, she found herself instead overflowing with creativity. Her experience would have profound repercussions in her poetry, as well as among her readers and critics, many of whom, according to one of those critics, “began to feel distinctly uneasy with the explicitly devotional nature of much of her subsequent work”.
Nevertheless Avison had by her death at 89 in 2007 won several leading awards, with two of her books having received the Governor General’s Award, and her book, Concrete and Wild Carrot, having received the 2003 Griffin Poetry Prize. As many critics compared her work to the great metaphysical poets of the 17th century, one of Canada’s foremost critics went so far as to judge her to be “probably the most important English-Canadian poet” of all time.
At twenty-three Mario Bergner was hospitalized with eleven symptoms of AIDS:
From my bed, I questioned the Lord about homosexuality and Christianity. Jesus appeared saying, “I want to heal your whole person, not just your sexuality. Choose.” Not understanding what “choose” meant I just chose him. I recovered and years later tested HIV negative
He later married.
Through effective pastoral care and discipleship, as well as psychotherapy, I dealt with my homosexual attractions and found freedom for heterosexual marriage. After living in abstinence for twelve years I met a wonderful woman. We married and now have five children. Homosexual attractions occasionally still pull at me, but I understand them now and they no longer identify who I am. The tug of war is over for me.
Bergner is the founder and director of Redeemed Lives Ministries, which is a ministry of pastoral care and discipleship located near Chicago. He is also an Anglican priest.
In the book entitled They Experienced the Christ, published as a report, compiled by Gunnar Hillerdal and Berndt Gustafsson, of the Religious-Sociological Institute of Stockholm, a Norwegian woman tells of her experience in hospital after an accident. Her leg having been bored through with steel wire, she lay in bed suffering much pain. She said she felt herself abandoned by God. And it was in this darkening moment of hopelessness that she heard someone coming. She saw a figure draw near:
He wore a long white garment, was tall and majestic, with a radiant golden crown on his head. In spite of the kingly appearance and sublime dignity, unending compassion streamed forth from him. He said: ‘Today you have seen many doctors here, and you know that there is one who calls himself the head physician. You should know, however, that I am the one who is the head physician in this house, and this is my visiting time. When evening comes, when the lights are dimmed and the noise dies down, I make my rounds; for then I have a chance to speak to the hearts of those here. And I say to you: You thirst, I thirsted also; you feel yourself abandoned by God, so it was with me also; you have hard, cold iron in your flesh and blood, so had I also.’ He did not say more; he turned and disappeared. But I felt such joy that I could have leapt out of bed…And I was allowed to feel in my own body something of that which He had suffered for all of us.
In an interview published in the Summer 2010 issue of New View, a UK anthroposophical periodical, Frank Chester, mathematician, artist, and discoverer of a new geometric (“sixth Platonic”), seven-sided form (septahedron or “chestahedron”) in relation to Steiner’s indication of a fifth chamber of the heart, has the following experience to relate:
When I was 58, I lost my girlfriend (my first wife and I had separated and divorced some years before), my house, my job and my mother within three months. It was personally a difficult time. I was under all kinds of stress and friends thought I was a candidate for a heart attack! I did not feel that would happen, I was not depressed, but it was stressful. One morning, I left the place where I was staying and went along a tree-lined walkway; no one else was around, but there was this tall figure in white, standing up on what seemed like a platform. First off, I thought it was my father (he had died when I was 53) who had ‘come back’ to encourage me. Then I realized, no, it is not my father. The figure said nothing. I saw him and I looked down and I said thank you very much for coming; I know you are trying to help me, but I know I can get through this and I know that you love me and thank you very much for being here. I would look a little out of the corner of my eye, but not much. I felt I did not have a right to look. Then this encounter finished. I was not shocked, but I also knew I did not need to look closely, something told me I did not need to do that. I knew it was the Christ, but I knew I did not need to look in his eyes. It was a wonderful experience that I carried with me.
Interviewer: “According to your own biography it strikes me that this experience comes at a turning point for you, because soon after, your life begins to go in a very different direction and you become involved with this quest for this geometric form that leads you into a connection with Steiner’s indication of a fifth chamber to the human heart?”
Yes, all this work and these ideas come towards me. I was completely open at that time, like a white sheet of canvas.
As today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, we have from Acts 9:1-9 this account of Paul’s (or rather — at that time — Saul’s) encounter with the living Christ:
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Following the encounter, we have this account of the change in the direction of Paul’s life (Acts 9:10-20):
‘Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
The rest, as the saying goes, is history – the remarkable, sacred history of the Risen One working through His servant Paul to bring His “name before the Gentiles and Kings and the people of Israel,” with Paul saying, “Not I, but Christ in me,” and with Paul also saying, ”From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Paul’s encounter with Christ was different from anyone else’s, for while the Apostles had encountered the Risen One, Paul had encountered not only the Risen One but also the Ascended One: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor. 15:8). Not until “His coming again in the clouds” in the twentieth century would anyone else have, it would seem, this same experience of the etheric Christ.
What about those of us who have not had this encounter? Does this mean that, for us, the Second Coming has not yet happened? To this question Rudolf Steiner gives a very clear answer. Christ can be as close to us just as our own thinking is close to us, and it is through our changed thinking, and hence our changed life of feeling and will, that the etheric Christ in our time can manifest:
Instead of taking an interest merely in my own way of thinking, and in what I consider right, I must develop a selfless interest in every opinion I encounter, however strongly I may hold it to be mistaken. The more a person prides himself on his own dogmatic opinions and is interested only in them, the further that person removes himself, at this moment of world-evolution, from the Christ. The more a person develops a social interest in the opinions of other human beings, even though he considers them erroneous – the more light he receives into his own thinking from the opinions of others – the more he does to fulfill in his inmost soul a saying of Christ, which today must be interpreted in the sense of the new Christ-language. Christ said: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”. The Christ never ceases to reveal Himself anew to human beings even unto the end of earthly time. And thus He speaks today to those willing to listen: “In whatever the least of your brethren thinks, you must recognize that I am thinking in him; and that I enter into your feeling, whenever you bring another’s thought into relation with your own, and whenever you feel a fraternal interest for what is passing in another’s soul. Whatever opinion, whatever outlook on life, you discover in the least of your brethren, therein you are seeking Myself”. So does the Christ speak to our life of thought – the Christ who desires to reveal Himself in a new way – the time for it is drawing near – to the humanity of the twentieth century. . . . This is the way which today must be characterized as the way to the Christ through thinking.
(Rudolf Steiner, The Inner Aspect of the Social Question, trsl. C. Davy, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1974, pp. 40-41).
We can do no better than to end this with a poem by Margaret Avison, whose words have real power to direct our thinking to the Being of Love Himself.
‘Forsaking all’— You mean
head over heels, for good,
for ever, call of the depths
of the All – the heart of one
who creates all, at every
moment, newly – for
you do so – and
to me, far fallen in the
ashheaps of my
false-making, burnt-out self and in the
hosed-down rubble of what my furors
gutted, or sooted all
around me – you implore
me to so fall
in Love, and fall anew in
ever-new depths of skywashed Love till every
capillary of your universe
throbs with your rivering fire?
‘Forsaking all’ – Your voice
never falters, and yet,
unsealing day out of a
darkness none ever knew
in full but you,
you spoke that word, closing on it forever:
‘Why hast Thou forsaken . . . ?’
This measure of your being all-out, and
meaning it, made you put it all on the line
we, humanly, wanted to draw – at
having you teacher only, or
popular spokesman only, or
doctor or simply a source of sanity
for us, distracted, or only
the one who could wholeheartedly
rejoice with us, and know
our tears, our flickering time, and
stand with us.
But to make it head over heels
yielding, all the way,
you had to die for us.
The line we drew, you crossed,
and cross out, wholly forget,
at the faintest stirring of what
you know is love, is One
whose name has been, and is
and will be, the
Pax et bonum,