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Sacramental Conversation

 Featured image | Deep Conversation, Daron Maurice Cohen  

This article is based  on a public Zoom talk given to members of the North American Council for Anthroposophical Curative Education and Social Therapy, (NAC), on the evening of April 24th, 2020. The talk had the title “Finding Hope in Difficult Times: Conversation and Community as a Path of Mutual Development.” The NAC website is  It appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of Being Human: A Quarterly Journal of the Anthroposophical Society in America and has been modified further for publication in Kosmos Journal.

 “If you don’t know the kind of person I am / And I don’t know the kind of person you are/A Pattern that others made may prevail in the world./ And following the wrong God home we may miss our star….1) William Stafford


Experiencing our Humanity

In the last year we have all experienced shattering events, in particular the ongoing pandemic of Covid 19 and the widespread demonstrations for Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. These experiences raise questions of what it means to be human in this time, to be afraid, to face illness, isolation and possibly death and to be prejudiced or systematically to be discriminated against, jailed or murdered because of the color of your skin. Living through these events has led me to question where is it that we experience our humanity most deeply and our mutual indebtedness most strongly and directly and what can such experiences teach us about the values needed to heal ourselves and society? 2)These reflections on consciousness, conversation, human encounter and community emerged from these ponderings.

The Intentional Nature of Community Life

Those of you active in curative education and social therapy have the gift of being in a community of service, living in a house or village dedicated to the mutuality of sharing life with people of differing abilities. This life in community, even if you are still isolated in individual homes, offers perspectives and activities which are deeply life and humanity affirming because behind the activity of service lies a rich image of mutuality, of interdependence, and of the abiding value of human encounter and conversation.

Implicit in this statement, which holds true for many life sharing communities, are a number of principles made quite explicit within Camphill Communities and many other initiatives inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner (the Austrian educator, philosopher and spiritual teacher 1861-1925). These I would like to explore while focusing in particular on the gifts of human meeting and conversation, which have been so severely challenged by the pandemic.

Perhaps the most fundamental of these principles or attitudes is the view that human beings are spiritual beings now living in a body and a soul. How we manifest in this particular life, with our gender, race, temperament, age, disposition and abilities is never a full expression of our eternal being or higher self. A connected thought is that the teacher and child in school, or the co-worker and resident in a curative home or indeed all of us in relationship serve the other in our journey of becoming. Furthermore, these relationships can be seen as having an intentional karmic quality; that we intended to be together, to learn and serve each other in this life, in this place, even when such learning is difficult.

Such an understanding of the mutuality of karma rests on a picture of repeated earth lives, of reincarnation, described in some detail by Rudolf Steiner, and acknowledged within other spiritual traditions.3)  According to Steiner’s research, we create the outline of our earthly destiny together with our karmic brothers and sisters before birth and then encounter these intentions in life, seeking to become wiser, more loving beings. So it is ultimately we, and our friends, community members, colleagues, partners and children, who sculpt the learning plan for our lives while life itself becomes the great school. We therefore all provide support to each other in life, even though we are often not aware of it. Martin Luther King, Jr gave a true picture of this reality when, in describing racial prejudice in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he stated;

All men, (people), are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be unless you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be unless I am what I ought to be.” 4)

Our mutual destiny expresses itself most directly through human meeting and conversation. It is, after all, through relationship that we are born, learn language, become part of the human community and discover who we are. It is through the gifts of our parents, siblings, teachers, friends and colleagues that we become ourselves, with our unique talents and limitations. It is also through meeting and conversation that the whole social world is created. Families, shops, schools, concerts, curative communities, towns and nations are all created and sustained through human dialogue. This is why one can see human meeting and conversation as the “archetypal social phenomena”, the source of our human becoming and that activity from which the entire social world emerges.

The Gifts of Conversation

I hope we have all had the experience of deep conversations and meetings with another in which we have felt met and understood. We experienced ourselves as fuller, more creative and insightful and also more trusting and hopeful about the future. Perhaps in moments such as these we have also felt our kinship, our deep karmic bond with the other, feeling gratitude for the soul sister or brother we have had the joy of meeting.

My great concern about the present pandemic and its likely evolution is that this central human experience will be curtailed and distorted, blocking the deeper experience and awareness of our karmic mutuality. Socially distanced, masked and resorting to Zoom or other electronic media, while helpful, will not give us the eye-to-eye contact, the face-to-face meeting, in which the full experience of our humanity and karmic bond can be felt, not to mention the sense of co-creating with the spirit that often accompanies deeper one-to-one conversations or intimate group dialogue.

I am reminded of a recent article in the NY Times by Kate Murphy called “Why Zoom is Terrible”.5) She argues that Zoom is exhausting and distorting because the images it gives of the other are altered, spliced, patched and synthesized with the result that we are uncertain and confused as our subconscious facial cues of authenticity, truthfulness, and interest are undermined. I would add that in face-to-face meetings we have real eye-to-eye contact and that our soul bodies connect and interact adding a rich, subconscious and humanity affirming context to our meetings, which I believe cannot happen to the same degree through the medium of a screen.

Suppose that the virus never goes away entirely and that the costs of using teachers in schools, of meeting and being together at work, and of traveling to conferences is seen as prohibitive in a new time of austerity. The virus then provides the perfect rationale for curtailing and in many cases eliminating face-to-face meetings, resorting to electronic communication and blocking the working of human destiny. From this perspective Covid-19 is the perfect tool for those forces in the human and spiritual world seeking to undermine the experiences of our spiritual and karmic possibilities, attempting to rob us of our future as beings trying to learn to love in freedom. The very same forces behind the corruption and decline of our institutions, namely greed, egotism, fear, suspicion, dislike and hatred, can then be further strengthened by the media and will not be balanced by the healing leaven of personal meetings. The overcoming of the illusions and viruses of the mind requires authentic face to face meetings so that we can experience our mutual humanity.

So I turn to you and ask whether you as members of healing, life sharing communities based on a deeper imagination of what is truly human can dedicate yourselves once again and newly to be guardians and protectors of authentic human meeting and conversation. I believe that within Camphill Communities there is a canon that is often sung in gatherings “Guardians of the light we have been given, Living Light for which the Gods have striven…”Can we all, but especially people living in communities dedicated to the living light in each of us, cultivate a new awareness of the blessing and deep soul and spirit working which happens in personal meetings between two or more people. And if we bring a new conscious attention to such meetings and develop a new dedication to the practice of mutuality in dialogue we will, I am sure, have experiences that answer many of the challenges which Covid-19 and which the racism and corruption in our social life present us with.

You and I meet. We speak, listen and develop some level of mutual understanding. This is itself a small miracle since in speaking we are transforming a thought or feeling, an aspect of our consciousness, into audible sounds which the other person hears and is able to then integrate into their awareness. Through deep listening and conscious speaking, through focusing our attention on the other, and through speaking to and responding to what is said, we are activating our interest. While this activity is mainly happening in the mind, requiring consciousness, it is accompanied by feelings and intentions. If these too are open and attuned, we are manifesting not only an open mind and an open heart but a caring will, a desire to serve a genuine meeting between two or more people. This builds trust, a feeling for mutuality and a reverence for life.

In Deep Conversation, by Beverly Ash Gilbert

If we pay attention, we will also notice a dance in our consciousness in conversations between being awake to the other in listening though more asleep to ourselves, but in speaking the reverse, – awake to ourselves and what we want to express and more asleep to what is happening in the other. Deep listening, when we are allowing the other into our soul, is a supersensible experience, like true meditation, and we resist it and often quickly resort to judgements, and comments such as “ have you thought of, or how can that be true,” or the classic, “ yes, but.”

Rudolf Steiner suggested that a remarkable process of karmic recognition is happening just below the surface of consciousness in our speaking and listening. In listening to the other we for a moment have an image of our future karmic connection to the other and in speaking a tableau of our past connections.8) Many of us have had moments of karmic recognition on meeting someone for the first time, or on seeing each other after a long separation, where we feel here you are again, my heart has longed for you and missed you. Perhaps that experience can give us an inkling of what possibilities lie within human encounter and dialogue as a way of awakening to the reality of our mutual karma. In 1913 in London, Steiner maintained that the ability to bring these imaginations of past and future karmic connections to consciousness would be a birthright of increasing numbers of people in the 21st century, if such capacities were not destroyed.6) I believe that biography work, as well as dyad work, NVC and other dialogue methods are a preparation and foreshadowing of such important karmic experiences.

There are of course many distractions and disturbances which stand in the way of a deeper and authentic meeting and conversation between people. These are also important to pay attention to because they reveal what needs to be transformed in us and in the world. These forces can be described as anti-social in nature and they live strongly on our thinking, feeling and willing life.

In my experience they manifest a kind of polarity. In our thinking life doubt and criticism on one side and dogmatism and fanaticism on the other. We listen for a moment to the other and then we are off, expressing either criticism or asserting the truth of our own opinions. I frequently experience this in myself when trying to listen to my older brother, a conservative Republican, but also know it only too well in everyday life.

Our feeling life is strongly affected by the polarity of likes and dislikes, of sympathy and antipathy. Such feelings are strengthened by the media, advertising, and our peers and they color our reaction to everything, especially people. They influence our perceptions, and behavior and are often enemies of true meeting as they tell us more about ourselves than about others. As such feelings are often semi-conscious it takes considerable work to unmask them and to avoid the phenomena of projection, where we ascribe to others what lives strongly in our own soul. We see this playing out in the political arena quite forcefully, especially during the last presidential campaign.

Our will, expressed in acting, is largely unconscious and swings between the polarity of anxiety and fear on the one side and an illusionary egotism or magical belief in self on the other.

The three soul forces of thinking, feeling and willing help us to have self-consciousness, but without schooling they become anti-social, strengthened by all the manipulations of our “me first “culture.  The anti-social force in our soul also represents aspects of our shadow, our double, which needs to be transformed if we are to realize our true nature as human beings.

Thus others, our children, partners and colleagues are often the annoying mirrors showing us what needs to be worked on in ourselves. Yet they are also an invitation to develop interest in the other, to experience empathy toward the other in our feeling life, and to engage in acts of love and mutual service.  

Relationships, meetings and conversation are truly the mystery centers of modern life, the places where a soul and spirit drama of mutual transformation takes place.7) It is here in our relationship with others in private and public life that the demons of lying, projection, racism, greed, egotism and the mind viruses of Wetiko must be overcome through attention, interest and love. This is our task and our opportunity now if we are to have a human future. And we can practice every day.

I have attempted to capture something of these thoughts in the following diagram. You will note that the development of interest in the other, of empathy for the other, and of love for the other is a balancing activity in our thinking, feeling and willing life between the anti-social extremes of doubt and dogmatism, dislikes and likes, and fear and egotism. It represents the invitation which others provide us with in meeting and conversation. And it is the mutual practice of ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.

I Behold the Other (I)



Interest  (II)

Dogmatism/Being Right

Thinking/Open Mind


Empathy (III)

Likes/Self Love

Feeling/Open Heart


(Anti-Social Forces)

Love (IV)


(Anti-Social Forces)

Willing/ Serve the Other

(Conscious Social Forces)

Which make visible the reality of Karma


 Sacramental Conversation

Conversations and small group gatherings can have a sacramental nature. This is not only because we can experience the mutuality of our destiny connections and the spiritual striving of the other, but also because we have the possibility of co-creating with and being aware of the inspiring presence of spiritual beings. Many of us have had moments of startling insight in conversations, a sense that we have been given a gift from the Gods. We may also have had a fleeting sense of what I would call a star-filled space between us in small group gatherings, aware that an invisible being is present with us for a shorter or longer time. The possibility of such conscious co-creating with spiritual beings can be described as the raising of our collective consciousness into the realm of spirit and creating a spiritual community in freedom.8)

When we manifest a living interest in the other through deep listening to word and gesture a warm feeling toward the other arises.  When this has occurred and is not interrupted by likes and dislikes, lengthy monologues, or expressions of impatience, a certain soul space is created which allows feelings of mutual empathy to live. Into this heart space positive working spiritual beings can manifest, creating a communion experience, often referred to as a Whitsun event in the Christian churches. This is implied by the four stages suggested in the diagram above.

We enter a common space and behold each other as beings of body, soul and spirit (I). We then listen to the other and the conversation with deep interest (II). We then, out of deep listening develop empathy for the other and openness, wonder at what is unfolding in this meeting and conversation (III). Lastly we can have a communion experience, a sense of spirit presence and blessing  (IV). Practicing reverential conversations can become a new sacrament in which we experience our full humanity in the presence of the spirit and are uplifted and strengthened by experiencing “beloved community”.9)

Another way of describing the conditions and activities of Sacramental Conversation in more common language was developed at a series of conferences in the late 1990’s on the topic of Group Synergy sponsored by the Fetzer Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. The participants at these conferences noted both a needed horizontal gesture of human warmth, interest and commitment and a vertical one of co-creating consciously with spirit. The conditions mentioned included:

  • A mutual commitment to each other and a clear shared human and spiritual purpose.
  • Developing an atmosphere of safety, confidentiality and trust.
  • Speaking from the heart and out of experience.
  • Respect toward different spiritual orientations.
  • An ability to deal with differences and conflict.
  • Creating a sacred space open to spiritual guidance and inspiration.
  • A joint commitment to inner development and learning.
  • A meeting that is prepared, held and guided by a clear process and form of facilitation.10)

When these conditions are met, and a sacramental mood achieved, we feel an enhanced level of trust, mutual encouragement, a sense of spiritual presence and guidance, and greater creativity and will to serve the world.

Practicing Sacramental Conversation and Group Dialogue can thus become a powerful antidote to the ravages of Covid 19 and the ever present anti-social qualities of racism, prejudice and egotism. So let us commit to conscious listening and dialogue. It can work small miracles and perhaps great ones, giving us an experience of what it means to be fully human in these difficult times


  • William E. Stafford, A Ritual to Read to Each Other, www. Poetry
  • See Christopher Schaefer, Re-Imagining America: Finding Hope in Difficult Times, Hawthorn Press, 2019, pp.3-19
  • Rudolf Steiner, Karma and Reincarnation: Two Fundamental Truths of Human Existence, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001
  • Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, quoted in The Atlantic, April,2013
  • Kate Murphy “Why Zoom is Terrible”, NY Times, April 29, 20
  • Rudolf Steiner, Approaching the Mystery of Golgotha, Steiner Books, 2006, pp.8,9
  • See the inspiring book by Harry Salman, The Social World as Mystery Center: The Social Vision of Anthroposophy, Threefold Publishing, 1999, in particular pp. 99-134
  • Rudolf Steiner, Awakening to Community, Anthroposophic Press, p.157
  • See Athys Floride, Human Encounters and Karma, Anthroposophic Press, 1990, pp,13-61
  • Fetzer Institute, Robert Kenny, Group Service and Group Synergy, Kalamazoo, MI, 2001 
About Christopher Schaefer

Christopher Schaefer Ph. D. is a retired adult educator, community development adviser, and social activist living in the Berkshires. He has been on an inner journey for many decades and has had a lifelong involvement with Waldorf education. He is the author of a number of books, most recently, Re-Imagining America : Finding Hope in Difficult Times, available from, and from Amazon and Steinerbooks, after October 1, 2019.

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