October 2, 2022
**My apologies for the late release, friends! When I didn’t see our weekly article in my email and went to investigate, the post I had made had entirely disappeared! There was nothing to be seen! Not even a saved draft. I am chalking this up to a glitch in the system…? So albeit late, here is our Living Arts Weekly!
Festivals are universally-shared celebrations of life, and they are as diverse as the people of our beautiful planet. In celebration of the festival traditions that bring us together, we would like to share with you the experiences of several of our LifeWays family this year, all from different walks of life and spiritual traditions. Today, our dear LifeWays founder, Cynthia Aldinger writes about the festival of Michaelmas that is celebrated on September 29th.
COURAGE AND FORM
On a beautiful autumn day in 1992 in glorious Wisconsin, my colleagues and I were singing our hearts out before the faculty meeting of our young Waldorf School. We were preparing for our school festival, and our voices caught the attention of a few caregivers from a nearby conventional childcare center as they walked past our window. They seemed astonished by the beauty and blending of our voices. I look back with fondness on that day, remembering how delighted we were that they were moved by our singing. We certainly did not consider ourselves worthy of cutting a record, which is what the listeners were encouraging us to do! Upon reflection I came to realize that, even thirty years ago, hearing a group of teachers singing with gusto and enthusiasm, in an elementary school classroom on a Thursday afternoon was an uncommon experience for a passerby.
I do remember that song lifted us to a sense of responsibility – not only for the children in our care but also for the families, for the community, for the world. The lyrics still give me chill bumps to this day:
A time to show both courage and form
Look well around
Inside you must wake
Trees may shake
I shall stand the storm!
The words are certainly applicable to today. Perhaps there is never a time when we are not called to show courage and form! So, what does that have to do with this character Michael, who plays a role in at least three great religions? In the context of Michaelmas, this archangel is also represented, particularly in Great Britain, by Saint George. Both Michael and Saint George are commonly depicted as slaying a dragon. Who is the dragon is a question I think we are each called upon to determine. Certainly, in many depictions one can easily discern the portrayal of a demonic being, some would name it Satan. However, in a more esoteric context and one worth considering, we might imagine the dragon as representing those parts of ourselves that do not serve the highest and best in us, indeed perhaps they are deleterious to the greater good!
When I took my teacher training at Emerson College in England decades ago, I felt as if I was shedding one dragon skin after another through the process of becoming self-aware! Oh my word, was it painful! “Inside you must wake” is no small thing, and, in fact, we are called to awaken over and over again throughout our lives. “I shall stand the storm” is a worthy mantra.
Yes, the calling to stand in courage is timeless and applicable even to our everyday lives. In the cancel culture of the last few years, it took courage to simply stand in one’s personal life experience and awareness of truth even if it meant being vilified by the surrounding community. It took courage to get up every day to a world that had radically changed beyond anything any of us had experienced. It took courage to care for our children, our families, ourselves, when the support systems that had almost invisibly been in place disappeared.
Yet, the other word coupled with courage in the song is form. Clinging to old forms did not work for most of us, partly because they no longer existed. Still, many individuals managed to find new ways. Remembering the very early days of being isolated, a number of videos showed up featuring people baking bread for the first time, sharing various recipes, housekeeping tips, as well as exercise clips and the beautiful sharing of singing.
When I think of LifeWays’ Living Arts it strikes me that, in some ways, they offer a soul map of how to pull ourselves through crisis. In the practical, domestic arts we emphasize finding daily and weekly rhythms around our practices of care for the environment; we pay attention to how home-lifting (some call it housekeeping) also lifts our spirit. We notice that the seemingly small beauty spots like a candle on the table, a special blanket draped across our favorite chair, a tidied work space, a swept floor, help us take a deep breath. And, I think, many people discovered that less is more. When we are home all day, clutter becomes ever so apparent. We don’t just see it in passing as we head out to work. No, we realize that we are living with and in it all day long!
Interesting that it sometimes requires courage to take those first steps toward creating new forms. And interestingly, courage is much more accessible when we pay attention to form. We don’t go helter skelter in taming a dragon. [By the way, I’ve learned that “taming” my dragons works better for me than trying to slay them!] Look at the iconic paintings of Michael (or Saint George) tending to the dragon. The form of the lifted sword and the focused gaze make us want to straighten our backs and stand more upright.
Our daily tasks, for many, represent the dragon. It can feel like a slog to move forward. However, there is one more important aspect to note in relationship to the deeds of Michael. The sword that is wielded for slaying or taming is crafted from iron. In fact, humanity is gifted every late summer in the northern hemisphere with meteoric iron emitted from the shooting stars. What a wonderment that this happens prior to our celebration of Michaelmas, this Festival of Courage. The expression “it takes an iron will” is applicable for almost everything we do. We know what it takes, for example, to change a habit or create a new one. A number of famous people have been quoted as saying that making their bed every morning is the beginning of establishing their strength of will for the day. In fact, a New York Times bestseller by retired Navy Admiral William H. McRaven is titled “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe the World.”
As we celebrate this season of Michaelmas, let us recognize that all that we do with form and courage lends itself to the betterment of the world.