Finding the mysterious

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, February 2015

“The most beautiful thing we can experience,” Albert Einstein said, “is the mysterious.” He called it “the source of all true science and art”.

I recently sat in the tram between a child who had just discovered speaking and a couple aged about fifty who could only express themselves in words with great difficulty. Both of them had in common that their wonder knew no bounds. The child shouted out in joy at each new discovery, the two adults were noisily sharing their happiness in one another and included me in their happiness as their neighbour. They told one another, me (and the whole carriage) that they already knew one another “for 200 years”, that she had once been a knight’s damsel and that before that they had also inhabited a cave together. They intended to marry within ten years at the latest.

The more I listened to these three people the more I was gripped by wonder at the mystery of language which can only be learnt on the wings of profound feeling while at the same time lifting into the light of consciousness what would otherwise remain concealed inside us. And while my neighbours celebrated every word, most of the rest of the carriage had fallen into the silence of their smartphone world – something which I only mention here because the contrast between the word “from mouth to ear” and the submersion in one’s own screen was simply too glaring not to be mentioned.

To return to the mysterious, we are approaching an “open mystery” in these weeks, the festival of Christmas. There is much travelling connected with this festival: the three wise men from the Orient are just as much on the road as the pregnant Mary and her Joseph; in the account of the gospel of Matthew the birth of the child is followed by the flight to Egypt – a form of migration which today affects more than 52 million people worldwide. Loss, abject poverty, persecution and homelessness surround the birth combined with images such as the star of Bethlehem, the shepherds and the choir of angels.

Even if the Christmas story were just a story, it nevertheless leads directly to the deepest mystery of human existence in that it locates the salvation of humankind in a newborn, helpless child who comes into the world in complete powerlessness and with the loss of any material security.

Do we still provide our children with the opportunity to see the human being as such through listening to and feeling the events of this story, through the images which they form in their souls of the manger, the shepherds and the open heavens? Do we let them feel the mystery with us which lives in this story? Do we once again seek the quietude of the spoken word in the midst of the commercial excesses which have taken over its images?

The mysterious is the source of science and art because it discovers what is to come in what has been. Or, to quote Angelus Silesius:

“If but your heart became a manger for his birth,
God would again become a child on earth.”

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools and the Friends of Waldorf Education as well as Aktion mündige Schule (www.freie-schule.de). His book Jedes Kind ein Könner. Fragen & Antworten zur Waldorfpädagogik appeared last spring.

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