Before I open books and school books, I close my eyes and attempt to obtain a feeling that my angel is standing behind me who gently places his hands on my shoulders and gives me strength for my work. Once I feel supported in this way, I go through my children in my thoughts and ask them:
What did you achieve today?
In what were you successful?
What requires further work?
In what way can I support you so that you learning success is your own achievement?
Did you ask me a plain or unspoken question?
Did I do justice to what you wanted from me?
At the conclusion of this meditation I see all of us standing in a circle with an angel behind each one of us: not just we but our heavenly friends are in contact with each other and have an interest that we learn from one another. Once the right mood has been created in my soul in this way, I begin to prepare the content.
Were you surprised by this introduction, or even perhaps made uncomfortable by it? According to regular surveys, many people believe that angelic beings accompany our life on earth. The numbers are surprising: between 49 percent in Germany and 77 percent in the USA – far higher numbers than the number of churchgoers or even people with a professed religious belief.
And yet people rarely talk about it in public. How would you feel if a leading politician said they believed in angels? What would the press make of it? In some way our relationship with this aspect of the spiritual world appears to be abnormal. Or is the reason for our reticence to discuss the subject in public that we are touched by it on a very personal and deep inner level which is not suitable for sharing?
Assistance from heavenly beings
In the weekly teachers’ meetings in Waldorf schools, too, it is in a mostly unspoken way quite normal to be aware of the action of spiritual beings. The college of teachers reminds itself with verses and imaginations that the tasks we set ourselves are of heavenly origin, as we might say, and go far beyond the everyday business of learning to read and write. Why does someone decide as a Waldorf teacher to work actively together with these beings? In what way is the awareness of receiving support from angles a help and inspiration? And what are angels in the first place?
We all know the image of the guardian angel who protects us from harm. Was it coincidence that when on New Year’s Day 2014 a huge slab of snow in Munich’s Marienstraße slid off the roof from a height of 20 metres it crashed to the ground close behind me? The horrified looks of other passersby revealed the fate I had just escaped. I had strolled past the shops quite happily and had decided not to stop precisely at the moment when the mass of snow was hurtling silently towards my head …
All parents know these situations in which a child could have died but was preserved from such a fate by an apparent coincidence. If we believe that in such cases we were protected, we have to ask, for what purpose?
The story is told about the young Martin Luther that he was once walking across a field with a friend when a thunderstorm broke. His friend was struck by lightning and died immediately. That plunged Luther into a deep crisis in which he asked himself: why him and not me? As a result of his reflections, Luther decided not to become an lawyer but a priest and serve humanity in this way. He experienced his being spared as a message from the divine world.
Cliché or expression of a spiritual law?
In many religions angels have the function of messengers. They communicate the “intentions” of the spiritual world to human beings. From an earth perspective they are something elevated above human beings but not quite as unfathomable as the divinity itself. When artists or children draw angels they have wings as a matter of course. These are probably intended to signify that the angelic being personifies something that points people upwards, beyond themselves.
And why are angels always represented as being beautiful? Is it just a sentimental cliché or an expression of a spiritual law? Can we succeed in discovering the archetypal image beyond the kitschy sentimental figure of the cemetery angel?
Once when I was speaking with class 2 pupils about the stars in the sky the following image developed spontaneously: all the heavens are filled with a golden light through the radiance of the angels. When it is daytime on earth the angles live in the sun and illuminate our way. At night, a protective mantle descends over the world – but each person has a window behind which their angel stands and watches over them. These windows are the stars and that is why they shine in gold: we see the heavenly light through them! There is one window, one star in the firmament, for every person.
I can still remember very clearly the still satisfaction which reigned in the classroom at the end of that lesson: everything is good in the world, everything fits and everything has its meaning.
Angelic forces and the capacity for love
Let us assume for a minute that the spiritual part of human beings always strives towards the divine in the world; in other words, something lives in us which longs for perfection. All human ambition can be explained in this way. Even a shipwrecked sailor marooned on a lonely island will try hard to build his hut solidly and well even if there is no one to impress with the result. Our inner aspiration continuously to work to improve and develop ourselves is closely connected with our conscience and it might be considered a task of our angel not to let us forget this aspiration.
This angelic force exists in every person and it is this guardian of our higher goals and intentions which teachers address. It is to this place that the appeal to work hard, learn thoroughly and live in harmony in the class group is directed. Such reminders are often inconvenient for our “everyday I”, indeed annoying. And yet we all know the power that does not let us forget our good intentions. Here we can feel the brush of the angel’s wings!
But educators also have to be aware to whom they are appealing and that these power are mild and patient – they are not coercive but they do not give up either. The challenge to my pupils to work on themselves must not come from my everyday consciousness but must have its source in my own work on myself. How can I ask the children to make an effort which I am not prepared to make myself?
Waldorf teachers have a deep affection for their pupils! That is implicit on the one hand, even a cliché. Class 1 pupils above all are so sweet and profoundly trusting of us. How could the heart of any class teacher not melt! But not all Waldorf pupils are class 1 pupils, not all children are sweet, not all Waldorf educators are class teachers and yet in all our togetherness the aspiration which was often highlighted by Steiner and is always there implicitly applies: you have to love your pupils!
If we delve a little deeper it quickly becomes clear that we are not talking here about something sentimental or external. The love which connects teachers and pupils is different from the love between parents and their children not least because it keeps having to change; the profound reciprocal affection of the first years of school should turn into an appreciative respect which leaves the children benevolently free.
As teachers it is our task to cultivate a spiritualised capacity to love which is not based in emotionality. It has to be independent of externalities and the way the teacher happens to feel on a given day and of the behaviour of the pupils. It arises when what strives in me for higher things can recognise its sibling power in the pupils. It flourishes when my angel speaks with the angel of the child entrusted to me.
And because this is such a high aspiration, I experience it each evening both as a challenge and reassurance when I sense the angle’s gentle hands on my shoulders.
About the author: Sven Saar is a class teacher at the Wahlwies Free Waldorf School in Stockach.