The interior of the world shows itself on the outside – Part 1

Gunter Friedrich (LOGON) interviews anthroposophist and book author Hans-Christian Zehnter (Dornach, Switzerland). – The transcendental seeks different clothes to be able to appear. Every sensual appearance is already such a clothing. Sometimes, however, it is an inner image or gesture clothing.

The interior of the world shows itself on the outside – Part 1

G.F. The theme of this new print issue of LOGON (in German language) is: The Faces of God. When faces of God are mentioned, an encounter is meant. If one encounters a face, one sees it and is seen by it.

H.C.Z. In the context of this interview, by “face” I mean an experience. The experience of being looked at. If you are looked at by a person, you fall under the spell of the gaze, under the spell of that which can go beyond the other. Another being literally penetrates you. You are completely absorbed by their presence, so that afterwards you don’t even know what colour the other person’s eyes were. It may even be that you are unable to withstand the “gaze” of the other person … In short: the experience of the face, of being looked at, is, from a soul-spiritual point of view, one in which another being dwells in me, so that I pass from my isolated, individual I-reality into a you-reality. I go beyond myself, that is, I transcend. Just as the other being is also being transcended at this moment: it is looking at me. – Two gazes meet. The separation of subject and object is abolished. In such “face” experiences, the two beings are united, spiritually as well as mentally. It takes courage, strength and practice not to sleep through this moment, to endure it, to stay awake – this is literally spiritual presence.

G.F. The process of entering into myself can happen from the inside or from the outside.

H.C.Z. There are inner, meditative moments in which something enters me: it can be an image (such as a Madonna), it can be a word (“hawthorn”), but it can also be an immediate impulse of will (e.g. wanting to write something down). But also every external, sensual encounter is ultimately a possibility of such a meditative encounter.

You can basically notice three different types of dwelling: There are moments when you notice that something is driving you. Something wants to evolve in you, you can’t grasp it yet. Something is developing, growing. – Another situation is that you can be touched by your soul. You are filled by a thought, by the magic of a melody, the mood of a landscape or a work of art. – And finally, there are situations in which something speaks to you so directly, “gets you”, touches you, looks at you, that from now on your life changes. Three ways of inhabiting, if you like, also of seeing, which we know similarly from encounters with the plant world, with the animal world or with people.

G.F. Have you had experiences in which you can speak of encounters with the faces of God?

H.C.Z. I understand the term “God” here as a synonym for “divine” or “spiritual”, “transcendental”. – Have I understood that correctly?

G.F. Yes.

H.C.Z. Answering this is always a little tricky for me. On the one hand, it can be interpreted as immodest if you simply say: “Yes, of course I have had such experiences. On the other hand, there are also very different levels of encounters. And finally: I also notice with this question that I am under an obligation to the spiritual world: If I say “no” – out of modesty – I immediately hear a contradiction inside of me: “We have contacted you so often – and now you say something like this”. If I say “yes”, another voice arises in me: “Be careful of ‘imposture’, strive for authenticity and exactness in the description, so that you don’t say something that is not accurate, that doesn’t really meet this inner encounter and thereby also endangers it.” And finally: this line of questioning can also easily distract us from the fact that we do, after all, have spiritual encounters at every moment in our sensory reality. Not only is every human being a spiritual being, but everything around us is also of a spiritual nature!

Therefore, I will try to answer in this way: The transcendental seeks different clothes to be able to appear. As I said, every sensual appearance is already such a clothing. Sometimes, however, it is an inner image or gesture clothing. One can experience troll-like beings in the mountains of Norway, something like “giants” in the mountains of the Black Forest and something like “God’s seat” in the alpine mountains of the Bernese Oberland. the experiences are often of a moody or atmospheric nature (according to Gernot Böhme[1]), which, on further reflection, condense into a clear speech: “This lightness, transillumination, interwoven with attentive silence under the crowns of trees but above the ground of a freshly green larch forest has a fairy atmosphere.” Sometimes there are only fleeting, yet distinct moments that you know you must hold on to, reflect on; there are also musical or word-like impressions by other sensory experiences: odour-like, for example (think of Goethe’s Gretchen smelling that Mephisto had invaded her chamber), or you notice that you are getting cold, perhaps you start to feel faint. Or you suddenly feel much safer, bigger than usual … and so on.

G.F. One can say that the experiences of the supernatural can take place on different levels.

H.C.Z. One can distinguish (Rudolf Steiner) different levels of such encounters: imagination, inspiration and intuition. Imagination is a pictorial experience, strictly in itself still without a meaning in terms of content. Inspiration is an experience (close to hearing) – one speaks of having had a kind of inspiration. Here, the pictorial experience is joined by a meaning, a sense. And in the third stage, the identification with the other being has progressed so far that one can feel like you are the other.

G.F. Is there a human self that is divine?

Yes, absolutely. We experience it when we realise our “self” or “I”. Then we experience something that always gives us the identification that makes us say “I”. I can only say “I” to myself. Interestingly, the other person also says “I” to himself. So, I feel that I am one with the being that also says “I” to itself in the other person. Our I is an intuition that permeates us with the being that describes itself in the Bible as “I am the I Am”.

Everything that takes place in the realm of imagination and inspiration is still an image or word formation of something that manifests itself in it. It is not yet “the thing” itself. Imaginations and inspirations still refer to something that is actually no longer imaginable itself. Intuitions are pure experiences that at the same time have a cognitive character: I am and recognise myself in the I-am-consummation as a human being received by an I-being, and at this moment I am this being also myself – a higher moment in self-awareness.

Ultimately, it is this spiritual being in us that makes it possible for us to recognise the spiritual in the other natural beings around us. Only that which is spiritual can recognise the spiritual.

(to be continued in part 2)


[1] Cf. Gernot Böhme, The Aesthetics of Atmospheres, Routledge, 2018

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Date: July 29, 2021
Author: Gunter Friedrich (Germany)
Photo: giselaatje auf Pixabay CCO

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