February 27, 2914
OF KARMA, A CALLING, AND THE FOUNDING RUDOLF STEINER COLLEGE
I am moved to write further of the founding time of Rudolf Steiner College for in the experiences I had then, I believe there are some archetypal karmic moments that may be prove supportive to others on their destiny path.
In 1976 I was 44 years old, and I had six children including five teen agers.
Now those were some lively years. Oh, the food we consumed for one thing! A half a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, that was merely a ‘snack’ for each of my towering sons when they got home from school! The sixth child was three years old.
I had been teaching part time at the Sacramento Waldorf School that my children attended, where I taught painting (in all the grades) and had only recently asked my colleagues to please not add any new classes for the coming year as I simply had my hands full with what I was all ready doing. Well, that was obvious! They very kindly consented. It is pretty mind boggling to look back on, having five teenagers at one time and hoping to get them through a Waldorf school!
But the fall before the college was inspired, I had heard Astrid Schmidt mention her father, Rev. Carl Stegmann, and when I heard his name I knew I had to meet him. Now that is a first karmic clue “I knew” – that irresistible voice that impels from within… ‘pay attention’ this is important. *
So Astrid arranged for me to meet her father when he was in Sacramento. Carl was one of the priests in the very first course given by Rudolf Steiner for what became the world wide Christian Community.
It was a hot summer day, and for some reason, probably because she assumed I spoke German (I am hopeless in the language) Astrid was not there when I came to meet Carl. I drove up and he met me cordially at the door in a black suit formally buttoned up despite the summer’s heat.
I was a little in awe and and full of delight and anticipation, but soon realized that he was laboring to speak in English, a second language learned late in life. Thank goodness he worked so hard at it! I mean our meeting was pretty funny. We got out a few words, and lots of hand waving gestures and smiles and efforts at expressing good will. I didn’t stay long but the voice inside that knew was fulfilled. A destiny meeting had taken place.
Following this, I became one of a few Waldorf teachers that came to his bi weekly talks in Sacramento. One evening as he was speaking, I beheld a stunning shimmering violet light surrounding him, (another friend saw it too). I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I carefully took notes of every lecture he gave. On February 22,1976 of the next year the college was born as I have described.
One has to be impressed with the spiritual serendipity that came about to give us a home for the college. A swath of land and homes had been condemned by the state of California for a needed freeway access across the American river. A subsequent State administration had rescinded the project, and properties near the Sacramento Waldorf school, came back on the market. A far seeing group, Waldorf Education in the West of the World with Manning Goodwin of England, in consult with Franklin Kane and others had purchased the land “knowing” it would somehow be valuable for a yet to be created project in the future. Their foresight correct. We struck a bargain to buy it for the college.
So there the land was there waiting for our future; a small home, an old cement block building rumored to have once been a bow and arrow factory, a disheveled chicken shed with sagging roof and a tiny apartment at one end with grass growing up through the long unused toilet. The property in front of our lot was rented by a Hell’s angels motorcycle gang that had painted one of their insignias, (normally reserved for their black leather jackets,) on the side of what is now the eurythmy studio. They also kept pigs whose pungent scent perfumed the heavy, hot summer air. (A year or so later we bought that property too, with some daring, hope and precious little money in our hands.)
When I first walked onto the property I experienced what is very often a soul reaction to up coming karma. I looked with a weary shrug at the run down, overgrown property. Life had given me years of experience to know just what it would take to bring it to order. I declared to myself, “I will teach here but someone else can clean up this mess.”
Our small founding group met in the abandoned factory, with peeling paint and doors sagging off the hinges, bunched together at one end under the dim light of a standing lamp plugged into what was probably the only working wall socket in the building. I recall we had a small old sofa and folding chairs Christine Stegmann brought forth.
There we struggled together to bring the inspiration of the founding into reality. What would we be called? How would we let people know we existed? What would be our courses? What should we charge? Remember at that time no adult education in Anthroposophy was taking place except a few presentations around the Sacramento Waldorf school the only school in the area. (Now there are many and the college has certainly helped to make that so).
We called ourselves the Sacramento Center for Anthroposophical Studies. Two of the original group soon left for work reasons. Month by month, huddled in our humble meeting space, we unfolded a plan and we took up our tasks. I designed a brochure with an image like a grail cup spilling over with light from the spiritual inspiration of the cross and the sword of knowledge, the sword of Michael. Carl and Christine never wavered in confidence and encouragement.
But as summer was approaching and we had advertised our opening in the fall, I walked on the site one day and looked around and said inwardly (and vehemently,) “This is a lie! We are proposing to teach about “the good, the beautiful, and the true” and this place is a mess!”
After one big work party to clean off the decayed roof of the factory, the faculty went away for the summer, Betty and Franklin Kane had other plans, the Stegmanns and Willi Sucher were elders, hardly expected to work in the brutal summer heat, Richard Lewis was busy with his church duties, and Michael Kohoviec, our bio dynamic farmer, was tending his garden.
So offended was my artistic and moral sense at this glaring hypocrisy we were about to engage in that I ‘knew” I was indeed going to have to “clean up this mess” if we were going to be worthy of our name. Karmic lesson number 2: that which seems repugnant and antipathetic when you first meet it, is the job that may very well be yours.
Anyway, thus began one of the most grueling summers of my life. My son, Gary, just sixteen, but incredibly capable, worked with me while my other teens held down the fort at home. We had to start just after day light each morning to beat the debilitating heat, often over 110 degrees. We stripped, scraped, painted, designed, built facades of thin, cheap, but beautifully grained mahogany door skins to cover some of the rough walls. As the redwood baseboards I selected were hard to stick to the cement blocks, several of us worked together holding them firmly to the bricks with our bare feet, until the glue would hold and singing “We Shall Overcome” . All the while the heavy pungent scent of hogs wafted through the windows. Of course, we had no air conditioning!
It took almost everything I had to oversee the home front and spend days on the job.
Gary with his brand new driver’s license gladly drove down town nearly every afternoon as we frugally got our supplies from a hardware store that would give us a discount. We had a bed in the back of our old green van and I would crash every afternoon, while he drove. Far from being a right seat nervous mommy, I turned the driving over to him with absolute trust, for it was all up to him to get us safely there and back. I was out of it.
A strange and challenging novelty was added to the mix that summer. During only those three months, and never again in the years that followed, our neighbor across the street acquired a jack ass. The donkey would bray incessantly and mostly at night. Just as I thought I could drift off and re-group in sleep from the day’s labors, the donkey would go off. The old song “Sweetly sings the donkey at the break of day” did not apply . There was nothing sweet about it! Not even close. Obnoxiously squeaky and loud, it was impossible to ignore. Karmic rule number 3 and 4: Expect to be challenged for your commitment and It will probably get worse before it gets better!”
When Gary went back to high school I was grateful to have an early arriving student, an artist, Arthur Lisch, come to help me to finish the room. I drove to San Francisco to try to get the best prices for the magenta and blue curtains to add some dignity to the cinder block setting. Other good souls had volunteered help with wiring and Astrid’s husband, Richard, installed a deep violet carpet. We bordered it with hardwood parquet. I was criticized at the time that the carpet was not pure wool, but it lasted through twenty years of hard use.
Our meticulously created artistic work was dismantled after a few years to make way for the need to expand with the building of Philadelphia Hall. The wood grain in the panels we had constructed actually had the shape of the United States which was centrally placed on the wall. Two large angel-like figures reaching to the ceiling were on either side. We imagined the angels guarding all the work to take place in this room, made as gracious and beautiful and welcoming as we possibly could for those hope filled beginnings.
How eagerly we awaited our first students! Who would they be? Where would they come from? How would they meet Anthroposophy? They would be a most diverse group, in background, experience, gifts, talents and expectancies. But nearly twenty of them did come and we were officially an institution of Anthroposophical adult education!
Out of a staff of about 25 at the Sacramento Waldorf School only three of us, Betty and Franklin Kane and I were ‘called’ to begin the college. Most of the rest of the teachers there questioned why on earth we would take on further work when the existing school needed all the full time energy possible (and they were right about that of course).
Remember it was right in the middle of the Hippie era and a few of our students who were representative of the extremes then, would drift in and out of our classes One conservative Waldorf school faculty member asked us with some exasperation, “What are you people doing up there?” in response to a spaced out student floating down to the Waldorf school, peace signs, headbands and all.
Young people then were boldly stepping out to challenge the accepted societal norms and my teenagers did some pretty hilarious mimics of the braless, Birkenstocked, tangle maned icons they saw. They also loved flashing the peace sign. But at the College, we kept on going. What were we doing up there? We were taking Anthroposophy out into the world of our time. It was an interesting first year by any measure. We attracted visitors, David Spangler, one of the founders of Findhorn Community in Scotland, and a leading Native American prophet of Hopi Prophecy that first year. Our students learned about Anthroposophy, brought their impulses to share and took up inspiration for their lives.
Timing is key and the College needed its founding just then so we could get through the beginning years to be well prepared for very full years to come that changed many lives and educated Waldorf teachers. How heart warming it is to have seen so many individuals inspired to take up their work and know that hundreds of wonderful children have had those teachers and have received a Waldorf education. When we look back on those karmic callings and much that we never anticipated, there is a rightness that rests solid within that we were where we needed at just the right time.
That profound night when the flame of inspiration led by Carl Stegmann lifted the small group of us to found this college, we went around the circle, each one saying what we might teach or contribute. When my turn came, Carl said, “And Mrs. Poer?” I hesitated to answer. It was a real moral dilemma because I had just asked my teaching colleagues at the Sacramento Waldorf School my children attended, not to increase my teaching load. How, in that light, could I justify volunteering for this new endeavor? Yet I fervently knew with all my heart I should be part of this. As I was fumbling for words Carl announced with authority that was not to be questioned, “When our circle comes together, you’ll be there!”
And so I was.
That is the way karma can work as well. Not from the small inner unseen voice, but rather we when are swept into a role by another, in recognition, expectation, a role now requested or bestowed. Carl’s statement was like Rudolf Steiner tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Yes, you, now!”
With similar authority and a mood of hopefulness, Carl told me as we parted ten years later, “You will carry on my work when I am no longer here.” I took it as a vow and have taught the Spiritual Mission of America (Betty has also) for over three decades, working to keep alive the awareness of his mighty intentions that Americans and the world should know the deeper calling of this country, a country that has had so much privilege in many ways, and therefore so much responsibility in the world.
I feel rewarded through years of teaching the America work, that many students have moved from cynicism to some awareness of the strengths of this great nation along with the enormous struggle and challenges to realize the true ideals with which America was founded, ideals brought both by the Iroquois and by the colonists of the revolution. A great challenge for us all is to carry awareness of the intense battle we are currently in with adversary forces if those truths and ideals are to prevail. I have been grateful to see students empowered in knowing the importance of being born and working here in a country where we can freely choose our individual roles, however modest, each are significant in the great cosmic scheme of things. For now is the time, as Carl always told us, “the most important time since Christ walked the earth” “when the great decisions of world evolution will be made.”
As Rudolf Steiner College ever renews to its mission new fire of spiritual inspiration, new deeds, new programs, new people, new hope will come to be. May all take up the work with enthusiasm and dedication as we did through the challenging times of the founding – our purpose was then, and is now, to be here to for the Future! Our mission is to serve the Great Calling, and the great need for spiritually awakened individuals to stand ready, willing and able to hear the Spirit inspiration of the universal powers of Christ/Michael/Sophia and do the deeds our time in history asks of us.
Nancy Jewel Poer, February 27, 2014