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How Can Mankind Find
the Christ Again? GA# 187
The Threefold Shadow-Existence of Our Time and the New Light of Christ
8 Lectures in Dornach, Dec 22, 1918 to Jan 1, 1919
Translated by Frances E. Dawson and Gladys Hahn
Published by Anthroposophic Press/NY in 1984
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002
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Deep into the Christmas season with a lit Christmas tree nearby, Steiner conjured up for his audience a figure in shadowy garments and then said:
[page 30] Whoever learns to see that figure in garments woven of shadows, has prepared himself in the right way to look at something else: to look at the tree that can illuminate even today's darkness with its lights. Whoever is pure in heart and does not allow himself to be misled by the threefold shadow-existence -- antiquated symbolism, antiquated ecclesiasticism, antiquated materialistic science -- will see what wills to shine in the darkness as a real Christmas tree, and lying beneath it the Christ-Jesus Child, illuminated anew by the Christmas light. This is the real aim of our anthroposophically-oriented science of the spirit: to seek the Christmas light, so that the Jesus Child, Who entered the world first to work and then to be understood, may gradually be understood; to illuminate in a modest way the greatest of all events in earth existence.
To decipher the threefold shadow, let's first read how a shadow is formed:
[page 29] If something is taken in an absolute sense, and carried on after it has become antiquated, it then becomes the shadow of itself. And the shadow is not the light; it may suddenly change into the opposite of the real thing.
This idea, that a shadow may change into the opposite of antiquated thing it seems to represent is essential to understanding what follows. Can you think of one antiquated thing that has outlived its usefulness so that it has evolved into the opposite of its original self? My first thought was of words that devolve from descriptive to evaluative, like "awful" which originally meant something attractive that is "full of awe" and now means the opposite. In our modern society it is easy to pinpoint once useful elements, minerals, and chemicals that are now considered toxic and no longer useful such as asbestos, lead, and DDT, to name a few. Once the reversion to its opposite has become obvious to all, the case is simple: we avoid using them as we formerly did. But when we're talking about cultural mores and norms, it is not so easy to identify these antiquated remnants or shadows of once useful forms. Let's take the three that Steiner identified above, one at a time.
1. Antiquated symbolism - [page 21] "Solomon's Temple embraced in marvelous, magnificent, sometimes gigantic symbols all that was contained in the world conception of the Old Testament. It was the image on the entire universe so far as this could be represented by the ancient world conception, in its conformity to law, in its inner structure, in it permeation by divine-spiritual beings."
2. Antiquated ecclesiasticism - [page 28] "The essence of Christianity is not to be found in the organization of the Catholic Church, or indeed of any of the Christian churches. One sees in their hierarchical aspect what existed and developed in the Roman Empire from Romulus to the Emperor Augustus."
3. Antiquated materialistic science - [page 29] "Aristotelianism still shows something of the greatness of ancient Greece. Aristotle in modern raiment is materialism." [page 26] "... materialistic natural scientists believe that everything in a human being is inherited from parents, grandparents, etc., ignoring the fact that the soul comes from spiritual regions and only puts on the body as a garment ..."
These are the antiquated forms that comprise the threefold shadow of that we inherited from the ancient Jews, Greeks, and Romans, which forms Christianity was born into. The Jews provided the soul, the Greeks the spirit, and the Romans the body into which Christianity was born. Given the perspective of 2,000 years, it is possible for us to view these three shadowy forms and their after-effects and to distinguish out of them "the completely unique character of the Christ Impulse." This is the challenge Steiner gave his audience some 85 years ago during the Christmas season, and this challenge remains for each of us in our individual lives today.
How does a human being progress during one's life? One is born with the maximum impulse towards equality at birth and this impulse tapers off during one's life. The impulse for freedom begins at birth and increases continually during one's life. The impulse for fraternity, brotherhood, or community begins at birth and moves to a peak during one's middle years and tapers off in one's later years. [From a diagram on page 35.] When one observes human beings of a certain age, it would be useful to remember these three time- and age-based impulses are at work if we are to avoid a narrow-minded opinion of them. [RJM: Italics added below]
[page 36] You see again how one-sidedly the human being is often observed. One fails to take into account the time element in his being. He is spoken of in general terms, in abstracto, because people are not inclined today to consider realities. But man is not a static being; he is an evolving being. The more he develops and the more he makes it possible to develop, so much the more does he fulfill his true task here in the course of physical life. People who are inflexible, who are disinclined to undergo development, accomplish little of their earthly mission. What you were yesterday you no longer are today, and what you are today, you will no longer be tomorrow. These are indeed slight shades of differences; but happy is he in whom they exist at all -- for standing still is ahrimanic! There should be shades of difference. No day should pass in a man's life without his receiving at least one thought that alters his nature a little, that enables him to develop instead of merely to exist.
The temptation is great for me to paraphrase Milton's famous line in one of his sonnets, "They also serve Ahriman who only stand and wait." I observed such a person recently who stood firmly within the antiquated shadow of the Roman body into which the Catholic church had been poured when he insisted on remaining outside of a marriage ceremony for his nephew because it was not a Catholic ceremony and therefore somehow sinful. This man was acting as if he were a schoolboy just out of catechism classes, full of rules to follow, and absolutely certain that every rule was essential for his immortal soul. And yet he was well into his fifties, with his schoolboy views solidly intact.
Steiner recapitulates in these lectures how humans have changed such that in the present time the age of maturity has moved down to 27 years old. This is age of maturity today; in Christ's time, it was 33, and in earlier epochs the age of maturity was higher. For the ancient Indian epoch it was 55+, the Persian epoch 42+, the Egypto-Chaldean epoch 35+, and the Greco-Roman epoch 28+. What does this expression the "age of maturity" mean? It means that one develops naturally in soul development (what we really mean by maturity) up to that age. Steiner tells us that one might say to a youth in the ancient epochs with their shorter life expectancies than ours:
[page 38] "When you are old you may expect something will come into your life, will be bestowed upon you simply by your having become old, because one continues to develop up to the time of death."
It is not so today. People today may live for fifty or more years past the age of 27 the age at which their natural soul development or maturity ceases. Ceases, that is, if they do not focus on their own soul development past the age of 27. If they do not, they will stand and wait and thus serve Ahriman.
It came as a revelation to me when I first encountered this thought about ten years ago because it was easy for me to see that 27 was the age of the young urban professionals (the "yuppies") that were taking over business decisions, that 27 was the age of those running the new TV channels like MTV, and that it was the 27-year-old age group for which manufacturers seemed to be designing new products. The important thing to be gained from this insight is to notice that 35-, 45-, 55-, and 65-year-olds still handle the many important tasks of our culture such as the legislative and justice system, and many of them have not any more soul-condition development than the 27-year-old MTV generation. They stand at the bar or the podium and speak while waiting for maturity to descend upon them by virtue of their age, up until now. Here's how Steiner describes this condition:
[page 60] Given all the soul-forces the man of today expends upon his external life, this soul-condition would today still never be reached. With the soul-forces he likes to use he can eat and drink, he can conform to the social customs of the various classes of society recognized today, he can carry on a business, play the bureaucrat, even become a professor or a scientist -- all that: but with these capacities actually he can know nothing whatever that is real. The condition of soul in which an individual sought enlightenment in those ancient times -- remember that I am speaking steadily about that ancient time -- the condition of soul was essentially different.
During the Egypto-Chaldean epoch, much that happened during the time between death and a new birth was carried over into one's life on Earth. This direct knowledge and remembrance was known as Gnosis. By the time of the Greco-Roman epoch (800 BC) this knowledge survived only as a pale shadow of the former living Gnosis - it existed in the form of ideas. Plato knew of it, so did Aristotle to a lesser extent, and Socrates, rightly understood, paid for his knowledge of it with his life. (Paraphrased from page 47.)
[page 47, 48] People today are inordinately proud of their power of thinking, but actually they can grasp very little with it. The thinking power that the Greeks developed was of a different nature. When the Greeks entered earthly life through birth, the images of their experiences before birth were lost; but the thinking force that they had used before birth to give an intelligent meaning to the images still remained. Greek thinking differed completely from our so-called normal thinking, for the Greek thinking was the result of pondering over imaginations that had been experienced before birth.
I doubt anyone can read that above passage without conjuring up the metaphor of Plato's Cave with new intensity. What Plato was trying to convey in that metaphor was this reality of imaginations of the reality of the spiritual world; imaginations that were so strongly infused into him and his contemporaries from the time of birth that their circadian life on Earth seemed like the mere glimpsing of shadows on the wall of a cave in comparison to the bright realities that earlier blazed before them in the spiritual world! Alas, even this ability waned with the evolution of consciousness during the Greco-Roman epoch till only faint shadows yet flicker upon the cave walls today.
A feeling of envy came over me when I first read of the wonderful abilities possessed by ancient people, such as the clairvoyance of the third post-Atlantean Egypto-Chaldeans or the wonderful imaginations of Plato and the other fourth post-Atlantean Greco-Romans, but no more. You see, we, the people living today in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, have the most wonderful abilities of all; we are the most developed and advanced of all because we have the capability to examine the accumulated knowledge of the ancient humans, understand their abilities, and to develop abilities that exist within us that they could not dream of possessing.
[page 48] Now in this fifth epoch the power to think must again be developed, out of our earthly culture. Slowly, haltingly, we must develop it out of the scientific world view. Today we are at the beginning of it.
With our nascent thinking ability we are able to follow Steiner's thought as he looks back at how the "Greeks shaped the thoughts with which the gnostic pictures were set in order and mastered." By the time the Romans came around, this ability had waned such that the Romans were hardly able to comprehend the greatest event in world history, the Mystery of Golgotha, and this cosmic mystery was "reduced to hardly more than a few sentences at the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, telling of the Logos, of His entrance into the world and His destiny in the world, using as few concepts as possible; for what had to be taken into account was the decreasing thinking power." (page 49) Such gnostic concepts as remained in doctrine, such as the Trinity, were "taken over from gnostic ideas and reduced to abstractions, mere husks of concepts." (page 50)
One of the questions about Aristotle today is whether he accepted reincarnation or pre-existence. Steiner has no doubt that he did and states his reasons plainly and cogently for why some have questioned Aristotle's beliefs on reincarnation.
[page 51]This has all come about because his words can be interpreted in various ways. It is because he worked with a system of concepts applicable to a supersensible world but he no longer had any perception of that world.
Near the beginning of our fifth post-Atlantean epoch even the Mystery of Golgotha, while it remained in people's hearts, could not be understood. But exactly at this time, the study of nature began even though there were "no concepts for actually grasping the phenomena that were being observed." (page 52) Similarly the Scholastics were unable to find concepts to penetrate the religious revelations and were forced to go back to Aristotle to find the intellectual force with which to explain both natural phenomena and to formulate religious revelations. (paraphrase of pages 52, 53)
[page 53] Only thereafter did there rise again, as from hoary depths of spirit, an independent mode of thinking -- not very far developed, even to this day -- the thinking of Copernicus and Galileo. This must be further developed in order to rise once more to supersensible regions.
The ego of Christianity, in effect, had clothed itself in the Jewish soul (as expressed in the Temple of Solomon), the Greek spirit (in the Aristotelian mode of thinking), and the Roman body (in Roman hierarchy and Roman law). With the waning of supersensible knowledge as the Greeks so poignantly experienced it, the direct gnostic knowledge of the spiritual world shrank into the few words at the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, and the rest of Gnosticism was systematically extirpated by the Church fathers who left behind only those documents on Gnosticism that were written by those who considered it anathema to the welfare of the Church. We humans living today have a chance to acquire insights and abilities that none of the peoples of previous epochs could have acquired because we have the ability to study Steiner's spiritual science which deals with the complete human being, anthroposophy. (paraphrased from pages 53, 54) [RJM: italics added below]
[page 54] In ancient times man could survey the world, because he entered his body at birth with memories of the time before birth. This world, which is a likeness of the spiritual world, was an answer to questions he brought with him into this life. Now the human being confronts this world bringing nothing with him, and he must work with primitive concepts like those, for instance, of contemporary science. But he must work his way up again; he must now start from the human being and rise to the cosmos. Knowledge of the cosmos must be born in the human being. This too belongs to a conception of Christmas that must be developed in the present epoch, in order that it may be fruitful in the future.
The interest in being a "re-born Christian" that exists in the new 21st Century can be understood as a faintly conscious wish for the cosmos to be re-born in oneself. This re-birth is what Steiner's spiritual science offers to each of us who are not willing to stand and wait idly by for enlightenment to fall into us unbidden by virtue of our increasing age. And it does not arrive by our bidding it to come within our ordinary consciousness of space and time.
[page 64] The truly supersensible does not really begin until one has abandoned not only sense impressions and their time processes, but space and time themselves. One enters into conditions of existence entirely different from those that have to do with space and time.
One must pass through three gates: the gate of man, the gate of self-knowledge, and the gate of death before one is ready to enter the fourth stage and become a Christophorus or Christ-bearer. (paraphrase of page 66, 67) When a human of ancient times passed through these gates, "he found his ego; even though dimly sensed and not in fully conscious concepts, still he found his ego." [RJM: Unless otherwise stated, the word ego refers to the "I am" of humankind, one's immortal spirit. The reflected ego is the usual Freudian ego.] Ancient man was born with something of the ego present in him after he was born. The human ego, however, did not appear in active consciousness till after the Mystery of Golgotha; it was born with Christianity. Today, due to our evolution of consciousness, "when we are born the true ego comes to a stop. We actually experience only a reflection of our real ego."
[page 69] Only indirectly does the human being experience something of his ego: namely, when he comes into relation with other people and his karma comes into play.
This explains for me a phenomenon that I have noticed since spending a year studying the eight Karmic Relationship volumes of Steiner's lectures. My karmic connection with others shows up in my relationship with them. Something draws me to them, almost inexorably, even when in the moment my inclination is to stay away from them. I met my first wife at a wedding that I did not want to go to. I turned down the chance when it was offered and forgot about it. Instead I went to a friend's house and we sat out on a swing talking. The couple that invited me drove past, stopped and asked me again if I'd like to accompany them. "No, thanks. I'm not dressed. You go on." But they insisted that it would be no trouble for them to drive me home to change clothes, so I went. Four wonderful children arose from that chance event that I twice attempted to keep from happening. Given that my true ego, my immortal I, had plans for those four off-spring to arise from me, it exerted the forces necessary to get my arm twisted until I eventually relented. My Freudian or little ego who wanted to keep me talking about trivial things on that swing was only a reflection of my true ego and could not hold sway against it.
To reiterate, a human being of old could become a Christophorus through initiation, but a human being of today who underwent the same initiation could not. This is not easy to understand or explain, but Steiner shows us the way to think of this situation.
[page 73] The man of old, when he was initiated, really became a Christophorus. But in the course of earth evolution man lost the possibility of finding within himself that Being Who became the Light-of-the-World Being. When a man of our time seeks in the same way, he finds within himself a hollow space.
This point cannot be overemphasized in a world in which mystery schools using ancient initiations make all kinds of promises to initiates today, but if they use the tried and true initiation processes of ancient man, their initiates will be left unfulfilled, hollow. I cannot help but apply T. S. Eliot's phrase, "we are the hollow men, men filled with straw" to the students of these schools. Such schools are easy to spot by their advertising to provide their prospective clients with some very ancient knowledge of, e. g., Aztecs, Mayans, Orientals, Persians, Hindus, Egyptians, Druids, Celts, Maoris, or Aborigines.
[page 89, 90] And when someone wants especially to captivate people with some sort of occult science, he at least announces that it is Rosicrucian, or even Egyptian -- but surely old; it must be something or other old. That corresponds pretty well to the fact that in those societies knowledge that has been obtained in the immediate present is not cultivated. (Some direct research is carried on, to be sure, but only according to the rules of ancient, antiquated occult science.)
And yet as Steiner reminds us, "When man loses something, he is changed because of it." What the ancient peoples using their ancient techniques found impossible, namely, to find any reality in the external world, we, the "hollow men," can. How? By following the paths described in Steiner's "Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment" -- one definitely learns processes of the recent past and not the ancient past. He elaborates on how this change has come about that allows us to find reality in the external world.
[page 74] What is possible today is this: to acquire in a certain way a deeper view of the outer world, using the same soul-faculties (if we use them properly) with which we now view it. Natural science does not do this; its aim is limited to finding laws, the so-called natural laws, which are nothing but abstractions. If you acquaint yourselves a little with current literature, which cloaks the natural-scientific concepts in a sort of little philosopher's mantle . . . , you will see that the people who talk about these things are quite unable to relate their natural laws to reality. They reach natural laws, but these remain abstract concepts, abstract ideas. Such an individual as Goethe tried to push beyond natural laws. And what is significant . . . is . . . that Goethe tried to penetrate beyond the laws of nature to the forms of nature, to nature formation. Hence, he originated a morphology on a higher level, a spiritual morphology. He tried to capture -- not what the outer senses yield, but the processes of formation: what is not to be discovered by the senses, but is hidden in the forms.
Alright, if this concept of formation, of Goethe's morphology, is new to you, you probably have a big, "So what?" forming in your head. You might find it interesting to consider that your head today, understood through Goethean morphology is your human body sans head from a previous incarnation. In my review of The Riddle of Humanity by Rudolf Steiner, I likened this to the progressive incorporation in the automobile dashboard of status indicators that were formerly located in the body of the automobile, such as "Oil Level" "Door Ajar" or "Low Tire Pressure."
How does one arrive at this thought? One begins with nature forms such as plants, sees them in the transformations they undergo during one entire life cycle and the next life cycle, and then applies a similar process to the human life cycle, i.e., a metamorphosis at the highest level.
[page 75] Goethe saw the colored petal [RJM: a flower] as a transformed leaf, the skull bones as transformed dorsal vertebrae. If someone continues . . . then he really begins to observe, not merely the skull bones that are transformed vertebrae, but the whole human cranium. He discovers that the human head is the whole human form metamorphosed from the previous incarnation, except only the former head.
Isn't modern science wonderful? Surely the ways that it has thought us to think are more valuable than Goethe's way of thinking! One might think so at first glance, and certainly few would dispute such a statement in polite society. Modern science is wonderful, but curiously its ways of thinking are as antiquated as the processes used by the mystery schools we read about earlier.
[page 90] Whence, then, comes modern thought that fancies itself so enlightened? My dear friends, it is merely the child of an ancient religion! To be sure, the religious conceptions have been discarded. People no longer believe in Zeus or in Jahve -- many not even in Christ -- but the mode of thought from the age when Zeus, Jahve, Osiris, Ormuzd, were believed in, the manner of human thinking has remained. It is applied today to oxygen, hydrogen, electrons, ions, Herzian [RJM: radio and tv] waves; the object makes no difference, the mode of thought is the same. Only through spiritual science can a new kind of thinking be employed for the supersensible world and for this world as well. As I have often said, Goethe provided an elementary beginning in natural science with his morphology, which consequently is also combatted by the antiquated views. With his physics Goethe created a beginning, but the fruitfulness of that beginning is still hardly recognized.
What was formerly available to humans in the form of divine grace or visions was available as a gift from the Spirits of Form (Elohim). What was formerly a natural psychological process for ancients human beings is now devolved into a pathological process. We lock up people who have involuntary visions in mental institutions or dose them with anti-psychotic drugs. And yet the mystery schools continue to encourage people to seek the spiritual world through such visions, oblivious of the danger or fruitlessness of the process, up until now.
[page 93] Many still seek this path today, because it is easier - but it is only attainable now in a pathological condition. Mankind has evolved, and what was psychological in earlier times is pathological now. Everything in the nature of visions, everything that depends upon involuntary imaginations, is pathological in our time and pushes a man down below his normal level. What is demanded today of anyone who wishes to push forward to initiation science, or actually to initiate vision, is that he shall develop his imaginations in full consciousness.
During the next level of spiritual growth Steiner says one will not be happy so long as one achieves personal happiness by making others unhappy. Here's Steiner talking about it in Lecture V, December 28, 1918.
[page 98] As we approach the sixth post-Atlantean epoch, of which embryonic impulses are now present in Russia, this fact will become so potent that a current axiom will be: No happiness is possible for one individual without the happiness of all -- just as a single organ in man can only function if the whole functions. In the future this will be recognized as an axiom simply because it will be a fact of consciousness. We are still far from it -- you may make your minds easy! -- for a long time to come you will be able to consider your own personal happiness even though it may be built upon much human misery. But that is the direction in which humanity is developing. It is simply a fact, as when a man has a cold he must cough. He finds it unpleasant. Just so, a few thousand years from now, there will be unpleasant soul-conditions aroused when a man wishes as an individual to have any sort of happiness in the world without its being shared by others. This interdependence of mankind is inherent in human evolution, and is making itself felt today in the social demands. This is simply the direction in which the human soul is developing.
Thus, Steiner pointed out that the brand new Russian Revolution was pre-figuring the Sixth Cultural Epoch, the Russian Epoch, which will begin some 1600 years later. It will take that amount of time for the laudable goals of the Russian Revolution to work its way into the human soul. Even a cursory look at the events following the Russian Revolution will reveal the absence of freedom. They created a society in the political sector geared itself directly to the cultural and market sectors so that the three moved as one with no more freedom than a gear meshed with another gear has. When one moved the other did. The evils of communism were a good about 1600 years out of its time.
Most people think that the laws of science are infallible - Newton's laws hold to very close tolerances even after being updated for Einstein's relativity considerations. So too for the laws of thermodynamics, heat transfer, Maxwell's equations, etc. What about the laws promulgated by the church, are they infallible? Steiner in this passage dispatches one such law.
[page 123] And religion itself, has sunk into materialism. One of the most telling examples of the tendency toward materialism in Roman Catholicism has been the establishment of the dogma of infallibility, a purely materialistic measure.
Something I have noticed in my own life as I have studied spiritual science in greater depth is that I feel younger now than when I began my studies some 14 years ago. Often when I begin a new book of lectures by Steiner, I find myself filled with new and mind-boggling concepts that make me feel as I did in going into the third grade from the second grade, for example, where everything I learned the previous year was taken as a given, and I was forced to learn completely new things that I had no inkling were coming upon me. It was no surprise, then, for me to read Steiner talking about this very phenomenon.
[page 139, 140] . . . spiritual science, when taken up earnestly, keeps us young in a certain way, does not let us grow old as we would without it. This is one of the results of spiritual science. And it is of quite special importance for the present time. It means that we are able, however old we may be, to learn something in the way we learnt as a child. Usually when someone arrives at his fiftieth year, he feels from the standpoint of ordinary consciousness that he has lived in the world a long time. Ask your contemporaries whether at fifty they still feel inclined to do much in the way of learning! Even if they say "yes," notice whether they really do it. A lively acceptance of anthroposophical concepts and ideas can gradually confer on people of a ripe age the power still to learn as children learn - in other words, to become increasingly young in soul -- not abstractedly as often happens, but in such a way that they are actually able to learn just formerly they learnt when eight or nine years old.
The usual attitude I find in others about life is expressed in the automobile bumper sticker, "Life is a Beach, and then you Die." The idea is you should lie on the beach in the sand and have fun while you're young, because too soon you grow old and die, at which time you lie down again to sleep forever. This is not a new idea as you will gather when you read Steiner talking about it over 85 years ago.
[page 163] We should not simply imagine that behind the scenes of physical existence there is a place where we can lay ourselves down to go pleasantly to sleep. That is the paradise usually pictured by materialists. Their dearest dream is to have a really good sleep once they have passed through the gate of death. They love to imagine this because sleeping is, after all, very comfortable. But I'm sure you know that the matter is not like that. On the contrary, behind the scenes of physical existence we could not possibly entertain a desire to satisfy certain instincts in order to enhance our own personal egotism. Consequently, we become participants in a battle, a real battle.
Now let's draw our attention to the physical world: someone mistreats us, lashes out at us, what are we to do, how do we respond to that attack? If we lash back, we risk stoking the fires of the very forces that led to the attack in the first place. What are we to do? How are we to understand what is at work in these situations? Steiner gives us some practical advice in this next passage, which serves as a fitting conclusion to my review:
[page 164] Naturally, if someone boxes our ears, we can't return it to the demon who incited him to the action; we have to deal with the man who confronts us in his physical body. However, what is so necessary on the surface of existence is not really adequate for understanding the world; it is particularly useless for grasping our social life. In other words, a person gets nowhere today if behind what goes on physically he does not fully recognize a spiritual world in its reality and concreteness. This is most important. But the majority of people are afraid of it.
To this fine sentiment I can only add my limitation eraser like a 21st Century AMEN to the end of the last sentence of the above passage:
But the majority of people are afraid of recognizing the spiritual world at work behind the physical world, up until now.
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