Trial by Water

Today was rather momentous. At one point this afternoon I realized that the entire day was like an initiation of some kind or another.

Rudolf Steiner wrote quite a bit about initiatory experiences, religious, meditative, and quotidian. The quotes I have given here are from his book, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation, available for free online in a previous edition here.


This morning I was baptized into the Missouri Synod Lutheran church here in Pocatello. It’s the church that runs the school my children attend. I started attending services regularly last spring and went through the adult confirmation class.

It’s not something I ever expected to do. I’ve never attended regular religious services before. But it just felt like the right thing to do, for me, right now. I found that at least once in each service, I would get teared up, even a bit wobbly-chinned. And this was at the early-morning, traditional, formal, organ-music service — not where you might expect an emotional response like that. So, I was intrigued about what that was all about, and kept going.

This trial is known as the Water-Trial, because in his activity in these higher worlds the candidate is deprived of the support derived from outward circumstances, as a swimmer is without support when swimming in water that is beyond his depth. This activity must be repeated until the candidate attains absolute poise and assurance.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of standing up in front of large groups of people. I’ve done it before: performing in plays, leading business meetings. But it’s always been profoundly embarrassing.

I had gone through confirmation, was attending regularly, and had agreed to be a member of the congregation. So, it was time to be baptized. When I arrived at church this morning, I noticed that the sanctuary was more full than it has been recently (summer vacations, you know). I thought, great, even a bigger crowd to witness this! But I thought about how fear is really an illusion, a kind of self-centeredness blended with a certain lack of courage. I thought about what the Lutheran church teaches about grace, and what I’ve read in many places about surrendering oneself to a higher power.

I wasn’t nervous after that at all.


Silly Billy and Napoleona spent most of the day today outside, playing.

Now, we live in an apartment complex. We’re looking for a house to buy, but for now we’re here, and so the kids don’t have a backyard. They play in the playground areas, they ride their bikes and scooters around, they climb trees. For an apartment complex, it’s not too bad.

But today they crossed a boundary; they erred in their decision making.

For even as it is difficult for those who have not learned to spell correctly in their childhood to make good this deficiency when fully grown up, so too it is difficult to develop the necessary degree of self-control at the moment of looking into the higher worlds, if this ability has not been acquired to a certain degree in ordinary life.

Anthropapa and I heard a knock at our door, and there was a woman with SillyBilly, saying something about he and Napoleona getting into people’s cars, and that Napoleona had run off. Anthropapa tracked down Napoleona, and we sat down to talk about what had happened.

They had evidently been opening unlocked car doors and getting inside the cars. Worse, they had a plastic bag with a few odds and ends they had taken from some of the cars!

They were really, really upset. SillyBilly told me that some of his friends had told him there was jail for little kids, and was that true, Mama? Napoleona just cried and cried.

We talked a bit about why opening cars is wrong and unsafe, and about how wrong it is to steal. We reassured them that there is no little-kid jail, but also made sure they knew that their actions have consequences.

Later in the evening, while I was combing and drying Napoleona’s hair after her bath, I started talking about forgiveness. I told her the story of the Prodigal Son, how the son made big mistakes (a kind of initiation we can all have in daily life) and how parents (and God) forgive us if we are sorry about and try to learn from our mistakes. The parent might be upset at the mistake, and our desire to learn from the mistake is necessary, but the forgiveness and love are always there.

Should [the candidate], in the course of his activity, introduce any of his own opinions and desires, or should he diverge for one moment from the laws which he has recognized to be right, in order to follow his own willful inclination, then the result produced would differ entirely from what was intended. He would lose sight of the goal to which his action tended, and confusion would result. Hence ample opportunity is given him in the course of this trial to develop self-control.

A day of trials, of initiations, of waters and tears.


Photos by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, Family, life, Napoleona, papa, Parenting, Religion, SillyBilly

24 responses to “Trial by Water

  1. Alida

    Congratulations on your Baptism. I think it is so wonderful to be moved to tears during a service.

    Oh boy, when things like this happen with my kids, I always end up feeling so bad for them that any anger just subsides but the consenquences do stand, if not where would the lesson be? There really is so much to learn about boundaries and how to control impluses.

    Wishing you a peacful night:)

  2. Though I am surprised that you’d choose to be baptized in a mainstream church, given your Anthroposophical tendencies (sounds like a disease: “Sorry to have to tell you this ma’am, but you have Anthroposophical tendencies”), I understand that Lutheranism would be more compatible with that orientation than most other brands of Christianity to be found in North America. Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans are the true conservatives, who preserve the best part of Christian tradition, as opposed to the so-called conservative fundamentalists, who actually believe in a wildly altered form of the religion. Which is fine, as long as they don’t try to force their beliefs on everyone else, which they do.

    The hardest part about disciplining kids when they screw up is confronting our memories of our own screw-ups, as well as dealing with our knowledge of our own current imperfection. That Steiner quote about spelling is illuminating. I realize that the ways I screw up now have their roots in lessons I didn’t learn properly as a child.

    • Theo, nice to hear from you!

      It’s not like we have a Christian Community church around here! I sort of fell into this church through osmosis, so to speak (another water image, hmmm…) since we sent my son to the school there last fall. I liked the people in the congregation, I really liked the pastor, and found myself liking the early-morning “traditional” service (as opposed to the later morning “contemporary” service).

      I think a big part of it is the traditions, the older hymns, etc. On the other hand, I do have to do quite a bit of internal “translation” to accommodate some of my anthro beliefs, which are not at all reflected in the denominations you mentioned!

      As for childhood lessons…right now I wish I’d learned a bit more about money management when I was younger. This house-buying adventure would have been much easier.

  3. Eve

    Oh, this made me smile and filled me with interest. I loved the water quote, how beautiful and appropriate. I understand what you’re convenying and it quite touched me.

    Congratulations on such an event seem shallow (forgive the pun), but I wish you well and I’m pleased for you, that you were able to manifest some of your inner life outwardly in a fitting way.

    As for your two little ones… children have so few boundaries. They readily love others, they don’t carry prejudices and bitterness, they’re always willing to forgive. It comes as quite a shock to them to see that they may need to be forgiven. I remember one of my sons steadfastly refusing to believe that he was the sinner our rather rigid church said he was. He was five years old and struggled with that idea, and we let him, telling him our thoughts and how we perceived the teaching, but then letting him stew about it. He was convinced of his own innocence and truly I couldn’t argue with him. He had very diffuse boundaries with God and goodness, and felt very strongly his oneness with all things light. If he took things, and he did at that age, it was because of this oneness and not because in his mind it was a theft.

    Children seem to collect things like they collect people. I recall having a spy club with my brother and some neighborhood children after reading “Harriet the Spy.” We went into other people’s yards, garages, looked into their windows, etc., just as Harriet had done. We really had no idea about the boundaries we were violating, and thought small items were collectibles, the plunder from our adventures. We didn’t think of it as stealing, and I can still remember that state of innocence, if one can call it that.

    I remember too being quite shocked at my mother’s angry reaction. I’m glad you didn’t have that, because I never was able to share the spy part of myself with her then or ever afterward (and that stealthy, observant, adventure-loving part is still there!).

    I found Scribbler’s comment interesting because I’m Catholic, albeit one converted from vague Protestantism. With the Catholic church’s long history of mysticism and ongoing openness to deeply transformative spiritual experience, I do not see the Church as only the defenders of traditional Christianity, at least not in the sense that most people would define “traditional.” Part of the Catholic tradition is mysticism, is deepth, is contemplation, is visions, manifestations of God, mystery, great heights, plunging deep into the depths.

    • Eve, I really struggled with the public aspect of the ceremony. I’m much less shy than I once was, but I honestly was very nervous about it. Then the night before I was thinking about being fearful — mostly I was just afraid of “doing it wrong” in front of other people! So then I realized that, for one thing, everyone there would be “rooting for me” as the pastor put it.

      I didn’t mention this in the post, but coincidentally I just picked up Frank Herbert’s Dune recently (thanks, Anthropapa!) and of course there is the famous mantra from there:

      “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

      Some might say that I faced my fear. Others might say the Holy Spirit gave me strength. Steiner might say I acquired inner firmness and equanimity. Whatever it was, when I walked up to the altar, I was quite peaceful.

      As for my kids, we tried very hard not show anger (and I truly was not angry). One of my parenting goals is to encourage my children to have total trust in me, and be able to tell me anything. And I want to remember things like what you mentioned about lack of boundaries when I react to their (mis)adventures.

      We as parents worry about what “biblical” lessons our kids will learn at this school. I’m sure some of them will not exactly conform to our views. I’m just waiting for the day my kids pipe up with something about reincarnation 🙂 I take comfort that I am clear that everyone working at that school has only goodness at heart, which covers a multitude of “sins”.

  4. I wish I had more time to write a longer response right now. Congratulations on your baptism.
    I think your response to your children was beautiful and wise. Thank you for sharing this story. I learn so much from you.

  5. It seems that you are moving into another chapter of your life story here, and I, like Eve, feel that
    “congratulations” is not absolutely the right word, but for lack of a better one, “felicitations and congratulations on your change of state.” It is something you want, so it is certainly something that will be good for you. The community provided by a church is a very important thing in this world, and I am glad you have found one that you feel moved by and comfortable in.

    I cannot imagine being moved to tears by a church service. Perhaps I have just not been exposed to the right pastor, but my experiences in churches (and there have been many more than one) have tended to engender the range of emotion from irritation to actual rage. I do live in a part of the country where the vast majority of organized religion subscribes to the version of the superiority of males coupled with actual belief in the subjugation of females. This gets my dander up. Also, we have a whole lot of righteous racists around here, and in addition to being sick of them I have gotten completely sick of the jerks who believe that the only sexual orientation possible or right is male/female; as if the people who have other orientations actually have a choice in the matter. However, this is no place for a rant.

    I’m so sorry that your children had such an experience, but on the other hand it was a low key one with no horrible consequences that allowed a lesson to be given. Hopefully they will learn something from this and not make such a poor choice again. It sounds like you have managed the lesson portion well, and congratulations on that too!

    • HMH, I still haven’t figured out where the tears come from. It’s some theological concept that pushes one or more of my buttons; I don’t know exactly what’s going on with that yet.

      One reason I like the pastor here is that he has both heart and mind involved in what he does. He is full of love and kindness (he chokes up regularly while preaching) but also has studied long and hard to be doing what he does. He is a fairly liberal pastor and doesn’t ever preach about some topics, like sexual orientation, because they just, frankly, aren’t central to the doctrine. That has helped me a lot, as the denomination itself is quite conservative and I’ve had concerns about that.

      • Eve

        Heni, one suggestion I have about where the tears come from may be answered by something Jung wrote and which I posted on my blog yesterday. He considered the soul to have an innate religious function that is enlivened by right or appropriate symbols of the psyche or of “God,” who can only ever be communicated symbolically.

        I suspect we’re teary when we are able to experience or see a piece or a symbol of God that fits appropriately into a place in our soul that recognizes it. It’s just beautiful. Why not be teary?

  6. I am glad you have found a spiritual home you feel comfortable in. I am searching as well, we do not have a Christian Community nearby. I just do not know where to begin, there are so many”fundamental” churches here. There is one church that does a lot of social justice work so I may start there. I have been reading (rereading, and rerereading) Steiner’s lectures on Whitsun and St. John’s, which move me deeply. He talks about opening ourselves to the holy spirit so we can enter more deeply into the Christ stream and I have been wondering about adult baptism as a physical ritual of that opening. Is doesn’t seem enough as I am meditating to say “Holy Spirit draw near”-?, anyways this is on my mind a lot.
    I think it is amazing that your fear was released before the baptism.

  7. Lisa Anne, I think we might always need to compromise in terms of finding exactly what we need. We are, after all, dealing with imperfect people — ourselves included! I think there’s quite a bit of karma involved here: things just sort of fell into place in terms of greater life decisions (accepting a job and moving to Pocatello) and being redirected (no Waldorf schools here). But openness does help in that regard, I think.

    I asked the pastor if they celebrate St. John’s Day. He’d never heard of it! (I told him I thought it was a nice counterpoint to Christmas, “He must increase, I must decrease” and all.) Probably it only survives in Catholicism. I always end up forgetting to read about the summer festivals (because, you know, thinking is hard in the summer!) and only pick up the festival lectures again for Michaelmas.

    You remind me that I’ve been thinking a lot about water and shells lately, especially after our trip to Seattle where we brought home so many lovely ones. Of course the shell is a symbol of baptism: I received a medallion with a shell and three drops of water last Sunday. There is so much meaningful symbolism: washing away, the shell as receptacle (grail?), the stubbornly closed shell finally opening, etc.

    • Eve

      Heni and Lisa Anne, we had the feast day of St. John the Baptist on June 24 (if it’s that St. John you refer to); in Roman Catholic tradition, St. John the Baptist has two feast days, on celebrating his birth and one his conception. He’s one of few saints who has more than one feast day.

      If it’s a real St. John’s celebration you want, you might consider making a point of celebrating with the Eastern Orthodox. They have four commemorative days for him, including one commemorating his beheading. I love the icon of the risen St. John the Baptist holding his own head on a platter! (But I digress.)

      One of the things I like about celebrating a feast like this with the orthodox is that even if you’re not orthodox, they welcome you and you get the crumbs from the table–after communion is served to the baptised and confirmed, they give the leftovers to visitors, which is deeply touching and humbling if you can see the symbolism in it of every one of us being an outsider in some way, but deeply offensive if you couldn’t.

      I continue to believe that liturgical churches still hold the best opportunities for westerners to make use of our innate religious symbols so that we can progress along the way. One is harangued less from the pulpit in a liturgical church, and there is so much history.

      • Yes, it’s that St. John. Here in Pocatello we do have a Greek Orthodox church — hard to believe. We even have a Jewish synagogue hidden away somewhere!

        I agree on the power of a liturgical church. I think the symbols are important, and they certainly seem to be missing in more “modern” churches. I’ll always have a love of some symbols that don’t fit well with the Lutheran church, like a strong interest in Mary, Michael, etc. but this variant of Lutheranism is the most liturgical, if I understand it right. The pastor says he likes to do the really traditional stuff like Matins because he feels such awe at participating in something that has been happening for so many hundreds of years.

  8. Anthromama, I think this is just great. It is a special moment when we find what touches our hearts.

    And you handled the situation with your kids very well! 🙂 It’s hard to know how to react, isn’t it? I think I’d rather this happen when they are young and willing to listen to mom and dad than when they are older and “know” it all.

    • Thank you, Tammy! I agree, younger is better. My daughter immediately started crying so hard — obviously her conscience was strongly touched. We told her that is one way to know when you are going wrong — it’s kind of like God whispering in your ear. They are too young to have anything else in their minds, like being cool or rebelling or any of that fun teen stuff 🙂

  9. So that’s where our GPS went. Well, let them know we have the instructions, if they want to know how to use it.

    Man, you can count on me to come in and mess up a nice thoughtful post like that every time, can’t you?

    That does sound like quite the day. Congrats on your baptism and on raising two great kids. I wonder if this had anything to do with my dream last night that Anthropapa came to visit us?

    Maybe he was giving the GPS back? Or looking for the charger?

    • Well, Papa B., your posts are usually structured “thoughtful … thoughtful … thoughtful … punchline!” So that’s no surprise.

      Alas, even if we did have your GPS, no traveling is in our cards in the near future. Buying a house and all, you know.

  10. I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to read of your baptism! A truly holy sacrament. I’m encouraged to have read about it.

    We had a couple of baptisms at my church this past Sunday as well. What a wonderful thing.

  11. i haven’t had time to read up on your blog in a while – wow, things have been happening! Congratulations on your baptism and embracing the path you have found yourself to be walking. Blessings on you and your journey.

  12. Rae

    I’m so glad to find your blog via the lovely gardenmama. I will come back again.

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