The Innermost Essence of our Growth

by Eberhard Arnold

Note: Spoken May 1935; printed in part in Selected Writings (Orbis 2000). At the time this was spoken, Arnold was concerned about a moralistic trend in the community and wanted to remind everyone of the free movement of the beginning.

It is very urgent that we be reminded of the spirit of our movement and how it led us to community; for we no longer have the same landscape around us. Because of this I feel it is so vital to tell something about how the spirit of our movement led us to community. It isn't important at all to remember each date and outward event--the important thing is to remember, in so far as it is given to us to do so, the innermost meaning of that early time of Sannerz and of the Bruderhof, to depict the inner situation of that time, so that all of us may keep our true connection with the time of the beginning.

What is important when a communal life comes into being is the inner situation, the inner atmosphere. The early time in Sannerz was in the midst of a flood of spiritual movements. These movements had opened up and originated in Germany and other countries of Central Europe. There is not much point today in naming and describing these different movements. What we need to do today is to recognize what spirit it was which these movements had in common, however different they seemed to be from one another. There was a certain direction to the wind that filled the sails of these ships as they sailed off, and tried to drive them toward one particular shore. The whole movement could not have set out on its journey at all if it had not been filled and moved by this wind, and urged on toward a certain goal. It is very hard to describe this wind. It was characteristic of the first years of our working community that one could not sum up in a few simple words what it was that was so living among us, that was so alive and potent far beyond ourselves.

We wanted to recognize and acknowledge in these movements everything of God's power and God's doing that moved around us; furthermore we felt the urge and striving which finds fulfilment in him and his Gospel and his Church. We wanted to recognize and acknowledge what God has done in these movements. At the same time we wanted to reject anything that tried to push itself into the forefront by means of human obstinacy and self-will.

Thus it came about that we had to say to these movements that in Christ and in Christ alone was given the fulfilment of all that these movements sought. To be sure, not all, in the state of their inner growth at that time, were able to understand that only in Christ's redemption, in the freedom of his Spirit, in the complete community of his love and in Christ's utterly radical life, was the possibility given to keep and uphold that which had started up in these movements, like the sudden breaking and blowing of a storm from God. They needed to recognize that there is a Church which preserves this holy atmosphere like a breath of God, even if, outside, these storms of the living Spirit are no longer blowing. And there were a number in the movement of that time who were able to recognize that the continuance of what was given to these movements can only be given to a Church of Christ. And in fact, they had to notice and to recognize more and more that the movement was wearing itself out and the storm was abating. Already they began to fear that all the good would pass by, all the freedom be taken away, all that was communal fade into oblivion. And yet they were aware that they had not yet reached the other shore, the shore on the other side, toward which this wind was trying to blow them. And now anxiety overcame them lest they never reach that shore.

That was the remarkable situation in which we were at that time. Whereas today a stream of events is pouring outwards, a breath of God's is blowing from the central core of the communal experience, in those days it was just the reverse, as if the stream of events were coming in to us from outside and seeking to experience in our Church life a culmination and crystallization, a vortex of power.

At that time none of us was tempted to become so narrow-minded as to fail to appreciate God's cause as it was moving in people in other kinds of movements. We were very much aware that God does not work by one method only, that he does not paint in one color only, or play in one key alone; that he does not let merely one star shine on earth. No, it was clear to us that God's mystery contains the wealth of the whole prism of colors, and yet this whole wealth is gathered up in the purity of the sun's white light, that the harmony of all the constellations is based on this very profusion; but that all this is comprehended and at the end of all time will be gathered together in the unity of God's kingdom. We had no difficulty in recognizing this divine core which was hidden beneath a lowly shell or mixed with human ingredients wherever men were honestly striving to find God.

These movements showed us in how many different ways God works in human hearts. Because of this, there is something wonderful about these movements. It was impossible not to recognize what God had done in them. Perhaps our danger was always rather in the opposite direction--that for some time we held back from confessing to Christ on all points which could not yet be understood by those movements. Never, however, did we deny our confession to Christ. Not for a moment did that happen, but at times we held back from expressing many an insight into God's ultimate truth, in order not to press any one on a point to which, in his situation at that time, he had not yet been awakened or called.

Here we saw clearly that people had been deeply struck by God, that they were in the midst of a mighty moving of their hearts. But they had not yet completely grasped what it was that God had placed in them by this shaking of their souls. Now it needed to become clear what God had called to life within them. That which God has brought into action within them must come fully into the light, must move to its goal. One can only speak with them and discuss just those things connected with what is moving and shaking them today, before being able to speak with them about other things in which their hearts have not yet come to holy awe and trembling. That holy seed which has now been laid in them must first mature before one can sow new seed in the field cultivated by God. Many a truth of God's might be far away from them, but that should not lead us to the false conclusion that God himself is far away from them. For other truths of God have already come to life in them through the Spirit which gives life. Thus it could happen that a person might stay with us in Sannerz for a week without realizing what the real issue was. Certainly he would see a small, narrow circle forming the innermost core of the communal life, but at the same time many others pouring through the house who announced their spiritual activity in quite a different way, not always in accordance with the little central group of the house. He did see that the innermost circle was joined closely and represented a very definite confession of the Spirit--a confession to Christ and to the kingdom of God. Yet often one could recognize that the confession of this very small group was decisive for everything that went on here.

There might perhaps be one who thought: the little circle is just one group among other groups; for this smallest circle was really often in the minority and the other groups in the majority. Only one who truly could see into the depths, who could really see into the innermost hearts, realized that there was here a spiritual mission of the Gospel and of the Church of Jesus Christ. Of course, we did not speak of mission in the sense of trying to go out to people often. We were invited a good deal to give talks and so on, but this was very difficult for us; for in our house there was so much life, so much going in and out, that we were a mission station in the midst of a Germany and Central Europe that was heathen and yet visited by God, so that one could certainly compare it to a mission station in Japan or China. One must, however, realize that this was a people highly cultivated and blessed by God.

So it was that all these spiritual movements came to us. We must understand that we were extremely fortunate in having these movements come to us, so that we might seek out truth and represent the mission of truth together with them. We were not such foolish missionaries as to say, for instance, "Buddhism is of the devil and Lao-Tse is the Antichrist." We recognized that God's spirit works in Buddha and Lao-Tse. And because we recognized that in the midst of heathen Germany people who came to us were able to say very important things to us about how God moved them, we felt that we ourselves became alive through what these people brought to us from God. And we felt that we became more alive through this; for they spoke in tongues that were quite different from those in which we had been accustomed to express God's truth. We received from them, just as we were called and obligated to them.

So we see that in our relations to all men it is important to be clear about mutual receptivity. Not every man is receptive at all times. Not every man is equally receptive to the truth at every hour. Just when the decisive word about Christ needs to be said, just when we need to take the service of mission very seriously, we must feel out whether it can be said now to the one standing before us.

And now it was a miracle with what depth it was given to us to speak about Buddha. Buddha has something of dying in common with Christ, but not of the resurrection. He has much of the compassion with the world, but not of the will to build up the kingdom of God which is to be realized on this earth. Lao-Tse does have something of man's need for redemption from the multiplicity of separate impressions and feelings and his need to find the holy all-embracing nature of the divine Being. Lao-Tse has much of man's need to be redeemed from his own nature and his self-will; but what he lacks is the love of positive action, the love of deeds and of work, that Christ gives us. Thus we were working in Germany as if we had been in India or Japan, and all this was said only if and when it was an answer to something which had already been a deep feeling in the heart of the others even before they had entered our door.

It was not that we were the converters and the others the ones to be converted; no, among us all--those who came and those who were already there--the Holy Spirit was at work, a reciprocity of the encounter in God's presence. The sound of whatever was said went upwards like an echo, and the echo came from God, just as the call itself did. Yet the echo had more to say than the men who had called forth the echo. The echo said more than the speaker had said. In this way, there were encounters with a large number of people.

The rooms in Sannerz and in the early time of the Rhön Bruderhof were filled with a power which did not come from us men who were there, nor from those who visited us and entered our house; it was a power that came from God and visited us. These people brought, as it were, the power of God in with them, and they in turn had a feeling as if this power were all about us who were gathered together. But in truth not they and not we had this power -- but it accompanied those who came in and it surrounded us who were together. This power was like an invisible fluid surrounding us. So we were able to understand the experience of Pentecost when we read that the room was filled when the wind of the Spirit surrounded and visited the waiting Church.

The power did not adhere to the people. It was not people who possessed this power, but the power was with the people and above the people. This power was a supervening power, never a power that was held fast, which one could use for gain as one saw fit. This power was an event, a happening, an occurrence; this power was history. It was a manifestation of the eternal and everlasting in time and space. It was a communication with the prime force, which we could never have explained in a human or logical way and never will be able to explain. Only one thing we can say. We ourselves are not this power; we know that we ourselves stand in the way of this power in so far as we are ourselves.

That is the secret of those times, and we who experienced this have brought this with us, not as a possession of our life, but as a gift which we hope cannot be lost. It is the feeling for the atmosphere, the feeling for the quality and composition of the air we breathe. And that is the secret of this power. The feeling for the atmosphere of God is connected with the revelation of this power; the feeling for the nature and composition of the breath of God is connected with the revelation of this power. It is like a sixth sense with which we feel when the atmosphere of God enters a room and dominates the room; this room takes on a fourth dimension, it looks completely different. Pictures no longer fit into it because the endless and eternal, the fourth dimension, fills and penetrates the room.

These experiences are something that cannot be proven by human strength and human logic, that can only be felt and experienced together. When one enters such a room one feels immediately the atmosphere of the room; one feels not only the emotional state of those present; one feels not only whether there is a psychic disturbance in the room that tries to poison everything. But one also feels it if, in another corner of the room, a moving of the air is trying to spread and to dispel more and more the disturbing force in the psychic area, so that this disturbing factor has to yield more and more. One notices that behind these experiences there is something at work which cannot be explained in terms of emotion. It is the spiritual--the Holy Spirit.

It is said that women, to a greater degree than men, have this natural gift of sensing the inner or emotional state of a person. However, there is more involved here in such a gift of instinct than merely the initial psychic impression. It is a matter not only of human conditions--though this sometimes plays a part too--but of a happening from God which can be explained through the Holy Spirit and nothing else. If an instinct plays a part, then it can only be an instinct of the Holy Spirit. Only God's Spirit is able to recognize what is of the Spirit. Only one with the gift of the Spirit can recognize what is of the Spirit. Whether men know it or not, every person at every moment of his life brings spirits with him. A man may think he brings himself alone, perhaps his own importance and excellence. This spirit is not his, but originates in a completely different power.

Perhaps a person has not been completely taken possession of by the spirits he brings with him. Perhaps he has been taken completely in possession neither by the one pure holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, nor by the demonic spirits of impurity, hate and lying. But just as the one person is accompanied by demonic spirits, so another, who comes in by the other door, is accompanied by the Holy Spirit of God. The one brings in with him impure feelings and an atmosphere of lying, of hate and of possession, while the other brings with him something of the love which gives freely, of purity free from desire, and real truth. One cannot say: this adheres to this man, that adheres to the other. But it is a fact that the one thing comes with the one, the other with the other one. Both are encircled with a very definite cloud of spiritual events. This cloud is there the instant the person who brings the cloud with him is there. And it is important to feel this cloud. The experience of the Church is, and was from the beginning onward, that we felt and respected this cloud, that we lived in awe of the invisible cloud. This alone makes the communal life possible.

And so we understand why the life together is so tremendously significant, and we understand why it is wrong when many say, "You would be much more effective if each one of you were to be in a different town; then you would have many more points of contact." That is an error; for the secret of the life together does not consist in an addition of people who come together, nor are these people capable, of themselves, of effecting what the common life effects; otherwise the addition of people would bring about an increase in what is achieved. The secret of the common life is the uniting with the cloud of the Spirit which comes upon those people who are able to wait, to wait for God who is the One and the All of their life.

It may be that an individual, before entering the community, has been given something here and there; but now, that which he experiences of the cloud of Spirit in the gathered community is infinitely stronger. One cannot even compare it with a multiplying or raising to a higher power; it is infinitely stronger, and can be understood only and solely through the saying of Jesus: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, in my being, there I am in their midst." The presence of Jesus is the secret of community. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is the power of its atmosphere. Because of this, communal prayer, the communal calling upon God, is something so special! Certainly it presupposes the unity and unanimity of those who want to call on the name of Jesus, the objective agreement on the matter about which they wish to unite. When two or three find unity about the matter in which they want to call upon God, then this is given to them. Because of this Jesus says, "In desperate cases, go and tell the Church about it!" Here lies the secret. Being gathered in Jesus' Being and in his Spirit is the secret. This fact makes effective the whole cloud of witnesses which comes down to us with Christ. Because of this the Apostle speaks of the Jerusalem, of the Church-City which is the mother of us all, whence the Church derives its motherly strength; of the Church above which is filled with the spirits of all the martyrs and witnesses of the past centuries.

Thus the spirit-cloud of the pure Spirit which surrounds us is not only an atmosphere of wonderful intuition that reigns among us; but even more, it is a cloud of witnesses coming to us out of the other world. That is the cause which makes us look up to Jesus, about which the Letter to the Hebrews speaks--because we have this cloud of witnesses about us in the communion of the Holy Spirit. So let us run now and look up to Jesus, the Beginner and Fulfiller of faith. In this wonderful mystery, community came into being; for here, no self-will could assert itself, no human word come to the fore, not even the word of so-called leaders, nor the word of a so-called opposition. Rather, both are nullified when this cloud of the Spirit surrounds us and fills our hearts. When this Spirit is given to us, no man any longer has anything to say. The clouds speak and man falls silent. The atmosphere which rules among people who are gathered in love and in faith is God's speaking and brings God's speaking with it. In this air, God speaks. In this cloud, his voice sounds. In the atmosphere of the Spirit, God's word arrives. This was the experience of Sannerz and of the Bruderhof.

This does not mean at all that only confessed Christians, who declare themselves to be converted and reborn Christians, are touched by this cloud. On the contrary, we have experienced again and again how the hidden Christ is revealed in many who call themselves nonbelievers. Quite a strong working of Christ can already be present, even while Christ is still denied with the lips. Christ is much greater than our minds can imagine. Christ has much more love than our hearts can grasp. This should not astonish us; for we who have felt just a little of Christ's Spirit do not ask people whether they are already completely united with us. The meaning of our love is that we visit them and recognize them before they are united with us, in that we seek to sense what is living in them.

If this is the case even with us, how much more is it the case with Christ. Christ visits all men, long before they have become united with him. Certainly, these people are not in the situation to represent the pure Christian witness; for they set value upon establishing an opposition. They are not at all in unity with him, but in spite of this there is something in them that can only be explained through the working of Christ. And we feel this in them. We feel that God's mercy in Christ has touched their souls. We respect the fact that God has shown his love in them. We notice that Christ's Spirit has made and will make something of them of which they now have no notion as yet.

Thus we could never think then--it would have seemed a kind of craziness to us--that only people like us, or even just the handful of people at Sannerz, were visited by God's Spirit, were illuminated by the Spirit of Christ. On the contrary, it was always important to us to feel the continuing blowing of the Spirit in all men and everywhere, even in the heathen peoples. We sensed that the light of Christ comes to all men who are born into this world. It was clear to us, of course, that men do not always do justice to the pure truth of Christ and that they do not always live according to this light. That we saw precisely, but that is a different question. First of all the only important thing is to feel everywhere the influence of God and of his Spirit, the breath that goes out from God, the blowing of his breath of his love in Christ.

The other question was that we ourselves now had to live in conformance with the calling which had come to us from the words and life of Jesus, from the prophetic image of God's future kingdom. We felt we were destined to be true to this calling to the end. And we believed we could only do a real service to all those who are touched by this breath of God if we were able to say something to them of the reality of this ultimate cause; which was not always possible. It was, then, the question about the objectivity of God's will, about the content of God's will, about the character of God's kingdom. Thus it was not always possible to speak about it; for part of this movement was closely connected with the first creation; they came, as it were, from the first living breath of God by which he had created the stars and the earth and the woods and the fields and the living beings on the earth and in the air and in the water, and also man.

Here was the great, powerful thing in this movement, that here the Creator was honored in his creation. We were not sun-worshippers, but rather we had an inward feeling for the kind of symbol the sun is and the kind of Creator who must have created this sun-creature. It was just as foolish when this movement was described as a movement for nature lovers. For example, there were people who said, "You are nature lovers, for you want to go back to nature!" No, that is not what this movement wanted; on the contrary, it recognized more and more how much corruption there is in the nature of the old creation. It did not want a return to the old nature--for this reason we have always rejected the nudity cult--but we did feel that behind nature, the divine is at work. We felt that, beside the antagonistic working of satanic and demonic forces in and behind nature, the inner connection, the will to unity of God, is revealed in his creation. The love of God became manifest as unity. God's life, the creative life of God, became manifest. Not that things were worshipped, but this mystery of the creative God at work.

So then marriage and children were affirmed, without making them the main purpose of life. Rather these events of human life became a reminder of the ultimate things, of the love that is of God. Natural love was not honored and worshipped, but in it the worship of the Creator alone and his honor was sought. The creative, living action of God was honored, but not the old nature. From this come all our wandering songs and many of the love songs that we sing. Many could not understand it at all that we would sing a song of the unity of heart between a boy and a girl. We do this because marriage and the child, by which marriage is crowned, belong to the holy creation of God.

We do not, therefore, worship nature, or the sympathy and natural love between man and woman--not by any means. But behind these things we feel the worship and honor of the Creator. And so it is in all the other things. It was just the same with the wood-spring, with the woods, the mountains, the valleys, the meadows, the flowers, the birds, the stars and clouds. And when we sang a song such as the one about the flossy seed-tuft in the wind, this was for us a religious experience. I don't know whether this is still felt at all today.

A quiet song, a peaceful song,
A song so tender and fine,
Like a cloudlet that over the blue sky sails,
Like cotton-grass blown in the wind.

This was worship of the Creator in the gentle May wind, in the wonderful fragrance of blossoms carried off by the wind. It was God whom we honored, we were not worshipping the seed-tuft; but we felt in this little ball of floss blown by the wind the creative breath of God, just as we sense God's greatness in the high mountains. It was God whom we honored in nature. The singing of our songs should never become idolatry for us, in that the song is honored in and for itself; but the religious feeling in the singing should give the song value for us, so that we sing it only when it is in keeping with the religious atmosphere. A song should be sung in the Spirit, as it is inspired by the Spirit. And in fact, the movements of that time were of such a kind that the closeness they felt to the whole beauty of the earth was an honoring of God. This was shown also in the communal feeling of these groups,

We have experienced in England that in the slums of the great cities there prevailed, in part, a community of mutual help. It does happen that people feel an emotional tie there and that these beloved poor people become much more unhappy if they are transferred to a better section of town where they do not have this tie. It can be that a certain quarter in the midst of a large city is like a big village. At the corner people meet. In the little rooms they come together. There they all know one another and have a strong emotional relationship to one another.

That is what we loved so very much about the wandering movement. That is what started the movement from the city at that time. It did not seek the wandering of the individual who tries to find himself in nature--it was a communal wandering, and when a little group of people experienced the coherence of nature, then they felt something of the coming kingdom. And just as they saw the divine behind nature, so they saw, behind the communal wandering, the coming Church of the coming Kingdom.

It sounds almost grotesque that such a tiny, insignificant group could experience such a lofty feeling in their experience of nature and of community, but it was so. It was an immediate gift from God which was given to this modest circle. Religious feeling for community, Christian feeling for peace, the sense for God's kingdom and the justice and brotherliness of Jesus Christ. To be sure, it was not given that a clear confession to Christ was hidden in the community of common wandering as a spiritual sense of the coming community of men in God. From this it also came about that there was in these small groups such a strong social feeling, such a strong friendship toward other people, whether they were other wanderers, as in the early days the travellers of the road who were especially beloved and sought out by the real "Wandervögel"; or the country people, whose cultural state they considerably overestimated; or the proletariat to whom they turned away with special sympathy and love to encourage them away from the dirt of the cities and the slavery of their work. Everywhere there was a feeling for community of the people and for social justice and for common responsibility. They wanted to call everyone out of dirt and slavery, and call them into the pure high air and the nature experience of free community. Only one antipathy was bound up with this love--an antipathy, a hate, though not toward people, not toward the bourgeois teacher class and Philistine "pillars of society" in themselves; this was rather a cordial feeling of hatred and rejection of the evil spirit of a civilized system, of the falsities of social stratification, of the lying which had tyrannized youth and withdrawn from it the freedom of choosing a living. It was an antagonism to the spirit which barred youth from choosing purity. The antagonism was not directed against persons, but against the spirit which was around persons, against the educators who tried to inculcate young people with good by means of force. It was an opposition ,to the clerics who by religious and moral coercion tried to take away from youth their breath, God's breath. These young people felt that here was a cloud that hovered around them like a poisonous fog. It is important to recognize this. The fight which the movement took up at that time was a fight against the laws of these alien spirits, a fight to live now out of a completely different Spirit, from the breath of God and Jesus Christ.

Thus, the ultimate, the mystery spoken of above, could only be the redemption of subjectivity, so that the individual should now also be redeemed from his own "I", after being redeemed from the deadening and cramping effect of other "I"'s. Therefore everything pointed to the redemption of Jesus Christ, not in a pietistic sense, but deeply immersed in the whole of God's creation, in the breath of God's heart and in the great future of his coming kingdom--that we become redeemed and reborn, not in our own interest but in the interest of God and of all mankind, that God's kingdom may come, that God's name be honored and that God's will be done on earth as in heaven.

Do not be astonished that I said you must be born anew; for one must be born anew in order to see God's kingdom and to enter God's kingdom.

O God, O Spirit, light of life
Who shines on us into death's shadow;
So long in vain to us you beckon,
For darkness is light's enemy.
O Spirit, whom no man escapes,
Gladly you may reveal my soul.