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The Advent Garden

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Originally published in The Cresset, Vol.III #2, 1956 (Camphill Communities, UK)

The Advent Garden is not peculiar to the homes and schools of the Camphill Movement, but it is peculiar to the homes and schools of the larger movement for the Curative Education of the Handicapped Child working according to Rudolf Steiner’s teaching. It was taken up by some of his earliest collaborators in Curative Education and has become an essential part of the life of many homes.

What is the Advent Garden ? I shall try to take you to one, come . . .

It is afternoon on the first of the four Advent Sundays preceding Christmas. It gets dark rather early now and dusk hovers in and around the house. In the very largest room of the house all is ready and at a given time, the children enter quietly with the adults. The room is almost in darkness ; only one tall candle bums on a stand in the middle of the room. Round the walls are chairs for everyone and each takes his place silently in the darkness. When everyone has found a place, the door is closed and all eyes turn to the one candle burning in the centre. And now as the darkness in the room grows more familiar, we can see glistening crystals lying in soft moss at the foot of the candle. And look ! can you not see ? there is a spiral of moss circling out from the centre. We can smell the fresh green moss and the cool earth. It is a garden. It is the Advent Garden. And in this Garden grow wondrous fruits. You can see them at the entrance to the garden nestling in the moss—red, red apples shining dully in the dim light, and in each apple there is a slender white candle, standing upright but as yet not alight. There are many apples there in the moss, as many as there are children in the room, and some over.

One of the staff rises to speak. There is no need to call for silence ; it is so peaceful that it is difficult to imagine that the room is full of so many different children. . . . The member of staff speaks about the Advent Garden. . . . You see, once a long time ago, men lived in the garden of Paradise in the presence of God who created man and loved him, and gave him to eat of all the fruits in the garden save of one alone—the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The garden of Paradise was beautiful and its paths were broad and glorious in die light that rayed from the presence of God.

But the Tempter entered the garden and sought to turn Adam’s son away from the Lord. The Tempter tempted Adam through Eve, his wife, and gave her a fruit—men say it was an apple—from the tree of knowledge. She ate and Adam followed her and knowledge opened their eyes to their state and made them ashamed in the presence of God. The angel of God brandished a flaming sword and
drove Adam and Eve out of the garden of Paradise into the bleak fields of the earth where they and their children and their children’s children have since labored and struggled bereft of the shining nearness of God.

But God the Father had mercy and sent His Son to be born on earth, to live and to die on earth that He may be forever near to die suffering and striving of all men on earth as their Comforter and Friend. After Jesus Christ lived on earth amongst men, the earth became a garden, too ; not like the garden of Paradise, no, but a thorny garden with winding and narrow paths, a garden where new kinds of fruit ripen slowly and tenderly—fruits called love, compassion, understanding, brotherliness. They have all grown out of the seeds planted by Jesus Christ when He walked 011 earth. But as all the fruits that grow outside in Mother Nature’s garden need the light of the sun to make them grow and ripen, so do the fruits in Christ’s garden need the light that He alone can give. ‘ I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life ’ (John 8 : 12). ‘ Advent ’ means the coming, the coming of Christ. Our Advent Garden is like the spiral of the year that turns inward to the Midnight Hour of Christmas Night when the light of Christ began to burn on earth. Many men —kings and shepherds—went to light the lamps of their minds and hearts at the divine torch born in the Christ Child. And they came away and went into the world making it lighter by the lamps of their wisdom and faith. The apple is the fruit of fate and destiny. But if the Sunlight of Christ shines upon it, it will ripen into the fruit of wisdom and love. The world needs light and light-bearers. Every man can become a bearer of light; every man, woman and child can add light to the lights of others when all the lights issue from the Christ Light, Then the garden of the world will grow again in the presence of God and the blush of shame will be like the rose blossoming on the thom bush.

And so let each one of you take an apple and wander through the Garden of Advent—tide. Lighten your light at the candle in the heart of the garden and carry it out again. You will see how light it will become !

Soft singing begins in one comer of the room accompanied by the lyre. The very youngest child of all—sometimes it is a 2- or 3-year-old child whose parents are members of the staff—is the first to pick up an apple and to walk the circling path of the Advent Garden towards the light in the center. Its little feet are somewhat uncertain in the dark, but its mother is nearby to help and to guide ; but there is solemnity and awe in even the very youngest pair of eyes when the centre is reached and one’s own candle is now burning, adding a fraction of light to dispel the darkness. The apple is put down again in the moss by the wayside to lighten the way of die next child who follows when, the first has safely completed its journey. The song changes—many different carols are sung, carols of many nations—sung in part. Some are gentle, some are jubilating or knightly or gay or melancholy—all shades of mood according to who is walking in the Advent Garden.

A frail little boy who is paralysed along one side limps through the mossy spiral, but no gentle song for him. Can’t you see that he is a knight and very strong—strong in trying to overcome his handicap, strong in effort ! He must have a strong and noble carol ! But now comes a little girl. She is round and sturdy and has plump rosy cheeks—but she is ever so apprehensive. . . . Come, sing something gentle...

The room is growing lighter and lighter as more and more candies bum in the red apples on the moss. You can see all the faces now— they are wide-eyed and peaceful. Many children walk into the Garden and out again; some try to shorten, the way and step over the mossy walls. They have to go back again and start anew—(you cannot step over parts of your life; you must go through them: they are part of the necessary pattern that belongs to you). Some children cannot walk at all; they have to be carried. Nevertheless, they light their own candle at the centre and it burns as steadfastly as all the rest. Some children are . . . very . . . very . . . slow—some are ever so quick—some are big and clumsy, others walk as if in a dream. . . . The singing goes on ; time passes. At last all the children have been through the Garden and the room is aglow with many lights. But there are a few apples left. ‘Let me go for John; he’s upstairs ill in bed says Michael, So Michael walks through the Garden for John and later he will take an apple and candle upstairs to his friend. Another child remembers his brother who has died. Other children who have left us are remembered and a light is lit in their names. Rudolf Steiner is remembered, too, for all the children love him. And someone remembers Karl Schubert who started the Advent Garden long ago, for a number of the children met him when he came to visit Camphill not long before he died. And so the light in the room is enhanced by the lights of many who are not present in body, but who are with us by the strength of their goodness.

In the end, one last carol is sung. Each child then takes an apple with its burning candle and leaves the room quietly carrying its light away, as one who carries the light of Christ out into a dark world.

Curative Education is very wide; it is not confined to the classroom or to the treatment room: it seeks not only to heal the damaged body, the damaged soul or the damaged mind. It must also try to heal damaged faith—to knit the dim foreknowledge of God together with the aims and actions of daily life. It must teach the child that every human life counts. The Advent Garden is medicine; it helps the children to feel what it is like to be a bearer of light, a servant of Christ.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not should become in Advent Time—And the light shineth in darkness ; let each one of us help that it be comprehended.