Lisette Buisman-Walbeek (1951) has been a priest with the Christian Community since 2005. We meet on July 28, 2021 in the Raphael Church in Zeist, the Netherlands, after she has led a Wednesday morning service. Busily gesticulating as always. But when during the interview the big issues of life come along, it seems as if another person breaks through, speaking calmly and decisively.
Painting Janneke Rosenbrand, 2010 (https://www.christengemeenschap.nl/details-schilderij/)
The Apocalypse is talked about more in recent decades. People found it a difficult subject. It grips people, all those difficulties. The book is confrontational and very directly written. I became interested in the Apocalypse at a fairly young age because there is something in it that resonates. I remember as a child being friends with a daughter of a well-known poet who was in the process of publishing a modern illustrated children’s Bible with poems, plays and songs, which were supposed to help make the book not so ‘formal’. I received the Old and New Testament editions of it at Easter, when I was about nine years old, and I sat and read all of that with great pleasure, -although sometimes not-, and also played, sang and performed it with other children. This made the Bible very familiar to me and in high school I started reading the adult Bible. I was sick a lot in those years, due to an allergy disease that people couldn’t quite pinpoint, so I had to lie in bed often and I read a lot of literature. That became the treasure trove of my life, I say in retrospect. There I read next to Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dante, Goethe, Novalis, Sartres, Simone de Beauvoir, etcetera and a lot of fairy tales, mythology, and also the Apocalypse. I needed to do things that relaxed me and these books relaxed me. Eventually, I went to the Academy for Expression through Word and Gesture in Utrecht, The Netherlands. I loved literature and I was translating that into images during my theater internships in Utrecht, The Hague and Amsterdam. If you come up with an image, then you immediately have everyone’s attention. And that led me to giving courses, which I have been doing since I was twenty-two years old. I studied the Apocalypse initially more for myself. I became a member of the Christian Community and the Anthroposophical Society in 1975/1976. For me the Apocalypse belonged to the Christian Community where the occult revealed itself. I very much wanted that people could experience freedom in life and found this in the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse describes the great process of evolution of cosmos, world and man. This is accompanied by beautiful developments and all kinds of counter forces; it is a process through which that which is described in John’s gospel could be born. That’s actually my line with the Apocalypse. After my theater days, I did art therapy and became an active eurythmist, before I became a priest. And it wasn’t until I became a priest that I started giving courses on the Apocalypse.
The most beautiful thing about the Apocalypse
I think the most beautiful thing about the Apocalypse is that John, who is exiled to Patmos where the Apocalypse is revealed to him, experiences it in order to eventually write the gospel of John in Ephesus, which he could see from his cave on Patmos as his future. The core of John’s gospel then is the “I am”, the “I am” words. I find this incredible, because it shows that you have to go through such a process to come to yourself, to your “I am,” which is essentially “the Christ in us”. The Apocalypse is placed at the end of the Bible because it is a part of the Bible that from time to time was not wanted and then was just placed at the ending. But the ending is also the beginning. The beauty of the Apocalypse is that “it was and is and is coming”. That is written about the Christ, the alpha and omega, but it also applies to the Apocalypse itself. It is a cycle, a circle.
It’s about opening up the secrets in the world and in yourself
If you want to get to know yourself, you have to be willing and able to fold everything open, to become, as it were, a fellow sufferer, a relative of John in the ordeal, to learn to see yourself as a part of the greater whole. If somewhere you want to learn the meaning of life, it has to do with the big picture. When you see something merely as interesting, you actually put a glass wall between you and reality. But the first step has to come from you. You have to dare to go in and learn to look at it. Therein lies the revelation of what the Apocalypse is about. It is about opening up the secrets in the world and in yourself. Myself as a microcosm that is connected to the macrocosm. That is an interval. Between the mind and the body lives the soul, lives the connectedness, and the soul wants to know what it is connected to. Then the soul can open up, and the inner world is revealed. It is the revelation of space order and time. Space as expressed in the twelve zodiacal signs and on the other hand time as expressed in the seven planetary impacts, from time cycle to time cycle. Then you can become enthusiastic and everything falls into place, because you do not have to do everything yourself. You are part of the whole and you may participate.
The other thing is that everything makes sense and therefore becomes more relatable. For example, fear will pass, it is temporary, because it is not really important. Everything is in us. We are ourselves from the head to the feet the zodiac. Sometimes certain parts of it are stuck. That’s what humanities, but also literature, writes about. In this sense a biography is valuable, as are the writings on world development and cultures. You can see then that the world and our cultures are changing colors all the time. That all is the “dis-closure”, the “apo-calyptization” of reality.
How do you use that in your work as a priest?
If possible, I first try to connect with the other person, so that trust arises and then we try to see what can be opened up so that someone can come even closer to the divine spiritual world and to themselves. I always look for this duality: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man. The Greek mystical school discerned ‘the wisdom that comes from heaven’, and the ‘know thyself’. Through the ‘know thyself’ the Christ can be born on earth. The new mysteries of our time are connected with the mystery of Golgotha. Christ is the power of the Son of Man or of the I, which brings crisis. You have to overcome the crisis with yourself so that you can come together again with the divine spiritual world.
In early Christianity and the Middle Ages it all comes from inner knowledge until the twelfth century, then this inner voice fades away. Then people talk about the “un-knowledge,” that they no longer know who God is and who they themselves are. For the mind cannot solve it and the so-called ‘consciousness soul’ has not yet been developed. The beauty of the consciousness soul, which we are now entering, is that any human being can connect with the Apocalypse. First we absorb it in our thinking, then we let these images dwell in our hearts. We want to experience this awake. You need consciousness, otherwise you can’t dis-cover or open it or whatever you want to call it. After all, occult means covered. And the apo-calypse wants to open, to reveal the covered, the occult.
So towards the future, the Apocalypse must be rediscovered?
It is already happening. Earlier there was fear of speaking about it. And irritation around the Apocalypse often emerges in people. People think: it’s too difficult. But in recent years there has been real interest in it. The interest in movies, theater, literature and philosophy about the Apocalypse is often fear-based, fear about the downfall of the world and ourselves. Unfortunately, less emphasis is given to “the new” and liberating that is to come.
What do you see as the most defining image in the Apocalypse for us?
I think of two images. On the one hand, I think the middle of the Apocalypse is such a central image with the pregnant woman who is about to give birth to a male child. She is clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and with the 12 stars around her head (Rev. 12). She comes down from heaven and before her is the dragon and he knows he has little time (Rev. 13). That dragon has been cast out of heaven and is standing on the beach by the sea. The beach is the physical reality and with the sea you enter the realm of life. And right there on that boundary stands that dragon to prevent you to enter into the new. The dragon stands on the spot where previously that angel stood with one leg on the land and one on the sea. The cosmic world has thrown the dragon on earth. Now it is up to man to free himself from it. You can make that dragon big or small. You can make the dragon small by saying that you are that dragon yourself. You cannot let go of materialism and enter the realm of life. Heaven rejoices when you can, and the earth wants to be redeemed. Usually we ourselves are the Stolperstein, the obstacle. That’s a piece of dragon, but of course it’s also related to our cultural development. The dragon stands on the beach and knows that time is running out. This image evokes in us humans the earnestness to participate in world development.
The other image (Rev. 19:11) is an important consolation image: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat on it is called: Bearer of Faith and Truth… And he has on his garment at his hips written the name: King of kings, and Lord of lords”. I think that’s an image for our time that you really shouldn’t forget in the midst of everything. It’s interesting that you also find that image in the Old Indian and Persian cultures. Everyone looks for hope in that. The horse in the fairy tales is also the image of the mind, and the white robe of those who follow represents the purity of the etheric realm. That is hopeful. What people look for in all forms of their suffering is hope. Hope is not weakness. Hope indicates that, despite everything, you still have a connection to something beyond the ordinary.
The white robe
The new humanity is clothed in new ways by the heavenly forces. Under the heavenly altar, those are gathered who have stood firm in the tribulation and may become the new humanity. To them is given the consecrated priestly garment. They all wear this white priestly garment with which they may enter the New Jerusalem.
Rudolf Steiner incorporated the white robe into the robes of the priests. Their vestments are austere, everything has a meaning. The first vestment is the black Talaar. You knot that from top to bottom. First this Talaar goes over your ordinary being to cover yourself, the physical. With many knots you close off the personal. Then a pure linen cloth, the Alba, goes over it. You pour this over the Talaar as it were. Linen is very laborious, it comes from flax, which blossoms beautifully blue and is beaten all the way into white fibers that become flexible like water. It represents the pure, white, garment of light. It becomes more and more mobile and lively in use. The Talaar is black, is closed left and right, the Alba is white, as the shining light flows from top to bottom. These vestments are worn only by the priest when performing the sacraments. The color of the season is present in the Belt. The Stola is given to you when you are ordained, then the Stola is put on you: the priestly dignity. Then the garment of the congregation, in the color of the season, is put on. The black Beret has a crystalline form, it represents the awake consciousness of the personal I. The priest enters with his Beret on, puts it off before the cultic words are spoken and on again during the sermon. When leaving at the end, the priest also wears the Beret.
Added to this are the substances, the words, and the actions in the cult. These represent the higher parts of the human being. The important thing is that the substances, words, and actions are connected in the right way. Then the cult can take place. I can get all excited about this, because man is so beautifully artistically expressed spiritually. In austerity, and yet everything has its function.
In the Apocalypse the white robe is also found in two other meanings, for example with the 24 elders around the throne and with the resurrection body. Those are other meanings, aren’t they?
The 24 elders with their white robes also refer to etheric realms. These etheric robes are not only to be seen as part of the aspects ‘physical-etheric-astral-and-self’ in human beings. The etheric realm is everywhere the basis of the divine-spiritual realm. The 24 elders represent 7 evolutionary periods of the Old Saturn, 7 periods of the Old Sun, etc., and all of that draws on the etheric realm. It is the same with the angel, Michael, who stands with one foot on the earth and the other on the sea, that is all etheric realm. If you do not move in that etheric realm, Michael cannot draw you into it. If nothing comes from man into the etheric realm, he cannot do anything. The spirit of Michael goes where it can work. For that, you have to open up. For that, discovering what the ‘apo-calypse’ wants to unlock is important, otherwise it will not move forward. The fruit of human existence is food for the spiritual world, for further spiritual development. If you want to make the Apocalypse practical, then you have to look where the cosmic in us can resonate. That’s how we get the heavens open.
Through the sermon you can experience the Apocalypse
Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures on the Apocalypse specifically to priests. The Apocalypse lies, as it were, on the altar under the chalice during the sermon. Performing the sacraments is creating a link between heaven and earth. It has to happen somewhere. We as a Christian Community may call ourselves a Church, but we are actually “a Movement”. The meaning of the sacraments is, among other things, to develop an organ for the apocalyptic process. This is part of the essence of the Christian Community.
Does art have a similar purpose to a religious gathering?
Actually, art comes from the sacred, from the ancient cultures such as ancient Egypt and Greece. Art always accompanied the sacred act of making that connection between heaven and earth. At some point, art also got a profane side and now the art and the sacred are almost completely apart. Sacred art has a purifying element in it. That was always the case within the ancient mysteries. Drama had to be purgative and was not just seen as drama. Drama was to shake you up a bit so that you could apocalyptically open yourself to the spiritual divine. In fact, art still has to do that. An artist should want something that advances humanity or himself. If something is sacred then man comes to an inner experience, something happens to you. Then science and religion and art actually coincide. Then, in all three areas, you come to that opening. Religion, science and art are completely intertwined.
What are places you can visit to become more aware of the Apocalypse?
Angers, Patmos, York. Yes, any place that has images of people who have lived with or had visions of the Apocalypse. Or where it really took place, like Patmos. The place where John was allowed to receive teh apocalypse is, of course, very ideal. Going to such a place helps you to concentrate on the content. From experience I must add that the inner awareness must be given to you. Nobody can learn this. You can make everyone enthusiastic, you can tell about it. It is also nice if you can explain a little what all those images represent and it is important if you can bring people into a silent atmosphere. For example, a group of us were allowed to use a small theater on Patmos. Together we made the twelveness of the zodiac and the sevenness of the planets appear by means of eurythmy. The cave of John can be compared to your head where everything is centered. In that way, we tried to experience that, by just sitting there, with permission, for fifteen minutes in that cave. On the pilgrim path everyone walked silently back to the hotel and there we told each other about our experiences. Then you see that everyone experiences something different, even though you have practiced the same thing. You can take the thinking and bring feeling to it, but the experience only comes from the will. That’s the case with many religious things. It has to come from the will, otherwise it doesn’t work. Then it can remain an external thing and nothing happens. In the future and in the present and in the past you find the Apocalypse, it is a very big emerging process. But if you want to live with it, you have to go through evil before being able to receive the good.
Evil has different descriptions in the Apocalypse, such as Satan, the Beast from the sea, the Beast from the earth, the creature indicated by 666, and the false prophet. How do you look at that?
There is a tremendous stratification in all evil. Evil is also very intelligent. It is a fallen angel wisdom. In anthroposophy you often think of Lucifer and Ahriman and the Asuras. In the seventies and eighties, the latter were not much talked about. I myself am always reminded very much of that fairy tale by Steiner in one of the mystery dramas, about the tree and the axe. The handle of the axe is made from the tree that it cuts down. Life cannot exist without evil. Evil is the good at the wrong time and the wrong place. As soon as you fall from innocence, you encounter something of evil. It is the same as what you encounter with the double-edged sword. Or with the wrath of God which is actually God’s love. When there is a shift in the good order we often feel it as God’s wrath and so we are prompted to move again into the harmony of the whole. If you fixate too much on evil then you will be eaten by evil. A person must learn to look beyond the dragon. To look beyond the evil to where you actually want to go is the great means to be able to face the evil and to look beyond it, so that you are not obsessed by it. In the case of the beast with the two horns, things have taken root in the horns. There you get that wrath and shame again. That the beast from the land takes on a different form than the beast from the sea is also clear. And that the dragon in heaven looks different from the dragon on the earth is not surprising. The dragon is where we cannot go with the flow of development because we have not yet developed an inner quality. It is a pain from which we can learn a great deal. It is not good to think: Oh this is not so bad, when it really is bad. One person has an inner struggle, another an outer one. We all have sufferings, but we must also want to develop ‘suffering courage’. Courage to see suffering as an essential part of existence. That’s why it’s so evident in the Apocalypse. People often don’t want the suffering, but before you know it, however, it presents itself over and over again, until you have looked through it and have given it a place.
So looking beyond evil is not a form of ignoring it. You have to want to see it and then look beyond it to see what it is actually for. Why is the suffering there? What is it about? Can you look beyond it? You also often know that it is your own inability, or of the group you are in, or the time and country you live in. But that’s not the point. Somewhere life has to go on. Evil also involves that we are bumping into it ourselves, causing it to materialize. Only through consciousness can it be dematerialized. The world of spirit, humanity and the earth also move on. It is our freedom to enter into it or not.
Therefore, we should not be obsessed by evil. It is true that in the Apocalypse evil is spoken of. Wherever people are in danger of falling out of spiritual development because of pride or slowness there is such an evil beast. And if you are too fast there is also a beast, then you also fall out of development. There is no point in going very fast on your own and leaving the rest behind. There are a lot of good angels in the Apocalypse but those other powers are there as well. Even intermediate forms like the locusts. You can get scared of those. You can be sure that there is something of all those beings in you as well. Everything that is described in the Apocalypse you can learn to understand, because it is not alien to us. It is all about the human being, therefore also about ourselves. If you can’t handle something, it means that you have to deal with it. Then you can investigate it and with that experience you can perhaps help someone else who is struggling with something. We are with each other, we have to do it together.
Making the Apocalypse accessible to everyone is very important. It is important that the Apocalypse comes alive for people, that they wake up. The movies that are blockbusters, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, are rooted in this imagery wisdom for a reason. I hope that many people who want to serve humanity are willing to connect with the Apocalypse and are dis-covering the great cohesions.