Love, awe, devotion, compassion, trust, the ability to recognise beauty, to discriminate between good and evil and to carry out a chosen course of action – such qualities which reveal a person's character. Children once learned respect for these through their culture, the community in which they lived and its religious traditions. But today we are witnessing the breakdown of such qualities throughout most of the world. If children are not to lose the chance to develop these aspects of human nature, education must consciously cultivate them.
Watching a sunrise or a sunset, experiencing the birth of a child - these are unique moments in our lives. We suddenly feel ourselves to be in the presence of something higher than ourselves. This may also occur on encountering a truly wise person, or when entering a place of worship. Such moments tend to vanish in the flood of everyday worries and impressions. Looking back on them, we feel privileged to have had this experience, we feel enriched, somehow made whole.
Feelings that emerge in such special moments have a quality of their own. They can be called feelings of wonder, of awe, of reverence. They enable us to approach that which we feel to be divine, beyond sheer earthly humanity. In the course of our lives, these feelings transform; they become, as it were, yardsticks for our powers of judgement. All traditional cultures have been deeply concerned with the careful nurture of these feelings. Here lie the deep roots of religious movements and institutions. Such culture of the feelings was perceived to be essential for the healthy development of humankind.
We are living in times in which modern, predominantly western civilisation has spread all over the globe. This civilisation bears the signature of materialistic science. Consequently, a search for new paths of religious culture has begun in many different places. In Waldorf education, the feelings of openness and of wonder, of awe and of reverence, are cultivated from early childhood. Children grow aware of being part of a universe in which the Creator's hand is at work. Waldorf schools are deeply concerned with religious education, not, however, in the sense of instilling the beliefs of any one denomination or creed. Rudolf Steiner regarded the qualities of wonder and of awe as the basis of a free and religious relationship of the developing human being to the world around him. That is why – although they are not directly associated with any institutionalised religious community – Waldorf schools aim to be places where devotion to a divine being is continually being striven for.
Heinz Zimmermann/Jon McAlice