In thy breath the light of the sun
In thy bread the salt of the earth
In thy ears true words of love
Sustain thy growing, changing life;
That thy spirit’s will may work
That thy soul be warmed by joy
That thy body’s world be built.
Adam Bittleston- Meditative Prayers for Today
As the dark days of winter set in, our inner voice reminds us to take time for ourselves, to allow the reflective tone of the season to seep in, and to find a rhythm and pattern to our children’s lives that teaches them that in the quiet of the moment lies a chance to find themselves. Today we are joined by Waldorf educator Danielle Epifani for a discussion on sacred parenting in these winter month.
What does sacred motherhood mean to you, and how do you practice it through your teaching of children?
Motherhood has been the single greatest opportunity in which I, as an individual, have embarked on a lifelong commitment to learning about, and transforming myself. With the Advent Season upon us, each year I reflect on this aspect of what it is to be a parent. The sacrifice, the growth, the limitations, and the transformation of one’s self expressed, and revealed, in hope for the future. Nancy Poer wrote of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, that it is in essence, a call to the birth of one’s higher self. Our own children offer this to the world, and ask this of us. As an educator we continue this work with the children in our care, and as a culture too, I believe we are called upon to examine and cultivate within ourselves that which can be enlightened for the well being of future generations. It is a true blessing to be a mother indeed- An opportunity for parents to see again the world anew, with beauty and possibility, and to turn towards inner reflection and recommitment to protecting this life source that holds us all.
*“…let this sublime image be there to speak of a future when we shall, out of our own spiritual striving, give birth to our higher selves. When we can create the wise, pure, and sacred space in our own souls (the holy Sophia) to let the Sun light of our higher selves condense, take form, and come to birth to guide our lives, our thoughts, our mission on earth with one another, then we will realize we all share immortal spirituality.” – Nancy Jewel Poer
Reflections on the Sistine Madonna
What about Waldorf education inspires you as a teacher, and as a parent?
Waldorf Education has been a vessel for me through which I’ve been able to authentically and creatively bring together what I experience as the physical, soul, and spirit nature of the human being. The opportunity to look deeply at what lives inside and wants to find expression, all the while allowing this space and opportunity for others, out of the wonder respect, and unfolding, of each individuality.
How have the creative aspects of your life fostered a sense of self for you as a mother, and how does that translate to your children?
While creativity as a mother is perhaps a continuation what I have always been familiar with, it has been particularly rewarding since first coming to Waldorf nearly a decade ago, to find a place where what is living inside, can express itself freely! In many ways being an artist for me is about conceiving something first and then being open to the process of what evolves. This parallels my work as a Waldorf teacher in what we strive to practice each day. The idea of being flexible and open to exploration, learning, thinking and responding, are valuable to me in demonstrating the capacity to think and act outside of the box. Some may come to this through science, writing, music, drama, and the beauty is that all of these disciplines are expressed in Waldorf education. Creativity then, fosters the type of resilient flexibility our culture is in need of. In the process of creating, we are experimenting with questions and looking to find solutions. When we are ‘programmed’ ,we simply learn to answer the question being asked, or do what is conventional. Through being creative, we learn to cultivate new questions, and practice flexibility in creating new solutions.
What impact do you see the rhythm of the seasons have on children, and what happens mainly during this period in winter?
We can consider the rhythm of the seasons as a way in which we are all cosmically held. We experience the rhythm of the planets and in this way it can be vastly comforting, or a little surprising, that a world exists outside of our psychological and emotional orbit! For young children we seek to unite them with this ‘spiritual’ home to which they are still closest, while at the same time awakening in them a sense of joy and wonder in how this is expressed here, on Mother Earth. One delightful thing we must keep in mind, however, is that our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere carry a different reality or experience of this time of year, and in this way we can experience the two fold nature that unites us. For young children and families alike, winter can be a period of great joy and coming together. If we experience cold and darkness then we will draw in as adults, though our children are ever jubilant no matter the season. We can rest on the comfort that again, our brothers and sisters on the opposite part of the world are experiencing expansion. It could be considered both a ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’ in which balance is carried out for us as we navigate our way through the year.
A delightful resource can be found in In The Light Of A Child by Michael Burton. Inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s Calendar of the Soul, we find a verse for children for each week of the year, with both Northern and Southern Hemispheres represented.
In what ways does your daily rhythm change during the winter season, and what advice would you give to parents about creating an environment conducive to fostering the self-awareness that winter can bring?
I think that the commercial aspect of the holidays has grown to be tremendously challenging. If one is fortunate to be at home with their child at birth and through the first holiday season, then one is lucky to contemplate the notion of the holiness of birth. One has the opportunity to bask in all that this brings, and to consider this as the fulfillment. We have the opportunity to re-create traditions that are in, and of themselves, quiet, and nourishing, truthful and reflective. The winter season here is a transformation towards an inner, spiritual light. What better way to experience joy than to consider the birth of our own children and what this has brought to us. For me, it is an opportunity to review and come round to the gratitude and miracle of what has been offered with reverence, and renewed hope and commitment. Through turning inwards we are also offered a chance to let out our burdens of self-examination down, becoming innocent again. Filled with wonder, we can look at the world, and it’s possibilities, as if through the eyes of a child.
What art and creative projects do you lean towards during these dark days of winter?
Baked apples and anything having to do with transparencies! Gathering apples and hollowing out the core, I set up bowls of dates, apricots, cranberries, currants, and walnuts. The star found within the humble apple at Michaelmas has longevity for us! Carrying us through until the Solstice, and Christmas. Children enjoy sampling the various delicacies as we press them down into the center. I then fill a small pan with a bit of water and bake at 350 degrees until they are soft (usually about an hour). When ready, we serve and enjoy with heavy cream.
All manners of window transparencies hold a special place for me this time of year bringing joy, and light to the home. The wonder of various colors when our gardens are asleep and trees are bare. The vibrancy of folded stars, reflecting love for, and anticipation of the celestial realm. Tissue paper scenes glued directly to the window, lanterns folded and sitting alongside beds, and table tops. The smell of warm beeswax as we dip candles, all evoke for me, the mystery of how light filters in from the outside streaming towards us, and radiates outwards through the objects that we create in rising to meet it.
Stars and Flowers: Window Transparencies by Frederique Guerethttp
Rose Windows and How to Make Them by Helga Meyerbroker
How do you foster a sense of quiet in the lives of your children, and the children that you teach?
By being quiet myself. As a mother I found that often my own son would come home buzzing from all that he experienced in the world. That it was important to hold a quiet space for him to decompress and re-enter into himself. For the children in my care, it is the same, and much time and space is given to them to be with themselves. This can be uncomfortable at first, and can be for us all, but in my own childhood memories, some of the people I felt the closest and most secure with, were those who said very little but who instead observed and were present- Both physically, and in the type of emotional presence they conveyed simply through being. One can ask what good are questions (again), if they are not the right questions, and what good is talking if an individual doesn’t feel seen? Sometimes we need to be quiet and listen in order to know and perceive.
What is the most sacred aspect of this time of year?
Danielle Epifani is the mother to an eleven year old son, a Waldorf Early Childhood educator, and a parenting mentor. She is an Art Historian, antique dealer, and graduate from UC Berkeley. She is the Director of Margaret’s Garden, a mixed-age Waldorf, and Lifeways inspired home program in Berkeley, CA, and a graduate from the Bay Area Center For Waldorf Teacher Training in San Rafael, CA. Her work can be accessed on the web at Elemental Mother and on Facebook.