We love the soil because God’s spirit spoke and created the earth, and because he called it out of its uncultivated natural state so that it might be cultivated by the communal work of human beings. We love physical work – the work of muscle and hand – and we love the craftsman’s art, in which the spirit guides the hand. In the way spirit and hand work together and through each other, we see the mystery of community. God – the creative Spirit – has formed nature, and he has entrusted the earth to us, his sons and daughters, as an inheritance but also as a task: our garden must become his garden, and our work must further his kingdom.- Eberhard Arnold
Inspired by the German Youth Movement and Anabaptist communities he studied, Eberhard Arnold’s vision for the Bruderhof community always included crafts, folk music and hymns, art, poetry, dancing, and other creative enterprises.
The earliest Bruderhof at Sannerz, founded in 1920, supported itself with small industries: the publishing house, a farm and garden, an arts and crafts workshop. Their purpose went beyond income; Eberhard held that “manual and skilled craft work deepens the creative and God-given elements in us.”
Carving, leatherwork, transparencies, scissor cuts, spinning, weaving, pottery, galalith (a milk-based decorative plastic), wood-turning, and straw stars were all part of the communal enterprise. The design for every candlestick or bowl that the woodturning shop intended to make was communally appraised and decided. “Eberhard always said that precisely this kind of work, in its simplicity of form, should testify to the way we felt as a community,” said his wife Emmy. There were tasks appropriate to every skill level; children learned to craft as a central part of their education.
Music was essential to the community as well and songs for every occasion were a part of daily life. In 1924 Emmy edited and Eberhard published Sonnenlieder, a book of a hundred songs spanning eight centuries and multiple genres: early Anabaptist and Moravian hymns; Martin Luther’s own arrangements of chorales; beloved songs of believers, saints, and mystics through the centuries; modern socialist, pacifist, and other revival tunes; and two dozen original songs that emerged from the first few years of life at Sannerz. Sonnenlieder was a bestseller for the publishing house and remains an excellent window into life in the community.
Eberhard also published a collection of folk legends illustrated with scissor-cuts and designed to fit into the pocket of a hiker. This simple folk art, he believed, could touch the reader’s heart in a natural but powerful way, without any pious words. “These stories, through the most varied forms, all bring to light our longing for redemption. They show how the demand for justice is tested and proved by suffering and conflict. In the world of fairy tales, the victory of good over evil is constantly being fought for. The blessing of work, the overcoming of fear, the power of love, and an abundance of practical wisdom – all these come close to our hearts,” he explained.
As a young student, and during his long engagement to Emmy von Hollander, Eberhard was an avid writer of devotional poetry. He picked it up again after the founding of the Bruderhof to express the joys and struggles of the fledgling community. A visitor commented shortly after his death, “The wonderful thing is that for us Eberhard can never die. In all his poems and songs, which we use almost daily, the essence of everything he lived is expressed, and stands for all time.”
1. Eberhard Arnold, letter February 21, 1933.
2. Emmy Arnold, “Eberhard Arnold’s Life and Work” in A Testimony to Church Community (Plough Publishing House, 1963), 11.
3. Markus Baum, Against the Wind (Plough Publishing House, 1998),152-3.
4. Eberhard Arnold, from an essay On Fairytales, originally published in “Die Furche”.
5. Edna Percival, quoted in the introduction to Poems and Rhymed Prayers (Plough Publishing House, 2011), 2.
Eberhard Arnold - October 23, 2019
Although written by a young man so passionately in love that he begged his fiancée to write to him “at least once a day,” these are not conventional love poems – almost all end by pointing their recipient (and by extension, every reader) toward Christ.Continue Reading
Poems and Rhymed Prayers
Eberhard Arnold - October 25, 2019
In 1920 Eberhard and Emmy Arnold abandoned the security of the Berlin suburbs for a new life in the village of Sannerz. Here they embarked on what Eberhard called an “adventure of faith” – a life of voluntary poverty and community. His poems from this time reflect the new beginning, expressing the joy and the struggles of the fledgling circle, yet still encompassing a wider vision, and the continued call of a life lived for God.
We are filled with the faith that the living Spirit of Christ is today causing countless small focal points to arise, where not only community of gathering and building up is to be found, but real community of life and of productive work and vocation.- Eberhard Arnold, April 1920