Since the days of Jacob Behmen there have been no such remarkable series of mystic writings as are contained in the two volumes called "The Perfect Way" and "Clothed with the Sun," by Doctor Anna Kingsford. Her belief and her illuminations were crystallized in the affirmation, "Life is the elaboration of soul through the varied transformations of matter." She saw the entire purpose of creation to be the evolution and elaboration of the soul. Very little is generally known of Doctor Kingsford. She was descended from an old Italian family, one of whom had been the architect of the Vatican, and, on her mother's side, from mingled German and Irish ancestry. She was the daughter of John Bonus, born in England in 1846, and she married, in 1867, Algernon Godfrey Kingsford, who subsequently took orders in the English Church. Three years later Mrs. Kingsford entered the Catholic communion, and some years afterward she studied medicine in Paris and received her degree. She is said to have been very beautiful, with great talent in painting and in music, a poet of lyric gifts, and from her childhood she saw visions and dreamed dreams. She died in 1888, and is buried in Atcham, near Shrewsbury, where her husband had his parish.
In 1881 Doctor Kingsford delivered in London, before drawing-room audiences, comprising representatives of literature, art, fashion, and the peerage,—audiences inclusive of the most notable people in London, the nine lectures that are published under the title of "The Perfect Way," and at the time these lectures inspired a profound interest. Their central theme is the Pre-existence and Perfectibility of the soul. "The intuition," she says, "is that portion of the mind whereby we are enabled to gain access to the interior and permanent region of our nature, and there to possess ourselves of the knowledge which in the long ages of her past existence the soul has made her own. For that in us which perceives and permanently remembers is the soul. And all that she has once learned is at the service of those who duly cultivate relations with her." And those relations, she taught, are cultivated by living so purely in thought and deed as to prevent the interposition of any barrier between the phenomenal (or the outer) and the substantial (or the inner) self; and by steadfastly cultivating harmonious relations between those two, by subordinating the whole system to the Divine will,—thus does one gain full access to the stores of knowledge in the soul. Doctor Kingsford further explains:—
"For, placed as is the soul between the outer and the inner mediator, between the material and the spiritual, she looks inwards as well as outwards, and by experience learns the nature and method of God; and according to the degree of her elevation, purity, and desire, sees, reflects, and transmits God. It is in virtue of the soul's position between the worlds of substance and of phenomenon, and her consequent ability to refer things to their essential ideas, that in her, and her alone, resides an instrument of knowledge competent for the comprehension of truth, even the highest, which she only is able to behold face to face. It is no hyperbole that is involved in the saying, 'The pure in heart see God.' True, the man cannot see God. But the divine in man sees God. And this occurs when, by means of his soul's union with God, the man becomes 'one with the Father', and beholds God with the eyes of God....
"And he to whom the soul lends her ears and eyes, may have knowledge not only of his own past history, but of the past history of the planet, as beheld in the pictures imprinted in the magnetic light whereof the planet's memory consists. For there are actually ghosts of events, manes of past circumstances, shadows on the protoplasmic mirror, which can be evoked.
"But beyond and above the power to read the memory of himself or of the planet, is the power to penetrate to that innermost sphere wherein the soul obtains and treasures up her knowledge of God. This is the faculty whereby true revelation occurs. And revelation, even in this, its highest sense, is, no less than reason, a natural appanage of man, and belongs of right to man in his highest and completest measure of development."
Doctor Kingsford was an evolutionist, holding that development along evolutionary lines is a true doctrine, but she held that this development was not of the original substance, because that, being infinite and eternal, is always perfect; and that the development lay in the manifestation of the qualities of that substance, in the individual. "The highest product, man," she said, "is the result of the spirit working intelligently within. But man attains his highest and becomes perfect only through his own voluntary co-operation with the Spirit."
Doctor Kingsford regarded Jesus as a spiritual Ideal and an Eternal Verity, and Religion as an ever-present actuality.
We find her saying:—
"For every man makes his own fate, and nothing is truer than that character is destiny. It is by their own hands that the lines of some are cast in pleasant places, of some in vicious, and of some in virtuous ones, so that there is nothing arbitrary or unjust. But in what manner soever a soul conducts itself in one incarnation, by that conduct, by that order of thought and habit, it builds for itself its destiny in a future incarnation. For the soul is enchained by these prenatal influences, which irresistibly force it into a new nativity at the time of such conjunction of planets and signs as oblige it into certain courses and incline it strongly thereto. But if the soul oppose itself to these influences and adopt some other course,—as it well may to its own real advantage,—it brings itself under a 'curse' for such period as the planets and ruling signs of that incarnation have power. But though this means misfortune in a worldly sense, it is true fortune for the soul in a spiritual sense. For the soul is therein striving to atone and make restitution for the evil done in its own past; and thus striving, it advances towards higher and happier conditions. Wherefore man is, strictly, his own creator, in that he makes himself and his conditions, according to the tendencies he encourages. The process of such reformation, however, may be a long one. For tendencies encouraged for ages cannot be cured in a single lifetime, but may require ages for their cure. And herein is a reflection to make us as patient towards the faults of others as we ought to be impatient of our own faults."
The entire interpretation of life, as given by Doctor Kingsford in these books, is remarkable, and is one of singular clearness in tracing the law of cause and effect.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The Momentous Question.]
"The question for man most momentous of all is whether or no he has an immortal soul; or—to avoid the word immortal, which belongs to the realm of infinities—whether or no his personality involves any element which can survive bodily death. In this direction have always lain the gravest fears, the farthest reaching hopes, which could either oppress or stimulate mortal minds.... The method of modern science—that process which consists in an interrogation of Nature entirely dispassionate, patient, systematic ... has never yet been applied to the all-important problem of the existence, the powers, the destiny of the human soul."
The Rev. Doctor Alexander Whyte of Edinborough, one of the few greatest and most celebrated preachers in Europe, said, in a sermon recently delivered in London, that the spiritual, like the physical life, required constant sustenance. Doctor Whyte dwelt with marked emphasis on the important truth that no one who does not give at least one hour of the day to the concentration of thought on the higher purposes of life, and devote himself, essentially and especially, to aspiration and prayer, can live aright, and live up to his higher possibilities. Doctor Whyte especially recommended the last hour before sleep as the best season for this uplift of the soul to its native atmosphere. "It is not necessary," he said, "that one should be kneeling, in the attitude of prayer, all the time. Walk about. Go out and look at the stars. Read, if you prefer, some ennobling book. But, in whatever form thought and meditation may take, keep the key held to the divinest melody of life. In that way shall the spiritual life gather its rich strength and infinite energy." The principle is one that every life which has given to the world noble results, has acted upon, consciously or unconsciously, as may be. No one can live, in the sense of that life which is alone worth the living, without definite and constant periods of seeking that refreshment which is found in communion with God, and in setting one's spiritual forces in touch anew with the infinite spiritual energy. Poet and prophet have emphasized this truth. Stephen Phillips, in his poem of "The Dead Soul," touches it most impressively. Without its own sustenance from the spiritual world, how could it survive?
"She felt it die a little every day, Flutter more wildly and more feebly pray."
The soul is ever "imploring dimly something beautiful," and it must have this or its powers remain latent and undeveloped. "Not in dead matter do we live," said Lord Kelvin, in his recent address before the British scientists, "but we live and move in the creative and directing power that science compels to be accepted as an article of faith. We are forced to believe, with absolute confidence, in a directive power,—in an influence other than the physical, dynamic, and electric powers. Science is not antagonistic to religion, but a help to religion," he added; "science positively affirms creative power, and makes every one feel a miracle in himself."
The soul has certainly a door into infinite beauty, and through the portals must it fare forth to renew its activities in its own atmosphere. The question as to whether the individual survives bodily death is one that the Twentieth Century will answer with no unmistakable reply. The investigation into the very nature of man is one possible on strictly scientific lines, whose results agree with and confirm all that Faith has intuitively divined.
This investigation—pursued in many ways—is best of all pursued in keeping some hour apart, each day, for absolute reunion and communion with the Holy Spirit. To lift up the heart to God in deepest aspiration and prayer is to come into an increasing knowledge of one's own spiritual self, and into increasing harmony with the divine world in whose atmosphere, alone, we live and breathe and have our being. In love and sympathy lie the daily solution of all the problems of the spiritual life.
These are the divine attributes, and they are as indispensable to life to-day as they were when Christ walked in Galilee. Compassion and love are the handmaids of hope and faith and joy. The heart to sympathize, the love to aid, lead on to the radiant atmosphere of happiness.
There is a deep and impressive significance in the lesson of the music-drama of "Parsifal." "Only those of pure heart can be strong." And that "the Knights in the play were saved by Parsifal who was willing to encounter anything." This alone is the diviner quality of love,—to be willing to "encounter anything;"—to meet pain, disaster, defeat, if so it be the appointed way to serve. There is a consecration in pain that purifies and refines and exalts all effort. It may be the very divine sign and seal of approval when the way leads to personal sacrifice rather than to personal joy.
"The Magi," it is said, "have but to follow their Star in peace.... The Divine action marvellously adjusts all things. The order of God sends each moment the appropriate instrument for its work, and the soul, enlightened by faith, finds all things good, desiring neither more nor less than she possesses."
One may tread,—not the "whole round of creation," as Browning phrases it, but a minor segment of it, at least, and come back with added and more profound conviction that happiness is a condition of the spirit; that "the soul is ceaselessly joyful"; that the incidents and accidents of the outward life cannot mar nor lessen that sense of higher peace and joy and harmony which is the atmosphere of any true spiritual life. One may recognize and affirm this truth by spiritual intuition, and he may then be led through many phases of actual tests in actual life; he may, for a time, lose his hold on it and come to say that happiness is a thing that depends on so many causes outside one's own control; that illness, death, loss of friends, adverse circumstances, failures and trials of all kinds may come into his experience, and that one is at the mercy of all these vicissitudes. Can the individual be happy, he will ask, when all that made happiness is taken away? Can he be happy if he has lost all his worldly goods? or if death has taken those nearest and dearest to him? or if the separations of life, far harder to bear than those of death, have come into his experience with their almost hopeless sense of desolation? And yet, until he has learned to answer these questions with the most triumphant affirmative, he has not learned the measure nor sounded the depth of a true and noble order of Happiness. The difference is that of being safely on board a great steamer when wind and wave are tempest-tossed, or of being helpless in the raging waters. The storm may be precisely the same; the tempest may rage as it will, but safe and secure in the cabin or stateroom, the voyager does not mind its fury. Truly may this analogy be held in life. It is possible to emerge from the winds and waves; to enter so entirely into the sense of security in the Divine; to hold so absolutely the faith in the Divine leading, that even in the midst of trial and loss and deprivation and sorrow, one shall come to know, through his own experience, that "the soul is ceaselessly joyful." For it is one thing to accept a truth theoretically, to believe it intuitively, and another to prove it through experience that shall test the quality of faith and conviction. Learning this supreme truth of life through outward experiences as well as though inner revelation, is a victory of the will that may even make itself an epoch, a landmark, in spiritual progress.
One of the great discourses of Phillips Brooks had for its theme the lesson of not laying too much stress on the recognition of one's motives or on any return of sympathetic consideration. "Let me not think," said Bishop Brooks, "that I get nothing from the man who misunderstands all my attempts to serve him and who scorns me when I know that I deserve his sympathy. Ah! it would be sad enough if only the men who understood us and were grateful to us when we gave ourselves to them had help to give us in return. The good reformer whom you try to help in his reform, and who turns off from you contemptuously because he distrusts you, seeing that your ways are different from his, does not make you happy,—he makes you unhappy; but he makes you good, he leads you to a truer insight, a more profound unselfishness. And so (it is the old lesson), not until goodness becomes the one thing that you desire, not until you gauge all growth and gain by that, not until then can you really know that the law has worked, the promise has been fulfilled. With what measure you gave yourself to him, he has given himself—the heart of himself, which is not his favor, not his love, but his goodness, the real heart of himself to you. For the rest you can easily wait until you both come to the better world, where misconceptions shall have passed away and the outward forms and envelopes of things shall correspond perfectly with their inner substances forever."
In the last analysis one comes to realize that happiness is a condition depending solely on the relation of his soul to God; that neither life, nor death, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any living creature can separate him from it, because happiness and the love of God are one and identical, and it is not in the power of this world to give, or to take away, this sense of absolute oneness with the Divine life that comes when man gives himself, his soul and body, his hopes and aspirations and ideals, in complete consecration to the will of God.
For this alone is happiness. It may not be ease nor pleasure, but it is that ceaseless joy of the soul that may be the daily experience of every human being. And to gain the deep inner conviction of this sublime truth is worth whatever it may cost of tears or trial or desolation of spirit. It is the threshold of joy. It is the initiation into a higher spiritual state which one may gain during his progress on earth as well as in heaven. In fact, no one is really fitted for the highest privileges and sweetness he may crave, until he has learned to live well, to live joyfully, without these. No one is fitted for joy until he can live well without joy. It is the law and the prophets.
THE NECTAR OF THE HOUR.
I share the good with every flower, I drink the nectar of the hour.
* * * * *
If we knew how to greet each moment as the manifestation of the divine will we could find in it all the heart could desire. Nor what indeed is more reasonable, more perfect, more divine, than the will of God? Can its infinite value be increased by the paltry difference of time, place, or circumstance? The present moment is always filled with infinite treasures; it contains more than one is capable of receiving. Faith is the measure of these blessings; in proportion to your faith will you receive. By love also are they measured; the more your heart loves the more it desires, and the more it desires the more it receives. The will of God is constantly before you as an unfathomable sea, which the heart cannot exhaust; only in proportion as the heart is expanded by faith, confidence, and love can it receive of its fulness.... The divine will is an abyss of which the present moment is the entrance; plunge fearlessly therein and you will find it more boundless than your desires.—THE REV. J. P. DE CAUSSADE, in "Holy Abandonment."
* * * * *
"The moment we desire God and His will, that moment we enjoy them, and our enjoyment corresponds to the order of our desires."
What though the bough beneath thee break? Remember, thou hast wings.
To enter into the will of God is an initiation of such power and beauty that language falters in any effort to interpret this supreme experience. It can be indicated only in the words of the poet:—
"I share the good with every flower, I drink the nectar of the hour."
That wonderful test of seeing every event of life from the point of view of the will of God simply transforms and revolutionizes the entire scale of human experience. It simplifies all perplexities, it offers the solution for all problems. It illuminates the small and the apparently insignificant occurrences which, nevertheless, contrive to play so large and often so determining a part in our days, as well as places in high relief the great questions that beset one in his varied round.
The little book from which the extract on the preceding page is taken—a Catholic book of devotion—is one of the most illuminating in all spiritual literature. It offers to one instruction and guidance in that life which alone is progress, peace, and joy,—and one who comes to use it daily will place it almost next to the Bible in its practical and almost miraculous helpfulness. Catholic or Protestant,—what matters it so that one who listens may hear the word? It is in no wise necessary to embrace Catholicism in order to concede that some of the most vital literature of the spiritual life is written by the priests and thinkers of that communion; and it is good to take help wherever one can find it,—regardless of sect or creed.
A French priest, preaching in an impassioned and sublime abandon of enthusiasm; caught up in a rapture of the heavenly life, poured out these wonderful words to audiences that thronged the dim shades of Saint Sulpice, in Paris. His theme was the consecration of life to the divine will. He called upon all humanity to recognize that this divine will is revealed,—not exclusively in the cloister or the silence, but in the common trend of daily life. "The field is the world." "All things," said this priest, "may further the soul's union with God; all things perfect it, save sin, and that which is contrary to duty;" and he added: "When God thus gives Himself to a soul, all that is ordinary becomes extraordinary; therefore it is that nothing appears of the great work which is going on in the soul; the way itself is so marvellous that it needs not the embellishment of marvels which belong not to it. It is a miracle, a revelation, a continuous enjoyment of God, interrupted only by little faults; but in itself it is characterized by the absence of anything remarkable, while it renders marvellous all ordinary and sensible things."
The entire discourse was a fervent and illuminating illustration of how God's will reveals itself through the most common things. "O Divine Action," Pere De Caussade exclaims, "I will cease to prescribe to Thee hours or methods; Thou shalt be ever welcome. O Divine Action, Thou seemest to have revealed to me Thy immensity. I will walk henceforth in Thy infinity. No longer will I seek Thee within the narrow limits of a book, or the life of a saint, or a sublime thought. No longer will I seek Thy action alone in spiritual intercourse. For since the divine life labors incessantly and by means of all things for our advancement, I would draw my life from this boundless reservoir. The will of God imparts to its every instrument an original and incomparable action. We do not sufficiently regard things in the supernatural light which the divine action gives them. We must always receive and worthily meet the divine action with an open heart, full confidence and generosity: for to those who thus receive it, it can work no ill. The divine action killeth while it quickeneth; the more we feel death, the firmer our faith that it will give life."
These words invest the truth of the constant revelation of God's will through ordinary events, with a burning intensity and vividness that can hardly fail to leave a permanent impress upon the reader.
There is probably no thoughtful observer of the phenomena of life with whom spiritual aspiration is ever present, who is not often honestly puzzled as to what extent the ordinary tide of events that attend him must be accepted as the will of God, and to what degree he should modify these by his own power of will in selection and grouping. He is engaged, for instance, in important work. To what extent should he yield to the "devastator of the day"? To what extent should he allow his general onward course of pursuits and interests to be deflected or changed by the unforeseen events that attend his pathway?
It may be accepted as a fundamental truth that good sense, good judgment, discretion, poise, are not unworthy to be ranked among the Christian virtues. Jesus was eminently sane. He was no fanatic. He gave both by precept and example the ideal of a rational and reasonable life. The individual has no right to rush off and kill himself because his dearest hope is denied or his most cherished purpose defeated. Nor has he any more right to commit what may be called intellectual suicide, by relinquishing his aspirations and endeavors, merely because things go wrong, or because he thinks they are wrong. The conditions of life are not necessarily wrong because contrary to what one might desire. Perhaps it is the desire itself which was wrong, and the conditions which are right; and which are the expression of God's will and are thus to be joyfully accepted. The test of all circumstances and influence lies in unchanging fidelity, in unswerving allegiance to the divine ideal of life. The "devastator of a day" need not be welcomed to make unlimited waste of time and energy that have their due channels, but the interruption may be met with patience and sweetness, as well as with firmness of purpose in declining to be turned aside from the duty in hand. The adverse circumstances of life,—loss of money, of friends, disaster in one way or another, that may come without visible relation to any error on one's own part,—shall not such adverse conditions teach a divine lesson of patience and incite new springs of energy to overcome trial, and to gain by it a higher spiritual vantage-ground on which to live? Cannot even denial and defeat be held as developing qualities that might otherwise lie latent? May they not teach the divinest lesson of all,—the one most invaluable to human life,—absolute trust in God?
Gaining this, the soul really gains all that it was sent on earth to learn through all the varied phenomena of joy and sorrow, of triumph and failure. There is a common expression of one's "embracing religion and turning away from the world." It is a contradiction of terms. The world is the place in which any real religion is tested and proved, and it is there that the soul must recognize and receive the Divine Action.
In the marvellous sermons of Pere Lacordaire are found suggestions that might well serve as a daily manual on this sublime and vital truth of the relation between the will of God and the daily experience. These sermons are among the world's treasures of help toward a higher spirituality. The argument of Pere De Caussade—one equally entitled to consideration—is that God reveals himself to us now, in ordinary events, as mysteriously and as adorably and with as much reality as in the great events of history or in the Holy Scriptures. "When the will of God reveals itself to a soul manifesting a desire to wholly possess her," says Pere De Caussade, "if the soul freely gives herself in return, she experiences most powerful assistance in all difficulties; she then tastes by experience the happiness of that coming of the Lord, and her enjoyment is in proportion to the degree in which she has learned to practice that self-abandonment which must bring her at all moments face to face with this ever adorable will."
The entire philosophy of this is that the events of life are the language in which God speaks to us. The thought is as simple as it is impressive, and it is yet so great as to be fairly epoch-making in its complete realization. And it is more than an open question whether, even to a large majority of the most prayerful and ardent of Christian believers, there is not still a new aspect of life revealed in this simple acceptance of the common details of the day, the events of the hour, as the divine language which is to be read and followed.
Because there is a more or less widespread conviction that events, circumstances, conditions are things to be battled with, in case they are not agreeable, and that there is a signal virtue in overcoming them. Nor is this conviction without value, too, and a large measure of truth, for aspiration and achievement must always be among the vital forces in creating the immediate future; and we must create the future as well as accept the present.
"Thou speakest, Lord, to all mankind by general events. Thou speakest to each one in particular by the events of his every moment."
Pere De Caussade proceeds to say:—
"But instead of respecting the mystery of Thy words and hearing Thy voice in all the occurrences of life, they only see therein chance, the acts, the caprice of men; they find fault with everything; they would add to, diminish, reform. They revere the word of the Lord, but have they no respect for words which are not conveyed by means of ink and paper, but by what they have to do and suffer from moment to moment,—do these words merit nothing?"
This handwriting on the wall in the guise of the daily events is a message to be read by faith alone. Just here is the parting of the ways.
One fares forth in a certain direction, intent on a given accomplishment, and unforeseen circumstances arise that hinder, annoy, delay, or prevent the fulfilment of the intention. From one point of view, one would say that interruptions and disasters were things to be overcome as speedily as possible, and that the virtue lay in pressing on. But the theory of life so wonderfully set forth by this great preacher teaches, instead, that these very obstacles, delays and embarrassments are a signal and an important thing in and of themselves; that they are nothing less than the divine voice; the appointed means through which the voice of God speaks to us; that each moment, each hour, is just as valuable during delay and enforced pause as it could be for the most strenuous action, because,—the only important thing we have to do in this life is to bring our own will into harmony with the will of God; to learn to recognize His leading and to love this leading.
Nor does this interpretation of the divine purposes of life lead the least in the world to inertia and dull passivity. On the contrary, it is, in essence, the theory to do all one can, ceaselessly and constantly; but, having done this, then await the results in a believing trust which is peace and love of harmony. The larger part of the events and circumstances that have to do with our lives are not under our personal control. No man liveth to himself. Regarding this large part of our lives that are not under our personal control, there is a perpetual tendency to fret, to worry, to impatience, to irritation, or to despondency, and the consequent loss of that cheerfulness and radiant exhilaration in which one should live if he live aright. Could one, then, regard all this part of his life which he cannot change, nor hasten, nor delay, nor alter in the slightest degree, one way or the other,—could he but recognize all this as the divine language and meet it,—not only with resignation but with that joyful acceptance of perfect faith which absolutely realizes the oneness of the will between himself and God,—then would not life gain, at once, immeasurably in peace and happiness?
"Can the divine will err?" questions Pere De Caussade. "Can anything that it sends be amiss? But I have this to do; I need such a thing; I have been deprived of the necessary means; that man thwarts me in such good works; this illness overtakes me when I most need my health."
The answer is: "No; the will of God is all that is absolutely necessary to you, therefore you do not need what He withholds from you—you lack nothing. If you could read aright these things which you call accidents, disappointments, misfortunes, contradictions, which you find unreasonable, untimely, you would blush with confusion, but you do not reflect that all these things are simply the will of God."
The life of faith, that perfect faith which is perfect peace, consists in this ever-present recognition, and, tested by its results,—tested by the absolute peace and the larger energy which is liberated by the cheerful and believing rather than the sad and distrusting state of mind,—tried by all those tests of actual experience, this attitude of perfect faith is the attitude most favorable to progress and achievement.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: A Profound Experience.]
Renunciation is a word that stands for a great experience, and it is, perhaps, too often conceived of as relating to the material rather than to the spiritual life. The question as to whether one shall give up this or that article, or practice, during Lent, for instance, is sometimes in the air,—always with the saving clause that the renunciation is merely temporal, and if given up for forty days in the year, is to be fully enjoyed and revelled in on the other three hundred and twenty-five,—a clause that degrades a religious theory to a purely material plane. If it is better for one's command of his higher powers not to take coffee, for instance, during Lent, then it is better not to take it for the greater proportion of the year aside from Lent. If it is better to be gentle, tolerant, forgiving, and generous for forty days, it is still better to be so for three hundred and sixty-five days. There is really something absolutely absurd as well as repellent in the apparent acceptation that to live the higher, sweeter, fuller, nobler life is a penitential affair,—to be endured but not enjoyed, and limited chiefly to Lenten periods and the special holy days of the Christian Church. For religion is the life, the continual life of every hour and moment, and consists in the quality of that constant life. The offices of religion, the ceremonial forms, are quite another matter. They have their place, and a most important one. The gathering together at stated hours and periods for the devotions of religious worship is so great an aid to the Christian life as well to be ranked indispensable to the community and the nation; and while it is true that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life, yet the letter, rightly interpreted, is filled with the Spirit, and conveys it to us. The cry of certain reformers (?) that society has outgrown the Church, has little claim to consideration, for the Church itself is a progressive institution, and moves forward and enlarges itself with still larger revelations of the Divine Truth. The great opportunities for renunciation come not in the guise of temporal and material things; whether one shall eat or drink this thing or the other; whether he shall forego the theatre, or deprive himself of music, or array himself in sackcloth and ashes, or in purple and fine linen. The real question comes in the guise of the spiritual problems.
One comes to know, for instance, of an act of his neighbor's which is really one of treachery and betrayal of trust. Circumstances arise in which he could put his finger upon the evidential chain revealing this lapse from integrity. Shall he do it? Perhaps in the spiritual vista three ways open to him. The one would be to reveal the affair publicly; but this is crude if not cruel, and to touch the spring that precipitates discord and controversy is hardly less disastrous than to precipitate war. Discord only engenders evil, and it never produces good results. Evil things must, of course, be resisted, and combat inevitably results,—but discord for the sake of revealing some one's inadvertences is invariably disastrous as well as morally wrong. Then there is the method of seeking the person directly, and laying before him his error, thus giving him the opportunity of any extenuating explanation, and protecting his reputation in the genuineness of true friendship, from the world. And this course is often the wisest as well as the noblest, and really requires more heroism than the former one. Yet, after these there is still another, and it is absolutely the most potent, the most successful in its results, the most truly uplifting for all concerned. Has one been wronged, or misrepresented, or in any way injured? Let him commit it all, unreservedly, to the very immediate, the very real, the infinitely potent power of the divine world. Let him, as his own form of personal renunciation, absolutely forgive whatever annoyance or injury he has received, and let him pray, not for any vengeance against the wrong-doer, but that the Divine Love and Light would so envelop and direct the one who has erred as to enable him to free his own spirit from whatever fault he had been led into, and to rise into such regions of spiritual life that never again would he repeat it. How beautiful is the counsel given by Whittier:—
"My heart was heavy, for its trust had been Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong. So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men, One summer Sabbath day I strolled among The green mounds of the village burial-place; Where, pondering how all human love and hate Find one sad level, and how, soon or late, Wronged and wrong-doer, each with meekened face, And cold hands folded over a still heart, Pass the green threshold of our common grave, Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart, Awed for myself, and pitying my race, Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave, Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!"
Forgiveness,—forgiveness in love, and in readiness to aid and to rejoice in all future success of the one who had erred,—is not this the highest renunciation of the Christian life? Is it not this which is set before us in the progress of spirituality? Mutual forgiveness, mutual aid, mutual trust and sustaining, realizing that we all err and need to be forgiven even as we need to forgive,—shall we not in these touch the blessedness of sacrifice rather than its barren husk, and find in it that "soul of happiness" which should be the perpetual atmosphere of the higher life? For "this is the life eternal—to know Thee, the only true God," and humanity knows God just in proportion to the degree in which it is able to partake of the Divine Spirit and translate its religious aspiration into practical guidance for the affairs of the day.
Probably the one solution of the problem of life in all its intricacies and its perplexing and baffling experiences lies in that trust in God which is the soul's absolute surrender to the Divine will. Even in this solution, however, perplexities not unfrequently lie, from the fact that it is not always easy to separate that inevitableness which runs through human affairs from the results that we, ourselves, produce by our own series of choices and our habitual currents of thought. "A good will has nothing to fear," says Pere De Caussade; "it can but fall under that all-powerful hand which guides and sustains it in all its wanderings. It is this divine Hand which draws it toward the goal when it has wandered therefrom, which restores it to the path. The work of the divine action is not in proportion to the capacity of a simple, holy soul, but to her purity of intention; nor does it correspond to the means she adopts, the projects she forms, the counsel she follows. The soul may err in all these, and this not rarely happens; but with a good will and pure intention she can never be misled. When God sees this good disposition He overlooks all the rest, and accepts as done what the soul would assuredly do if circumstances seconded her good will."
Nevertheless, as things go in this world, the good will may encounter the most peculiarly trying experiences. The most entire and absolute devotion of thought and interest, of love, friendship, regard,—whatever may be,—pouring itself out lavishly, asking nothing but to give of the best the soul conceives, meets the experience of total indifference in return. Had it given coldness instead of ardent regard, selfish scheming instead of infinite and vital interest and absorbing devotion, the result could not be less devoid of response or recognition. Nor is this, perhaps, as life goes, an exceptional experience, though the multiplication of instances does not tend to make any single one less bitter or less tragically sad. Loss is common, but that statistical truth does not make one's own losses less disastrous or less difficult to bear.
Yet, accepting all these experiences that are encountered as absolute facts in life, facts from which there is no appeal, and for which, alas, there is no mitigation, what remains? One may feel as if he would gladly give up the whole business of trying to live at all, but that is not a matter that is optional with the individual. One has to live out his appointed days in this phase of being, and it is only the person of defective intellect as well as defective moral power who will not take the gift of life and make the best—not the worst—of it. Mr. Longfellow's familiar lines,
"Not enjoyment and not sorrow Is our destined end or way; But to act, that each to-morrow Find us further than to-day,"
have often been pronounced trite, but they contain a vital philosophy. It is not enjoyment, or the reverse, which is the aim; but development. And the culture of the soul lies in these mingled experiences; in the baffled efforts, the devotion that gives itself without return or response,—it lies in the doing and the giving, and not in the receiving. Nor does one fare onward uncompanioned by the friends and helpers unseen, as well as by those in this visible world.
"'Mortal,' they softly say, 'Peace to thy heart! We, too, yes, mortal, Have been as thou art,
Hope-lifted, doubt-depressed, Seeing in part; Tried, troubled, tempted, Sustained as thou art.'"
The spiritual faith and that courage and persistence of energy which is the fruition of faith,—and which are both results of the recognition and acceptance of the great truth so luminously revealed by Bishop Brooks when he says, "Jesus never treated his life as if it were a temporary deposit of the divine life on the earth, cut off and independent of its source; he always treated it as if it lived by its association with the Father's life, on which it rested,"—this faith and courage go forward to complete themselves in exhilaration, in firmness of purpose, and in actual achievement. One finds that he not only gains the strength of that which he overcomes, but that he gains a higher plane of life altogether, a more exalted view and a purer atmosphere by accepting cheerfully and lovingly the discipline of denial and limitation, and using the experience as a stepping-stone, and not as an obstacle to his endeavors. There are three ways of meeting the disappointments and denials that are—for the most part—somewhat inevitable to every human life: one of sheer despair, of the relinquishing of every effort, and, in the extreme degree of this feeling, resorting to the apparent extinction of life by suicide; the second, of resignation, that is still, however, a hopeless and passive and negative state, in which the man anchors himself to some mere platitudes of submission to the Divine Will, misunderstanding and misinterpreting and misapplying the great and sublime law of obedience and translating it into conditions of spiritual and mental inactivity that are only a degree less degrading than the cowardice and ignorance that rushes into suicide; and the third, of learning the great lesson involved in the disappointment. Submission to the Divine Will is all very well; it is one of the sublimest of the divine laws; but it is not fulfilled by a hopeless and inert evasion of all the duties and demands of life,—it is, instead, in its integrity and its deep significance, fulfilled by the joyful acceptance of the leading, the willing surrender that opens a still wider view and a still more vital faith in the divine wisdom.
Another way in which denial and defeat and thwarted desires or plans can be met is one still higher and greater, and is that path by which true spiritual advancement is made. This is, not despair and hopelessness because an apparently impassable wall arises across the pathway; not even mere content, and cordial or joyful submission however noble that attitude may be; but there is a loftier state in which the denial can be met; it is not merely an acceptance of God's manifest leading that is so informed with faith that it becomes ceaselessly joyful, but it is to even discern in limitation, in denial, new and sublime opportunities.
One's dearest hopes are suddenly, by circumstances and conditions entirely outside his control, totally cut off. What then? At that moment an entire world of new possibilities opens, and it rests with the man himself to develop these into something far greater than the scope of his former hope or expectation could reveal. He can bring to bear a power of spiritual energy that shall transform the very ill-fortune itself into one transcendently beautiful and even angelic. He can lift all the factors of his individual problem to the divine plane of love. For love is the spiritual alchemy,—not merely the love for friends and for those near and dear to us; not merely the love for those who are agreeable and winning and whose high qualities inspire it,—but love, love and good will for all. The command to love one's enemies is not an idle nor even an impossible one. The whole law—the whole philosophy, it may be—of life can be read in the counsel, "As ye have therefore opportunity, do good unto all men." Do good,—do the right thing, the kind, the generous thing, regardless of return (for which one usually cares little or not at all), or even of recognition (for which one usually cares a great deal), regardless of the recognition,—let the good be done. Let one, finding himself suddenly confronted by disaster or defeat, resolve: All that has been, every factor and every circumstance that has led up to this moment, shall be for good and never for evil. It shall be for good to each and all and every one involved in it. Even loss or sadness shall be transmuted into gain and joy on a higher than the mere earthly plane. For life "shall be kept open, that the Father's life may flow through it." Always may one realize the profound truth that "the going down of the walls between our life and our Lord's life, though it consisted of the failure of our dearest theories and the disappointment of our dearest plans,—that, too, could be music to us if through the breach we saw the hope that henceforth our life was to be one with His life, and His was to be ours."
Prayer, in its relation to God and the divine laws; its practical effect upon the immediate events of life, and its power to transform the spiritual self, is one of the great problems of the intellectual and the scientific as well as of the religious life. One day a prayer seems absolutely and undoubtedly answered,—the relation between the prayer and the fulfilment being too direct to admit of classing it under coincidence; and again the purpose that is made a continual supplication perhaps recedes from the realm of the possible to that of the impossible, and the more fervent the entreaty, the more absolute and hopeless seems the denial. By means of which, it may be, one learns a very high spiritual lesson,—that of not desiring any specific event or fulfilment, but of praying, instead, to be kept in harmony with the divine laws, to be enabled to make his life a means of aid and true service to others, and to think as little as possible about any special conditions for himself. "He that loseth his life shall find it," is the affirmation of a very deep philosophy as well as of sacred truth. To entirely emancipate one's mind from thoughts of himself, and to fill it with the inspiration and the sweetness and exhilaration of making his life a quest after every good, and an increasing means for service to humanity, is the only way to find it in the truest and largest sense. So, for the most part, the highest use of prayer is not to ask for the specific gift or event.
In a work entitled "Esoteric Christianity" by Annie Besant there is a chapter on prayer in which we find Mrs. Besant saying:—
"In the invisible world there exist many kinds of Intelligences, which come into relationship with man,—a veritable Jacob's ladder, on which the Angels of God ascend and descend, and above which stands the Lord Himself. Some of these Intelligences are mighty spiritual Powers, others are exceedingly limited beings, inferior in consciousness to man. This occult side of Nature is a fact recognized by all religions. All the world is filled with living things, invisible to fleshy eyes. The invisible worlds interpenetrate the visible, the crowds of intelligent beings throng round us on every side. Some of these are accessible to human requests and others are amenable to the human will. Christianity recognizes the existence of the higher classes of Intelligences under the general name of angels, and teaches that they are 'ministering spirits;' but what is their ministry, what the nature of their work, what their relationship to human beings?—all that was part of the instruction given in the Lesser Mysteries, as the actual communication with them was enjoyed in the Greater, but in modern days these truths have sunk into the background. For the Protestant the ministry of angels is little more than a phrase."
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The Law of Prayer.]
Mrs. Besant notes that it seems almost impossible for the ordinary student to discover the law according to which a prayer is or is not productive. "And the first thing necessary in seeking to understand this law," she says, "is to analyze prayer itself." Mrs. Besant classifies prayers as: (1) those which are for definite worldly advantages; (2) those which are for help in moral and intellectual difficulties, and for spiritual growth; and lastly, those which consist in meditation on, and adoration of, the Divine Perfection; and then we find her saying:—
"In addition to all these man is himself a constant creator of invisible beings, for the vibrations of his thoughts and desires create forms of subtle matter, the only life of which is the thought or the desire which ensouls them; he thus creates an army of invisible servants who range through the invisible worlds seeking to do his will. Yet, again, there are in the world human helpers, who work there in their subtle bodies while their physical bodies are sleeping, whose attentive ear may catch a cry for help. And to crown all, there is the ever-present, ever-conscious life of God Himself, potent and responsive at every point of his realm,—that all-pervading, all-embracing, all-sustaining Life of Love, in which we live and move. As naught that can give pleasure or pain can touch the human body without the sensory nerves carrying the message of its impact to the brain centres, so does every vibration in the universe, which is His body, touch the consciousness of God, and draw thence responsive action. Nerve cells, nerve threads, and muscular fibres may be the agents of feeling and moving, but it is the man who feels and acts; so may myriads of intelligences be the agents, but it is God who knows and answers. Nothing can be so small as not to affect that delicate omnipresent consciousness, nothing so vast as to transcend it."
In the most literal sense we live and move and have our being in the realm of spiritual forces. "Our life is hid with Christ in God." That assertion is no mere mystic phase, but a plain and direct assertion of an absolute spiritual truth. Our real life, all our significant action, is in the invisible realm, and the manifestation in the physical sphere is simply the results and effects of which the processes and causes are all in the ethereal world. Prayer, in all its many and varied phases, is simply activity on the spiritual side, and because of this it is the motor of life. It is the key to that intense form of energy which is the divine life, and its highest development is reached when the soul asks only for one thing,—the one that includes all others,—that of union with God.
"Anxiety and misgiving," wrote Fenelon, "proceed solely from love of self. The love of God accomplishes all things quietly and completely; it is not anxious or uncertain. The spirit of God rests continually in quietness. Perfect love casteth out fear. It is in forgetfulness of self that we find peace. Happy is he who yields himself completely, unconsciously, and finally to God. Listen to the inward whisper of His Spirit and follow it—that is enough; but to listen one must be silent, and to follow one must yield."
The quiet and perfect obedience to the divine will, taught by Fenelon, has nothing in common with a mere passive and blind acceptance of events as they occur. Obedience to the Heavenly Vision is not in standing still, but in following. It finds its best expression in energy and not in inactivity. The more absolutely one abandons himself to the divine will, the more unceasingly will he fill every hour with effort toward the working out of the higher and the more ideal conditions. An ideal once revealed is meant to be realized. That is the sole reason for its being revealed at all, and the way of life is to unfalteringly work toward its realization. It is a curious fact that there can be no achievement of life so improbable or so impossible that it cannot be realized by the power—the absolutely invincible power—of mental fidelity. Let one hold his purpose in thought, and the unseen forces thus generated are working for it day and night. Like one of the new inventions in electricity, so thought—a force infinitely more potent than electricity—sets up a certain rate of vibration in the spiritual atmosphere and works as with irresistible sway. The individual who is held to possess great strength of will is, really, simply the one capable of holding the thought, of keeping a certain tenacity of purpose. This power alone redeems one from living on shifting sands, and being perhaps, at last, engulfed and swallowed up in the quicksands of his own shattered visions and ideals, which never grew to fulfilment because of his infirmity of will and his closing his eyes to the star that had shone in his firmament.
The very pain and trial and multiplying obstacles that one may encounter who definitely sets his steps along a certain way, are only helps, not hindrances. One gains the strength of that which he overcomes. He transforms obstacles into stepping-stones. For we live and move and have our being in an ethereal atmosphere, which is universal, and which unerringly registers every thought and every energy, and transmutes these into living forces. Thought is creative, and if the thought be held with sufficient intensity, it acts upon every element that has to do with the final achievement. Imagination—which is simply clairvoyant vision—discerns the ideal in the dim distance, and thought is the motive force by means of which it is achieved. To be "infirm of will" is, therefore, the greatest of misfortunes, as it inevitably produces complete failure in all the affairs of life. However hopeless a certain combination of events may look, it really is not so. Nothing is ever hopeless, because nothing is final. Conditions are forever flowing like a river, and may be modified and transformed at any moment.
Failure or success is optional with the individual, for each lies in character, and is not a matter of possessions or external conditions. To become cynical, despondent, indifferent, is failure, and one has no moral right to fall to that level. Associations that induce these feelings should be abandoned. The happy conditions of life are to be had on the same terms. The fretful, the ill-tempered, the selfish, the exacting, must, somewhere and some way, learn their lesson and grow toward the light; but their influence should not be allowed to poison the spiritual atmosphere. It is neither a moral duty, nor is it even true sympathy to share the gloom and depression generated by these qualities. The inward whisper of the Spirit is the summons to a nobler plane on which all the higher powers find their expression. It is a fatal mistake to enter into the dark and unreasoning moods of every unfortunately constituted person. To do this habitually is to so deplete the forces of the spirit that one has nothing left. Let one keep his heart and mind in the currents of the Divine Power; let him actively follow the vision that is revealed to him, and he shall achieve and realize his ideals. It is the law and the prophets. A force as resistless as that of the attraction that holds the stars in their courses will lead him on. "The love of God accomplishes all things quietly and completely."
The mystic truth that lies enfolded in the words, "Cast thyself into the will of God and thou shalt become as God," is one of marvellous potency. To achieve the state of absolute peace and reconcilement with the Divine will is to achieve poise and power. For to be thus "cast into the will of God" means no mere languid acquiescence or hopeless, despairing acceptance; it means no merely negative and passive state that accepts the will of God for lack of sufficient stamina to assert its own will. But, instead, it means an intelligent recognition of the divine order; it means the will to gain the higher plane of life; it means the glad entering into a new and finer atmosphere charged with the utmost potency, and to become so receptive to it, so much a part of this energy as to command its expression in various forms of activity. The "will of God" is, indeed, the atmosphere of heavenly magnetism; it is liberation, not captivity; it is achievement, not renunciation. People talk about being "resigned" to the will of God; as well might they phrase being "resigned" to Paradise! That has been an inconceivably false tradition that repeated the prayer, "Thy will be done," as if it were the most sorrowful, instead of the most joyful, petition.
There is another phase of experience into which those of a certain sensitiveness of temperament are apt to fall when encountering the loss or pain that, in one form or another, seems a part of the discipline of the present life; a phase that can only be described as spiritual loneliness and desolation, in which no effort seems possible. It is an experience portrayed in the following stanzas:—
"I see a Spirit by thy side, Purple-winged and eagle-eyed, Looking like a heavenly guide.
Though he seems so bright and fair, Ere thou trust his proffered care, Pause a little, and beware!
If he bid thee dwell apart, Tending some ideal smart In a sick and coward heart;
In self-worship wrapped alone, Dreaming thy poor griefs are grown More than other men have known;
Though his words seem true and wise, Soul, I say to thee, Arise, He is a Demon in disguise!"
It is a phase in which one feels his own peculiar sorrow as the most unendurable of all. Perhaps it is—but one must abandon that point of view. "That way madness lies." His life may be desolate, but he must not allow himself to meditate on that conviction. It is moral as well as mental disaster, and as life is a divine responsibility, not to be evaded because things in general go wrong, one has no right to live in less than his best expression every day and hour. In darkness and desolation, even, one may find a spiritual exaltation. Such a period in life may be like that of the seed, isolated and buried in the ground—that it may germinate and grow; that it may spring up in leaf and flower and fruit, and reach out to life and light with multiplied forces in the transfiguration of new power. A period that seems empty and devoid of stimulus may be, after all, that of highest potency. When nothing crystallizes into events, all the elements are plastic to the impress of spiritual energy. "Cast thyself into the will of God." This is the crucible from which is distilled the alembic of power. One may stamp the image of noblest achievement upon this plastic period. It is the time in which to create on the spiritual side.
To live in poise, and beauty, and harmony is the finest of all the fine arts. It is, in itself, the occupation of life. "I am primarily engaged to myself," said Emerson, "to be a public servant of the gods; to demonstrate to all men that there is good will and intelligence at the heart of things, and ever higher and yet higher leadings. These are my engagements. If there be power in good intention, in fidelity, and in toil, the north wind shall be purer, the stars in heaven shall glow with a kindlier beam, that I have lived."
It is in the will of God that perfect serenity and joy shall be found. "In His will is our peace," says Dante. The acceptance of this profound truth is the absolute key to all harmony and happiness. When sorrow is felt as a dark cloud, a crushing weight, the energies are paralyzed; but when one can rise above this inertia and cease questioning that which he regards as a mysterious and—in all humility—undeserved calamity; when he can simply accept it as an expression of the divine action that is moulding the soul, and thus leave it all in peace of spirit; when, forgetting the past, he can press onward to the things that are before,—then, indeed, does he receive of the true ministry of pain.
"Every consecration made in the darkness is reaching out toward the light, and in the end it must come into the light, strong in the strength which it won in its life and struggle in the dark."
There is a great renewal and regeneration of life in the actual realization of Saint Paul's admonition as to forgetting the things that are behind to press onward to those before. One should force himself, simply by an act of will and by his rational convictions of the beauty and value of life, to let go past experiences that chain him to sorrow, and, instead, link himself in that magnetism of spiritual apprehension possible to achieve, to the enchantment and power of the future. Even the most tragic sorrows lose their hold over one if he will reflect that these, as well as his joys, are alike expressions of the divine will. "Seek you," said a devout Catholic priest, "the secret of union with God? There is none other than to avail yourselves of all that He sends you. You have but to accept all that He sends, and let it do its work in you.... No created mind or heart can teach you what this divine action will do in you; you will learn it by successive experiences. Your life unceasingly flows into this incomprehensible abyss, where we have but to love and accept as best that which the present moment brings, with perfect confidence in this divine action which of itself can only work you good."
When the divine action comes in the guise of joy and happiness, one is swift to give thanks. But when it comes in the guise of pain, shall he not also see in it the expression of God's will, and accept it with that absolute confidence in the wisdom and beneficence of the divine action that is, in itself, peace and sweetness? For it is a "light affliction which is but for a moment," and the promise is ours that it "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." And this is not merely nor mostly a religious enthusiasm; it is the only practical working basis on which one whom experiences touch deeply can live at all. Without this philosophy sorrow would undermine the health and paralyze all the energy that should express itself in achievements. But the secret of joy is hidden in pain.
"For what God deigns to try with sorrow He means not to decay to-morrow; But through that fiery trial last When earthly ties and bonds are past."
An experience that receives this test must hold deep significance. Let one accept it,—not only with patience and trust, but triumphantly, radiantly, as in the exquisite realization of the divine words: "For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye shall receive the promise." And the promise is sure if the conditions have been fulfilled. It is only a question of time. Even heaven itself is but "the perfect sight of Christ," and why shall not this radiant vision flash upon us, now and here in the earthly life, and make heaven of every day? It is not merely by the change called death that we enter into the spiritual world. The turn of thought, the thrill of love and sacrifice and generous outgoing, carries one, at any instant, into the heavenly life. It is only the qualities that find there their native atmosphere which give beauty, depth, and significance to this human life. It is only as one lives divinely that he lives at all,—only as one recognizes "the perfect sight of the Christ" that he recognizes the full scope of his responsibility and enters on his truest experiences.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Conduct and Beauty.]
Matthew Arnold dwells often upon "our need for conduct, our need for beauty;" and he finds the springs of the supply to be, not in the "strenuous" life, always at high pressure and extreme tension, but in the thoughtful leisure, in the serenity of repose, in the devotion to poetry and art. "How," he questions, "are poetry and eloquence to exercise the power of relating the modern results of natural science to man's instinct for conduct, his instinct for beauty? And here again I answer that I do not know how they will exercise it, but that they can and will exercise it I am sure. I do not mean that modern philosophical poets and modern philosophical moralists are to come and relate for us, in express terms, the results of modern scientific research to our instinct for conduct, our instinct for beauty. But I mean that we shall find, as a matter of experience, if we know the best that has been thought and uttered in the world, we shall find that the art and poetry and eloquence of men who lived, perhaps, long ago, who had the most limited natural knowledge, who had the most erroneous conceptions about many important matters,—we shall find that this art, and poetry, and eloquence, have, in fact, not only the power of refreshing and delighting us, they have also the power,—such is the strength and worth, in essentials, of their author's criticism of life,—they have a fortifying, and elevating, and quickening, and suggestive power, capable of wonderfully helping us to relate the results of modern science to our need for conduct, our need for beauty."
Life has a tendency to become far too "strenuous" with the best one can do, even; and the need is not for greater pressure of intensity, but for greater receptivity of intellectual and spiritual refreshment; for a calmer trust and a loftier faith.
The joy of faith in its inspiration and emotion is wonderfully renewed from the Divine Word. "The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory." The gospels are full of these positive and radiant assurances that invest faith with the most absolute joy of confidence and positiveness of trust. These assurances meet the eye and enter the heart with the certainty of a personal message, directly given from God. And it is in this realm of the higher thought, of that culture of the soul which is the true object and aim of the temporary life on earth, that the relief from the too strenuous pressure of affairs must be found. The human soul is so constituted that it cannot live unless it breathes its native air of inspiration and joy and divineness. It is stifled in the "strenuous" lower life, its energies are paralyzed unless it seek renewal at the divine springs. It is this strenuousness of latter-day life, unrelieved by love and by prayer; unrelieved by the spiritual luxury of loving service and outgoing thought; this strenuous attitude, intent on getting and greed and gain and personal advantage, that, at last, ends in the discords and the crimes, the despair and the suicides, whose records fill the daily press. The cure for all these ills is to be found only in the higher life of conduct and of beauty. "Thou shalt show me the way of life: Thou shalt make me full of joy with Thy countenance." Here, and here alone, is the cure, the relief, the leading into peace and serenity and exaltation. It is not that the "fierce energy" of life is in excess, but that its application is in wrong and unmeaning directions. Let the soul find its true refreshment and infinitely sustaining tide of energy in God, and immediately "old things have passed away," and "all have become new," and life is full of exhilaration and joy. "Every day we ought to renew our purpose, saying to ourselves: This day let us make a sound beginning, for what we have hitherto done is naught." Every day is a new and definite re-entrance upon life. Nor is it worth while to linger too much on the mistakes, the errors of yesterday. True, the consequences of errors and mistakes linger in life until they are worked out; but the working out is, after all, only a question of time and of unfaltering persistence in the upward way, and thus a new foundation of life is laid: "old things have passed away and all things have become new." It is in the serene and joyous exaltation of life alone that one truly lives; in that sweetness of mutual trust and generous aims and over-flowing love that radiates its joy and beauty to all with whom it comes in contact, and which is perpetually fed and perpetually renewed by the constant communion of the soul with God.
On the New Year's eve of 1902 there was a wonderful phenomenon transpiring in the stellar universe, which continued during several weeks. That night was one of the utmost beauty. The air was as clear as crystal, and the constellation of Orion gleamed and sparkled like a colossal group of diamonds against an azure background. The entire sky was a scene of unparalleled grandeur and magnificence. The superb constellations of Orion and Ursa Major (familiarly known as the "Dipper") blazed with an intense brilliancy that seemed the very incarnation and concentration of electric vitality. Five of the stars in Ursa Major were then receding from our atmosphere at the rate of twenty thousand miles a second; the other two were approaching; and the phenomenon of these weeks was in the changing aspect of that constellation which the astronomers hold will require some two thousand years to complete. Then will Ursa Major, as seen from the earth, be entirely changed. Such facts as these, and the speculation they suggest, offer to us a new basis for the contemplation of life. If it require a period of two thousand years to produce the appreciable change of grouping in a constellation whose stars are moving at the rate of twenty thousand miles a second, this fact indicates to us the infinite spaces and the unlimited time in which the universe moves onward in its appointed path.
With the individual life, as with the star,—it is the direction in which it is moving that determines the results. In this truth lies infinite encouragement. Let one set his feet in the upward way, and keep steadfastly to his aim; let him keep unfaltering faith with his ideals,—and his success in whatever direction he is moving, his ultimate achievement of every aim he follows, is assured. It becomes simply a question of time when the entire aspect of his life shall be changed even as that of constellations in their appointed course.
It is in this manner alone that one may control his life,—not by the working of an instantaneous miracle, but by absolute fidelity to a definite ideal of progressive change.
"Quicksand years that whirl me I know not whither, Your schemes, politics, fail, lines give way, substances mock and elude me, Only the theme I sing, the great and strong-poss'd soul, eludes not, One's self must never give way—that is the final substance—that out of all is sure, Out of politics, triumphs, battles, life, what at last finally remains? When shows break up what but one's self is sure?"
The "quicksand years" whirl away many things. Schemes dissolve and vanish; new combinations constantly arise; every day is, indeed, a new beginning, and
"Every morn is the world made new."
But a purpose that remains unchanged amid all the shifting scenery of perpetual new environments must eventually fulfil itself. The stars in their courses fight for it. The celestial laws insure its final goal.
"Out of politics, triumphs, battles, life, what at last finally remains? When shows break up, what but one's self is sure?"
One has this sure self only in proportion as he relates his life to the divine life. The only permanence is to be found in the currents of divine energy, infinite and exhaustless.
There are many ways of watching the New Year in; but the somewhat unique personal experience of welcoming it on that eve of 1902, gazing at the vast expanse of the brilliant skies through the windows of a sleeping-car, had its claim to beauty and sacredness. The rush of the train gave a sense of almost floating out into the ethereal spaces. There was a detachment from earth that hardly comes even in the sacred service of the church on that mystic midnight of a New Year. One seemed alone with the infinite Powers, and a new and deeper trust in the Giver of all Good was inspired. The beautiful lines of Whittier came to memory:—
"I know not what the future hath Of marvel and surprise, Assured alone that life and death His mercy underlies."
Thus might one remember and dream while flying on under the New Year's skies, and realize anew that any trend of thought is inevitably creating its future. Auto-suggestion is the most potent of forces, and the assertion that "as a man thinketh so is he," is literally true. As he thinketh, so he shall be, also; and he can thus think himself into new conditions and attract to himself new forces. He has the power to keep his feet set in this upward pathway, and so sure as is the destiny of the stars and the constellations on their course through the heavenly spaces, so sure is his own arrival at the point toward which he is moving, and his achievement of the supreme end he holds steadfastly in view. Thus life will be to him no period of mere "quicksand years," but, instead, a series of advancing realization and beautiful states. Ideals may be swiftly realized by the accelerated energy of concentration and prayer, and the secret of transformation from defeat and denial to the perfect hour of triumph and happiness lies, for each one, within his own keeping.
"One's self must never give way—that is the final substance."
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The Divine Panorama.]
"Do we not all wish that we could live our lives over again in the light of our present experience?" remarked Rev. Doctor Charles Gordon Ames; "but this is just what God lets us do."
Here, in a word, was that divine panorama of the completeness of life revealed; the part of it lived in this present phase of experience being infinitely less in its relation, compared to the whole, than is one day in its relation to the longest life possible on earth. One day out of seventy, eighty, ninety years, would not seem so much; yet this entire period of even the longest life on earth, in its relative proportion to the life of all the eternities, is far less than is one day out of a lifetime in its proportional relation to Immortality. This spiritual panorama suggests its infinite energy of hope; it reinforces courage; it reveals in the most impressive manner the significance of living. For it is the tendency which always determines the result.
There can hardly be a question but that distrust of conditions is a fatal element in all effort and achievement. Depression might, indeed, well take its place among the seven deadly sins that Dante names. There are serious errors whose effect is less disastrous than is that of habitual depression of spirits. Mental power is one's working capital, and the degree of power depends, absolutely, on the quality of thought, or, as the phrase goes, on "the state of mind." Conditions determine events, but conditions are plastic to thought. On them one may stamp the impress. If he persist in regarding himself as a victim to fate and his life as a sacrifice and burnt offering, he can very soon work this conception into actuality. He can—indeed he will, and he inevitably must—become that which he continually sees himself, in mental vision. But if he will take his stand, with poise and serenity, on spiritual truth; if he will amend his life according to spiritual laws; if he will accept failure as merely a stepping-stone to ultimate success,—as "the triumph's evidence,"—ill fortune can establish no dominant power over his life. That things have gone wrong is only, after all, a proof that they may go right. The consequences of error or mistake warn one not to make the same error or mistake again; and therefore the consequences, however unpleasant or sad at the moment, are really educative in their nature, and their very trial or pain becomes, if truly recognized, a friendly and redemptive power. Then, too, time is a variable factor. It is degree, not duration, that it means. The consequences of an error may be accepted and annulled swiftly. Intensity of feeling will condense a year, an eternity, even, into an hour. And the "new day," days in which, as Doctor Ames so charmingly wrote,—
"—God sets for you A fair clean page to write anew The lesson blotted hitherto,"—
a new day may be a new lifetime as well as that "next life" beyond the change we call death.
How wonderfully Emerson unfolds the magic possible to a day. "One of the illusions," he says, "is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is Doomsday. There are days which are the carnival of the year. The angels assume flesh, and repeatedly become visible. The imagination of the gods is excited, and rushes on every side into forms. Yesterday not a bird peeped; the world was barren, peaked, and pining: to-day 't is inconceivably populous; creation swarms and meliorates."
The speculative idea that immortality is an achievement rather than a gift is not new, but whenever it is formulated, as in a recent sermon by Rev. Doctor Parkhurst, it startles many people and arouses antagonism, so far as it is not truly understood. Yet it has its deepest aspects of spiritual truth, and it is the idea constantly, persistently, and most impressively taught by Saint Paul throughout the entire gospels. We are constantly besought to lay hold on the eternal life; to press forward toward immortal things; to be renewed in the spirit; to "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness; to follow Him, who is the Life, the Truth, the Way." The entire teaching of the gospels is one forcible system of active and unfaltering endeavor in the growing achievement of spirituality, which determines Immortality. It is the exact accountant—measure for measure. So much spirituality, so much immortality. Nor does this assertion partake in the slightest degree of the nature of a metaphysical problem, to be comprehended only by the theologian and the philosopher. It is the most simple, clear, and direct of propositions. We all accept Saint Paul's assertion that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. So far as one lives only in the processes of the physical life he is not living the life of those spiritual energies which alone lay hold on immortality. There is a certain degree of intelligent consciousness that is inseparable from this physical life; an intelligence that buys and sells, and bargains and calculates on the physical plane, and is sufficient to produce a certain rational status of life. There are not wanting individuals who never rise above this plane. They may, and often do, acquire possessions and even power on the limited plane of the outward life; they may even have some formal and ceremonial religious observances which they mistake for Christianity, but which are the framework ready and able to inspire them if filled with the spirit, but which, to them, remain empty and dead. The man whose body, simply, occupies his church pew on Sunday, and who on Monday proceeds to cheat his neighbor, is not, we will all agree, the man who has really entered into the true privileges offered by the Church. The sacrament of Sunday must become the consecration of Monday. Unless this be true the man has not laid hold on Immortality. So we see that this lower plane of considerable intelligence and consciousness, related exclusively to the visible and the tangible, must be eliminated from our conceptions of Immortality. There is nothing at all in this that can possibly survive death. Doctor John Fiske gives a fine and comprehensive definition of that degree of achievement which is above the level of death when he says:—
"In the highest of creatures the Divine immanence has acquired sufficient concentration and steadiness to survive the dissolution of the flesh, and assert an individuality untrammelled by the limitations which in the present life everywhere persistently surround it."
Here we have the initial truth. The acquirement of "sufficient concentration and steadiness to survive the dissolution of the flesh,"—and "to assert an individuality untrammelled by the limitations of the present life,"—when man has progressed so far as this, then, and then alone, has he achieved immortality. He has laid hold on its initial phase. For immortality is infinite beyond conception. It is as infinite as space, and as the idea of God. To have achieved enough of this "concentration and steadiness"—which is merely another phrase for spirituality—to survive death, is no more achieving immortality, in its wholeness and completeness, than learning the alphabet is the achievement of scholarship in its infinite resources. It cannot be conceived of as complete, but, instead, as an endless chain of infinite possibilities, of ever new and ever widening vistas.
One of the noblest men and loftiest thinkers of the day, referring, in a private letter, to this sermon of Doctor Parkhurst that inspired such wide discussion, thus wrote:—
"That paragraph from Doctor Parkhurst expresses my idea regarding immortality. There must be a master (good) thought or passion. It is the angel with wings that wafts the soul where the man most longed to be in life,—with the purest and best. 'As one thinks, so he shall be,' is sound doctrine. All this embodies what I once read of Sappho, who counselled her pupils to cultivate their thoughts and grow, or they would have nothing to carry with them, nothing to make a soul of, nothing to survive the grave.
"I believe that on this idea rests the scheme of life through faith in Christ. As He is the highest, the ideal, the supreme, the soul finds rest in Him, and there grows into a life that death cannot annihilate. In the presence of the great master passion, with the soul thrilling with nobleness, as when dying for another, burned at the stake for righteousness' sake, the spirit goes straight to God, into the infinite bosom, an angel fit for only heaven.
"If the soul hungers and thirsts for God it will reach him. If, at the last moment, a man's whole nature cries longingly in faith to Christ,—that will save him, waft him, draw him into the divine abode. And this explains the Christian plan of so-called salvation. Faith in Christ is the master passion, and love the magnet that draws the soul to its own kind. It may be set down as true that vice and sin have no vitality. Wickedness is death. Virtue and love of God are life."
But the question recurs just here, Is there absolutely no possibility of immortality for him who does not advance beyond a certain conscious and partly automatic intelligence on the physical plane? Does the gate of possibilities, does the door of opportunity close with this brief mortal life? To that question science as well as faith answers "no." The law of Evolution is the law of eternal possibility and opportunity. The spark of immortality—the divine spark, implanted by God, when he made man in His image,—this is eternal in its nature, and unquestionably survives death. But immortality is the result of man's co-operation with the Divine. God has implanted the spark. He has placed man in an environment of discipline and of opportunity. The individual may be whatever he, himself, decides and chooses to be. Not all in an hour, or in a year; not, perhaps, even in this entire lifetime; but sometime and somewhere he who is unfaltering in his allegiance to his ideal shall realize it at last. And the degree of immediateness and celerity with which he realizes it depends entirely on the degree of spiritual energy that he brings to bear on his purpose. The higher the potency, the swifter the result.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.]
Science as well as ethics recognizes the reality of the unseen potencies. Science is, indeed, pointing the way. "The influence of the Holy Spirit, exquisitely called the Comforter," says Professor William James, "is a matter of actual experience, as solid a reality as that of electro-magnetism," and he adds:—
"The further limits of our being plunge, it seems to me, into an altogether other dimension of existence from the sensible and merely understandable world. Name it the mystical region, or the supernatural region, whichever you choose. So far as an ideal impulse originates in this region (and most of them do originate in it, for we find them possessing it in a way for which we cannot otherwise account); we belong to it in a more intimate sense than that in which we belong to the visible world, for we belong in the most intimate sense wherever our ideals belong. Yet the unseen region in question is not merely ideal, for it produces effects in the world. When we commune with it, work is absolutely done upon our finite personality, for we are turned into new men, and consequences in the way of conduct follow in the natural world upon our regenerative change. But that which produces effects in another reality must be termed a reality itself, so I feel as if we had no philosophic excuse for calling the unseen or mystical world unreal."
Not unreal. On the contrary, the unseen is the realm of that which is alone real and abiding. The positiveness of the divine life is a quality that has too little recognition from the world of philosophy and speculation. It is an infinite reservoir of infinite energy, from which may be drawn at any moment, peace, courage, and power. "Man can learn to transcend the limitations of finite thought at will. The Divine Presence is known through experience. The turning to a higher plane is a distinct act of consciousness. It is not a vague twilight, or semi-conscious experience. It is not an ecstasy. It is not a trance. It is not super-consciousness in the Vedantic sense. It is not due to self-hypnotization. It is a perfectly calm, sane, sound, rational, common-sense shifting of consciousness from the phenomena of sense perception to the phenomena of seer-ship, from the thought of self to a distinctively higher realm. For example, if the lower self be nervous, anxious, tense, one can in a few moments compel it to be calm. This is not done by a word simply. Nor is it done by hypnotism. It is by the exercise of power. One feels the spirit of peace as definitely as heat is perceived on a hot summer day. The power can be as surely used as the sun's rays can be focussed and made to do work, to set fire to wood."
In these words there is very clearly set forth a certain spiritual achievement of a definite nature. It is simply the act of liberating the spiritual self from entanglement with the lower self,—the summoning into ascendency of the higher powers. This intense degree of spiritual energy may be achieved with the force and suddenness of a special creation.