Truly, having once known God, we find life without Him to be meaningless and as unbeautiful as a broken stem without its flower: pitiful, naked, and helpless as the body of a butterfly without the wings.
At this time I read Bergson's Creative Evolution—a masterpiece of thinking by a man who, like most others, is seeking for God. But I am unable to read the book through because of the pain it causes. The pain is partly the same pain which I knew (and which I re-enter again in sympathy with the writer) when I tried in my youth to climb to God by the intelligence and will of my mind; but there is also a new pain, wide as an ocean, the pain of Compassion—for it is so long this way to God that Bergson pursues, so long, so long; and the particular way of this book is to me not like climbing, but descending: it resembles the frenzied action of a man searching for lilies downwards, digging with painful persistence in the dark earth amongst roots. How much more joyous to find the lily where she blooms, above in the light! There is another way of the Intelligence: a way of climbing to icy heights, bare, unwarmed by any ray of love, but less painful than this descent amongst dark roots. Cold, hard Intelligence, once to slip upon thy frozen way is to be broken on thy pitiless bosom! O God, in thy tender pity incline our hearts to seek Thee by the way of Love! For the road of Love comes easily to knowledge, but the road of knowledge comes not easily to Love.
And we know that love is above learning and wisdom. Did not Solomon choose wisdom? and we think him so wise to have made this choice, but he had been far wiser to have chosen holy love. For wisdom lost herself and him in the arms of unworthy love: so we see the highest degree of the Wisdom of Man held in bondage to, and undone by, even the lowest degree of love.
* * *
Dig deeply, and what do we find is at bottom our great, our persistent need? What is it that instinctively we look for and desire? Happiness, and the Ever-new.
In and out of every day persistently, desperately, endlessly we seek. And because we seek amongst the near-to-hand, the visible, the small, we seek in vain: we discover there is nothing in this world which can wholly and permanently satisfy either of these desires.
God Himself is Happiness. God Himself is the Ever-new.
In Divine Love there is no monotony: the soul finds that each encounter with God is ever new, the Ever-new tremulous with the beauty of rapture: new and wonderful as the first dawn.
Not only is God a Mystery of Holiness, of Truth, of Love and Beauty: He is also Generosity, a mystery of Eternal Giving, and His giving is and must for ever be, the supreme necessity of the Universe: for without He gave how should we receive life, truth, beauty, love, or Himself?
And it cannot be too deeply impressed upon the soul that would come to His Presence that because of His law of like to like she must conform to this law in order to come to His Presence. By thinking it over we shall see that it is more difficult for us to be perfect holiness, perfect truth, perfect love, perfect beauty, than it is for us to be perfectly generous: it is easier for us to give God all that we have, to empty heart, mind and soul, and worldly goods at His feet, than it is to reach to any other perfection; for generosity appears to be more universal, more within our capacities, more "natural" to us than any other virtue—do we not see it continually used, exercised, spent, thrown away on the merest trifles? Let us take, for instance, the tennis player: to win the game he must give every ounce of himself to it—mind, eye, heart, and body,—sweating there in the glare of the sun to win the game. Would he give himself so, would he sweat so, in order to find God, or to please God? Oh no! Yet in the hour of death and afterwards, will he be helped by this victory of flying balls? If by chance we could lift a corner of the veil, we might catch a glimpse of the face of Folly, mockingly, cunningly peering at us, as all too easily she persuades us to give of our royal coins of generosity to wantons, to phantom enterprises, to balls filled with air, to dust and vanity.
Generosity is our easiest means of coming to God, because it is also the way of love: if the tennis player did not love the game, he would not give himself so to it. But we cry, "I have nothing whatever to give to God; it is to God I turn in order that He may give everything to me." Quite so: there is too much of that. We have obedience to give: obedience is a great gift to God, or, more truthfully speaking, in His magnanimity He accepts it as such; we have also love to give, and again we may cry, "But my love is puny, shifting; it is nothing at all, a mere trifle." That is true of "natural" love, of the love that we commence of our own human nature to love Him with; but it is not true of the love which we receive of the Holy Ghost when He baptizes us.
When we offer this Peculiar Love, offer it as only it can be offered—for love's sake,—immediately we are in the Presence of God, secretly, marvellously united to Him; we are in the Consolations of God, and we have no need to ask for anything whatever; indeed, we find ourselves unable to ask, because we are filled to the brim, overflowing, inexpressibly satisfied, utterly blessed.
But supposing that we do not give to God, but, earnestly seeking Him, we merely ask some favour, and sit and wait for Him to give? Then probably we shall not be sensible of receiving anything from Him whatever; we shall feel at an immense distance from Him; then we shall become uneasy, depressed, fancy ourselves neglected, imagine we have lost Him—and so we have till we gloriously recover Him by means of giving.
And if at times in the stress of this giving, when He makes no response, we feel it is too much, we can give no more, we are too discouraged to continue, let us remember the strain and stress and endeavour that we and all our friends give to trifles, and quietly use our common sense to judge whether in the winning of a game of ball, or in the pleasing and finding of God, we shall be the more blessed. For God is to be found: He waits.
* * *
The truth about our endeavours is that we have one pre-eminent, pressing need above all other needs, which is to Find God. When we have accomplished this we discover without any further teaching that we no longer care to pass our time with air-balls, because they appear so paltry, so inadequate. We are grown up and are no longer puerile in our desires: at the same time we are not without desires, but, on the contrary, we glow with a new, more ardent, and larger set of desires.
What I know of the soul's actual Finding and Contact with God I keep very closely to myself. Here and there to a few, a very few souls, I may speak: to all others I am forbidden to speak. I am stopped; and I understand perfectly why this is: it is that I should do more harm than good. Anyone looking at me would say (and all the more so because I am dressed in the fashion of the day, and not in some peculiar way, or in a nun's habit, for such trifling things affect many minds), "That person is demented to think that she knows what it is to have Contact with God," and it would seem a scandal to them. But the explanation of the mystery is not so simple as this. I am not demented. I never was so sane, so capable in my life as now. I never was so perfectly poised as now. But if you say to me, "Explain what it is that you know, in order that I too may know," then I can say to you nothing more than, "Come and know for yourself, for God awaits you."
To illustrate a mere fraction of the difficulty of passing such a knowledge from one self to another self, let us take such a case as that of a man born blind. He sits beneath a tree, on the grass. You put a blade of grass in his fingers, and also a leaf from the tree, and you say to him, "This is grass, and this is the leaf of the tree which shelters you, and both are green." "And what," he asks, "is green?" And to save your life you cannot make him know what it is, or make him know the tree, or know the grass, though he touches them both with his hands. How, then, shall God, Who can be neither seen, nor heard, nor touched, how shall He be made known from one to another? He must be experienced to be known. And if you should say to me, "What does it feel like to have found God?" then I should say, "It feels that the roof is lifted off the world, and wherever we may be or stand it is a straight line from us to God and nothing between, nothing between, day or night."
To come to the contemplation of God it is not necessary to go through any lengthy toil, some process of throwing out this or that, painfully, slowly, denying the existence of everything in order to arrive at God. The way is not denying, but concentrating; and in the act of concentration, because of love, all other things whatsoever in creation fall away into nothing and are no more, because God in all His graciousness reveals Himself, and then He alone exists for the enraptured soul.
Supposing that we have found Jesus Christ, supposing that we know Him so well and have come to love Him so much that our love for Him is become stronger than any other love, very much stronger than any other love, and still, in spite of hopes and endeavours, we know that we have not found the Godhead, we have not found Union with the First and Third Person of the Holy Trinity—the heavens have not, as it were, been opened to us to let our souls slip through to God. Are we to be discouraged because of this? Are we to think ourselves less favoured, less loved? A thousand times no. We are, perhaps, in neither heart, mind, or soul quite sufficiently prepared for the great ordeals that must be gone through after Union with God, To find God is Victory. But Victory has dangers. We have perhaps not yet sufficiently developed just those exact qualities which it is essential we must have in order to maintain the connection with God in the face of all obstacles when once He is found. When God reveals Himself to a soul she is in great danger, and she knows it, because to fail Him now, to turn away now, to be unfaithful now—this is a terrible disaster to the soul. God in His mercy exposes no soul to such dangers until she is as ready as may be, but He bides and He works in her till she is ready. So it may very well be that it is not in this life that we come to Union, but later; and the fact that we have not come to Union is a sign to increase our nearness to Christ by as much as we can: the very smallest advance that we make in this life is of the utmost value to us later.
The soul that is seeking Union with God must not, upon any pretext whatever, engage itself in spiritualism. Spiritualism may have its great uses for the heart and mind which are without, or are struggling for, belief—the heart and mind of Thomas seeking to touch, to have a proof; but remember the words of the Saviour to Thomas: "Blessed are they," He says, "who have not seen, and yet have believed." And we do not need to wait for death to receive this blessing, but we receive it here. The soul that would find God must go to Him by means of His Holy Spirit, and no other spirit but the Spirit of God can take us to Him; and to try to hold communications with the spirits of men is not the way. The soul that has come to Union with God is perfectly aware of the existence of spirits—is intensely aware,—but refuses to pay any attention if she wise. Some of these spirits are very subtle, very knowing; some are full of flattery, and very persistent; others present themselves as still in human form, and seek to terrify with their terrible faces, some diabolical, some appearing to be in a great agony and undergoing changes more astonishing and horrible than can be even imagined before experienced—and melting only to be re-formed into that which is yet more fearful. Have nothing whatever to do with spirits. Do not resist them when they come, but drop them behind by fixing heart, mind, and soul on Christ. The Spirit of Christ easily overcomes every spirit, every evil, every fear, and in order to ourselves overcome all such things, we need to unite with the Spirit of Jesus Christ by concentrating upon Him with love, and ignoring obstructions. Those who have lent themselves to spiritualism, hoping to find comfort, a lost friend, or even God Himself, when they give it up (as they must do) they may find themselves greatly plagued by the fires with which they have been playing; but these can soon be overcome by diligently uniting the heart and mind to Jesus Christ.
After coming to full Union with God, the mind becomes permanently attached to Him, and this without effort; but in order that it shall be without effort, the will must be kept in a state of loving attention to Him, and this again can only be done without effort if the heart is so full of love that it desires nothing else than God; and this is dependent again upon the grace which the soul receives from Him because of her love and response—so now we see, living and working in our own being, the reason and meaning of His commandment to love Him with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is doing this after He has Himself given us the power to do it which makes us able to live in the closest, most delicious and precious nearness to God during all our waking hours. But it takes time, and it takes much pain to learn how to live this, as it were, double life—this inward life of companionship, of wonderful and blessed inward intercourse with God, and the outward intercourse of the senses with the world, our everyday duties, and our fellow-beings. In our early stages we have profound innumerable difficulties in understanding either our own capacities or God's wishes: we are terrified of losing Him, and yet are often bewildered, and pained also, by some of the higher degrees in which He communicates Himself. We do not understand how to leave God and return to earthly duties. Supposing that we are altogether wrapped up in the company of God, and some fellow-being suddenly recalls us to the world (the human voice can recall the soul as nothing else can), the pain is so great as to be nothing less than anguish; and if done often would seriously affect the health of the body.
But in a few years we learn to accomplish it without any shock.
One pain, however, remains, and it grows. I find myself unable to carry on a conversation with anyone unless it is about God, or about some work which is for God and has to do with His pleasure (and this is rare, because people are so glued to worldly affairs), for more than an hour, and even less, without the most horrible, the most deathly, exhaustion, which is not only spiritual but bodily—the face and lips losing all colour, the eyes their vitality: so dreadful is the distress of the whole being that one is obliged, upon any kind of pretext, to withdraw from all companions, and, if it is only for five minutes, be alone with God and, where no eye but His can see, unite completely with Him once more, and immediately the whole being becomes revivified. There is nothing else in life so wonderful, so rapturous as this swift reunion of the soul with God; and the joy is not only the joy of the soul, because the heart and mind have their fill of it too, for they too have ached and thirsted and hungered and longed, and now are satisfied.
If this measureless happiness could only be imagined by us before we experience it, how many of us would be spurred to greater efforts instead of falling back amongst the dust and cobwebs of Vanity!—but it cannot be imagined, and the only way to come to it is by faith and obedience; and it is easy to see why this arrangement is necessary, for if we could imagine it thoroughly, then we should probably try to get to God only on account of greed, and should find ourselves drifting away instead of towards Him; it cannot be done by greed, greed being one of those things which beguiled the soul away from Him to begin with; and He does not send the soul His favours till she is free of, and has risen above, the dangers of greed and seeks Him for Himself and not for His favours. As soon as it is safe for her He will give the soul continual favours, because Perfect Love is ever desirous to give, and is only restrained on our account to withhold favours. The soul which knows how to make all necessary preparations to receive Him becomes a source of joy to God, for now He can give and give and no harm be done to that soul; but He does not acquaint the soul too suddenly with all the joy that she is to Him, because she would not (at least certainly my soul would not) be able to bear the knowledge of the privilege that she enjoys, without some danger to herself,—and so, all unaware of the singularity of the privilege that she enjoys without any analysis of her happiness, she concerns herself with sweetly obeying Him, with singing to Him, and with giving Him all that she has all the day long, and so hovers before Him as delightful simplicity and love.
This Union with God varies so much in degree that it makes an effect of endless variety. Yet it is all one same joy, it is the joy of angels reduced to such degree as makes it bearable to flesh: the soul knows that it is the joy of angels that she is receiving the first time that she has it given to her: immediately on receipt of this joy she comprehends the mode of heavenly living; she knows it is but the outer edge that she touches, but what means so much to her is that she has recaptured the knowledge of this mode of living: henceforth it is a question of progress, she bends all her attention to progress so that she may get nearer and nearer to God, so that she may do everything to please this suddenly refound, unspeakably beloved God.
She desires to get nearer and nearer to God in spite of the pain that she often experiences. Perhaps the first pains we experience are when we are in contemplation of God and are caught by God into High Contemplation. He will at times expose the soul to so much of the Divine Power that she cannot sever herself from the too great fulness of Union with God, though the body is crying to her to do it and the sufferings of the body are all felt by the soul, which is pulled two ways: all this is very painful and makes us almost in a fear of God again. Why should Perfect Love inflict this pain on us? It may be to remind us that He is not only Love, but Power, Might, Majesty, and Dominion also. Yet could this ever be forgotten? It seems incredible. But it does not do to trust to one's soul, or to count on what she will do or not do: we know that the soul has forgotten almost everything about God, so much so that we are now thankful to arrive even so far as being quite certain that He exists! What infinite kindness that He should consent and condescend to Himself be her Teacher! But He does so condescend, and the more the soul relearns of God, the more she also learns that He is never weary of working for us all: this keeps the soul in a state of intense gratitude.
* * *
When the soul arrives at Union with God, does she remain always in Union? Yes, but not at the degree of Union which is Contact. What is the difference? It can perhaps be most easily explained (though extremely imperfectly) by referring to the union of married life. In this union, though we live in one house, we are not always both in that house at the same time; but this does not dissolve our union, and we both know our way to return there, and the right to meet is always ours. When we are both in the house, although not in the same room, there is a much nearer feeling about it, and we are apt to give a momentary call one to the other, just to have the pleasure of response: yet, though we are aware the other one is in the house and that there is no part of the house where we are forbidden to meet—it is not enough; love requires more: it will be necessary for one to go and seek the actual presence of the other (the soul does this by a quiet prayer with perhaps a few words, but more probably no words). The one finds the other one; but the other one is occupied, so the one waits patiently (this is passive contemplation), and suddenly the occupied one is so constrained by love for the waiting one that he must turn to her, open wide his arms, and embrace her—they meet, they touch, they are content. In spiritual life this is contact or ecstasy or rapture. Here comes in the immensity of the difference between joys physical and joys spiritual—physical joys being limited to five senses: spiritual joys being above senses and open to limitless variations; but in order that these may be known in their fulness, we must eventually (after leaving the flesh) rise to immense heights of perfection: the joys enjoyed by the Archangel would destroy a lesser angel: the degree of joy that invigorates the saint, that sends him into rhapsodies of happiness, would destroy the sinner—(becoming insupportable agony to the sinner). This celestial joy is, fundamentally, a question of the enduring of some un-nameable energy. How can energy be a means of this immeasurable Divine joy? After years of experience I find I cannot go back upon the knowledge that I acquired on the very first occasion of experience—that energy is a fundamental principle of the mystery.
But how, it may very well be asked, do sins interfere with the reception of this activity? Sins are all imperfections, thickenings of the soul from self-will: pure soul is necessary for the happy reception of this celestial activity, and because impurities are automatically dissipated by this activity, and the dissipation or dispersion of them is the most awful agony conceivable when too suddenly done, what is bliss to the saint is the extremity of torture to the sinner. Now we come very fearfully and dreadfully to understand something more of the meanings, the happenings, of the Judgment Day. Christ will inflict no direct wilful punishment on any soul; but when He presents Himself before all souls and they behold His Face, immediately they will receive the terrible might of the activity of celestial joy. The regenerated will endure and rejoice; the unrepentant sinner will agonise, and he must flee from before the Face of Christ, because the agony that he feels is the dispersal of his imperfect soul; and where shall the sinner flee, where shall he go to find happiness? for saint and sinner alike desire happiness, and there is in Spirit-life only one happiness—the Bliss of God. So then let us be careful to prepare ourselves to be able to receive and endure this happiness, even if it can at first be only in a small degree, so that we shall not be condemned by our own pain to leave the Presence of God altogether and consequently lose Celestial Pleasures; let us at least prepare ourselves to remain near enough to know something of this tremendous living.
It was this Divine Activity which on the night of the Too Great Happiness so anguished my imperfect soul. But that night, and that anguish, taught my soul what she could never have learnt by any other means, and what it was I learnt I find myself unable to pass on to anyone; but that night was for my soul the turning-point of her destiny, that night altered my soul for evermore; that night I knew God as deeply as He can be known whilst the soul is in flesh.
* * *
God uses also a peculiar drawing power. All souls feeling desire towards God are to a greater or lesser degree conscious of this, and, as we know, frequently remain conscious of it as a desire and nothing further to the end of life in flesh. By means of it He draws a soul towards Himself until, because of it, the whole being is willing to make efforts at self-improvement, and this is the essential: it is this cleaning up of the character, this purification, which alone can bring us to the point where we can receive God's communications of Himself (in other words, ecstasies and periods of reunion with Celestial-living). Ecstasies inspire and awaken the soul: they convince the mind absolutely of the existence of another form of living and of God Himself.
After ecstasy the efforts of the entire being are bent on trying to perfect itself, and extraordinary Graces may be freely and almost continually given to us in order to make improvement more rapid for us. The feeling for God which before ecstasy was a deep (and often very painful) longing for God now increases to a burning, never-ceasing desire for Him: only three thoughts can be said to truly occupy a person from this stage onwards—how to please God, how to get nearer to Him, how to show practical gratitude. He may increase the flow of His Power to a soul till she is in great distress, longing to leap out of the body owing to the immensity of God's attraction. This attraction at times has a very real and sensible effect upon the body: it feels to counteract gravity, it makes the body feel so light it is about to leave the ground; it affects walking, and unaccountably changes it to staggering. To receive this attraction can be an ecstatic condition, but is by no means ecstasy. So long as we have power to move the body by will we are not in true ecstasy. In ecstasy the body feels to be disconnected in some unaccountable manner from the will; it lies inert, though it knows itself and knows that it stills lives—which fundamentally differentiates it from sleep, because in sleep we do not know our body, we do not know if we are alive or dead, we know nothing. In ecstasy is no such blankness: merely the body is perforce inert, it would be entirely forgotten but for its periods of distress.
Neither can ecstasy be confused with dreaming, by even the most simple person. In dreaming, objects and events of a familiar type still surround us; the total inconsequence with which they present themselves alone makes dream-living unlike actual living, for it remains fundamentally of the same type—physical and full of persons, forms, objects, and word-thoughts. We can procure sleep by willing it, but we cannot will to procure ecstasy: we find it totally independent of will.
The Attraction of God can be a penetrating pain, because the soul, terribly drawn to God, exceedingly near Him, yet remains unsatisfied even in this close proximity. Why? Because she is being subjected to one Force only—she longs, she remains near, and receives nothing. God is not bestowing His Activity upon her, which is the way that she "knows" Him—she is not living the celestial life.
It is the combination of the two Forces working together simultaneously on and in the soul which differentiates ecstasy and rapture from all other degrees of God-Consciousness. When these two Powers work together, we experience celestial living, full Union, the bliss of Contact. It cannot possibly be said that in ecstasy we see God: it is a question of "knowing" Him through the higher part of the soul, in lesser or in deeper degrees.
If the Divine Lover gives such joys to the soul, how does the soul give joy to the Divine Lover? Is she beautiful? She becomes so. Also the soul is a poet of the first water, though she uses no words; and the soul is a weaver of melodies, though she makes no sound; but above all, and before all, the soul is a great lover. Now we know in this earthly life that a lover desires above everything else the love of her whom he loves. Only when she whom he loves returns his love, can he truly enjoy her.
So also the Divine Lover. O incomparable Love! Love gives all when it gives itself, love receives all when it receives Love.
By love, then, the soul is the Delight of God.
The soul feels to be formless; though we become aware of a spreading which causes her to feel of the form of a cup or a disc when she receives God, and in contemplation she feels to extend—flame-like until she meets God. She can wait for God—spread, but cannot maintain this form for long without God rejoices her by His touch. How can so formless a thing, still waiting for its Spiritual Body, be beautiful? She is beautiful because of the colours she is able to assume: she can glow with such colour as no flower on earth can even faintly imitate. Celestial colours are beyond all imagination. As the soul grows in purity and is able to endure an increase of the Divine Radiations and Penetration, so she changes her colours; by her colours she delights the eye of her Maker, He touches her, she becomes yet more beautiful.
* * *
Very early in the morning God walks in His Garden of Souls, and in the evening also, and in the noonday, and in the night.
The soul that knows Him knows His approach, and, preparing and adorning herself for Him—waits.
Does God come and go? The soul feels Him there, and not there. Is she mistaken in this, and God always to be possessed, but she not dressed to receive Him? If this is so, then how grievously frequent is our failure!
It is more encouraging to our own state to suppose that God lends Himself and withdraws; that He will be possessed; and He will not be. But this involves caprice. Can Perfect Love have caprice?
We find that grace can be received without intermission for weeks, even months, together. Without coming and departing (although in lesser and greater intensity) the Presence of God, Love and Comfort, envelop the soul. So then we learn by our own experience that God is willing to be present amongst us continually in His Second and Third Persons.
Yet, although He is present in His Two Persons, the soul is not filled: she is unspeakably blest and happy, but not wholly satisfied till He is present to her in His First Person also. She knows immediately when He so comes, and then the Three become One, and when They become One to her, in that moment the soul enters Bliss. It is true that if He so came to her very frequently, the soul could not endure Him; but certainly she could endure Him more frequently than she receives Him. It is not because she is worthy that she possesses Him: the soul never, under any circumstances, feels worthy: it is love alone which enables her to possess Him, and this love that she knows how to shed to Him is His own gift to her.
So the soul cries to Him, O mystery of love, was ever such sweet graciousness as lives in thee: such exquisite felicity of giving and receiving, in which the giver and receiver in mysterious rapture of generosity are oned! And this mystery of love is not in paucity of ways, but in marvellous variety of ways and of degrees—the ways of friendship, the brother and the sister, the mother and the child, the youth and the maiden, and Thyself and we.
Love makes the soul ponder on His tastes, His will, His nature. Does He prefer even in heaven to possess Himself to Himself in His First Person? or are there parts of heaven where He is ever willing to be possessed in His fulness: where He is eternally beheld in His Three Persons by such as can endure Him? The soul believes it, and this is the goal she strives for both now and hereafter.
Yet there is That of Him which is for ever Alone, which will never be known or shared by the greatest of the Angels. The soul comprehends that He will have it so because of that Solitary which sits within herself, she who is made after His likeness.
For many years before coming to Union with God, I found that it had become impossible to say more than a little prayer of some five or six words, and these were said very slowly: at times I was astonished at my inability, and ashamed that these pitiful shreds were all that I could offer, and always the same thing too; I tried to vary it—I could not. When I tried to say some fine sentence, when I tried even to ask for something, I could not; it all disappeared in a feeling of such sweet love for God, and I merely said again the same old words of every day. I loved. I could do nothing more than say so, and then stay there on my knees for a little while, very near Him, fascinated, adoring. But God is not vexed with a soul when she cannot say much. Is an earthly father vexed when his child, standing there before him, forgets the words upon its lips, forgets to ask, because it loves him so? Far from it.
This prayer is the commencement, the foretaste, of Contemplation. A distinguishing mark between this prayer and Contemplation is that in even the lowest degree of Contemplation God (if one may so express the inexpressible) is Localised. Hitherto His Presence has been near—but we cannot say how near, or where, and we cannot be sure of finding it. After Union we are certain of finding God's Presence everywhere, and at any time. He may at times be far away, or pay no attention to us; but we know whereabouts He is, and we can go and wait outside that place where He has hidden Himself and which is no place (but a figure of speech): He merely disappears from our consciousness, but not so entirely but that we can partly find Him. All this cannot be explained, but after Union God is as present to the soul in Contemplation (and far more so because of the great poignancy of it) as is a fellow-creature whom we actually see and touch, much more so because between ourself and a fellow-creature, however dear, is always a barrier: try as we may there is always a dividing line between two persons. We are two: we remain two. But when we meet God there is nothing between us and God, nothing whatever divides us, and yet we are not lost in God—that is to say, we do not disappear as a living individual consciousness, but our consciousness is increased to a prodigious degree, and we are One with God.
This Oneness, in a tiny degree, can be experienced by two persons who are in close spiritual sympathy when both are simultaneously and powerfully animated by very loving thoughts of Christ, or are working together, and giving on account of Christ: then a fluid interchange of sympathies and interests takes place in which the barriers of individuality go down.
This same fluid interchange in a still lesser degree takes place in ordinary friendship between two friends of similar tastes; but this interchange must always be with the mental and the higher part of us, it can never take place because of the merely physical, for in the physical, dependent as it is upon senses, barriers always exist: we see this in the union of lovers—their union is merely a transitory self-gratification, although it may include another self in that it is mutual; but more frequently it is not even mutual, and what is a pleasure to one is at the moment distasteful to the other, though the one can easily conceal from the other that it is so, proving how complete the duality of consciousness and of feeling remains between two individuals who depend upon contiguity of substance (or the sense of touch) for their union, and not upon spiritual similarity: in spiritual similarity alone is identity of feeling and personality and perfect union to be found, and in this identity deceit is impossible.
The more we investigate the question of satisfactions the more we find that these, in order to be permanent, must take place upon a very high level, upon a plane above materialism. However much we may with our sense of taste enjoy a dinner to-day, it will be no joy whatever even a week hence. The natural everyday facts should (and are intended to) prove to us the futility of giving so much time and thought to the pleasures of the flesh: these pleasures lead nowhere, they end abruptly, they are very limited, being confined to five senses, and consequently, owing to a necessity of continual repetition, satiety supervenes, and there remains nothing else to turn to. Yet when this happens we are really very fortunate, because it may be a cause of our searching amongst our higher faculties for our gratifications.
The soul finds it bitterly hard to rid herself of selfishness and self-will: she gets rid of one form, only to find herself falling to another. When first my soul reknew the Joy of God I said to myself, "I will hide it in my own bosom, I will keep it all to myself. I am become independent of all creatures, I want none of them, I cannot bear the sight or the sound of them, how joyfully I leave them all behind!—I want only my God—I want—But what is all this?—I want, I will, I, I, I, I!" Later the days come when God hides Himself from me: I can go and wait at His threshold (because when she knows the way He never denies the soul the threshold, though He denies her Himself). I may pour out all the sweetness of my love, but he makes no response; I may sing to Him all day: He will not hear; I may give Him all that I am or have, and He will not communicate Himself to me. Then I remember all the years of my striving, I remember the stress, the sweat of all that climb to His footstool—the sweat that at times was like drops of blood wrung out of the soul, out of the heart, out of the mind; and yet all forgotten in the instant of the rapture of Finding. Did He then beckon and draw and delight the soul only to madden with the anguish of more hiding and more striving: was He to be found only that He might again be lost? My soul sickened with fear, and I said, Love is a calamity; who can release me from the anguish of it? O God, since I may no more possess Thee, grant that I may shortly pass into the dust and for ever be no more, so that I may escape this pain of knowing Thy Perfections and my own necessity for Thee; and I mourned for Him till my health went.
Weeks passed, and three words came constantly to me: "Visit my sick." But I did not listen: I was sick myself with a deadly wound. Almost every day the same three words came; but I turned away resentfully from them, saying to myself, "What have the sick to do with me? I am weary of sick people: I have been so much with them. Must I accept the sick in place of the ecstasy of God? I mourn for the loss of God. I can cheer no sick."
The words came again, with excessive gentleness, and the gentleness was like the gentleness of Christ, and it pierced. So that day I go to the village and visit the sick again, and I look at them tenderly and lovingly, and tenderly and lovingly they look at me, and some say, "It is as if God came into the house with you"; and tears come to my eyes, and I say, "It may be so, because He sent me," and they gaze at me lovingly, and lovingly I gaze at them; and it seems to me that I can no longer tell where "they" cease and where "I" begin, and the sweetness, the peculiar sweetness, of Christ pierces me through from my head to my feet—that sweetness that I have not known for weeks. And so I comprehend that Holy Love is not alone just Thee and me, but it is also Thee and me and the others, and Thee and the others and me.
* * *
I wanted my own way. The way I wanted was to be free in order to worship and bless God in a beautiful place, in some place that I should choose. I wanted to worship Him, and to sing Him the Song of the Soul from some quiet hill among the olive trees by the Mediterranean Sea. I wanted this marvellous, this almost terrible, joy of meeting God in a beautiful place that I should choose: I wanted it so that it became spiritual greed—spiritual self-indulgence.
Duty, heavy-winged duty, prevented my taking the journey; duty to an always-contrary relation, now unwell. It was only a little thing—just a journey prevented, but it crossed my self-will; and in an impatient, detestable way that I have, I wanted to push all duty, even all human relationships, anywhere upon one side, or over the edge of the world, so they might all fall together out of my sight and I be free!
Because I thought these thoughts, I came to the Place of Tribulation. And the Messenger came, and he said, "Escape, and the way is consenting." But I said, "No, I will not have that way, I will escape by some other way." So I tried every other way, but found it guarded by something which seemed to be armed with a hammer; but I persisted: then for days and nights my soul stood up to the hammers and received terrible blows, and still I persisted—I would find a way to escape that should please my will. But I could not eat, I could not sleep, the flesh visibly lessened on my bones, and at last I loathed myself and my own will and my own soul, and I cried to God, "Shall I never be through with this terrible struggle with self-will?" and groaned aloud in my despair.
Then the words that were sent long ago to a saint, and that he was inspired to write down to help us all, now came and did their work for me through him: "My grace is sufficient for thee." And so I found it, and more than sufficient—when I consented.
Who is it, what is it, that so punishes the soul? Is it God? No. Patiently, lovingly He waits. Our pain is the difficulty of consenting to perfection: every virtue has a hammer, every perfection a long two-edged sword; and the punishment we feel is the breaking and wounding of self-will under the hammers of the virtues and the sword-thrusts of the vision of perfection.
Put aside these wretched, these sometimes awful and terrible, battles and punishments, shrink from them when they come, and we may put aside salvation. Accept them—stand up to the hammer and take the blows and learn: consent to the sword that pierces up to the hilt, and what do we come to?—The Blisses of God.
After coming to Union with God, our prayers become entirely changed, not only in the manner of presenting them, but changed also in what is presented. Petitioning is a hard thing. I had found it easy to pray for others whether I loved them or not, with the lips and with some of the heart; but I found that I could not do it in the new way, with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, so that everything else fled away into nothing and was no more, except that for which I petitioned God. A perfect concentration for the welfare of a stranger or of some cause was a very hard thing; yet I was made aware that I must learn to do it.
For two or three years I suffered pain and exhaustion over this petitioning; I would be so fatigued by it, found it so great a strain, that I said to myself, "I shall lose my health over this petitioning, for as I do it, it is as though I gave my life-energy for the cause or person for whom I pray." But my Good Angel whispered me not to give in, but continue to be willing, continue to be generous, no matter the cost. I am not generous, but I went on with it, and secretly had the greatest dread of it; my whole nature shrank from the effort, from the strange loss of vitality this petitioning brought.
Then at last, after more than two years, because of remaining willing, because of trying to remain generous about this, to me, most grievously hard prayer, one happy day God lifted away all the strain and difficulty, all the pain and fatigue, and turned it into the sweetest of prayers: into a new song, a new honey, new music, a new delight, in which the soul has, as it were, but to sip at the nectar of His Love and Beneficence, to bring it to a fellow-soul.
I found that God causes the soul to pray this joyous, this exquisite, prayer for total strangers, passers-by in the street, fellow-travellers by road and rail, here and there, this one and that, she knows which one it is: how surprised these persons would be if they knew that a total stranger, who never saw them before and never will see them again, was joyously, lovingly, holding them up before God for His help and His blessing! and they receive His blessing. God does not prompt such prayers for nothing. Is this favoritism? No; they are secretly seeking Him.
When the soul is united to God a great change comes over the mind, which now thinks continually, lovingly, of God. God not merely hoped for, looked for, as in the past, but God found and known, God close and near; interruptions come and go, but the mind, like a pendulum, swings back to God, nothing stops it; the soul streams to Him: she discovers Him everywhere: she knows her way to Him, and she has not far to go. Her own door is also His door. There are many degrees of intensity about this condition, which can increase to such an extent as to entirely interfere with our everyday duties. When it is increased to this degree it would appear (certainly at times) to be on purpose to teach the soul a self-abnegation which she could not otherwise learn, because, together with an intense, almost terrible, attraction and desire to be alone with God, will come the pressure of a duty which it is obvious God would wish us to attend to: this is a severe and a very continual lesson to the soul—the lesson of learning patiently to continue some sordid work in this world, after finding the joys of the spiritual life.
What are amongst the most noticeable changes in the mind? first, we notice it has become very simple in its requirements, and very restful; it no longer darts here and there gathering in this and that of fancied treasures, as a bird darts at flies; it has dropped outside objects, in order to hover around thoughts of God, which at the same time are not particularised, but, as it were, quietly, contentedly, float in a general and peaceful fragrance of beauty.
Ordinarily the mind would find it difficult to hover in this way with such a singleness of intent, but in certain other cases we see the same contentment—in the mother beside her babe: though she may not talk to it, or touch it, she is happy; she knows it near; she is secretly giving to it. We see it in the babe also: it gazes at its mother and is quiet; if the mother removes herself, the child may cry; no one has hurt it—merely, it has ceased to be happy because the object of its desire has gone too far from it, has disappeared. We see it also in two lovers; they sit near together, and the more they love the fewer words they require to speak: they are happy: they require very few words, very few thoughts. Separate them, and they spend their time uneasily in sending messages, in thinking numberless yearning thoughts which become painful, and, if continued for long, can affect the health. Put them together again, and they barely say two words: their joy at meeting occupies the whole of their attention. It is the same when we love God. The heart, and the mind, and the soul are blissfully content, they are in a love-state, they bask in His Presence; but that we should be aware of His Presence—this is His gift, this is the vast difference between our former and our present state.
When we have become experienced in this Presence of God, the Reason tries very earnestly to comprehend the manner of it. Christ says that when love is established between God and a man, "My Father and I will come to him and make our abode with him." How can such a tremendous thing as this be carried out without, as it were, burning the man up with the greatness of it? Does God, then, when experienced feel to be a Fire? Yes, and no, for we feel that we shall be consumed, and yet it is not burning but a blissful energy of the most inexpressible and unbearable intensity, which has the feeling of disintegrating or dispersing flesh. The experience is blissful to heart and mind only so long as it is given within certain limits: beyond this it is bliss-agony, beyond this it would soon be death to the body; and the soul feels that in her imperfect state it can soon easily be the dispersion of herself also: this is a very terrible feeling: this does not bear remembering or thinking about. How, then, can it be possible that God can take up His abode with us and we still live?
In all contacts with God we notice one fact pre-eminently—they do not take place with the mind, but with that which was previously unknown to us, and which communicates the joy and the realities of meeting God to the mind. What is this? It does not live in the heart: it lives, or feels to live, in the upper cavity of the chest, above the heart, and below the throat-base. It can endure God. It is spirit, it feels to be a higher part of the soul: we might call it the Intelligence and Will of the soul, because it acts for the soul as the mind acts for the body, it is above the soul as the mind is above (more important than) and rules an arm or leg. The more we experience God, the more we are forced to comprehend that we have in us an especial organ in this spirit with which we can communicate with God and by which we can receive Him without the mind or body being destroyed. For when God takes up His abode with a man He will communicate Himself to this loving Spirit-Will or Intelligence in ecstasies. And through His Son He will communicate Himself in another manner, to the heart and mind, so graciously, with such a tender care, that without the stress of ecstasy we are kept in a delicate and most blessed Awareness of God. In these ways we can know, even in flesh, the beginnings of the true love-state, the beginnings of the angelic state, which is this same love-state brought to completion by Beholding God.
Although this blessed condition of Awareness of God is a gift, and at first the mind and soul are maintained in it without effort on their part, it being accomplished for them solely by the power of the Grace of God, yet later—and somewhat to their dismay after receiving such favours—they discover that it must be worked for in order to be maintained. The heart must give, the mind must give, the soul must give: when they neither work nor give they may find themselves receiving nothing: God ceases to be present to them. Generosity on our part is required. It works out in experience to be always the same thing that is needed for our perfect health and happiness—reciprocity. Without we maintain this reciprocity we shall experience extraordinary disappointment.
The soul is now blind: we know this by experience; but do we know that she ever had sight? If she did not, but was created imperfect, and was so created in order that only by work and merit she should arrive at completion and perfection and Behold God (instead of merely, as now in this world, being able only to apprehend Him by the retrospect of His effect upon her), then she was always below angels. If through work and obedience she becomes so raised that she merits sight and the actual Beholding of God, then she becomes equal to angels because of this Beholding; and so Christ tells us that she does as the Child of the Resurrection.
It is the inability of the soul to comprehend, after experiencing the bliss of Union with God, how she came to embark upon this wandering and separation, which so presses the Reason for an explanation of the fall of the soul.
It may be that not all souls are fallen, but that some are merely in process of progressing to sight. These are Righteous Souls. But there are more souls also created sightless, who are fallen by curiosity, by infidelity or plain self-will and forgetfulness—these it is who need the Redeemer: "I come not to call the Righteous, but sinners to repentance." From this it would seem that there are souls who, though they are in this world, are yet fundamentally righteous: not fallen, but working to receive sight. It is inconceivable to the soul that, had she ever Beheld God, she could have left Him, but not inconceivable to her that, having never Beheld Him, she may have been unfaithful on her road to Sight. She understands this awful possibility after coming to Union with Him from this earth, because then she learns the immense difficulties of maintaining this sightless Union.
She knows the terrible solitude and testing it entails, and the innumerable temptations when low-spirited and lonely to turn to interests and consolations apart from God; for God will frequently, in the later stages of progress, withhold every consolation and comfort from the soul, leaving her solitary. Will she stay? Will she go?
We hope for much from "education"; but what education is it that will be of enduring value to us? Is it the education which teaches us the grammars of foreign languages, scientific facts, the dates when wars were won, when kings ascended their thrones, princes died, artists painted their masterpieces, that will bring us to our finest opportunities of success? To the soul there is little greater or less chance of success offered by the degree of "polish" in the education we have the money to procure: the peasant who cannot read or write may achieve the purpose of life before the savant: we know it without caring to acknowledge it to ourselves: the education that we really require is the education of daily conduct, the education of character, the education by which we say to Self-will, to Pride, and to Lusts, "Lie down!"—and they do it!
* * *
When a soul knows herself, has repented and become redeemed, she knows all other souls, good or bad: there are no longer any secrets for her, no one can hide himself from her: she sees all these open and living books, reads them, and avoids judging and bitterness in spite of the selfishness, stupidity, and frailty revealed on every page: she finds the same faults in herself; selfishness, stupidity, and weakness are engraven upon herself; the redeemed and enlightened soul with tears perpetually corrects these faults: the unenlightened soul does not—this is the difference between them.
For some time after coming to Union with God we remain convinced that all now being so well with the soul all will be well with the body also, and the health does improve and become more stable; but the day comes when we learn that God is not concerned with saving flesh, and that the body must share the usual fate—we shall continue to suffer through it. But we also discover that there can be a marvellous amelioration to this suffering. By raising the consciousness to its highest—that is to say, by living with the highest part of the soul and waiting upon God—we can experience such very great Grace that the poignancy, the distress, of pain disappears. For instance, the following is from my experience. Trouble has come, trouble of several kinds: the death of one very dear; severe illness to another; for my brother a serious operation; for myself a slight one, but a very painful one—in fine, a variety of trials all coming together as they have a way of doing. I feel terribly nervous and fearful of the pain of my own operation and my brother's also: he is the brother who once saved my life, he is the being who more than anyone on earth I have most loved since early childhood. So I hang on to God. I hang to Him, not by beseeching Him to relieve or release me from any of these inevitable happenings, but by the way I have so slowly been learning, in which a creature, by means and because of love, passes out of itself and is able to hand over to God everything which it is or has or thinks or does, and in exchange receives His Peace. So I hand over my brother and my dead and my anxieties for self into His hands, and I go to my operation with the same serenity that I should go to meet a friend. I notice that I am more calm, less nervous, than anyone else.
The anaesthetic fails before the operation is completed: consciousness returns and becomes aware of atrocious pain and blood-soaked busy instruments. Yet by Grace of God the mind and soul are able immediately to raise and maintain themselves in high consciousness of God, and the operation can be finished without a cry or movement of the body: no automatic shrinking takes place. And this Grace is continued for days afterwards, so that in recalling the torturing incidents, and though the pain of wounds continues severe enough to interfere with sleep, yet my mind remains quite calm, like a quiet lake over which, without ruffling its waters, hangs a mist—a tranquil shroud of pain that has no sting, no fear, no fret.
After coming to Union with God I never lacked anything, and this during the most difficult times of the war, and under every and all circumstances. Being careful to try and observe how this was worked, I saw it was very naturally and simply done by everyone being given an impulse to help me, always without any request to them on my part: the porter, besieged by twenty persons, would be blind to all and, coming straight to me, would offer his service; the taxi-driver, hailed by a waiting mob, had eyes and ears for no one but myself, yet I had made him no sign except by looking at him. The same with the coal merchant and his coal, the same with all tradesmen, the same with servants. I never lacked anything for one hour: but I continually asked Christ to help me.
Since coming to Union with God, I have had innumerable trials, some of them tortures, but have been brought safely out of every one. I afterwards found that each trial was exactly what was needed for the alteration of some objectionable characteristic in myself. No trial that came was unnecessary. When its work was accomplished, the trial disappeared.
* * *
Can it be said that Union with God in this world entails upon us increased sufferings here? Yes. But these sufferings are not owing to abnormal occurrences: nothing will happen which is not the common lot of humanity; merely we are caused to feel that which we do experience, very acutely; and after Union with God all earthly consolations must be abandoned: until we abandon these we do not know how we have depended on them, how they have protected us from depression, loneliness, boredom, and discontent. Abandon all these earthly consolations and interests, and at the same time be abandoned by God (sensible Grace is withdrawn), and immediately our sufferings become very severe, though our outward circumstances may appear, and may actually remain, of the very best. If our house is a fine one, we must live in it completely detached from its attractions: the same with regard to our friends, our amusements, our wealth, and all our possessions. It is obvious that in learning to do this we shall often suffer. The soul has painfully to learn that without God's Grace there is no virtue, no righteousness, and no sanctity: she learns by going forward upon Grace—perhaps to some great height: then Grace is withdrawn, the soul falls back, and feels to fall lower than she ever was before, and usually she falls over a trifle. Amazed, unspeakably surprised and humiliated, and ashamed, the soul learns to know herself—to know herself with God, to know herself without God. When she is with God, there seems no height to which she cannot rise: this gives great courage: more and more she abandons everything distasteful to God in order to unite herself more securely to Him.
We have no sufferings that are not useful to us. Looking back on my life, I see how many troubles I suffered: how often my health suffered (malaria and sun fevers, and lightning and its consequences): how I was and still am kept in a somewhat fragile state of health, though quite free of all actual disease. I see in this frailness, especially during the earlier years of my life, an immense protection: given full and vigorous health, combined with my selfish and passionate temperament, and I know very well I should have fallen in any and all kinds of dangers at all times. I was not to be trusted with robust health, and even after all the mercies and blessings God has showered upon me I do not trust myself. I still remain the sinner, fundamentally and potentially at every step the sinner. But Love and Grace surround the sinner. Love and Grace save the sinner from himself: Love and Grace can beautify and make the sinner shine.
My physical sufferings are not to be compared with the sufferings I see others endure, and endure cheerfully: this is a great shame and humiliation to me, because I have not learnt to suffer cheerfully: I am too easily undone by suffering and by the sight of suffering in any living thing; but although one may be a coward—that is to say, one may inwardly shrink from every kind of suffering,—one can be, and it is necessary to be, quite submissive; and to refrain from the slightest rebellion or selfishness—this is what God takes note of. What a difference there is between the selfish and the unselfish sufferer: how the one makes everyone around him miserable, wears them out body and soul; and how the other calls out all that is best in others and strengthens all that is best in himself! It is not so important whether we are secretly cowards or heroes; what matters is how we deal with sufferings when they come, what reaction we permit or encourage on their account in heart and mind and soul. There is nothing but suffering that can cleanse us, nothing but pain and misfortune which can so thoroughly convince us of our own nothingness, and break self-pride: joy will not do it; joy can do nothing more than refresh us after our sufferings, and in almost all lives we see how joy is made to alternate with sorrow: it encourages, it stimulates to further endeavours (this is the reason that God, at a certain stage of progress, gives extraordinary blisses, ecstasies, and so on), but it does not disperse our blemishes: the dispersal of spiritual blemishes is, as we know, the main reason of life in the flesh; it must be done, and the sooner the better: then we can finish, once and for all, with flesh existence. Righteous and very virtuous people may be able to dispense with Divine joys and consolations: it is doubtful if many sinners can—they require the confidence, the certainty, the enthusiasm which is naturally kindled by such experiences. So then we find that the vicissitudes of life, the endless daily trials, do not go because we find God. But His Grace comes, and when His Grace is with us wet or shine is all one, love and beauty gently sparkle everywhere; and then the heart cries out to him, Every day is like a jewel, every day I see the whole world decked and garlanded with all the beauty of Thy mind: each tree, each flower, each bee or bird tremulous with the life and wonder of Thy creative ingenuity! Each day is a new jewel set upon the necklace of my thoughts of Thee.
One of the trials that we have to endure as beginners is a joyless, flat, ungracious condition; a kind of paralysis of the soul, a dreary torpor. When we would approach God—pray to Him—He is nowhere to be found: He has disappeared, and everything to do with finding Him is become hard work, such hard work that it suddenly seems to us quite unprofitable: we suddenly remember a number of outside things which we would far sooner do: we try to pray, but the prayer goes nowhere-in-particular; it has no enthusiasm, no force behind it: has prayer then suddenly re-become a duty? This is terrible; what shall we do—shall we ask God to help us? When we do, we do it in so halfhearted a manner that our prayer feels to merely float around our own head like some miserable mist. We feel certain that this joyless, withered state will endure to the end of life on earth (the conviction that our unhappy condition is permanent is characteristic of all severe trials, because if we supposed the condition or difficulty only momentary it would not produce a sufficient trial, and consequent effort to overcome it on our part). This trial (though it may not always be a trial, but an actual blemish of the soul, a serious lack of unselfish love which must at once be strenuously corrected) is given for several reasons—we have become, perhaps, too greedy of enjoyment of prayer: or we have come to take this joyousness of prayer for granted: or we have come to think we are uncommonly clever at knowing how to love and to pray; that we know so well how to do it that we can do it of our own power and capacity without God's assistance.
Or the trial may be sent not for any of these reasons, but solely in order to increase the strength and perseverance of our love to God, and of our Generosity.
This is one trial, and another is that God allows us to become convinced that He has nothing more to give us, He withdraws His graciousness from our apprehension; He leaves us as a tiny, unwanted, meaningless speck, alone in a vast universe. It would be idle to say that the soul does not suffer from this change; but these sufferings are just what she requires in order to develop courage, humility, endurance, love, and generosity. These two trials—the one when love is all dried up on our part, and the other when we think love must be all dried up on God's part—are the finest possible training and exercise for the soul, but they are only such if the soul tries ardently to overcome them: it is in the effort to overcome that virtue is learnt, progress made.
There is one most splendid remedy. Is it asking of God? No, it is giving to God. We give Him thanks and we bless Him, and we tell Him that we love Him, and we do it with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and this becomes possible even though a moment ago we were so far from Him, so tepid, seemingly so estranged: it becomes possible because we remember all the wonderful things that God has done for us and given us, and made for us, and suffered for us; and in remembering these it is impossible but that love and gratitude, like a torch of enthusiasm, will presently flare up in us.
If God never gives us another thing, we will adore Him for His kindness in the past, we will adore Him for Himself, for what He is. Desolation and tepidity vanish. Joy returns, the trial is over; but it will come again perhaps a few hours hence, or to-morrow, or every day for weeks: the remedy is ever to be reapplied, and the remedy when thoroughly applied never fails in immediate efficacy; but it has to be constantly repeated: never let the heart and mind forget this.
The heart, mind, soul, and will work together and lead together the reasonable earthly existence; but there is another part of the soul, a higher part, which has its own intelligence, which leads no earthly existence, has no direct recognition of material being; thinks no earth-thoughts, judges by no man-made standards, sins no earth-sins. Has this part of the soul, then, never sinned? It feels that it has sinned, though it cannot say how or when, but it feels that this sin was direct as between itself and God, and is the cause of its separation from God; and it feels this sin to have been an infidelity. It is with this part of the soul that we sin the unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, which cannot be sinned by mere natural man: (here we touch the mystery of the two orders of sinning which, to the initiated, are seen both to be covered by the same commandments). This higher part of the soul mourns and longs for God with a terrible longing, and can be consoled, satisfied, by God only; He communicates Himself to this part of the soul. Sins of heart and mind do not injure it, but retard it: it cannot be corrupted by material living, because it does not connect itself directly with earth-living, it "responds" to God alone; but earthly sins delay it, paralyse its powers, postpone indefinitely its return to God. Is it this part of the soul which we ordinarily speak of as the Will? It cannot be, since it is with our Will that we consent to earth-sins. Have we, then, two Wills? It is reasonable and it conforms with experience to say that we have two Wills—a Spirit-Will conducting Spirit-living, and a Reasoning or Mind Will, conducting the affairs of earth-living: the lower part of the soul is the meeting-place and the intermediary between these two (often opposing) Wills, it is the ground upon which they work and have their fruitions.
The Spirit-Will is the Will by which we finally become united to God. Before regeneration we are unaware in any keen degree of its existence; but it may exist for us in a vague and confused manner as an incomprehensible, undefined yearning: we cannot satisfy this yearning, because we do not know what it requires for its satisfaction. It is above conscience: conscience has its seat in the lower soul, there it deals with the affairs of earthly life. This Spirit-Will is so far above conscience (which can be used, cultivated, improved, or destroyed, according to our own desire) that it is not given into the keeping or cognisance of the "natural" man, but remains unknown, inoperative until reawakened and impregnated with renewed vigour by direct Act of God in the regenerated man. This awakening, this reinvigoration, would seem to be synonymous with the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.
If it is awakened only by Act of God, in what way can we be held responsible about it? Our responsibility, our part, our opportunity is to so order the lower or earth-will that God shall see us to be prepared for the awakening of the Spirit-Will.
This Spirit-Will, once awakened, is never again shut out from direct communication with God. Even when Grace is withdrawn, this Will-Spirit can come before God and, no barrier between, know Him there; although He may deny it all consolation and leave it languishing, it yet retains the consolation of its one supreme necessity—that of knowing it has not lost Him. It waits.
Like knows like: it does not "know" its opposite, but is drawn towards its opposite before and without "knowing" it: here we have the cause of the condescension of the Good towards the imperfect, and of the aspiration of the imperfect to the perfect long before it can "know" the perfect. Without this attraction of like to opposite the imperfect could not become the perfect (we desire, are drawn to God, long before we are able to know Him). The imperfect is able to become the perfect by continually aspiring to it: it gradually becomes "like." There are no barriers in spirit-living, therefore there is nothing to prevent the soul becoming perfect, save its own will-failure. The barrier existing between material- or physical-living and spirit-living can only be overcome in and by a man's own soul: in the soul these two forms of living can meet and become known by the one individual, who can live alternately in the two modes, but it is necessary that the will and preference shall be continually given and bent towards spiritual-living, physical-living being accepted patiently and as a cross. Then flesh ceases to be a barrier to spiritual-living. This is the work of Christ and of the Holy Ghost. Because the soul has recaptured the knowledge of this rapturous living we are not to suppose that it is possible to continually enjoy it here or introduce its glories into social and worldly living: it is between the soul and God only; but earth-life can and should by this knowledge be entirely readjusted.
Are we correct in saying or supposing that this world with all that we see in it (because perishable) is not real, and that the Invisible is the only Real? We are using the wrong word: all that we see here is real after its own manner: it is intentional, it is designed, it is magnificent, it is the evidence in fixed form of the Supreme Intelligence; how can we venture to call it unreal, nothing, negligible? It is a question not of Reality or Unreality, but of greater and of lesser Activity. In this world we see the Divine Energy slowed down to its least degree: we see it so much slowed down that the Divine Ideas can become crystallised into a form and for their decreed period remain fixed. It is exactly this which the soul requires in order to recover her lost bearings. She needs the Beautiful, the Good, and the Bad made sensible to her in fixed objects, and Time in which to consider them and make her choice between them. When Spirit-living is experienced, we become aware that in spirit-life Activity is of such an order as to preclude the mode of it being in fixed forms and objects: so there is no fixed visible Beauty, no fixed visible Good or Bad, no fixed results, and the soul "sees" and "knows" only that which she herself is like to. If she is bad, she cannot become better by the privilege of looking at that which is good. If she thinks or desires wrong, she remains wrong: she must think Right in order to produce or "know" Right. She loses God because she can no longer think godly, and nothing is fixed by which she can trace Him: it is like to like, and this instantaneously without pause (or time). Here in this world Like may behold its Opposite: Bad may behold Good and, because of being able to behold it, may go over and join its will to Good: it is able to do this, because the evidence of Good remains fixed whether the beholder or thinker is good or bad.
What is our quest in this world? It is to refind the lost knowledge of Celestial-living. Our Goal is God Himself. Our salvation does not depend upon our finding Celestial-living, but our finding this living depends upon whether we have found the way of Salvation. This Celestial-living is here, at our door, but we cannot retouch it without Act of God. What is essential to obtaining this Act of God? Is it necessary to belong to this or that Denomination, to perform this or that ceremony, to stand up, kneel down, or prostrate ourselves a hundred and one times, visit shrines, handle relics, endlessly repeat fixed words and sentences? No, these will not do it. Christianity in its full meaning, a repentant and clean heart and mind—these will do it. It is a direct affair between the soul and God. It is Thee and me. This is immense condescension on the part of God. Love alone makes such a condescension possible.
As in free spirit we think a thought and become it, have a desire flash to it and are it, it is easy to see how in thinking thoughts that are not godly, desiring that which is ungodly and imperfect, we pass far from God by "becoming" imperfection; and, having "become," find no satisfaction, satisfaction resting with God only. Having ceased to think godly, the soul loses God, becomes insensitive, and falls into darkness, thinks of her own wretchedness and, thinking of it, is held fast to it. Being miserable, she thinks to Self; thinking of Self, she is bound to the solitude of Self—blank solitude without fixed objects to amuse, without fixed Beauty to lead higher, to restore, to calm. Is all this tantamount to saying that when separated from God Spirit-life is less desirable than earth-life? It is: for then we are "dead" to celestial-living, and in Spirit-life all other living is miserable living. Hence we see the dire necessity of the soul for a Saviour: the necessity of fixed forms, of time, of flesh (which is a fixed stay-point for the soul), of the Incarnation of the Saviour in flesh in order that He may guide the soul amongst these fixed forms, Himself showing her which to choose and which to cast aside: we see the necessity of time in order that, though we have an ungodly thought, we have time to repent and choose a better before, in a horrible rapidity, we are inevitably become that which we had thought. In this world, this stay-point for the soul, the most lost is enabled to enjoy and perceive Beauty and Goodness. How much more easy, then, to return to godly thoughts, to the Good, to God Himself! But though her Saviour is in this world so near to the soul, she does not always seek Him. He belongs to the Invisible. Intoxicated at finding herself amused amongst fixed objects which she enjoys lazily through fixed mediums of the five senses, she devotes herself to these objects, surrounds herself with them, forgets everything else. "It is harder for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." But she must abandon object-worship: this is not to say she is to deny the existence of objects, calling them unreal; she must despise no created object, for each is there to form for her an object-lesson. She has two choices: she can see the objects, remain satisfied with them, and seek no further. Or, she can see the objects, admire them, but seek beyond them for their Instigator and Creator. Now she is on the track of God. All is well.
But all this is not that Adam may recover his perfection, for when, and for how long, was Adam "Perfect"? We behold him sinning at the very first opportunity. In the Fall of Adam we see merely the continuation in the stay-point of time and of flesh, of the history of the fallen soul—sinning the same old sin, Self-will.
The way of return to God is the same way by which we came out from Him—reversed. We came away by means of greeds and curiosities imagined by Self-will. The return is by casting away these greeds, casting away all prides, all selfishness; and what self-loving soul is there that could or would, left alone to herself, conceive of following such a way of cruel necessities, of such hard endurance without an Example before her? For the way is a hard way, a toiling way, at times an awful way, and as we pursue it the burden grows heavier, the pain sharper: then it grows lighter as the soul becomes renewed; and the pain is no longer the pain of loneliness, of sin and sorrow, but becomes the pain of Love, waiting in certainty for an ultimate Reunion: it becomes pain which is being forgotten in the returning happiness of God.
But first must come the abandonment of Self-will, bit by bit, to the death. So we see upon the Cross Christ stripped of everything, and at the last stripped even of Union with the Father: consenting to bear the pains of even Spiritual Death: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" If there could be any greater depth of pain, He would have shared that also with the wandering soul. So we are indeed one with Him in everything: and He with us.
In Spirit-life we meet the Ideas of God uncrystallised into any form. They penetrate the soul—she flashes to them, she becomes them, she reaches unimaginable heights of bliss by "becoming." This form of joy is incomprehensible until experienced: it is stupendous living, if it may be so expressed it is happiness at lightning velocity; but it is a lightning happiness which must flash to God. When it ceases to do this in a full manner, it ceases to be full happiness. When it becomes further perverted, diverted, and, finally, inverted, it ceases to be any happiness whatever. It is independent of surroundings: what it depends on is a perfect reciprocity with its own Source. That the laws which govern this Divine living will not be altered to suit wandering souls is not to be wondered at; but a new system may be called into being, and we may be able to perceive it in this world, evolved from first to last with its substance, forms, creatures, flesh, and time, in order to assist such wanderers. God spends Himself for every wandering soul.
Directly this world ceases to afford us pleasure, we wonder why we were born. The soul longs for happiness; feels certain she was created for it. So she is. Looking at the masses of drab, ugly, and unsuccessful lives around us, we may well ask what purpose and what progress is there in the lives of all these hopeless-looking people. But there is not one life that does not have brought before it, and into it, the opportunity of, and the invitation to, self-sacrifice, and in a greater or lesser degree this is accepted and responded to by all. There is far more soul-progress made by these grey-looking lives than would appear on the surface: they accept self-sacrifice—they accept Duty—all is well. Very much progress may not be made during the one earth-period of life, but some is made: we drifted away slowly from God; our return is slow.
Love is not the mere pleasant sentiment of the heart we are apt to consider it: it is the animating principle of the soul, it is the reason and cause of her existence: it is a God-Force. When a soul does not love God she has ceased to respond to this Force; she is no longer a "sensitive" or living soul: when she becomes insensitive, she has become what flesh is when it is "callous."
This insensitiveness is the one great predominating disease of the soul: it is the cause of the darkness in which the soul finds herself in this world: it is this which causes our unawareness of God and of Celestial-living. How can we commence to remedy this disastrous state? We can act nobly, we can be generous, doing what we do as though it were for love, although it is merely Duty which animates us. This will be more or less joyless, because love alone can make acts joyful; but though it may be joyless it will advance the soul immensely: it will advance her to the highest degrees required by God in order that He shall Retouch her. When He Retouches her she becomes reanimated, she once again commences to live for and because of love: she becomes "sensitive" to God. This Retouching may occur only after the soul is free of the body—but the body is the house in which our examination must be passed, in which we must prepare and qualify for this Retouching. Hence the importance of continuing to make every effort in this life. The soul which takes Christ into herself, loves Him, obeys Him, tries to copy Him, qualifies fully for this Retouching.
In early youth life may be, and often is, a joyous adventure: little by little we grow aghast at the amount of suffering which life really stands for—our own sufferings and those of others, of which, owing to our own pains, we gradually take more and more note. Why all this suffering? It appals, it frightens, it makes upon many hearts and minds a sinister impression: how is this suffering of innocents to be reconciled with the Benign Will of a God Who is Perfect Love? Let us cease thinking that indiscriminate suffering to creatures is the Will of God. What is it, then? It is the inevitable—the long drawn-out sequence to the soul's departure from God—the Source of Happiness.
To inhabit flesh is no paradise, but it is a means of regaining heaven. There is no misfortune, suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or pain, which is not consequent upon this departure of the soul from God. Are there here any truly "innocent" persons? To be here at all points to a fault of the soul, to infidelity to God—the "Original sin" in which we are born.
The beginning of Salvation is to think. Nothing causes us to think so much as sorrow, suffering, and pain; and they melt the heart also, and they humble pride. The man who has never suffered, and never loved, is more to be pitied than the paralytic: his chance of Life is remote.
How can we reasonably expect that the road back to our long-since forsaken God is to be smooth, pleasant, velvet-covered. What divides us from God? Is it happiness, beauty, and light? No—self-indulgence, rocks of evil, ugly greeds, places of sin and selfishness. Can we climb back through all this, most of it in darkness, without tears, without pain, without every kind of anguish?
Over this part of the road is no peace; but continue, and, little by little, peace comes.
* * *
We say that we must find Christ; but where, and how, shall we find this Mighty Lord, Who comes out from the Father to meet the Prodigal? Must we study in ecclesiastical colleges, travel to distant lands, visit holy places, kneel on celebrated sacred ground, kiss stones, attend ceremonies, look at bones?
No! Stand still! Just where we are is the place where we can meet Him. Just where we stand to-day can be as sacred, as blessed, as the Holy Land. Some little wood sprinkled with flowers, our own quiet room, an unknown, nameless hillside—these can be as holy as Mount Carmel, because He meets us there.
* * *
In all these experiences of the soul which has refound God, what is it that truly rejoices her? Is it the learning and knowledge that the pursuit of Truth may bring her to? She values Truth and knowledge because they lift her towards Him Whom she seeks and loves. Does the soul rejoice in ecstasies because they are ecstasies? No: what she values is the recaptured knowledge and certainty of heavenly living—in however small or brief a degree she is able to attain it in flesh: and because in the experience of ecstasy she knows Him to Whom she belongs.
All other affairs become nothing whatever. Life on earth is now entirely a means of relearning how to please Him Whom she has found. Her concern is that she may quickly so prepare herself that she may behold Him for ever.
It may well be asked of a soul which claims to have found God, How does she know that she has encountered Him?
We have a Critical Faculty. It is above Reason, because it sifts and judges the findings of Reason, throwing out or retaining what Reason has deduced. This is a Higher-Soul faculty: it concerns itself solely with knowing Perfection. Reason is not occupied with knowing Perfection, but in analysing and digesting all alike that is brought to it.
It is to the Critical Faculty that art, poetry, and music appeal, and make their thought-suggestions. We do not enjoy music because of the noise, but because of the thoughts suggested by it—we float upon these emotion-thoughts (we may float low, we may float high, and do not know to where; but it is somewhere where we cannot get without the music), so we say we love the music; but it is the emotion-thoughts we love. The sound and the thoughts suggested by it appeal to the Critical Faculty of the Soul, and, if it is perfect enough to be accepted by this faculty, we may pass, for the time being, into soul-living, but only very delicately, tentatively, and nothing to be compared to the soul-living, produced by the Touch of God. When God communicates Himself to the soul, she lives in a manner never previously conceived of, reaching an experience of living in which every perfection is present to her as Being there in such unlimited abundance that the soul is overwhelmed by it and must fall back to less, because of insupportable excess of Perfections. This perfection of living is given, and is withdrawn, outside of her own will. Which is the more sane and reasonable—for the soul to think, I have invented and originated a new and perfectly satisfying form of living; or for the soul to conclude that she has been admitted to the re-encounter of perfect- or Celestial-living? In this living are happenings which cannot be communicated, or even indicated to others, because they reach beyond words, beyond all or any other experience, beyond any possible previous imagination or expression of mind, beyond all particularisation; it is these occasions of experience which the Critical Faculty regards as being encounters with the Supreme Spirit, because they are complete; nothing is wanting; they afford life at its perfection point—a stupendous Felicity, and that Repose in bliss for which all souls secretly long. It is the meeting of the Wisher with the Wished, of Desire with the Desired: and yet, being that which it is—unthinkable Fulfilment—it is above all, or any, Wishes, and beyond Desire; it can be known, but not named.
By these experiences the knowledge of the soul becomes enlightened two ways: she knows what bliss is; she knows the full calamity of life away from God—in flesh, in this world: not that flesh is not a wonderful Idea, not that the world is not greatly to be admired for its beauties, but the reawakened spirit desires spirit-living, cannot be pleased with earth-living, cannot be satisfied with less than God Himself. So, then, the logical consequence is that this world becomes a place we desire to take leave of as soon as may be. Life here becomes a punishment: not that Perfect Love desires to punish, but that the soul now knows that any form of life in which she is restricted from continual access to Him is a disaster, a profound grief.
If the soul looks to God to comfort her, asks for His help, and gets it—and since communication with God is dependent upon some degree of like to like,—it follows that the soul must maintain a readiness to "give" to fellow-souls: to fail in this is to fail in any sort of resemblance to God. Hence we see how carefully Christ enjoined upon us to "Give to them that ask": and in no niggardly way either, but wholeheartedly, for "God loveth the cheerful giver."