« Prev The Education of the Spirit Next »

The Education of the Spirit

86THE old mystics were fond of saying that "Man is a made trinity, like to the unmade Blessed Trinity." That particular form of words comes to us from Julian of Norwich; but it form of words comes to us from Julian of Norwich; but it expresses a thought which we often meet in the spiritual writers of the Middle Ages. Further, these writers were disposed to find in man's nature a reflection of the three special characters which theology attributes to the Christian Godhead. They thought that the power of the Father had Godhead. They thought that the power of the Father had its image in the physical nature of man: the wisdom of the Son in his reason: the creative vigour of the Holy Spirit in his soul. Some taught also that each of these three aspects of humanity corresponded with one aspect of the triune reality of the universe: the physical world of nature, the mental world of idea, the ultimate world of spirit. The sceptic of course would express this differently, and see in it but one more illustration of the fact that man always makes God in his own image. But without scepticism I think we may explain it thus: that those who have pondered most deeply on the Divine Nature have most easily found in its richness, and have best understood, just those attributes which are most clearly marked in human nature. Man has inevitably been for them a key to God.

These speculations seem at first sight to have little bearing upon the problems of education. But they are in reality intimately connected with it: for their consideration leads us back to the central fact out of which they have arisen — namely, the abiding truth that man's deepest exploration of his 87own nature gives again and again this threefold result, that he feels that his real self-hood and real possibilities are not wholly exhausted by the terms "body " and "mind." He knows in his best moments another vivid aspect of his being, as strong as these, though often kept below the threshold of his consciousness: the spirit, which informs, yet is distinct from both his body and his mind.

Now the question which all serious educationalists are called upon to ask themselves is this: To what extent does that three-fold analysis of human personality influence our educational schemes? The object of education is to bring out the best and highest powers of the thing educated. Do we, in our education, even attempt to bring out the best and highest powers of the spirit, as we seek to develop those of the body and the mind?

The child as he comes to us is a bundle of physical, mental, and spiritual possibilities. He is related to three distinct yet interpenetrating worlds; all accessible to him, since he is human, and all offering endless opportunities of adventure to him.

" Heaven lies about us in our infancy,

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

About the growing boy."

Why should they close; whose fault is it that they do? Does not the fault lie with the poor and grovelling outlook of those to whom this sensitive, plastic thing is confided? Who so badly select and manipulate the bundle of possibilities offered to them, that they often contrive to manufacture a creature ruled by its own physical needs and appetites, its mental and emotional limitations; instead of a free, immortal being, master of its own body and mind. Here is this child, the germ of the future. To a great extent, we can control the way that germ develops; the special characters of the past which it shall transmit. We can have a hand in the shaping of the history that is to be when we have gone: for who can88doubt that the controlling factor of history is the physical, mental, or spiritual character of those races that dominate the world? It is in the interplay, tension, and strife of these three universes that history in the last resort consists.

Now, on the eve of a new era, is it not worth while to remind ourselves of this terrific fact? To see whether our plans are so laid as to bring out all the balanced possibilities of the coming man; all his latent powers? We recognize the fact that body and mind must be trained whilst still in a plastic state. We are awake to the results of allowing them to atrophy. Where we find individuals with special powers in one of these directions, we aim at their perfect development; at the production of the athlete, scholar, man of action. But it cannot be said that we are equally on the look-out for special qualities of spirit; that when found, we train them with the same skill and care. Yet if we do not, can we expect to get the very best out of the race? To explore all its potentialities; some, perhaps, still unguessed? We know that the child's reactions to life will be determined by the mental furniture with which he is equipped. His perceptions, his choice from among the welter of possible impressions surrounding him, will depend on the character of his "apperceiving mass." Surely then it is our first duty so to equip him that he shall be able to lay hold on those intimations of spirit which are woven into the texture of our sensual universe; to lead him into that mood of receptivity in which the beautiful and the significant, the good and the true, stand out for him from the scene of life and hold his interest. A meadow which to one boy is merely a possible cricket field, to another is a place of romance and adventure, full of friendly life.

The mischief is that whatever our theoretic beliefs, we do not in practice really regard spirit as the chief element of our being; the chief object of our educational care. Our notions about it are shadowy, and have very little influence on our educational schemes. Were it present to us as a vivid reality, we should89surely provide our young people with a reasoned philosophy of life in which it is given its place: something which can provide honest answers to the questions of the awakening intelligence, and withstand the hostile criticism which wrecks so much adolescent faith. For ten parents who study the Montessori system of sense training, how many think of consulting those old specialists who taught how the powers of the spirit may be developed and disciplined, and given their true place in human life? How many educationalists realize that prayer, as taught to children, may and should be an exercise which gently develops a whole side of human consciousness that might otherwise be dormant; places it in communication with a real and valid universe awaiting the apprehension of man? How many give the subject the same close, skilled attention that they give, say, to Latin grammar on one hand or physical culture on the other? Those subjects, and many more, have emerged from vagueness into clarity because attention, the cutting point of the human will, has been concentrated upon them. Gradually in these departments an ordered world has been made, and the child or young person put in correspondence with that world. We cannot say that the same has been done for the world of spirit. The majority of the "well-educated" probably pass through life without any knowledge of the science of prayer, with at best the vaguest notions of the hygiene of the soul. Often our religious teachers are themselves no better instructed, and seem unable to offer the growing and hungry spirit any food more heavenly than practical ethics and dogmatic beliefs. Thus a complete world of experience is habitually ignored by us, and one great power of the human trinity allowed to atrophy.

We are just beginning as educators to pay ordered attention to that fringe-world in which sense, intellect, and spirit all have a part: I mean the world of aesthetic apprehension. It cannot be denied that the result has been, for many of the90young people now growing up, an immense enlargement and enrichment of life. Look at one of the most striking intellectual characteristics of the last few years: the rapid growth of the taste and need for poetry, the amount of it that is written, the way in which it seems to supply a necessary outlet for young Englishmen in the present day. Look at the mass of verse which was composed, under conditions of utmost horror, on the battlefields; poetry the most pathetic in the world, in which we see the passionate effort of spirit to find adjustment, its assertion of unconquerable power, even in the teeth of this overwhelming manifestation of brute force. There is the power of the future: the spirit of beauty and truth seeking for utterance. There is that quickening spring, bubbling up afresh in every generation; and ready, if we will help it to find expression, to transfigure our human life.

There is a common idea that the spiritual life means something pious and mawkish: not very desirable in girls, and most objectionable in boys. It is strange that this notion, which both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures so emphatically contradict, should ever have grown up amongst us. The spirit, says St. Paul, is not a spirit of fearfulness; it is "a spirit of Power and Love and Discipline" — qualities that make for vigour and manliness of the best type. It is the very source of our energies, both natural and supernatural. The mystics sometimes called it our "life-giving life," and modern psychologists are beginning to discover that it is, in the most literal sense, our "health's eternal spring." People say, "Come, Holy Spirit"; as if it were something foreign to us: yet it comes perpetually in every baby born into the world, for each new human life entering the temporal order implies a new influx or, least, a new manifestation of spirit. But, when spirit is thus wedded to mind and body to form human nature, it is submitted to the law governing human nature: the law of freedom. It is ours, to develop91or stunt as we please. Its mighty powers are not pressed on an unwilling race, but given us in germ to deal with as we will. Parents are responsible for giving it every opportunity of development, the food, the light, the nurture that all growing things require — in fact, for its education: a great honour, and a great responsibility.

If we are asked wherein such education should consist, I think we must reply that its demands are not satisfied by teaching the child any series of religious doctrines divorced from practical experience. He is full of energies demanding expression. Our object is so to train those energies that they shall attain their full power and right balance; and enable him to set up relations with the spiritual world in which he truly lives. The first phase in this education will consist in a definite moral training, which is like the tilling and preparation of the earth in which the spiritual plant is to grow: and as regarding the special objects of this training I will take the definition of a great spiritual writer, a definition remarkable for its sanity and moderation: " If we would discover and know that Kingdom of God which is hidden in us, we must lead a life that is virtuous within, well ordered without, and fulfilled with true charity." What does that imply? It implies the cultivation of self-control, order, and disinterestedness. Order is a quality which all spiritual writers hold in great esteem; for they are far from being the ecstatic, unbalanced, and mood-ridden creatures of popular fancy. Now the untrained child has all the disorderly ways, the uncontrolled and self-interested instincts of the primitive man. He is a vigorous young animal, reacting promptly and completely to the stimulus of fear or of greed. The history of human society, the gradual exchange of license for law, self-interest for group-interest, spasmodic activity for orderly diligence must be repeated in him if he is to take his place in that human society. But if we would also prepare in him the way of spirit, the aim of this training must be something 92higher than that convenient social morality, that spirit of fair play, truth, justice, mutual tolerance, which public school discipline seeks to develop. That morality is relative and utilitarian. The morality in which alone the life of the spirit can flourish is absolute and ideal. It is sought, not because it makes life secure, or promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest number, but for its own sake. Yet in spite of this, the social order, in the form in which the child comes in contact with it, may be made one of the best instruments for producing those characters demanded by the spiritual life. For what, after all, is the exchanging of self-interest for group-interests but the beginning of love? And what is at the root of the spirit of give and take but humility? See how the approaches to the spiritual kingdom are found in the midst of the common life: what easy opportunity we have of initiating our children into these central virtues of the soul. The spiritual writers tell us that from love and humility all other virtues come; that on the moral side nothing else is required of us. And we, if we train wisely, may lead the young into them so gently and yet so deeply that their instinctive attitude to existence will be that of humbleness and love; and they will be spared the conflict and difficult reformation of those who wake to spiritual realities in later life.

Now humbleness and love, as understood by spiritual persons, are not passive virtues: they are energetic, and show themselves in mind, will, and heart. In the mind, by a constant desirous tendency to, and seeking after, that which is best; in the will by keenness, or, as the mystics would say, by diligence and zeal; in the heart, by an easy suppleness of relation with our fellow men — patience, good temper, sympathy, generosity. Plainly the moral character which makes for spirituality is a moral character which also makes for happiness. Suppose, then, that our moral training has been directed towards this eager, supple state of humbleness and love: what special results may we expect as the93personality develops? Spiritual writers tell us to expect certain qualities, which are traditionally called the "seven gifts of the spirit"; and if we study the special nature of these gifts, we see that they are the names of linked characters or powers, which together work an enhancement and clarification of the whole personality — a tuning-up of human nature to fresh levels, a sublimation of its primitive instincts. The first pair of qualities which are to mark our spiritual humanity are called Godliness and Fear. By these are meant that solemn sense of direct relationship with an eternal order, that gravity and awe, which we ought to feel in the presence of the mysteries of the universe; the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. From these grow the gifts called Knowledge, that is, the power of discerning true from false values, of choosing a good path through the tangled world, and Strength, the steady central control of the diverse forces of the self: perhaps the gift most needed by our distracted generation. "Through the gift of spiritual strength," says Ruysbroeck, "a man transcends all creaturely things and possesses himself, powerful and free." This is surely a power which we should desire for the children of the future, and get for them if we can.

We see that the first four gifts of the spirit will govern the adjustment of man to his earthly life: that they will immensely increase the value of his personality in the social order, will clarify his mind and judgment, confer nobility on his aims. The last three gifts — those called Counsel, Understanding and Wisdom — will govern his intercourse with the spiritual order. By Counsel, the spiritual writers mean that inward voice which, as the soul matures, urges us to leave the transitory and seek the eternal: and this not as an act of duty, but as an act of love. When that voice is obeyed, the result is a new spiritual Understanding; which, says Ruysbroeck again, may be "likened to the sunshine, which fills the air with a simple brightness, and lights all forms and shows the dis-94tinctions of all colours. "Even so does this spiritual gift irradiate the whole world with a new splendour, and shows us secrets that we never guessed before. Poets know flashes of it, and from it their power proceeds; for it enables its possessor to behold life truly, that is from the angle of God, not from the angle of man.

"Such an one," says Ruysbroeck, "walks in heaven, and beholds and apprehends the height, the length, the depth, and the breadth, the wisdom and truth, the bounty and unspeakable generosity, which are in God our Lover without number and without limit; for all this is Himself. Then that enlightened man looks down, and beholds himself and all other men and all creatures; and this gift, through the knowledge of truth which is given us in its light, establishes in us a wide-stretching love towards all in common."

" A wide-stretching love towards all in common." When we think of this as the ruling character of our future citizens, and so the ruling character of our future world, we begin to see that the education of the spirit may represent a political no less than a transcendental ideal. It alone can bring about that regeneration, working from the heart outwards, of which the prophets of every country have dreamed.

It seems hard to conceive anything beyond this. But there is something. To behold things as they are is not the end: beyond this is that Wisdom which comes not with observation, but is the fruit of intimate communion with Reality. Understanding is perception raised to its highest expression: Wisdom is intuition raised to its highest expression, and directed towards an absolute objective. It is, so far as we know here, the crown and goal of human development; the perfect fruition of love.

We have considered very shortly the chief possibilities of the human spirit, as they are described by those who have looked most deeply into its secrets. These seers tell us further that this spirit has its definite course to run, its definite con-95summation: that it emerges within the physical order, grows, spreads, and at last enters into perfect union or communion with the real and spiritual world. How much attention do we pay to this statement, which, if true, is the transcendent fact of human history, the key to the nature of man? How much real influence does it have on our hopes and plans for our children? The so-called phenomenon of conversion — the fact that so far nearly all the highest and best examples of the spiritual life have been twice-born types, that they have had to pass through a terrible crisis, in which their natural lives were thrown into confusion in order that their spiritual lives might emerge — all this is really a confession of failure on the part of human nature: a proof that the plastic creature has been allowed to harden in the wrong shape. If our growth were rightly directed, the spirit would emerge and flower in all its strength and loveliness, as the physical and mental powers of normal children emerge and flower. What is wrong with education that it fails to achieve this? Partly, I think, that the values at which it aims are too often relative and self-interested; not absolute and disinterested. Its intelligent gaze is fixed too steadily on earthly society, earthly happiness. We encourage our young people to do the best things, but not always from the best motives. We forget the essential link between work and prayer: yet this alone lifts man from the position of a busy animal to that of the friend and helper of God. We forget that our duties ought to include the awakening of that clear consciousness of eternity which should be normal in every human being, and without which it is impossible for any man to grasp the true values and true proportion of life.

From the very beginning, then, we ought to raise the eyes of the young from the contemplation of the earth under their feet to that of the heavens above their heads: to give them absolute values, not utilitarian values, to aim at. There is nothing morbid or sickly in this: it is rather those who do96not possess the broader consciousness who are the morbid, the sickly, and the maimed. The hope of the future is wide. We must train our children to a wide stretch of faith, of aim, of imagination, if they are to grasp it, and fully enter into the inheritance that awaits them.

How, then, should we begin this most delicate of all tasks; this education of the most sacred and subtle aspect of human nature? We must be careful; for difficulties and dangers crowd the path, cranks lie in wait at every corner. I have spoken of the moral preparation. That is always safe and sure. But there are two other safe ways of approach; the devotional and aesthetic. These two ways are not alternative, but complementary. Art, says Hegel, belongs to the highest sphere of spirit, and is to be placed in respect of its content on the same footing as religion and philosophy; and many others — seers and philosophers — have found in the revelation of beauty an authentic witness to God. But the love and realization of beauty, without reverence and devotion, soon degenerates into mere pleasure. So, too, devotion, unless informed with the spirit of beauty, becomes thin, hard and sterile. But where these two exist together, we find on one hand that the developed apprehension which discovers deep messages in nature, in music, in all the noble rhythms of art, makes the senses themselves into channels of Spirit: and this is an apprehension which we can foster and control. And on the other hand the devotional life, rightly understood as a vivid, joyful thing — with that disciplining of the attention and will which is such an important part of it — is the most direct way to an attainment of that simple and natural consciousness of our intangible spiritual environment which all ought to possess, and which the old mystics called by the beautiful name of the "practice of the Presence of God."

This linking up of the devotional life with the instinct for beauty and wonder, will check its concentration on the more sentimental and anthropomorphic aspects of religion; and97so discourage that religious emotionalism which wise educationalists rightly condemn. Hence these two ways of approach, merged as they should be into one, can bring the self into that simple kind of contemplation which is a normal birthright of every soul, but of which our defective education deprives so many men and women; who cannot in later life quicken those faculties which have been left undeveloped in youth. As logic is a supreme exercise of the mind, so contemplation is a supreme exercise of the spirit: it represents the full activity of that intuitional faculty which is our medium of contact with absolute truth. Before the inevitable smile appears on the face of the reader, I say at once that I am not suggesting that we should teach young children contemplation; though I am sure that many brought up in a favouring atmosphere naturally practise it long before they know the meaning of the word. But I do suggest that we should bring them up in such a way that their developed spirits might in the end acquire this art, without any more sense of break with the normal than that which is felt by the developed mind when it acquires the art of logic.

'What is contemplation? It is attention to the things of the spirit: surely no outlandish or alarming practice, foreign to the general drift of human life. Were we true to our own beliefs, it should rather be our central and supremely natural activity; the way in which we turn to the spiritual world, and pick up the messages it sends to us. That world is always sending us messages of liberation, of hope, and of peace. Are we going to deprive our children of this unmeasured heritage, this extension of life — perhaps the greatest of the rights of man — or leave their enjoyment of it to some happy chance? We cannot read the wonderful records of the spiritually awakened without a sense of the duty that is laid on us, to develop if we can this spiritual consciousness in the generation that is to be.

All great spiritual literature is full of invitations to a new-98ness of life, a great change of direction; which shall at last give our human faculties a worthy objective and redeem our consciousness from its present concentration upon unreal interests. It urges us perpetually, as a practical counsel, as something which is within human power and has already been achieved by the heroes of the race, to "put on the new man "; to "bring to birth the Son of God in the soul." But humanity as a whole has never responded to that invitation, and therefore its greatest possibilities are still latent. We, the guardians of the future, by furnishing to each emerging consciousness committed to our care such an apperceiving mass as shall enable it to discern the messages of reality, may do something to bring those possibilities into manifestation.

« Prev The Education of the Spirit Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |