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THE CHARACTERS OF SPIRITUAL LIFE
This book has been called "The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-day" in order to emphasize as much as possible the practical, here-and-now nature of its subject; and specially to combat the idea that the spiritual life—or the mystic life, as its more intense manifestations are sometimes called—is to be regarded as primarily a matter of history. It is not. It is a matter of biology. Though we cannot disregard history in our study of it, that history will only be valuable to us in so far as we keep tight hold on its direct connection with the present, its immediate bearing on our own lives: and this we shall do only in so far as we realize the unity of all the higher experiences of the race. In fact, were I called upon to choose a motto which should express the central notion of these chapters, that motto would be—"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." This declaration I would interpret in the widest possible sense; as suggesting the underlying harmony and single inspiration of all man's various and apparently conflicting expressions of his instinct for fullness of life. For we shall not be able to make order, in any hopeful sense, of the tangle of material which is before us, until we have subdued it to this ruling thought: seen one transcendent Object towards which all our twisting pathways run, and one impulsion pressing us towards it.
As psychology is now teaching us to find, at all levels of our craving, dreaming, or thinking, the diverse expressions of one psychic energy; so that type of philosophy which comes nearest to the religion of the Spirit, invites us to find at all levels of life the workings and strivings of one Power: "a Reality which both underlies and crowns all our other, lesser strivings."11 Von Hügel: "Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion," p. 60. Variously manifested in partial achievements of order and goodness, in diversities of beauty, and in our graded apprehensions of truth, this Spirit is yet most fully known to us in the transcendent values of holiness and love. The more deeply it is loved by man, the nearer he draws to its heart: and the greater his love, the more fully does he experience its transforming and energizing power. The words of Plotinus are still true for every one of us, and are unaffected by the presence or absence of creed:
"Yonder is the true object of our love, which it is possible to grasp and to live with and truly to possess, since no envelope of flesh separates us from it. He who has seen it knows what I say, that the soul then has another life, when it comes to God, and having come possesses Him, and knows when in that state that it is in the presence of the dispenser of true life and that it needs nothing further."22 Ennead I, 6. 7.
So, if we would achieve anything like a real integration of life—and until we have done so, we are bound to be restless and uncertain in our touch upon experience—we are compelled to press back towards contact with this living Reality, however conceived by us. And this not by way of a retreat from our actual physical and mental life, but by way of a fulfilment of it.
More perhaps than ever before, men are now driven to ask themselves the searching question of the disciple in Boehme's Dialogue on the Supersensual Life: "Seeing I am in nature, how may I come through nature into the supersensual ground, without destroying nature?"33Jacob Boehme: "The Way to Christ," Pt. IV. And such a coming through into the ground, such a finding and feeling of Eternal Life, is I take it the central business of religion. For religion is committed to achieving a synthesis of the eternal and the ever-fleeting, of nature and of spirit; lifting up the whole of life to a greater reality, because a greater participation in eternity. Such a participation in eternity, manifested in the time-world, is the very essence of the spiritual life: but, set as we are in mutability, our apprehensions of it can only be partial and relative. Absolutes are known only to absolute mind; our measurements, however careful and intricate, can never tally with the measurements of God. As Einstein conceives of space curved round the sun we, borrowing his symbolism for a moment, may perhaps think of the world of Spirit as curved round the human soul; shaped to our finite understanding, and therefore presenting to us innumerable angles of approach. This means that God can and must be sought only within and through our human experience. "Where," says Jacob Boehme, "will you seek for God? Seek Him in your soul, which has proceeded out of the Eternal Nature, the living fountain of forces wherein the Divine working stands."44 Op. cit., loc. cit.
But, on the other hand, such limitation as this is no argument for agnosticism. For this our human experience in its humbling imperfection, however we interpret it, is as real within its own system of reference as anything else. It is our inevitably limited way of laying hold on the stuff of existence: and not less real for that than the monkeys' way on one hand, or the angels' way on the other. Only we must be sure that we do it as thoroughly and completely as we can; disdaining the indolence which so easily relapses to the lower level and the smaller world.
And the first point I wish to make is, that the experience which we call the life of the Spirit is such a genuine fact; which meets us at all times and places, and at all levels of life. It is an experience which is independent of, and often precedes, any explanation or rationalization we may choose to make of it: and no one, as a matter of fact, takes any real interest in the explanation, unless he has had some form of the experience. We notice, too, that it is most ordinarily and also most impressively given to us as such an objective experience, whole and unanalyzed; and that when it is thus given, and perceived as effecting a transfiguration of human character, we on our part most readily understand and respond to it.
Thus Plotinus, than whom few persons have lived more capable of analysis, can only say: "The soul knows when in that state that it is in the presence of the dispenser of true life." Yet in saying this, does he not tell us far more, and rouse in us a greater and more fruitful longing, than in all his disquisitions about the worlds of Spirit and of Soul? And Kabir, from another continent and time, saying "More than all else do I cherish at heart the love which makes me to live a limitless life in this world,"55 "One Hundred Poems of Kabir," p. 31. assures us in these words that he too has known that more abundant life. These are the statements of the pure religious experience, in so far as "pure" experience is possible to us; which is only of course in a limited and relative sense. The subjective element, all that the psychologist means by apperception, must enter in, and control it. Nevertheless, they refer to man's communion with an independent objective Reality. This experience is more real and concrete, therefore more important, than any of the systems by which theology seeks to explain it. We may then take it, without prejudice to any special belief, that the spiritual life we wish to study is one life; based on experience of one Reality, and manifested in the diversity of gifts and graces which men have been willing to call true, holy, beautiful and good. For the moment at least we may accept the definition of it given by Dr. Bosanquet, as "oneness with the Supreme Good in every facet of the heart and will."66 Bernard Bosanquet: "What Religion Is" p. 32. And since without derogation of its transcendent character, its vigour, wonder and worth, it is in human experience rather than in speculation that we are bound to seek it, we shall look first at the forms taken by man's intuition of Eternity, the life to which it seems to call him; and next at the actual appearance of this life in history. Then at the psychological machinery by which we may lay hold of it, the contributions which religious institutions make to its realization; and last, turning our backs on these partial explorations of the living Whole, seek if we can to seize something of its inwardness as it appears to the individual, the way in which education may best prepare its fulfilment, and the part it must play in the social group.
We begin therefore at the starting point of this life of Spirit: in man's vague, fluctuating, yet persistent apprehension of an enduring and transcendent reality—his instinct for God. The characteristic forms taken by this instinct are simple and fairly well known. Complication only comes in with the interpretation we put on them.
By three main ways we tend to realize our limited personal relations with that transcendent Other which we call divine, eternal or real; and these, appearing perpetually in the vast literature of religion, might be illustrated from all places and all times.
First, there is the profound sense of security: of being safely held in a cosmos of which, despite all contrary appearance, peace is the very heart, and which is not inimical to our true interests. For those whose religious experience takes this form, God is the Ground of the soul, the Unmoved, our Very Rest; statements which meet us again and again in spiritual literature. This certitude of a principle of permanence within and beyond our world of change—the sense of Eternal Life—lies at the very centre of the religious consciousness; which will never on this point capitulate to the attacks of philosophy on the one hand (such as those of the New Realists) or of psychology on the other hand, assuring him that what he mistakes for the Eternal World is really his own unconscious mind. Here man, at least in his great representatives—the persons of transcendent religious genius—seems to get beyond all labels. He finds and feels a truth that cannot fail him, and that satisfies both his heart and mind; a justification of that transcendental feeling which is the soul alike of philosophy and of art. If his life has its roots here, it will be a fruitful tree; and whatever its outward activities, it will be a spiritual life, since it is lived, as George Fox was so fond of saying, in the Universal Spirit. All know the great passage In St. Augustine's Confessions in which he describes how "the mysterious eye of his soul gazed on the Light that never changes; above the eye of the soul, and above intelligence."77 Aug.: Conf. VII, 27. There is nothing archaic in such an experience. Though its description may depend on the language of Neoplatonism, it is in its essence as possible and as fruitful for us to-day as it was in the fourth century, and the doctrine and discipline of Christian prayer have always admitted its validity.
Here and in many other examples which might be quoted, the spiritual fact is interpreted in a non-personal and cosmic way; and we must remember that what is described to us is always, inevitably, the more or less emotional interpretation, never the pure immediacy of experience. This interpretation frequently makes use of the symbolisms of space, stillness, and light: the contemplative soul is "lost in the ocean of the Godhead," "enters His silence" or exclaims with Dante:
"la mia vista, venendo
e più e più
entrava per lo raggio
But in the second characteristic form of the religious experience, the relationship is felt rather as the intimate and reciprocal communion of a person with a Person; a form of apprehension which is common to the great majority of devout natures. It is true that Divine Reality, while doubtless including in its span all the values we associate with personality, must far overpass it: and this conclusion has been reached again and again by profoundly religious minds, of whom among Christians we need only mention Dionysius the Areopagite, Eckhart, and Ruysbroeck. Yet these very minds have always in the end discovered the necessity of finding place for the overwhelming certitude of a personal contact, a prevenient and an answering love. For it is always in a personal and emotional relationship that man finds himself impelled to surrender to God; and this surrender is felt by him to evoke a response. It is significant that even modern liberalism is forced, in the teeth of rationality, to acknowledge this fact of the religious experience. Thus we have on the one hand the Catholic-minded but certainly unorthodox Spanish thinker, Miguel de Unamuno, confessing—
"I believe in God as I believe in my friends, because I feel the breath of His affection, feel His invisible and intangible hand, drawing me, leading me, grasping me.... Once and again in my life I have seen myself suspended in a trance over the abyss; once and again I have found myself at the cross-roads, confronted by a choice of ways and aware that in choosing one I should be renouncing all the others—for there is no turning back upon these roads of life; and once and again in such unique moments as these I have felt the impulse of a mighty power, conscious, sovereign and loving. And then, before the feet of the wayfarer, opens out the way of the Lord."99The Tragic Sense of Life In Men and Peoples," p. 194.
Compare with this Upton the Unitarian: "If," he says, "this Absolute Presence, which meets us face to face in the most momentous of our life's experiences, which pours into our fainting the elixir of new life-mud strength, and into our wounded hearts the balm of a quite infinite sympathy, cannot fitly be called a personal presence, it is only because this word personal is too poor and carries with it associations too human and too limited adequately to express this profound God-consciousness."1010 T. Upton: "The Bases of Religious Belief," p. 363.
Such a personal God-consciousness is the one impelling cause of those moral struggles, sacrifices and purifications, those costing and heroic activities, to which all greatly spiritual souls find themselves drawn. We note that these souls experience it even when it conflicts with their philosophy: for a real religious intuition is always accepted by the self that has it as taking priority of thought, and carrying with it so to speak its own guarantees. Thus Blake, for whom the Holy Ghost was an "intellectual fountain," hears the Divine Voice crying:
"I am not a God afar off, I am a brother
Thus in the last resort the Sufi poet can only say:
Thus even Plotinus is driven to speak of his Divine Wisdom as the Father and ever-present Companion of the soul,1313 Ennead V. i. 3. and Kabir, for whom God is the Unconditioned and the Formless, can yet exclaim:
Christianity, through its concepts of the Divine Fatherhood and of the Eternal Christ, has given to this sense of personal communion its fullest and most beautiful expression:
"Amore, chi t'ama non sta ozioso,
par dolce de te gustare,
ma tutta ora vive
como te possa stretto piú
ché tanto sta per te lo cor
chi nol sentisse, nol porría
quanto é dolce a gustare lo tuo
sapore."1515 "Love, whoso loves thee cannot idle be, so sweet to him to
taste thee; but every hour he lives in longing that he may love thee
more straitly. For in thee the heart so joyful dwells, that he who feels
it not can never say how sweet it is to taste thy savour"—Jacopone da
Todi: Lauda 101.
On the immense question of what it is that lies behind this sense of direct intercourse, this passionate friendship with the Invisible, I cannot enter. But it has been one of the strongest and most fruitful influences in religious history, and gives in particular its special colour to the most perfect developments of Christian mysticism.
Last—and here is the aspect of religious experience which is specially to concern us—Spirit is felt as an inflowing power, a veritable accession of vitality; energizing the self, or the religious group, impelling it to the fullest and most zealous living-out of its existence, giving it fresh joy and vigour, and lifting it to fresh levels of life. This sense of enhanced life is a mark of all religions of the Spirit. "He giveth power to the faint," says the Second Isaiah, "and to them that hath no might he increaseth strength ... they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."1616 Isaiah xl, 29-31. "I live—yet not I," "I can do all things," says St. Paul, seeking to express his dependence on this Divine strength invading and controlling him: and assures his neophytes that they too have received "the Spirit of power." "My life," says St. Augustine, "shall be a real life, being wholly full of Thee."1717 Aug.: Conf. X, 28. "Having found God," says a modern Indian saint, "the current of my life flowed on swiftly, I gained fresh strength."1818"Autobiography of the Maharishi Devendranath Tagore," Cap. 12. All other men and women of the Spirit speak in the same sense, when they try to describe the source of their activity and endurance.
So, the rich experiences of the religious consciousness seem to be resumed in these three outstanding types of spiritual awareness. The cosmic, ontological, or transcendent; finding God as the infinite Reality outside and beyond us. The personal, finding Him as the living and responsive object of our love, in immediate touch with us. The dynamic, finding Him as the power that dwells within or energizes us. These are not exclusive but complementary apprehensions, giving objectives to intellect feeling and will. They must all be taken into account in any attempt to estimate the full character of the spiritual life, and this life can hardly achieve perfection unless all three be present in some measure. Thus the French contemplative Lucie-Christine says, that when the voice of God called her it was at one and the same time a Light, a Drawing, and a Power,1919 "Le Journal Spirituel de Lucie-Christine," p. ii. and her Indian contemporary the Maharishi Devendranath Tagore, that "Seekers after God must realize Brahma in these three places. They must see Him within, see Him without, and see Him in that abode of Brahma where He exists in Himself."2020"Autobiography of Maharishi Devendranath Tagore," Cap. 20. And it seems to me, that what we have in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, is above all the crystallization and mind's interpretation of these three ways in which our simple contact with God is actualized by us. It is, like so many other dogmas when we get to the bottom of them, an attempt to describe experience. What is that supernal symphony of which this elusive music, with its three complementary strains, forms part? We cannot know this, since we are debarred by our situation from knowledge of wholes. But even those strains which we do hear, assure us how far we are yet from conceiving the possibilities of life, of power, of beauty which are contained in them.
And if the first type of experience, with the immense feeling of assurance, of peace, and of quietude which comes from our intuitive contact with that world which Ruysbroeck called the "world that is unwalled,"2121 Ruysbroeck: "The Book of the XII Béguines;" Cap. 8. and from the mind's utter surrender and abolition of resistances—if all this seems to lead to a merely static or contemplative conception of the spiritual life; the third type of experience, with its impulse towards action, its often strongly felt accession of vitality and power, leads inevitably to a complementary and dynamic interpretation of that life. Indeed, if the first moment in the life of the Spirit be man's apprehension of Eternal Life, the second moment—without which the first has little worth for him—consists of his response to that transcendent Reality. Perception of it lays on him the obligation of living in its atmosphere, fulfilling its meaning, if he can: and this will involve for him a measure of inward transformation, a difficult growth and change. Thus the ideas of new birth and regeneration have always been, and I think must ever be, closely associated with man's discovery of God: and the soul's true path seems to be from intuition, through adoration, to moral effort, and thence to charity.
Even so did the Oxford Methodists, who began by trying only to worship God and be good by adhering to a strict devotional rule, soon find themselves impelled to try to do good by active social work.2222 Overton: "Life of Wesley." Cap. 2. And at his highest development, and in so far as he has appropriated the full richness of experience which is offered to him, man will and should find himself, as it were, flung to and fro between action and contemplation. Between the call to transcendence, to a simple self-loss in the unfathomable and adorable life of God, and the call to a full, rich and various actualization of personal life, in the energetic strivings of a fellow worker with Him: between the soul's profound sense of transcendent love, and its felt possession of and duty towards immanent love—a paradox which only some form of incarnational philosophy can solve. It is said of Abu Said, the great Sūfi, at the full term of his development, that he "did all normal things while ever thinking of God."2323 R.A. Nicholson: "Studies In Islamic Mysticism," Cap. I. Here, I believe, we find the norm of the spiritual life, in such a complete response both to the temporal and to the eternal revelations and demands of the Divine nature: on the one hand, the highest and most costing calls made on us by that world of succession in which we find ourselves; on the other, an unmoved abiding in the bosom of eternity, "where was never heard quarter-clock to strike, never seen minute glasse to turne."2424 "Donne's Sermons," edited by L. Pearsall Smith, p. 236.
There have been many schools and periods in which one half of this dual life of man has been unduly emphasized to the detriment of the other. Often in the East—and often too in the first, pre-Benedictine phase of Christian monasticism—there has been an unbalanced cultivation of the contemplative life, resulting in a narrow, abnormal, imperfectly vitalized a-social type of spirituality. On the other hand, in our own day the tendency to action usually obliterates the contemplative side of experience altogether: and the result is the feverishness, exhaustion and uncertainty of aim characteristic of the over-driven and the underfed. But no one can be said to live in its fulness the life of the Spirit who does not observe a due balance between the two: both receiving and giving, both apprehending and expressing, and thus achieving that state of which Ruysbroeck said "Then only is our life a whole, when work and contemplation dwell in us side by side, and we are perfectly in both of them at once."2525Ruysbroeck, "The Sparkling Stone," Cap. 14. All Christian writers on the life of the Spirit point to the perfect achievement of this two-fold ideal in Christ; the pattern of that completed humanity towards which the indwelling Spirit is pressing the race. His deeds of power and mercy, His richly various responses to every level of human existence, His gift to others of new faith and life, were directly dependent on the nights spent on the mountain in prayer. When St. Paul entreats us to grow up into the fulness of His stature, this is the ideal that is implied.
In the intermediate term of the religious experience, that felt communion with a Person which is the clou of the devotional life, we get as it were the link between the extreme apprehensions of transcendence and of immanence, and their expression in the lives of contemplation and of action; and also a focus for that religious-emotion which is the most powerful stimulus to spiritual growth. It is needless to emphasize the splendid use which Christianity has made of this type of experience; nor unfortunately, the exaggerations to which it has led. Both extremes are richly represented in the literature of mysticism. But we should remember that Christianity is not alone in thus requiring place to be made for such a conception of God as shall give body to all the most precious and fruitful experiences of the heart, providing simple human sense and human feeling with something on which to lay hold. In India, there is the existence, within and alongside the austere worship of the unconditioned Brahma, of the ardent personal Vaishnavite devotion to the heart's Lord, known as Bhakti Marga. In Islam, there is the impassioned longing of the Sūfis for the Beloved, who is "the Rose of all Reason and all Truth."
"Without Thee, O Beloved, I cannot rest;
Thy goodness towards me I cannot reckon.
Tho' every hair on my body becomes a tongue
There is the sudden note of rapture which startles us in the Neoplatonists, as when Plotinus speaks of "the name of love for what is there to know—the passion of the lover testing on the 'bosom of his love."2727 Ennead VI. 9. 4. Surely we may accept all these, as the instinctive responses of a diversity of spirits to the one eternal Spirit of life and love: and recognize that without such personal response, such a discovery of imperishable love, a fully lived spiritual life is no more possible than is a fully lived physical life from which love has been left out.
When we descend from experience to interpretation, the paradoxical character of such a personal sense of intimacy is eased for us, if we remember that the religious man's awareness of the indwelling Spirit, or of a Divine companionship—whatever name he gives it—is just his limited realization, achieved by means of his own mental machinery, of a universal and not a particular truth. To this realization he brings all his human—more, his sub-human—feelings and experiences: not only those which are vaguely called his spiritual intuitions, but the full weight of his impulsive and emotional life. His experience and its interpretation are, then, inevitably conditioned by this apperceiving mass. And here I think the intellect should show mercy, and not probe without remorse into those tender places where the heart and the spirit are at one. Let us then be content to note, that when we consult the works of those who have best and most fully interpreted their religion in a universal sense, we find how careful they are to provide a category for this experience of a personally known and loved indwelling Divinity—man's Father, Lover, Saviour, ever-present Companion—which shall avoid its identification with the mere spirit of Nature, whilst safeguarding its immanence no less than its transcendent quality. Thus, Julian of Norwich heard in her meditations the voice of God saying to her, "See! I am in all things! See! I lift never mine hand from off my works, nor ever shall!"2828 "Revelations of Divine Love," Cap. II. Is it possible to state more plainly the indivisible identity of the Spirit of Life? "See! I am in all things!" In the terrific energies of the stellar universe, and the smallest song of the birds. In the seething struggle of modern industrialism, as much a part of nature, of those works on which His hands are laid, as the more easily comprehended economy of the ant-heap and the hive. This sense of the personal presence of an abiding Reality, fulfilling and transcending all our highest values, here in our space-time world of effort, may well be regarded as the differential mark of real spiritual experience, wherever found. It chimes well with the definition of Professor Pratt, who observes that the truly spiritual man, though he may not be any better morally than his non-religious neighbour, "has a confidence in the universe and an inner joy which the other does not know—is more at-home in the universe as a whole, than other men."2929 Pratt: "The Religious Consciousness," Cap. 2.
If, in their attempt to describe their experience of this companioning Reality, spiritual men of all types have exhausted all the resources and symbols of poetry, even earthly lovers are obliged to do that, in order to suggest a fraction of the values contained in earthly love. Such a divine presence is dramatized for Christianity in the historic incarnation, though not limited by it: and it is continued into history by the beautiful Christian conception of the eternal indwelling Christ. The distinction made by the Bhakti form of Hinduism between the Manifest and the Unmanifest God seeks to express this same truth; and shows that this idea, in one form or another, is a necessity for religious thought.
Further and detailed illustration of spiritual experience in itself, as a genuine and abiding human fact—a form of life—independent of the dogmatic interpretations put on it, will come up as we proceed. I now wish to go on to a second point: this—that it follows that any complete description of human life as we know it, must find room for the spiritual factor, and for that religious life and temper in which it finds expression. This place must be found, not merely in the phenomenal series, as we might find room for any special human activity or aberration, from the medicine-man to the Jumping Perfectionists; but deep-set in the enduring stuff of man's true life. We must believe that the union of this life with supporting Spirit cannot in fact be broken, any more than the organic unity of the earth with the universe as a whole. But the extent in which we find and feel it is the measure of the fullness of spiritual life that we enjoy. Organic union must be lifted to conscious realization: and this to do, is the business of religion. In this act of realization each aspect of the psychic life—thought, will and feeling—must have its part, and from each must be evoked a response. Only in so far as such all-round realization and response are achieved by us do we live the spiritual life. We do it perhaps in some degree, every time that we surrender to pure beauty or unselfish devotion; for then all but the most insensitive must be conscious of an unearthly touch, and hear the cadence of a heavenly melody. In these partial experiences something, as it were, of the richness of Reality overflows and is experienced by us. But it is in the wholeness of response characteristic of religion—that uncalculated response to stimulus which is the mark of the instinctive life—that this Realty of love and power is most truly found and felt by us. In this generous and heart-searching surrender of religion, rightly made, the self achieves inner harmony, and finds a satisfying objective for all its cravings and energies. It then finds its life, and the possibilities before it, to be far greater than it knew.
We need not claim that those men and women who have most fully realized, and so at first hand have described to us, this life of the Spirit, have neither discerned or communicated the ultimate truth of things; nor need we claim that the symbols they use have intrinsic value, beyond the poetic power of suggesting to us the quality and wonder of their transfigured lives. Still less must we claim this discovery as the monopoly of any one system of religion. But we can and ought to claim, that no system shall be held satisfactory which does not find a place for it: and that only in so far as we at least apprehend and respond to the world's spiritual aspect, do we approach the full stature of humanity. Psychologists at present are much concerned to entreat us to "face reality," discarding idealism along with the other phantasies that haunt the race. Yet this facing of reality can hardly be complete if we do not face the facts of the spiritual life. Certainly we shall find it most difficult to interpret these facts; they are confused, and more than one reading of them is possible. But still we cannot leave them out and claim to have "faced reality."
Höffding goes so far as to say that any real religion implies and must give us a world-view.3030 Höffding: "Philosophy of Religion," Pt. II, A And I think it is true that any vividly lived spiritual life must, as soon as it passes beyond the level of mere feeling and involves reflection, involve too some more or less articulated conception of the spiritual universe, in harmony with which that life is to be lived. This may be given to us by authority, in the form of creed: but if we do not thus receive it, we are committed to the building of our own City of God. And to-day, that world-view, that spiritual landscape, must harmonize—if it is needed to help our living—with the outlook, the cosmic map, of the ordinary man. If it be adequate, it will inevitably transcend this; but must not be in hopeless conflict with it. The stretched-out, graded, striving world of biological evolution, the many-faced universe of the physical relativist, the space-time manifold of realist philosophy—these great constructions of human thought, so often ignored by the religious mind, must on the contrary be grasped, and accommodated to the world-view which centres on the God known in religious experience. They are true within their own systems of reference; and the soul demands a synthesis wide enough to contain them.
It is true that most religious systems, at least of the traditional type, do purport to give us a world-view, a universe, in which devotional experience is at home and finds an objective and an explanation. They give us a self-consistent symbolic world in which to live. But it is a world which is almost unrelated to the universe of modern physics, and emerges in a very dishevelled state from the explorations of history and of psychology. Even contrasted with our every-day unresting strenuous life, it is rather like a conservatory in a wilderness. Whilst we are inside everything seems all right.
Beauty and fragrance surround us. But emerging from its doors, we find ourselves meeting the cold glances of those who deal in other kinds of reality; and discover that such spiritual life as we possess has got to accommodate itself to the conditions in which they live. If the claim of religion be true at all, it is plain that the conservatory-type of spiritual world is inconsistent with it. Imperfect though any conception we frame of the universe must be—and here we may keep in mind Samuel Butler's warning that "there is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth"—still, a view which is controlled by the religious factor ought to be, so to speak, a hill-top view. Lifting us up to higher levels, it ought to give us a larger synthesis. Hence, the wider the span of experience which we are able to bring within our system, the more valid its claim becomes: and the setting apart of spiritual experience in a special compartment, the keeping of it under glass, is daily becoming less possible. That experience is life in its fullness, or nothing at all. Therefore it must come out into the open, and must witness to its own most sacred conviction; that the universe as a whole is a religious fact, and man is not living completely until he is living in a world religiously conceived.
More and more, as it seems to me, philosophy moves toward this reading of existence. The revolt from the last century's materialism is almost complete. In religious language, abstract thought is again finding and feeling God within the world; and finding too in this discovery and realization the meaning, and perhaps—if we may dare to use such a word—the purpose of life. It suggests—and here, more and more, psychology supports it—that, real and alive as we are in relation to this system with which we find ourselves in correspondence, yet we are not so real, nor so alive, as it is possible to be. The characters of our psychic life point us on and up to other levels. Already we perceive that man's universe is no fixed order; and that the many ways in which he is able to apprehend it are earnests of a greater transfiguration, a more profound contact with reality yet possible to him. Higher forms of realization, a wider span of experience, a sharpening of our vague, uncertain consciousness of value—these may well be before us. We have to remember how dim, tentative, half-understood a great deal of our so-called "normal" experience is: how narrow the little field of consciousness, how small the number of impressions it picks up from the rich flux of existence, how subjective the picture it constructs from them. To take only one obvious example, artists and poets have given us plenty of hints that a real beauty and significance which we seldom notice lie at our very doors; and forbid us to contradict the statement of religion that God is standing there too.
That thought which inspires the last chapters of Professor 'Alexander's "Space, Time, and Deity," that the universe as a whole has a tendency towards deity, does at least seem true of the fully awakened human consciousness.3131 Op. cit., Bk. 4, Cap. 1. Though St. Thomas Aquinas may not have covered all the facts when he called man a contemplative animal,3232 "Summa contra Gentiles," L. III. Cap. 37. he came nearer the mark than more modern anthropologists. Man has an ineradicable impulse to transcendence, though sometimes—as we may admit—it is expressed in strange ways: and no psychology which fails to take account of it can be accepted by us as complete. He has a craving which nothing in his material surroundings seems adequate either to awaken or to satisfy; a deep conviction that some larger synthesis of experience is possible to him. The sense that we are not yet full grown has always haunted the race. "I am the Food of the full-grown. Grow, and thou shalt feed on Me!"3333 Aug: Conf. VII, 10. said the voice of supreme Reality to St. Augustine. Here we seem to lay our finger on the distinguishing mark of humanity: that in man the titanic craving for a fuller life and love which is characteristic of all living things, has a teleological objective. He alone guesses that he may or should be something other; yet cannot guess what he may be. And from this vague sense of being in via, the restlessness and discord of his nature proceed. In him, the onward thrust of the world of becoming achieves self-consciousness.
The best individuals and communities of each age have felt this craving and conviction; and obeyed, in a greater or less degree, its persistent onward push. "The seed of the new birth," says William Law, "is not a notion, but a real strong essential hunger, an attracting, a magnetic desire."3434 "The Liberal and Mystical Writings of William Law," p. 154. Over and over again, rituals have dramatized this, desire and saints have surrendered to it. The history of religion and philosophy is really the history of the profound human belief that we have faculties capable of responding to orders of truth which, did we apprehend them, would change the whole character of our universe; showing us reality from another angle, lit by another light. And time after time too—as we shall see, when we come to consider the testimony of history—favourable variations have arisen within the race and proved in their own persons that this claim is true. Often at the cost of great pain, sacrifice, and inward conflict they have broken their attachments to the narrow world of the senses: and this act of detachment has been repaid by a new, more lucid vision, and a mighty inflow of power. The principle of degrees assures us that such changed levels of consciousness and angles of approach may well involve introduction into a universe of new relations, which we are not competent to criticize.3535 Cf. Haldane, "The Reign of Relativity," Cap. VI. This is a truth which should make us humble in our efforts to understand the difficult and too often paradoxical utterances of religious genius. It suggests the puzzlings of philosophers and theologians—and, I may add, of psychologists too—over experiences which they have not shared, are not of great authority for those whose object is to find the secret of the Spirit, and make it useful for life. Here, the only witnesses we can receive are, on the one part, the first-hand witnesses of experience, and on the other part, our own profound instinct that these are telling us news of our native land.
Baron von Hügel has finely said, that the facts of this spiritual life are themselves the earnests of its objective. These facts cannot be explained merely as man's share in the cosmic movement towards a yet unrealized perfection; such as the unachieved and self-evolving Divinity of some realist philosophers. "For we have no other instance of an unrealized perfection producing such pain and joy, such volitions, such endlessly varied and real results; and all by means of just this vivid and persistent impression that this Becoming is an already realized Perfection."3636Von Hügel: "Eternal Life," p. 385. Therefore though the irresistible urge and the effort forward, experienced on highest levels of love and service, are plainly one-half of the life of the Spirit—which can never be consistent with a pious indolence, an acceptance of things as they are, either in the social or the individual life—yet, the other half, and the very inspiration of that striving, is this certitude of an untarnishable Perfection, a great goal really there; a living God Who draws all spirits to Himself. "Our quest," said Plotinus, "is of an End, not of ends: for that only can be chosen by us which is ultimate and noblest, that which calls forth the tenderest longings of our soul."3737 Ennead I. 4. 6.
There is of course a sense in which such a life of the Spirit is the same yesterday, to-day and for ever. Even if we consider it in relation to historical time, the span within which it has appeared is so short, compared with the ages of human evolution, that we may as well regard it as still in the stage of undifferentiated infancy. Yet even babies change, and change quickly, in their relations with the external world. And though the universe with which man's childish spirit is in contact be a world of enduring values; yet, placed as we are in the stream of succession, part of the stuff of a changing world and linked at every point with it, our apprehensions of this life of spirit, the symbols we use to describe it—and we must use symbols—must inevitably change too. Therefore from time to time some restatement becomes imperative, if actuality is not to be lost. Whatever God meant man to do or to be, the whole universe assures us that He did not mean him to stand still. Such a restatement, then, may reasonably be called a truly religious work; and I believe that it is indeed one of the chief works to which religion must find itself committed in the near future. Hence my main object In this book is to recommend the consideration of this enduring fact of the life of the Spirit and what it can mean to us, from various points of view; thus helping to prepare the ground for that synthesis which we may not yet be able to achieve, but towards which we ought to look. It is from this stand-point, and with this object of examining what we have, of sorting out if we can the permanent from the transitory, of noticing lacks and bridging cleavages, that we shall consider in turn the testimony of history, the position in respect of psychology, and the institutional personal and social aspects of the spiritual life.
In such a restatement, such a reference back to actual man, here at the present day as we have him—such a demand for a spiritual interpretation of the universe, which will allow us to fit in all his many-levelled experiences—I believe we have the way of approach to which religion to-day must look as its best hope. Thus only can we conquer that museum-like atmosphere of much traditional piety which—agreeable as it may be to the historic or æsthetic sense—makes it so unreal to our workers, no less than to our students. Such a method, too, will mean the tightening of that alliance between philosophy and psychology which is already a marked character of contemporary thought.
And note that, working on this basis, we need not in order to find room for the facts commit ourselves to the harsh dualism, the opposition between nature and spirit, which is characteristic of some earlier forms of Christian thought. In this dualism, too, we find simply an effort to describe felt experience. It is an expression of the fact, so strongly and deeply felt by the richest natures, that there is an utter difference in kind between the natural life of use and wont, as most of us live it, and the life that is dominated by the spiritual consciousness. The change is indeed so great, the transfiguration so complete, that they seize on the strongest language in which to state it. And in the good old human way, referring their own feelings to the universe, they speak of the opposing and incompatible worlds of matter and of spirit, of nature and of grace. But those who have most deeply reflected, have perceived that the change effected is not a change of worlds. It is rather such a change of temper and attitude as will disclose within our one world, here and now, the one Spirit in the diversity of His gifts; the one Love, in homeliest incidents as well as noblest vision, laying its obligations on the soul; and so the true nature and full possibilities of this our present life.
Although it is true that we must register our profound sense of the transcendental character of this spirit-life, its otherness from mere nature, and the humility and penitence in which alone mere nature receive it; yet I think that our movement from one to the other is more naturally described by us in the language of growth than in the language of convulsion. The primal object of religion is to disclose to us this perdurable basis of life, and foster our growth into communion with it. And whatever its special, language and personal colour be—for all our news of God comes to us through the consciousness of individual men, and arrives tinctured by their feelings and beliefs—in the end it does this by disclosing us to ourselves as spirits growing up, though unevenly and hampered by our past, through the physical order into completeness of response to a universe that is itself a spiritual fact. "Heaven," said Jacob Boehme, "is nothing else but a manifestation of the Eternal One, wherein all worketh and willeth in quiet love."3838 Boehme: "The Way to Christ," Pt. IV. Such a manifestation of Spirit must clearly be made through humanity, at least so far as our own order is concerned: by our redirection and full use of that spirit of life which energizes us, and which, emerging from the more primitive levels of organic creation, is ours to carry on and up—either to new self-satisfactions, or to new consecrations.
It is hardly worth while to insist that the need for such a redirection has never been more strongly felt than at the present day. There is indeed no period in which history exhibits mankind as at once more active, more feverishly self-conscious, and more distracted, than is our own bewildered generation; nor any which stood in greater need of Blake's exhortation: "Let every Christian as much as in him lies, engage himself openly and publicly before all the World in some Mental pursuit for the Building up of Jerusalem."3939 Blake: "Jerusalem": To the Christians.
How many people do each of us know who work and will in quiet love, and thus participate in eternal life?
Consider the weight of each of these words. The energy, the clear purpose, the deep calm, the warm charity they imply. Willed work; not grudging toil. Quiet love, not feverish emotionalism. Each term is quite plain and human, and each has equal importance as an attribute of heavenly life. How many politicians—the people to whom we have confided the control of our national existence—work and will in quiet love? What about industry? Do the masters, or the workers, work and will in quiet love? that is to say with diligence and faithful purpose, without selfish anxiety, without selfish demands and hostilities? What about the hurried, ugly and devitalizing existence of our big towns? Can we honestly say that young people reared in them are likely to acquire this temper of heaven? Yet we have been given the secret, the law of spiritual life; and psychologists would agree that it represents too the most favourable of conditions for a full psychic life, the state in which we have access to all our sources of power.
But man will not achieve this state unless he dwells on the idea of it; and, dwelling on that idea, opening his mind to its suggestions, brings its modes of expression into harmony with his thought about the world of daily life. Our spiritual life to-day, such as it is, tends above all to express itself in social activities. Teacher after teacher comes forward to plume himself on the fact that Christianity is now taking a "social form"; that love of our neighbour is not so much the corollary as the equivalent of the love of God, and so forth. Here I am sure that all can supply themselves with illustrative quotations. Yet is there in this state of things nothing but food for congratulation? Is such a view complete? Is nothing left out? Have we not lost the wonder and poetry of the forest in our diligent cultivation of the economically valuable trees; and shall we ever see life truly until we see it with the poet's eyes? There is so much meritorious working and willing; and so little time left for quiet love. A spiritual fussiness—often a material fussiness too—seems to be taking the place of that inward resort to the fontal sources of our being which is the true religious act, our chance of contact with the Spirit. This compensating beat of the fully lived human life, that whole side of existence resumed in the word contemplation, has been left out. "All the artillery of the world," said John Everard, "were they all discharged together at one clap, could not more deaf the ears of our bodies than the clamourings of desires in the soul deaf its ears, so you see a man must go into the silence, or else he cannot hear God speak."4040 "Some Gospel Treasures Opened," p. 600. And until we remodel our current conception of the Christian life in such a sense as to give that silence and its revelation their full value, I do not think that we can hope to exhibit the triumphing power of the Spirit in human character and human society. Our whole notion of life at present is such as to set up resistances to its inflow. Yet the inner mood, the consciousness, which makes of the self its channel, are accessible to all, if we would but believe this and act on our belief. "Worship," said William Penn, "is the supreme act of a man's life."4141 William Penn, "No Cross, No Crown." And what is worship but a reach-out of the finite spirit towards Infinite Life? Here thought must mend the breach which thought has made: for the root of our trouble consists in the fact that there is a fracture in our conception of God and of our relation with Him. We do not perceive the "hidden unity in the Eternal Being"; the single nature and purpose of that Spirit which brought life forth, and shall lead it to full realization.
Here is our little planet, chiefly occupied, to our view, in rushing round the sun; but perhaps found from another angle to fill quite another part in the cosmic scheme. And on this apparently unimportant speck, wandering among systems of suns, the appearance of life and its slow development and ever-increasing sensitization; the emerging of pain and of pleasure; and presently man with his growing capacity for self-affirmation and self-sacrifice, for rapture and for grief. Love with its unearthly happiness, unmeasured devotion, and limitless pain; all the ecstasy, all the anguish that we extract from the rhythm of life and death. It is much, really, for one little planet to bring to birth. And presently another music, which some—not many perhaps yet, in comparison with its population—are able to hear. The music of a more inward life, a sort of fugue in which the eternal and temporal are mingled; and here and there some, already, who respond to it. Those who hear it would not all agree as to the nature of the melody; but all would agree that it is something different in kind from the rhythm of life and death. And in their surrender to this—to which, as they feel sure, the physical order too is really keeping time—they taste a larger life; more universal, more divine. As Plotinus said, they are looking at the Conductor in the midst; and, keeping time with Him, find the fulfilment both of their striving and of their peace.
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