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THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT IN THE INDIVIDUAL
In the last three chapters we have been concerned, almost exclusively, with those facts of psychic life and growth, those instruments and mechanizations, which bear upon or condition our spiritual life. But these wanderings in the soul's workshops, and these analyses of the forces that play on it, give us far too cold or too technical a view of that richly various and dynamic thing, the real regenerated life. I wish now to come out of the workshop, and try to see this spiritual life as the individual man may and should achieve it, from another angle of approach.
What are we to regard as the heart of spirituality? When we have eliminated the accidental characters with which varying traditions have endowed it, what is it that still so definitely distinguishes its possessor from the best, most moral citizen or devoted altruist? Why do the Christian saint, Indian rishi, Buddhist arhat, Moslem Sūfi, all seem to us at bottom men of one race, living under different sanctions one life, witnessing to one fact? This life, which they show in its various perfections, includes it is true the ethical life, but cannot be equated with it. Wherein do its differentia consist? We are dealing with the most subtle of realities and have only the help of crude words, developed for other purposes than this. But surely we come near to the truth, as history and experience show it to us, when we say again that the spiritual life in all its manifestations from smallest beginnings to unearthly triumph is simply the life that means God in all His richness, immanent and transcendent: the whole response to the Eternal and Abiding of which any one man is capable, expressed in and through his this-world life. It requires then an objective vision or certitude, something to aim at; and also a total integration of the self, its dedication to that aim. Both terms, vision and response, are essential to it.
This definition may seem at first sight rather dull. It suggests little of that poignant and unearthly beauty, that heroism, that immense attraction, which really belong to the spiritual life. Here indeed we are dealing with poetry in action: and we need not words but music to describe it as it really is. Yet all the forms, all the various beauties and achievements of this life of the Spirit, can be resumed as the reactions of different temperaments to the one abiding and inexhaustibly satisfying Object of their love. It is the answer made by the whole supple, plastic self, rational and instinctive, active and contemplative, to any or all of those objective experiences of religion which we considered in the first chapter; whether of an encompassing and transcendent Reality, of a Divine Companionship or of Immanent Spirit. Such a response we must believe to be itself divinely actuated. Fully made, it is found on the one hand to call forth the most heroic, most beautiful, most tender qualities in human nature; all that we call holiness, the transfiguration of mere ethics by a supernatural loveliness, breathing another air, satisfying another standard, than those of the temporal world. And on the other hand, this response of the self is repaid by a new sensitiveness and receptivity, a new influx of power. To use theological language, will is answered by grace: and as the will's dedication rises towards completeness the more fully does new life flow in. Therefore it is plain that the smallest and humblest beginning of such a life in ourselves—and this inquiry is useless unless it be made to speak to our own condition—will entail not merely an addition to life, but for us too a change in our whole scale of values, a self-dedication. For that which we are here shown as a possible human achievement is not a life of comfortable piety, or the enjoyment of the delicious sensations of the armchair mystic. We are offered, it is true, a new dower of life; access to the full possibilities of human nature. But only upon terms, and these terms include new obligations in respect of that life; compelling us, as it appears, to perpetual hard and difficult choices, a perpetual refusal to sink back into the next-best, to slide along a gentle incline. The spiritual life is not lived upon the heavenly hearth-rug, within safe distance from the Fire of Love. It demands, indeed, very often things so hard that seen from the hearth-rug they seem to us superhuman: immensely generous compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, gentleness, radiant purity, self-forgetting zeal. It means a complete conquest of life's perennial tendency to lag behind the best possible; willing acceptance of hardship and pain. And if we ask how this can be, what it is that makes possible such enhancement of human will and of human courage, the only answer seems to be that of the Johannine Christ: that it does consist in a more abundant life.
In the second chapter of this book, we looked at the gradual unfolding of that life in its great historical representatives; and we found its general line of development to lead through disillusion with the merely physical to conversion to the spiritual, and thence by way of hard moral conflicts and their resolution to a unification of character, a full integration of the active and contemplative sides of life; resulting in fresh power, and a complete dedication, to work within the new order and for the new ideals. There was something of the penitent, something of the contemplative, and something of the apostle in every man or woman who thus grew to their full stature and realized all their latent possibilities. But above all there was a fortitude, an all-round power of tackling existence, which comes from complete indifference to personal suffering or personal success. And further, psychology showed us, that those workings and readjustments which we saw preparing this life of the Spirit, were in line with those which prepare us for fullness of life on other levels: that is to say the harnessing of the impulsive nature to the purposes chosen by consciousness, the resolving of conflicts, the unification of the whole personality about one's dominant interest. These readjustments were helped by the deliberate acceptance of the useful suggestions of religion, the education of the foreconscious, the formation of habits of charity and prayer.
The greatest and most real of living writers on this subject, Baron von Hügel, has given us another definition of the personal spiritual life which may fruitfully be compared with this. It must and shall, he says, exhibit rightful contact with and renunciation of the Particular and Fleeting; and with this ever seeks and finds the Eternal—deepening and incarnating within its own experience this "transcendent Otherness."129129 This doctrine is fully worked out in the last two sections of "Eternal Life." Nothing which we are likely to achieve can go beyond this profound saying. We see how many rich elements are contained in it: effort and growth, a temper both social and ascetic, a demand for and a receiving of power. True, to some extent it restates the position at which we arrived in the first chapter: but we now wish to examine more thoroughly into that position and discover its practical applications. Let us then begin by unpacking it, and examining its chief characters one by one.
If we do this, we find that it demands of us:—(1) Rightful contact with the Particular and Fleeting. That is, a willing acceptance of all this-world tasks, obligations, relations, and joys; in fact, the Active Life of Becoming in its completeness.
(2) But also, a certain renunciation of that Particular and Fleeting. A refusal to get everything out of it that we can for ourselves, to be possessive, or attribute to it absolute worth. This involves a sense of detachment or asceticism; of further destiny and obligation for the soul than complete earthly happiness or here-and-now success.
(3) And with this ever—not merely in hours of devotion—to seek and find the Eternal; penetrating our wholesome this-world action through and through with the very spirit of contemplation.
(4) Thus deepening and incarnating—bringing in, giving body to, and in some sense exhibiting by means of our own growing and changing experience—that transcendent Otherness, the fact of the Life of the Spirit in the here-and-now.
The full life of the Spirit, then, is once more declared to be active, contemplative, ascetic and apostolic; though nowadays we express these abiding human dispositions in other and less formidable terms. If we translate them as work, prayer, self-discipline and social service they do not look quite so bad. But even so, what a tremendous programme to put before the ordinary human creature, and how difficult it looks when thus arranged! That balance to be discovered and held between due contact with this present living world of time, and due renunciation of it. That continual penetration of the time-world with the spirit of Eternity.
But now, in accordance with the ruling idea which has occupied us in this book, let us arrange these four demands in different order. Let us put number three first: "ever seeking and finding the Eternal." Conceive, at least, that we do this really, and in a practical way. Then we discover that, placed as we certainly are in a world of succession, most of the seeking and finding has got to be done there; that the times of pure abstraction in which we touch the non-successive and supersensual must be few. Hence it follows that the first and second demands are at once fully met; for, if we are indeed faithfully seeking and finding the Eternal whilst living—as all sane men and women must do—in closest contact with the Particular and Fleeting, our acceptances and our renunciations will be governed by this higher term of experience. And further, the transcendent Otherness, perpetually envisaged by us as alone giving the world of sense its beauty, reality and value, will be incarnated and expressed by us in this sense-life, and thus ever more completely tasted and known. It will be drawn by us, as best we can, and often at the cost of bitter struggle, into the limitations of humanity; entincturing our attitude and our actions. And in the degree in which we thus appropriate it, it will be given out by us again to other men.
All this, of course, says again that which men have been constantly told by those who sought to redeem them from their confusions, and show them the way to fullness of life. "Seek first the Kingdom of God," said Jesus, "and all the rest shall be added to you." "Love," said St. Augustine, "and do what you like"; "Let nothing," says Thomas à Kempis, "be great or high or acceptable to thee but purely God";130130 De Imit. Christi, Bk. II, Cap. 6. and Kabir, "Open your eyes of love, and see Him who pervades this world! consider it well, and know that this is your own country."131131 "Six Theosophic Points," p. 75. "Our whole teaching," says Boehme, "is nothing else than how man should kindle in himself God's light-world."132132 "One Hundred Poems of Kabir," p. 78. I do not say that such a presentation of it makes the personal spiritual life any easier: nothing does that. But it does make its central implicit rather clearer, shows us at once its difficulty and its simplicity; since it depends on the consistent subordination of every impulse and every action to one regnant aim and interest—in other words, the unification of the whole self round one centre, the highest conceivable by man. Each of man's behaviour-cycles is always directed towards some end, of which he may or may not be vividly conscious. But in that perfect unification of the self which is characteristic of the life of Spirit, all his behaviour is brought into one stream of purpose, and directed towards one transcendent end. And this simplification alone means for him a release from conflicting wishes, and so a tremendous increase of power.
If then we admit this formula, "ever seeking and finding the Eternal"—which is of course another rendering of Ruysbroeck's "aiming at God"—as the prime character of a spiritual life, the secret of human transcendence; what are the agents by which it is done?
Here, men and women of all times and all religions, who have achieved this fullness of life, agree in their answer: and by this answer we are at once taken away from dry philosophic conceptions and introduced into the very heart of human experience. It is done, they say, on man's part by Love and Prayer: and these, properly understood in their inexhaustible richness, joy, pain, dedication and noble simplicity, cover the whole field of the spiritual life. Without them, that life is impossible; with them, if the self be true to their implications, some measure of it cannot be escaped. I said, Love and Prayer properly understood: not as two movements of emotional piety, but as fundamental human dispositions, as the typical attitude and action which control man's growth into greater reality. Since then they are of such primary importance to us, it will be worth while at this stage to look into them a little more closely.
First, Love: that over-worked and ill-used word, often confused on the one hand with passion and on the other with amiability. If we ask the most fashionable sort of psychologist what love is, he says that it is the impulse urging us towards that end which is the fulfilment of any series of deeds or "behaviour-cycle"; the psychic thread, on which all the apparently separate actions making up that cycle are strung and united. In this sense love need not be fully conscious, reach the level of feeling; but it must be an imperative, inward urge. And if we ask those who have known and taught the life of the Spirit, they too say that love is a passionate tendency, an inward vital urge of the soul towards its Source;133133 Cl. Ruysbroeck: "The Mirror of Eternal Salvation," which impels every living thing to pursue the most profound trend of its being, reaches consciousness in the form of self-giving and of desire, and its only satisfying goal in God. Love is for them much more than its emotional manifestations. It is "the ultimate cause of the true activities of all active things"—no less. This definition, which I take as a matter of fact from St. Thomas Aquinas,134134"In Librum B. Dionysii de Divinis Nominibus commentaria." would be agreeable to the most modern psychologist; he might give the hidden steersman of the psyche in its perpetual movement towards novelty a less beautiful and significant name. "This indwelling Love," says Plotinus, "is no other than the Spirit which, as we are told, walks with every being, the affection dominant in each several nature. It implants the characteristic desire; the particular soul, strained towards its own natural objects, brings forth its own Love, the guiding spirit realizing its worth and the quality of its being."135135 Ennead III. 5, 4.
Does not all this suggest to us once more, that at whatever level it be experienced, the psychic craving, the urgent spirit within us pressing out to life, is always one; and that the sublimation of this vital craving, its direction to God, is the essence of regeneration? There, in our instinctive nature—which, as we know, makes us the kind of animal we are—abides that power of loving which is, really, the power of living; the cause of our actions, the controlling factor in our perceptions, the force pressing us into any given type of experience, turning aside for no obstacles but stimulated by them to a greater vigour. Each level of the universe makes solicitations to this power: the worlds of sense, of thought, of beauty, and of action. According to the degree of our development, the trend of the conscious will, is our response; and according to that response will be our life. "The world to which a man turns himself," says Boehme, "and in which he produces fruit, the same is lord in him, and this world becomes manifest in him."136136 Boehme: "Six Theosophic Points," p. 75.
From all this it becomes clear what the love of God is; and what St. Augustine meant when he said that all virtue—and virtue after all means power not goodness—lay in the right ordering of love, the conscious orientation of desire. Christians, on the authority of their Master, declare that such love of God requires all that they have, not only of feeling, but also of intellect and of power; since He is to be loved with heart and mind and strength. Thought and action on highest levels are involved in it, for it means, not religious emotionalism, but the unflickering orientation of the whole self towards Him, ever seeking and finding the Eternal; the linking up of all behaviour on that string, so that the apparently hard and always heroic choices which are demanded, are made at last because they are inevitable. It is true that this dominant interest will give to our lives a special emotional colour and a special kind of happiness; but in this, as in the best, deepest, richest human love, such feeling-tone and such happiness—though in some natures of great beauty and intensity—are only to be looked upon as secondary characters, and never to be aimed at.
When St. Teresa said that the real object of the spiritual marriage was "the incessant production of work, work,"137137 "The Interior Castle"; Seventh Habitation, Cap. IV. I have no doubt that many of her nuns were disconcerted; especially the type of ease-loving conservatives whom she and her intimates were accustomed to refer to as the pussy-cats. But in this direct application to religious experience of St. Thomas' doctrine of love, she set up an ideal of the spiritual life which is as valid at the present day in the entanglements of our social order, as it was in the enclosed convents of sixteenth-century Spain. Love, we said, is the cause of action. It urges and directs our behaviour, conscious and involuntary, towards an end. The mother is irresistibly impelled to act towards her child's welfare, the ambitious man towards success, the artist towards expression of his vision. All these are examples of behaviour, love-driven towards ends. And religious experience discloses to us a greater more inclusive end, and this vital power of love as capable of being used on the highest levels, regenerated, directed to eternal interests; subordinating behaviour, inspiring suffering, unifying the whole self and its activities, mobilizing them for this transcendental achievement. This generous love, to go back to the quotation from Baron von Hügel which opened our inquiry, will indeed cause the behaviour it controls to exhibit both rightful contact with and renunciation of the particular and fleeting; because in and through this series of linked deeds it is uniting with itself all human activities, and in and through them is seeking and finding its eternal end. So, in that rightful bringing-in of novelty which is the business of the fully living soul, the most powerful agent is love, understood as the controlling factor of behaviour, the sublimation and union of will and desire. "Let love," says Boehme, "be the life of thy nature. It killeth thee not, but quickeneth thee according to its life, and then thou livest, yet not to thy own will but to its will: for thy will becometh its will, and then thou art dead to thyself but alive to God."138138 Boehme; "The Way to Christ," Pt. IV. There is the true, solid and for us most fruitful doctrine of divine union, unconnected with any rapture, trance, ecstasy or abnormal state of mind: a union organic, conscious, and dynamic with the Creative Spirit of Life.
If we now go on to ask how, specially, we shall achieve this union in such degree as is possible to each one of us; the answer must be, that it will be done by Prayer. If the seeking of the Eternal is actuated by love, the finding of it is achieved through prayer. Prayer, in fact—understood as a life or state, not an act or an asking—is the beginning, middle and end of all that we are now considering. As the social self can only be developed by contact with society, so the spiritual self can only be developed by contact with the spiritual world. And such humble yet ardent contact with the spiritual world—opening up to its suggestions our impulses, our reveries, our feelings, our most secret dispositions as well as our mere thoughts-is the essence of prayer, understood in its widest sense. No more than surrender or love can prayer be reduced to "one act." Those who seek to sublimate it into "pure" contemplation are as limited at one end of the scale, as those who reduce it to articulate petition are at the other. It contains in itself a rich variety of human reactions and experiences. It opens the door upon an unwalled world, in which the self truly lives and therefore makes widely various responses to its infinitely varying stimuli. Into that world the self takes, or should take, its special needs, aptitudes and longings, and matches them against its apprehension of Eternal Truth. In this meeting of the human heart with all that it can apprehend of Reality, not adoration alone but unbounded contrition, not humble dependence alone but joy, peace and power, not rapture alone but mysterious darkness, must be woven into the fabric of love. In this world the soul may sometimes wander as if in pastures, sometimes is poised breathless and intent. Sometimes it is fed by beauty, sometimes by most difficult truth, and experiences the extremes of riches and destitution, darkness and light. "It is not," says Plotinus, "by crushing the Divine into a unity but by displaying its exuberance, as the Supreme Himself has displayed it, that we show knowledge of the might of God."139139 Ennead II. 9. 9.
Thus, by that instinctive and warmly devoted direction of its behaviour which is love, and that willed attention to and communion with the spiritual world which is prayer, all the powers of the self are united and turned towards the seeking and finding of the Eternal. It is by complete obedience to this exacting love, doing difficult and unselfish things, giving up easy and comfortable things—in fact by living, living hard on the highest levels—that men more and more deeply feel, experience, and enter into their spiritual life. This is a fact which must seem rather awkward to those who put forward pathological explanations of it. And on the other hand it is only by constant contacts with and recourse to the energizing life of Spirit, that this hard vocation can be fulfilled. Such a power of reference to Reality, of transcending the world of succession and its values, can be cultivated by us; and this education of our inborn aptitude is a chief function of the discipline of prayer. True, it is only in times of recollection or of great emotion that this profound contact is fully present to consciousness. Yet, once fully achieved and its obligations accepted by us, it continues as a grave melody within our busy outward acts: and we must by right direction of our deepest instincts so find and feel the Eternal all the time, if indeed we are to actualize and incarnate it all the time. From this truth of experience, religion has deduced the doctrine of grace, and the general conception of man as able to do nothing of himself. This need hardly surprise us. For equally on the physical plane man can do nothing of himself, if he be cut off from his physical sources of power: from food to eat, and air to breathe. Therefore the fact that his spiritual life too is dependent upon the life-giving atmosphere that penetrates him, and the heavenly food which he receives, makes no fracture in his experience. Thus we are brought back by another path to the fundamental need for him, in some form, of the balanced active and contemplative life.
In spite of this, many people seem to take it for granted that if a man believes in and desires to live a spiritual life, he can live it in utter independence of spiritual food. He believes in God, loves his neighbour, wants to do good, and just goes ahead. The result of this is that the life of the God-fearing citizen or the Social Christian, as now conceived and practised, is generally the starved life. It leaves no time for the silence, the withdrawal, the quiet attention to the spiritual, which is essential if it is to develop all its powers. Yet the literature of the Spirit is full of warnings on this subject. Taste and see that the Lord is sweet. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength. These are practical statements; addressed, not to specialists but to ordinary men and women, with a normal psycho-physical make-up. They are literally true now, or can be if we choose. They do not involve any peculiar training, or unnatural effort. A sliding scale goes from the simplest prayer-experience of the ordinary man to that complete self-loss and complete self-finding, which is called the transforming union of the saint; and somewhere in this series, every human soul can find a place.
If this balanced life is to be ours, if we are to receive what St. Augustine called the food of the full-grown, to find and feel the Eternal, we must give time and place to it in our lives. I emphasize this, because its realization seems to me to be a desperate modern need; a need exhibited supremely in our languid and ineffectual spirituality, but also felt in the too busy, too entirely active and hurried lives of the artist, the reformer and the teacher. St. John of the Cross says in one of his letters: "What is wanting is not writing or talking—there is more than enough of that—but, silence and action. For silence joined to action produces recollection, and gives the spirit a marvellous strength." Such recollection, such a gathering up of our interior forces and retreat of consciousness to its "ground," is the preparation of all great endeavour, whatever its apparent object may be. Until we realize that it is better, more useful, more productive of strength, to spend, let us say, the odd ten minutes in the morning in feeling and finding the Eternal than in flicking the newspaper—that this will send us off to the day's work properly orientated, gathered together, recollected, and really endowed with new power of dealing with circumstance—we have not begun to live the life of the Spirit, or grasped the practical connection between such a daily discipline and the power of doing our best work, whatever it may be.
I will illustrate this from a living example: that of the Sadhu Sundar Singh. No one, I suppose, who came into personal contact with the Sadhu, doubted that they were in the presence of a person who was living, in the full sense, the spiritual life. Even those who could not accept the symbols in which he described his experience and asked others to share it, acknowledged that there had been worked in him a great transformation; that the sense of the abiding and eternal went with him everywhere, and flowed out from him, to calm and to correct our feverish lives. He fully satisfies in his own person the demands of Baron von Hügel's definition: both contact with and renunciation of the Particular and Fleeting, seeking and finding of the Eternal, incarnating within his own experience that transcendent Otherness. Now the Sadhu has discovered for himself and practises as the condition of his extraordinary activity, power and endurance, just that balance of life which St. Benedict's rule ordained. He is a wandering missionary, constantly undertaking great journeys, enduring hardship and danger, and practising the absolute poverty of St. Francis. He is perfectly healthy, strong, extraordinarily attractive, full of power. But this power he is careful to nourish. His irreducible minimum is two hours spent in meditation and wordless communication with God at the beginning of each day. He prefers three or four hours when work permits; and a long period of prayer and meditation always precedes his public address. If forced to curtail or hurry these hours of prayer, he feels restless and unhappy, and his efficiency is reduced. "Prayer," he says, "is as important as breathing; and we never say we have no time to breathe."140140 "Streeter and Appasamy: The Sadhu," pp. 98, 100 et seq., 213.
All this has been explained away by critics of the muscular Christian sort, who say that the Sadhu's Christianity is of a typically Eastern kind. But this is simply not true. It were much better to acknowledge that we, more and more, are tending to develop a typically Western kind of Christianity, marked by the Western emphasis on doing and Western contempt for being; and that if we go sufficiently far on this path we shall find ourselves cut off from our source. The Sadhu's Christianity is fully Christian; that is to say, it is whole and complete. The power in which he does his works is that in which St. Paul carried through his heroic missionary career, St. Benedict formed a spiritual family that transformed European culture, Wesley made the world his parish, Elizabeth Fry faced the Newgate criminals. It is idle to talk of the revival of a personal spiritual life among ourselves, or of a spiritual regeneration of society—for this can only come through the individual remaking of each of its members—unless we are willing, at the sacrifice of some personal convenience, to make a place and time for these acts of recollection; this willing and loving—and even more fruitful, the more willing and loving—communion with, response to Reality, to God. It is true that a fully lived spiritual life involves far more than this. But this is the only condition on which it will exist at all.
Love then, which is a willed tendency to God; prayer, which is willed communion with and experience of Him; are the two prime essentials in the personal life of the Spirit. They represent, of course, only our side of it and our obligation. This love is the outflowing response to another inflowing love, and this prayer the appropriation of a transcendental energy and grace. As the "German Theology" reminds us, "I cannot do the work without God, and God may not or will not without me."141141 "Theologia Germanica," Cap. III. And by these acts alone, faithfully carried through, all their costly demands fulfilled, all their gifts and applications accepted without resistance and applied to each aspect of life, human nature can grow up to its full stature, and obtain access to all its sources of power.
Yet this personal inward life of love and prayer shall not be too solitary. As it needs links with cultus and so with the lives of its fellows, it also needs links with history and so with the living past. These links are chiefly made by the individual through his reading; and such reading—such access to humanity's hoarded culture and experience—has always been declared alike by Christian and non-Christian asceticism to be one of the proper helps of the spiritual life. Though Höffding perhaps exaggerates when he reminds us that mediæval art always depicts the saints as deeply absorbed in their books, and suggests that such brooding study directly induces contemplative states,142142 Höffding, "The Philosophy of Religion," III, B. yet it is true that the soul gains greatly from such communion with, and meek learning from, its cultural background. Ever more and more as it advances, it will discover within that background the records of those very experiences which it must now so poignantly relive; and which seem to it, as his own experience seems to every lover, unique. There it can find, without any betrayal of its secret, the wholesome assurance of its own normality; standards of comparison; companionship, alike in its hours of penitence, of light, and of deprivation. Yet such fruitful communion with the past is not the privilege of an aristocratic culture. It is seen in its perfection in many simple Christians who have found in the Bible all the spiritual food they need. The great literature of the Spirit tells its secrets to those alone who thus meet it on its own ground. Not only the works of Thomas à Kempis, of Ruysbroeck, or of St. Teresa, but also the Biblical writers—and especially, perhaps, the Psalms and the Gospels—are read wholly anew by us at each stage of our advance. Comparative study of Hindu and Moslem writers proves that this is equally true of the great literatures of other faiths.143143 There are, for instance, several striking instances in the Autobiography of the Maharishi Devendranath Tagore. Beginners may find in all these infinite stimulus, interest, and beauty. But to the mature soul they become road-books, of which experience proves the astonishing exactitude; giving it descriptions which it can recognize and directions that it needs, and constituting a steady check upon individualism.
Now let us look at the emergence of this life which we have been considering, and at the typical path which it will or may follow, in an ordinary man or woman of our own day. Not a saint or genius, reaching heroic levels; but a member of that solid wholesome spiritual population which ought to fill the streets of the City of God. We noticed when we were studying its appearance in history, that often this life begins in a sort of restlessness, a feeling that there is something more in existence, some absolute meaning, some more searching obligation, that we have not reached. This dissatisfaction, this uncertainty and hunger, may show itself in many different forms. It may speak first to the intellect, to the moral nature, to the social conscience, even to the artistic faculty; or, directly, to the heart. Anyhow, its abiding quality is a sense of contraction, of limitation; a feeling of something more that we could stretch out to, and achieve, and be. Its impulsion is always in one direction; to a finding of some wider and more enduring reality, some objective for the self's life and love. It is a seeking of the Eternal, in some form. I allow that thanks to the fog in which we live muffled, such a first seeking, and above all such a finding of the Eternal is not for us a very easy thing. The sense of quest, of disillusion, of something lacking, is more common among modern men than its resolution in discovery. Nevertheless the quest does mean that there is a solution: and that those who are persevering must find it in the end. The world into which our desire is truly turned, is somehow revealed to us. The revelation, always partial and relative, is of course conditioned by our capacity, the character of our longing and the experiences of our past. In spiritual matters we behold that which we are: here following, on higher levels, the laws which govern æsthetic apprehension.
So, dissatisfied with its world-view and realizing that it is incomplete, the self seeks at first hand, though not always with clear consciousness of its nature, the Reality which is the object of religion. When it finds this Reality, the discovery, however partial, is for it the overwhelming revelation of an objective Fact; and it is swept by a love and awe which it did not know itself to possess. And now it sees; dimly, yet in a sufficiently disconcerting way, the Pattern in the Mount; the rich complex of existence as it were transmuted, full of charity and beauty, governed by another series of adjustments. Life looks different to it. As Fox said, "Creation gives out another smell than before."144144 "Fox's Journal," Vol. I, Cap. 2. There is only one thing more disconcerting than this, and that is seeing the pattern actualized in a fellow human being: living face to face with human sanctity, in its great simplicity and supernatural love, joy, peace. For, when we glimpse Eternal Beauty in the universe, we can say with the hero of "Callista," "It is beyond me!" But, when we see it transfiguring human character, we know that it is not beyond the power of the race. It is here, to be had. Its existence as a form of life creates a standard, and lays an obligation on us all.
Suppose then that the self, urged by this new pressure, accepts the obligation and measures itself by the standard. It then becomes apparent that this Fact which it sought for and has seen is not merely added to its old universe, as in mediæval pictures Paradise with its circles over-arches the earth. This Reality is all-penetrating and has transfigured each aspect of the self's old world. It now has a new and most exacting scale of values, which demand from it a new series of adjustments; ask it—and with authority—to change its life.
What next? The next thing, probably, is that the self finds itself in rather a tight place. It is wedged into a physical order that makes innumerable calls on it, and innumerable suggestions to it: which has for years monopolized its field of consciousness and set up habits of response to its claims. It has to make some kind of a break with this order, or at least with its many attachments thereto; and stretch to the wider span demanded by the new and larger world. And further, it is in possession of a complex psychic life, containing many insubordinate elements, many awkward bequests from a primitive past. That psychic life has just received the powerful and direct suggestion of the Spirit; and for the moment, it is subdued to that suggestion. But soon it begins to experience the inevitable conflict between old habits, and new demands—between a life lived in the particular and in the universal spirit—and only through complete resolution of that conflict will it develop its full power. So the self quickly realizes that the theologian's war between Nature and Grace is a picturesque way of stating a real situation; and further that the demand of all religions for a change of heart—that is, of the deep instinctive nature—is the first condition of a spiritual life. And hence, that its hands are fairly full. It is true that an immense joy and hope come with it to this business of tackling imperfection, of adjusting itself to the newly found centre of life. It knows that it is committed to the forward movement of a Power, which may be slow but which nothing can gainsay. Nevertheless the first thing that power demands from it is courage; and the next an unremitting vigorous effort. It will never again be able to sink back cosily into its racial past. Consciousness of disharmony and incompleteness now brings the obligation to mend the disharmony and achieve a fresh synthesis.
This is felt with a special sharpness in the moral life, where the irreconcilable demands of natural self-interest and of Spirit assume their most intractable shape. Old habits and paths of discharge which have almost become automatic must now, it seems, be abandoned. New paths, in spite of resistances, must be made. Thus it is that temptation, hard conflict, and bewildering perplexities usher in the life of the Spirit. These are largely the results of our biological past continuing into our fluctuating half-made present; and they point towards a psychic stability, an inner unity we have not yet attained.
This realization of ourselves as we truly are—emerging with difficulty from our animal origin, tinctured through and through with the self-regarding tendencies and habits it has imprinted on us—this realization or self-knowledge, is Humility; the only soil in which the spiritual life can germinate. And modern man with his great horizons, his ever clearer vision of his own close kinship with life's origin, his small place in the time-stream, in the universe, in God's hand, the relative character of his best knowledge and achievement, is surely everywhere being persuaded to this royal virtue. Recognition of this his true creaturely status, with its obligations—the only process of pain and struggle needed if the demands of generous love are ever to be fulfilled in him and his many-levelled nature is to be purified and harmonized and develop all its powers—this is Repentance. He shows not only his sincerity, but his manliness and courage by his acceptance of all that such repentance entails on him; for the healthy soul, like the healthy body, welcomes some trial and roughness and is well able to bear the pains of education. Psychologists regard such an education, harmonizing the rational or ideal with the instinctive life—the change of heart which leaves the whole self working together without inner conflict towards one objective—as the very condition of a full and healthy life. But it can only be achieved in its perfection by the complete surrender of heart and mind to a third term, transcending alike the impulsive and the rational. The life of the Spirit in its supreme authority, and its identification with the highest interests of the race, does this: harnessing man's fiery energies to the service of the Light.
Therefore, in the rich, new life on which the self enters, one strand must be that of repentance, catharsis, self-conquest; a complete contrition which is the earnest of complete generosity, uncalculated response. And, dealing as we are now with average human nature, we can safely say that the need for such ever-renewed self-scrutiny and self-purgation will never in this life be left behind. For sin is a fact, though a fact which we do not understand; and now it appears and must evermore remain an offence against love, hostile to this intense new attraction, and marring the self's willed tendency towards it.
The next strand we may perhaps call that of Recollection: for the recognizing and the cure of imperfection depends on the compensating search for the Perfect and its enthronement as the supreme object of our thought and love. The self, then, soon begins to feel a strong impulsion to some type of inward withdrawal and concentration, some kind of prayer; though it may not use this name or recognize the character of its mood. As it yields to this strange new drawing, such recollection grows easier. It finds that there is a veritable inner world, not merely of phantasy, but of profound heart-searching experience; where the soul is in touch with another order of realities and knows itself to be an inheritor of Eternal Life. Here unique things happen. A power is at work, and new apprehensions are born. And now for the first time the self discovers itself to be striking a balance between this inner and the outer life, and in its own small way—but still, most fruitfully—enriching action with the fruits of contemplation. If it will give to the learning of this new art—to the disciplining and refining of this affective thought—even a fraction of the diligence which it gives to the learning of a new game, it will find itself repaid by a progressive purity of vision, a progressive sense of assurance, an ever-increasing delicacy of moral discrimination and demand. Psychologists, as we have seen, divide men into introverts and extroverts; but as a matter of fact we must regard both these extreme types as defective. A whole man should be supple in his reactions both to the inner and to the outer world.
The third strand in the life of the Spirit, for this normal self which we are considering; must be the disposition of complete Surrender. More and more advancing in this inner life, it will feel the imperative attraction of Reality, of God; and it must respond to this attraction with all the courage and generosity of which it is capable. I am trying to use the simplest and the most general language, and to avoid emotional imagery: though it is here, in telling of this perpetually renewed act of self-giving and dedication, that spiritual writers most often have recourse to the language of the heart. It is indeed in a spirit of intensest and humble adoration that generous souls yield themselves to the drawing of that mysterious Beauty and unchanging Love, with all that it entails. But the form which the impulse to surrender takes will vary with the psychic make-up of the individual. To some it will come as a sense of vocation, a making-over of the will to the purposes of the Kingdom; a type of consecration which may not be overtly religious, but may be concerned with the self-forgetting quest of social excellence, of beauty, or of truth. By some it will be felt as an illumination of the mind, which now discerns once for all true values, and accepting these, must uphold and strive for them in the teeth of all opportunism. By some—and these are the most blessed—as a breaking and re-making of the heart. Whatever the form it takes, the extent in which the self experiences the peace, joy and power of living at the level of Spirit will depend on the completeness and singlemindedness of this, its supreme act of self-simplification. Any reserves, anything in its make-up which sets up resistances—and this means generally any form of egotism—will mar the harmony of the process. And on the other hand, such a real simplification of the self's life as is here demanded—uniting on one object, the intellect, will and feeling too often split among contradictory attractions—is itself productive of inner harmony and increased power: productive too of that noble endurance which counts no pain too much in the service of Reality.
Here then we come to the fact, valid for every level of spiritual life, which lies behind all the declarations concerning surrender, self-loss, dying to live, dedication, made by writers on this theme. All involve a relaxing of tension, letting ourselves go without reluctance in the direction in which we are most profoundly drawn; a cessation of our struggles with the tide, our kicks against the pricks that spur us on. The inward aim of the self is towards unification with a larger life; a mergence with Reality which it may describe under various contradictory symbols, or may not be able to describe at all, but which it feels to be the fulfilment of existence. It has learnt—though this knowledge may not have passed beyond the stage of feeling—that the universe is one simple texture, in which all things have their explanation and their place. Combing out the confusions which enmesh it, losing its sham and separate life and finding its true life there, it will know what to love and how to act. The goal of this process, which has been called entrance into the freedom of the Will of God, is the state described by the writer of the "German Theology" when he said "I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a man."145145 "Theologia Germanica," Cap. 10. For such a declaration not only means a willed and skilful working for God, a practical siding with Perfection, becoming its living tool, but also close union with, and sharing of, the vital energy of the spiritual order: a feeding on and using of its power, its very life blood; complete docility to its inward direction, abolition of separate desire. The surrender is therefore made not in order that we may become limp pietists, but in order that we may receive more energy and do better work: by a humble self-subjection more perfectly helping forward the thrust of the Spirit and the primal human business of incarnating the Eternal here and now. Its justification is in the arduous but untiring, various but harmonious, activities that flow from it: the enhancement of life which it entails. It gives us access to our real sources of power; that we may take from them and, spending generously, be energized anew.
So the cord on which those events which make up the personal life of the Spirit are to be strung is completed, and we see that it consists of four strands. Two are dispositions of the self; Penitence and Surrender. Two are activities; inward Recollection and outward Work. All four make stern demands on its fortitude and goodwill. And each gives strength to the rest: for they are not to be regarded as separate and successive states, a discrete series through which we must pass one by one, leaving penitence behind us when we reach surrendered love; but as the variable yet enduring and inseparable aspects of one rich life, phases in one complete and vital effort to respond more and more closely to Reality.
Nothing, perhaps, is less monotonous than the personal life of the Spirit. In its humility and joyous love, its adoration and its industry, it may find self-expression in any one of the countless activities of the world of time. It is both romantic and austere, both adventurous and holy. Full of fluctuation and unearthly colour, it yet has its dark patches as well as its light. Since perfect proof of the supersensual is beyond the span of human consciousness, the element of risk can never be eliminated: we are obliged in the end to trust the universe and live by faith. Therefore the awakened soul must often suffer perplexity, share to the utmost the stress and anguish of the physical order; and, chained as it is to a consciousness accustomed to respond to that order, must still be content with flashes of understanding and willing to bear long periods of destitution when the light is veiled.
The further it advances the more bitter will these periods of destitution seem to it. It is not from the real men and women of the Spirit that we hear soft things about the comfort of faith. For the true life of faith gives everything worth having and takes everything worth offering: with unrelenting blows it welds the self into the stuff of the universe, subduing it to the universal purpose, doing away with the flame of separation. Though joy and inward peace even in desolation are dominant marks of those who have grown up into it, still it offers to none a succession of supersensual delights. The life of the Spirit involves the sublimation of that pleasure-pain rhythm which is characteristic of normal consciousness, and if for it pleasure becomes joy, pain becomes the Cross. Toil, abnegation, sacrifice, are therefore of its essence; but these are not felt as a heavy burden, because they are the expression of love. It entails a willed tension and choice, a noble power of refusal, which are not entirely covered by being "in tune with the Infinite." As our life comes to maturity we discover to our confusion that human ears can pick up from the Infinite many incompatible tunes, but cannot hear the whole symphony. And the melody confided to our care, the one which we alone perhaps can contribute and which taxes our powers to the full, has in it not only the notes of triumph but the notes of pain. The distinctive mark therefore is not happiness but vocation: work demanded and power given, but given only on condition that we spend it and ourselves on others without stint. These propositions, of course, are easily illustrated from history: but we can also illustrate them in our own persons if we choose.
Should we choose this, and should life of the Spirit be achieved by us—and it will only be done through daily discipline and attention to the Spiritual, a sacrifice of comfort to its interests, following up the intuition which sets us on the path—what benefits may we as ordinary men expect it to bring to us and to the community that we serve? It will certainly bring into life new zest and new meaning; a widening of the horizon and consciousness of security; a fresh sense of joys to be had and of work to be done. The real spiritual consciousness is positive and constructive in type: it does not look back on the past sins and mistakes of the individual or of the community, but in its other-world faith and this-world charity is inspired by a forward-moving spirit of hope. Seeking alone the honour of Eternal Beauty, and because of its invulnerable sense of security, it is adventurous. The spiritual man and woman can afford to take desperate chances, and live dangerously in the interests of their ideals; being delivered from the many unreal fears and anxieties which commonly torment us, and knowing the unimportance of possessions and of so-called success. The joy which waits on disinterested love and the confidence which follows surrender, cannot fail them. Moreover, the inward harmony and assurance, the consciousness of access to that Spirit who is in a literal sense "health's eternal spring" means a healing of nervous miseries, and invigoration of the usually ill-treated mind and body, and so an all-round increase in happiness and power.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." This, said St. Paul, who knew by experience the worlds of grace and of nature, is what a complete man ought to be like. Compare this picture of an equable and fully harmonized personality with that of a characteristic neurasthenic, a bored sensualist, or an embittered worker, concentrated on the struggle for a material advantage: and consider that the central difference between these types of human success and human failure abides in the presence or absence of a spiritual conception of life. We do not yet know the limits of the upgrowth into power and happiness which complete and practical surrender to this conception can work in us; or what its general triumph might do for the transformation of the world. And it may even be that beyond the joy and renewal which come from self-conquest and unification, a level of spiritual life most certainly open to all who will really work for it; and beyond that deeper insight, more widespreading love, and perfection of adjustment to the here-and-now which we recognize and reverence as the privilege of the pure in heart—beyond all these, it may be that life still reserves for man another secret and another level of consciousness; a closer identification with Reality, such as eye hath not seen, or ear heard.
And note, that this spiritual life which we have here considered is not an aristocratic life. It is a life of which the fundamentals are given by the simplest kinds of traditional piety, and have been exhibited over and over again by the simplest souls. An unconditional self-surrender to the Divine Will, under whatever symbols it may be thought of; for we know that the very crudest of symbols is often strong enough to make a bridge between the heart and the Eternal, and so be a vehicle of the Spirit of Life. A little silence and leisure. A great deal of faithfulness, kindness, and courage. All this is within the reach of anyone who cares enough for it to pay the price.
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