« Prev Chapter III Next »

CHAPTER III

PSYCHOLOGY AND THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT

(I) THE ANALYSIS OF MIND

Having interrogated history in our attempt to discover the essential character of the life of the Spirit, wherever it is found, we are now to see what psychology has to tell us or hint to us of its nature; and of the relation in which it stands to the mechanism of our psychic life. It is hardly necessary to say that such an inquiry, fully carried out, would be a life-work. Moreover, it is an inquiry which we are not yet in a position to undertake. True, more and more material is daily becoming available for it: but many of the principles involved are, even yet, obscure. Therefore any conclusions at which we may arrive can only be tentative; and the theories and schematic representations that we shall be obliged to use must be regarded as mere working diagrams—almost certainly of a temporary character—but useful to us, because they do give us an interpretation of inner experience with which we can deal. I need not emphasize the extent in which modern developments of psychology are affecting our conceptions of the spiritual life, and our reading of many religious phenomena on which our ancestors looked with awe. When we have eliminated the more heady exaggerations of the psycho-analysts, and the too-violent simplifications of the behaviourists, it remains true that many problems have lately been elucidated in an unexpected, and some in a helpful, sense. We are learning in particular to see in true proportion those abnormal states of trance and ecstasy which were once regarded as the essentials, but are now recognized as the by-products, of the mystical life. But a good deal that at first sight seems startling, and even disturbing to the religious mind, turns out on investigation to be no more than the re-labelling of old facts, which behind their new tickets remain unchanged. Perhaps no generation has ever been so much at the mercy of such labels as our own. Thus many people who are inclined to jibe at the doctrine of original sin welcome it with open arms when it is reintroduced as the uprush of primitive instinct. Opportunity of confession to a psychoanalyst is eagerly sought and gladly paid for, by troubled spirits who would never resort for the same purpose to a priest. The formulæ of auto-suggestion are freely used by those who repudiate vocal prayer and acts of faith with scorn. If, then, I use for the purpose of exposition some of those labels which are affected by the newest schools, I do so without any suggestion that they represent the only valid way of dealing with the psychic life of man. Indeed, I regard these labels as little more than exceedingly clever guesses at truth. But since they are now generally current and often suggestive, it is well that we should try to find a place for spiritual experience within the system which they represent; thus carrying through the principle on which we are working, that of interpreting the abiding facts of the spiritual life, so far as we can, in the language of the present day.

First, then, I propose to consider the analysis of mind, and what It has to tell us about the nature of Sin, of Salvation, of Conversion; what light it casts on the process of purgation or self-purification which is demanded by all religions of the Spirit; what are the respective parts played by reason and instinct in the process of regeneration; and the importance for religious experience of the phenomena of apperception.

We need not at this point consider again all that we mean by the life of the Spirit. We have already considered it as it appears in history—its inexhaustible variety, its power, nobility, and grace. We need only to remind ourselves that what we have got to find room for in our psychological scheme is literally, a changed and enhanced life; a life which, immersed in the stream of history, is yet poised on the eternal world. This life involves a complete re-direction of our desires and impulses, a transfiguration of character; and often, too, a sense of subjugation to superior guidance, of an access of impersonal strength, so overwhelming as to give many of its activities an inspirational or automatic character. We found that this life was marked by a rhythmic alternation between receptivity and activity, more complete and purposeful than the rhythm of work and rest which conditions, or should condition, the healthy life of sense. This re-direction and transfiguration, this removal to a higher term of our mental rhythm, are of course psychic phenomena; using this word in a broad sense, without prejudice to the discrimination of any one aspect of it as spiritual. All that we mean at the moment is, that the change which brings in the spiritual life is a change in the mind and heart of man, working in the stuff of our common human nature, and involving all that the modern psychologist means by the word psyche.

We begin therefore with the nature of the psyche as this modern, growing, changing psychology conceives it; for this is the raw material of regenerate man. If we exclude those merely degraded and pathological theories which have resulted from too exclusive a study of degenerate minds, we find that the current conception of the psyche—by which of course I do not mean the classic conceptions of Ward or even William James—was anticipated by Plotinus, when he said in the Fourth Ennead, that every soul has something of the lower life for the purposes of the body and of the higher for the purposes of the Spirit, and yet constitutes a unity; an unbroken series of ascending values and powers of response, from the levels of merely physical and mainly unconscious life to those of the self-determining and creative consciousness.6262 Ennead IV. 8. 5. We first discover psychic energy as undifferentiated directive power, controlling response and adaption to environment; and as it develops, ever increasing the complexity of its impulses and habits, yet never abandoning anything of its past. Instinct represents the correspondence of this life-force with mere nature, its effort as it were to keep its footing and accomplish its destiny in the world of time. Spirit represents this same life acting on highest levels, with most vivid purpose; seeking and achieving correspondence with the eternal world, and realities of the loftiest order yet discovered to be accessible to us. We are compelled to use words of this kind; and the proceeding is harmless enough so long as we remember that they are abstractions, and that we have no real reason to suppose breaks in the life process which extends from the infant's first craving for food and shelter to the saint's craving for the knowledge of God. This urgent, craving life is the dominant characteristic of the psyche. Thought is but the last come and least developed of its powers; one among its various responses to environment, and ways of laying hold on experience.

This conception of the multiplicity in unity of the psyche, conscious and unconscious, is probably one of the most important results of recent psychological advance. It means that we cannot any longer in the good old way rule off bits or aspects of it, and call them intellect, soul, spirit, conscience and so forth; or, on the other hand, refer to our "lower" nature as if it were something separate from ourselves. I am spirit when I pray, if I pray rightly. I am my lower nature, when my thoughts and deeds are swayed by my primitive impulses and physical longings, declared or disguised. I am most wholly myself when that impulsive nature and that craving spirit are welded into one, subject to the same emotional stimulus, directed to one goal. When theologians and psychologists, ignoring this unity of the self, set up arbitrary divisions—and both classes are very fond of doing so—they are merely making diagrams for their own convenience. We ourselves shall probably be compelled to do this: and the proceeding is harmless enough, so long as we recollect that these diagrams are at best symbolic pictures of fact. Specially is it necessary to keep our heads, and refuse to be led away by the constant modern talk of the primitive, unconscious, foreconscious instinctive and other minds which are so prominent in modern psychological literature, or by the spatial suggestions of such terms as threshold, complex, channel of discharge: remembering always the central unity and non-material nature of that many-faced psychic life which is described under these various formulæ.

If we accept this central unity with all its implications, it follows that we cannot take our superior and conscious faculties, set them apart, and call them "ourselves"; refusing responsibility for the more animal and less fortunate tendencies and instincts which surge up with such distressing ease and frequency from the deeps, by attributing these to nature or heredity. Indeed, more and more does it become plain that the sophisticated surface-mind which alone we usually recognize is the smallest, the least developed, and in some respects still the least important part of the real self: that whole man of impulse, thought and desire, which it is the business of religion to capture and domesticate for God. That whole man is an animal-spirit, a living, growing, plastic unit; moving towards a racial future yet unperceived by us, and carrying with him a racial past which conditions at every moment his choices, impulses and acts. Only the most rigid self-examination will disclose to us the extent in which the jungle and the Stone Age are still active in our games, our politics and our creeds; how many of our motives are still those of primitive man, and how many of our social institutions offer him a discreet opportunity of self-expression.

Here, as it seems to me, is a point at which the old thoughts of religion and the new thoughts of psychology may unite and complete one another. Here the scientific conception of the psyche is merely restating the fundamental Christian paradox, that man is truly one, a living, growing spirit, the creature and child of the Divine Life; and yet that there seem to be in him, as it were, two antagonistic natures—that duality which St. Paul calls the old Adam and the new Adam. The law of the flesh and the law of the spirit, the earthward-tending life of mere natural impulse and the quickening life of re-directed desire, the natural and the spiritual man, are conceptions which the new psychologist can hardly reject or despise. True, religion and psychology may offer different rationalizations of the facts. That which one calls original sin, the other calls the instinctive mind: but the situation each puts before us is the same. "I find a law," says St. Paul, "that when I would do good evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind.... With the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Without going so far as a distinguished psychoanalyst who said in my hearing, "If St. Paul had come to me, I feel I could have helped him," I think it is clear that we are learning to give a new content to this, and many other sayings of the New Testament. More and more psychology tends to emphasize the Pauline distinction; demonstrating that the profound disharmony existing in most civilized men between the impulsive and the rational life, the many conflicts which sap his energy, arise from the persistence within us of the archaic and primitive alongside the modern mind. It demonstrates that the many stages and constituents of our psychic past are still active in each one of us; though often below the threshold of consciousness. The blindly instinctive life, with its almost exclusive interests in food, safety and reproduction; the law of the flesh in its simplest form, carried over from our pre-human ancestry and still capable of taking charge when we are off our guard. The more complex life of the human primitive; with its outlook of wonder, self-interest and fear, developed under conditions of ignorance, peril and perpetual struggle for life. The history of primitive man covers millions of years: the history of civilized man, a few thousand at the most. Therefore it is not surprising that the primitive outlook should have bitten hard into the plastic stuff of the developing psyche, and forms still the infantile foundation of our mental life. Finally, there is the rational life, so far as the rational is yet achieved by us; correcting, conflicting with, and seeking to refine and control the vigour of primitive impulse.

But if it is to give an account of all the facts psychology must also point out, and find place for, the last-comer in the evolutionary series: the rare and still rudimentary achievement of the spiritual consciousness, bearing witness that we are the children of God, and pointing, not backward to the roots but onward to the fruits of human growth. But it cannot allow us to think of this spiritual life as something separate from, and wholly unconditioned by, our racial past. We must rather conceive it as the crown of our psychic evolution, the end of that process which began in the dawn of consciousness and which St. Paul calls "growing up into the stature of Christ." Here psychology is in harmony with the teaching of those mystics who invite us to recognize, not a completed spirit, but rather a seed within us. In the spiritual yearnings, the profound and yet uncertain stirrings of the religious consciousness, its half-understood impulses to God, we perceive the floating-up into the conscious field of this deep germinal life. And psychology warns us, I think, that in our efforts to forward the upgrowth of this spiritual life, we must take into account those earlier types of reaction to the universe which still continue underneath our bright modern appearance, and still inevitably condition and explain so many of our motives and our deeds. It warns us that the psychic growth of humanity is slow and uneven; and that every one of us still retains, though not always it is true in a recognizable form, many of the characters of those stages of development through which the race has passed—characters which inevitably give their colour to our religious no less than to our social life.

"I desire," says à Kempis, "to enjoy thee inwardly but I cannot take thee. I desire to cleave to heavenly things but fleshly things and unmortified passions depress me. I will in my mind be above all things but in despite of myself I am constrained to be beneath, so I unhappy man fight with myself and am made grievous to myself while the spirit seeketh what is above and the flesh what is beneath. O what I suffer within while I think on heavenly things in my mind; the company of fleshly things cometh against me when I pray."6363 De Imit. Christi, Bk. III, Cap. 53.

"Oh Master," says the Scholar in Boehme's great dialogue, "the creatures that live in me so withhold me, that I cannot wholly yield and give myself up as I willingly would."6464 Boehme, "The Way to Christ," Pt. IV.

No psychologist has come nearer to a statement of the human situation than have these old specialists in the spiritual life.

The bearing of all this on the study of organized religion is of course of great importance; and will be discussed in a subsequent section. All that I wish to point out now is that the beliefs, and the explanations of action, put forward by our rationalizing surface consciousness are often mere veils which drape the crudeness of our real desires and reactions to life; and that before life can be reintegrated about its highest centres, these real beliefs and motives must be tracked down, and their humiliating character acknowledged. The ape and the tiger, in fact, are not dead in any one of us. In polite persons they are caged, which Is a very different thing: and a careful introspection will teach us to recognize their snarls and chatterings, their urgent requests for more mutton chops or bananas, under the many disguises which they assume—disguises which are not infrequently borrowed from ethics or from religion. Thus a primitive desire for revenge often masquerades as justice, and an unedifying interest in personal safety can be discerned in at least some interpretations of atonement, and some aspirations towards immortality.6565 Unamuno has not hesitated to base the whole of religion on the instinct of self-preservation: but this must I think be regarded as an exaggerated view. See "The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and in Peoples," Caps. 3 and 4.

I now go on to a second point. It will already be clear that the modern conception of the many-levelled psyche gives us a fresh standpoint from which to consider the nature of Sin. It suggests to us, that the essence of much sin is conservatism, or atavism: that it is rooted in the tendency of the instinctive life to go on, in changed circumstances, acting in the same old way. Virtue, perfect rightness of correspondence with our present surroundings, perfect consistency of our deeds with our best ideas, is hard work. It means the sublimation of crude instinct, the steady control of impulse by such reason as we possess; and perpetually forces us to use on new and higher levels that machinery of habit-formation, that power of implanting tendencies in the plastic psyche, to which man owes his earthly dominance. When our unstable psychic life relaxes tension and sinks to lower levels than this, and it Is always tending so to do, we are relapsing to antique methods of response, suitable to an environment which is no longer there. Few people go through life without knowing what it is to feel a sudden, even murderous, impulse to destroy the obstacle in their path; or seize, at all costs, that which they desire. Our ancestors called these uprushes the solicitations of the devil, seeking to destroy the Christian soul; and regarded them with justice as an opportunity of testing our spiritual strength. It is true that every man has within him such a tempting spirit; but its characters can better be studied in the Zoological Gardens than in the convolutions of a theological hell. "External Reason," says Boehme, "supposes that hell is far from us. But it is near us. Every one carries it in himself."6666 Boehme: "Six Theosophic Points," p. 98. Many of our vices, in fact, are simply savage qualities—and some are even savage virtues—in their old age. Thus in an organized society the acquisitiveness and self-assertion proper to a vigorous primitive dependent on his own powers survive as the sins of envy and covetousness, and are seen operating in the dishonesty of the burglar, the greed and egotism of the profiteer: and, on the highest levels, the great spiritual sin of pride may be traced back to a perverted expression of that self-regarding instinct without which the individual could hardly survive.

When therefore qualities which were once useful on their own level are outgrown but unsublimated, and check the movement towards life's spiritualization, then—whatever they may be—they belong to the body of death, not to the body of life, and are "sin." "Call sin a lump—none other thing than thyself," says "The Cloud of Unknowing."6767 "The Cloud of Unknowing," Cap. 36. Capitulation to it is often brought about by mere slackness, or, as religion would say, by the mortal sin of sloth; which Julian of Norwich declares to be one of the two most deadly sicknesses of the soul. Sometimes; too, sin is deliberately indulged in because of the perverse satisfaction which this yielding to old craving gives us. The violent-tempered man becomes once more a primitive, when he yields to wrath. A starved and repressed side of his nature—the old Adam, in fact—leaps up into consciousness and glories in its strength. He obtains from the explosion an immense feeling of relief; and so too with the other great natural passions which our religious or social morality keeps in check. Even the saints have known these revenges of natural instincts too violently denied. Thoughts of obscene words and gestures came unasked to torment the pure soul of Catherine of Siena.6868 E. Gardner: "St. Catherine of Siena," p. 20. St. Teresa complained that the devil sometimes sent her so offensive a spirit of bad temper that she could eat people up.6969 "Life of St. Teresa," by Herself, Cap. 30. Games and sport of a combative or destructive kind provide an innocent outlet for a certain amount of this unused ferocity; and indeed the chief function of games in the modern state is to help us avoid occasions of sin. The sinfulness of any deed depends, therefore, on this theory, on the extent in which it involves retrogression from the point we have achieved: failure to correspond with the light we possess. The inequality of the moral standard all over the world is a simple demonstration of this fact: for many a deed which is innocent in New Guinea, would in London provoke the immediate attention of the police.

Does not this view of sin, as primarily a fall-back to past levels of conduct and experience, a defeat of the spirit of the future in its conflict with the undying past, give us a fresh standpoint from which to look at the idea of Salvation? We know that all religions of the spirit have based their claim upon man on such an offer of salvation: on the conviction that there is something from which he needs to be rescued, if he is to achieve a satisfactory life. What is it, then, from which he must be saved?

I think that the answer must be, from conflict: the conflict between the pull-back of his racial origin and the pull-forward of his spiritual destiny, the antagonism between the buried Titan and the emerging soul, each tending towards adaptation to a different order of reality. We may as well acknowledge that man as he stands is mostly full of conflicts and resistances: that the trite verse about "fightings and fears within, without" does really describe the unregenerate yet sensitive mind with its ineffective struggles, its inveterate egotism, its inconsistent impulses and loves. Man's young will and reason need some reinforcement, some helping power, if they are to conquer and control his archaic impulsive life. And this salvation, this extrication from the wrongful and atavistic claims of primitive impulse in its many strange forms, is a prime business of religion; sometimes achieved in the sudden convulsion we call conversion, and sometimes by the slower process of education. The wrong way to do it is seen in the methods of the Puritan and the extreme ascetic, where all animal impulse is regarded as "sin" and repressed: a proceeding which involves the risk of grave physical and mental disorder, and produces even at the best a bloodless pietism. The right way to do it was described once for all by Jacob Boehme, when he said that it was the business of a spiritual man to "harness his fiery energies to the service of the light—" that is to say, change the direction of our passionate cravings for satisfaction, harmonize and devote them to spiritual ends. This is true regeneration: this is the salvation offered to man, the healing of his psychic conflict by the unification of his instinctive and his ideal life. The voice which St. Mechthild heard, saying "Come and be reconciled," expresses the deepest need of civilized but unspiritualized humanity.

This need for the conversion or remaking of the instinctive life, rather than the achievement of mere beliefs, has always been appreciated by real spiritual teachers; who are usually some generations in advance of the psychologists. Here they agree in finding the "root of evil," the heart of the "old man" and best promise of the "new." Here is the raw material both of vice and of virtue—namely, a mass of desires and cravings which are in themselves neither moral nor immoral, but natural and self-regarding. "In will, imagination and desire," says William Law, "consists the life or fiery driving of every intelligent creature."7070 "Liberal and Mystical Writings of William Law" p. 59. The Divine voice which said to Jacopone da Todi "Set love in order, thou that lovest Me!" declared the one law of mental growth.7171 Jacopone da Todi, Lauda 90. To use for a moment the language of mystical theology, conversion, or repentance, the first step towards the spiritual life, consists in a change in the direction of these cravings and desires; purgation or purification, in which the work begun in conversion is made complete, in their steadfast setting in order or re-education, and that refinement and fixation of the most desirable among them which we call the formation of habit, and which is the essence of character building. It is from this hard, conscious and deliberate work of adapting our psychic energy to new and higher correspondences, this costly moral effort and true self-conquest, that the spiritual life in man draws its earnestness, reality and worth.

"Oh, Academicus," says William Law, in terms that any psychologist would endorse, "forget your scholarship, give up your art and criticism, be a plain man; and then the first rudiments of sense may teach you that there, and there only, can goodness be, where it comes forth as a birth of Life, and is the free natural work and fruit of that which lives within us. For till goodness thus comes from a Life within us, we have in truth none at all. For reason, with all its doctrine, discipline, and rules, can only help us to be so good, so changed, and amended, as a wild beast may be, that by restraints and methods is taught to put on a sort of tameness, though its wild nature is all the time only restrained, and in a readiness to break forth again as occasion shall offer."7272 "Liberal and Mystical Writings of William Law," p. 123. Our business, then, is not to restrain, but to put the wild beast to work, and use its mighty energies; for thus only shall we find the power to perform hard acts. See the young Salvation Army convert turning over the lust for drink or sexual satisfaction to the lust to save his fellow-men. This transformation or sublimation is not the work of reason. His instinctive life, the main source of conduct, has been directed into a fresh channel of use.

We may now look a little more closely at the character and potentialties of our instinctive life: for this life is plainly of the highest importance to us, since it will either energize or thwart all the efforts of the rational self. Current psychology, even more plainly than religion, encourages us to recognize in this powerful instinctive nature the real source of our conduct, the origin of all those dynamic personal demands, those impulses to action, which condition the full and successful life of the natural man. Instincts in the animal and the natural man are the methods by which the life force takes care of its own interests, insures its own full development, its unimpeded forward drive. In so far as we form part of the animal kingdom our own safety, property, food, dominance, and the reproduction of our own type, are inevitably the first objects of our instinctive care. Civilized life has disguised some of these crude demands and the behaviour which is inspired by them, but their essential character remains unchanged. Love and hate, fear and wonder, self-assertion and self-abasement, the gregarious, the acquisitive, the constructive tendencies, are all expressions of instinctive feeling; and can be traced back to our simplest animal needs.

But instincts are not fixed tendencies: they are adaptable. This can be seen clearly in the case of animals whose environment Is artificially changed. In the dog, for instance, loyalty to the interests of the pack has become loyalty to his master's household. In man, too, there has already been obvious modification and sublimation of many instincts. The hunting impulse begins in the jungle, and may end in the philosopher's exploration of the Infinite. It is the combative instinct which drives the reformer headlong against the evils of the world, as it once drove two cave men at each others' throats. Love, which begins in the mergence of two cells, ends in the saint's supreme discovery, "Thou art the Love wherewith the heart loves Thee."7373 "Amor tu se'quel ama donde lo cor te ama."     —Jacopone da Todi: Lauda 81. The much advertized herd instinct may weld us into a mob at the mercy of unreasoning passions; but it can also make us living members of the Communion of Saints. The appeals of the prophet and the revivalist, the Psalmist's "Taste and see," the Baptist's "Change your hearts," are all invitations to an alteration in the direction of desire, which would turn our instinctive energies in a new direction and begin the domestication of the human soul for God.

This, then, is the real business of conversion and of the character building that succeeds it; the harnessing of instinct to idea and its direction into new and more lofty channels of use, transmuting the turmoil of man's merely egoistic ambitions, anxieties and emotional desires into fresh forms of creative energy, and transferring their interest from narrow and unreal to universal objectives. The seven deadly sins of Christian ethics—Pride, Anger, Envy, Avarice, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust—represent not so much deliberate wrongfulness, as the outstanding forms of man's uncontrolled and self-regarding instincts; unbridled self-assertion, ruthless acquisitiveness, and undisciplined indulgence of sense. The traditional evangelical virtues of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience which sum up the demands of the spiritual life exactly oppose them. Over against the self-assertion of the proud and angry is set the ideal of humble obedience, with its wise suppleness and abnegation of self-will. Over against the acquisitiveness of the covetous and envious is set the ideal of inward poverty, with its liberation from the narrow self-interest of I, Me and Mine. Over against the sensual indulgence of the greedy, lustful and lazy is set the ideal of chastity, which finds all creatures pure to enjoy, since it sees them in God, and God in all creatures. Yet all this, rightly understood, is no mere policy of repression. It is rather a rational policy of release, freeing for higher activities instinctive force too often thrown away. It is giving the wild beast his work to do, training him. Since the instincts represent the efforts of this urgent life in us to achieve self-protection and self-realization, it is plain that the true regeneration of the psyche, its redirection from lower to higher levels, can never be accomplished without their help. We only rise to the top of our powers when the whole man acts together, urged by an enthusiasm or an instinctive need.

Further, a complete and ungraduated response to stimulus—an "all-or-none reaction"—is characteristic of the instinctive life and of the instinctive life alone. Those whom it rules for the time give themselves wholly to it; and so display a power far beyond that of the critical and the controlled. Thus, fear or rage will often confer abnormal strength and agility. A really dominant instinct is a veritable source of psycho-physical energy, unifying and maintaining in vigour all the activities directed to its fulfilment.7474 Cf. Watts: "Echo Personalities," for several illustrations of this law. A young man in love is stimulated not only to emotional ardour, but also to hard work in the interests of the future home. The explorer develops amazing powers of endurance; the inventor in the ecstasy of creation draws on deep vital forces, and may carry on for long periods without sleep or food. If we apply this law to the great examples of the spiritual life, we see in the vigour and totality of their self-giving to spiritual interests a mark of instinctive action; and in the power, the indifference to hardship which these selves develop, the result of unification, of an "all-or-none" response to the religious or philanthropic stimulus. It helps us to understand the cheerful austerities of the true ascetic; the superhuman achievement of St. Paul, little hindered by the "thorn in the flesh"; the career of St. Joan of Arc; the way in which St. Teresa or St. Ignatius, tormented by ill-health, yet brought their great conceptions to birth; the powers of resistance displayed by George Fox and other Quaker saints. It explains Mary Slessor living and working bare-foot and bare-headed under the tropical sun, disdaining the use of mosquito nets, eating native food, and taking with impunity daily risks fatal to the average European.7575 Livingstone: "Mary Slessor of Calabar," p. 131. It shows us, too, why the great heroes of the spiritual life so seldom think out their positions, or husband their powers. They act because they are impelled: often in defiance of all prudent considerations! yet commonly with an amazing success. Thus General Booth has said that he was driven by "the impulses and urgings of an undying ambition" to save souls. What was this impulse and urge? It was the instinctive energy of a great nature in a sublimated form. The level at which this enhanced power is experienced will determine its value for life; but its character is much the same in the convert at a revival, in the postulant's vivid sense of vocation and consequent break with the world? in the disinterested man of science consecrated to the search for truth, and in the apostle's self-giving to the service of God, with its answering gift of new strength and fruitfulness. Its secret, and indeed the secret of all transcendence is implied In the direction of the old English mystic: "Mean God all, all God, so that nought work in thy wit and in thy will, but only God,"7676 "The Cloud of Unknowing," Cap, 40. The over-belief, the religious formula in which this instinctive passion is expressed, is comparatively unimportant The revivalist, wholly possessed by concrete and anthropomorphic ideas of God which are impossible to a man of different—and, as we suppose, superior—education, can yet, because of the burning reality with which he lives towards the God so strangely conceived, infect those with whom he comes in contact with the spiritual life.

We are now in a position to say that the first necessity of the life of the Spirit is the sublimation of the instinctive life, involving the transfer of our interest and energy to new objectives, the giving of our old vigour to new longings and new loves. It appears that the invitation of religion to a change of heart, rather than a change of belief, is founded on solid psychological laws. I need not dwell on the way in which Divine love, as the saints have understood it, answers to the complete sublimation of our strongest natural passion; or the extent in which the highest experiences of the religious life satisfy man's instinctive craving for self-realization within a greater Reality, how he feels himself to be fed with a mysterious food, quickened by a fresh dower of life, assured of his own safety within a friendly universe, given a new objective for his energy. It is notorious that one of the most striking things about a truly spiritual man is, that he has achieved a certain stability which others lack. In him, the central craving of the psyche for more life and more love has reached its bourne; instead of feeding upon those secondary objects of desire which may lull our restlessness but cannot heal it He loves the thing which he ought to love, wants to do the deeds which he ought to do, and finds all aspects of his personality satisfied in one objective. Every one has really a forced option between the costly effort to achieve this sublimation of impulse, this unification of the self on spiritual levels, and the quiet evasion of it which is really a capitulation to the animal instincts and unordered cravings of our many-levelled being. We cannot stand still; and this steady downward pull keeps us ever in mind of all the backward-tending possibilities collectively to be thought of as sin, and explains to us why sloth, lack of spiritual energy, is held by religion to be one of the capital forms of human wrongness.

I go on to another point, which I regard as of special importance.

It must not be supposed that the life of the Spirit begins and with the sublimation of, the instinctive and emotional life; though this is indeed for it a central necessity. Nor must we take it for granted that the apparent redirection of impulse to spiritual objects is always and inevitably an advance. All who are or may be concerned with the spiritual training, help, and counselling of others ought clearly to recognize that there are elements in religious experience which represent, not a true sublimation, but either disguised primitive cravings and ideas, or uprushes from lower instinctive levels: for these experiences have their special dangers. As we shall see when we come to their more detailed study, devotional practices tend to produce that state which psychologists call mobility of the threshold of consciousness; and may easily permit the emergence of natural inclinations and desires, of which the self does not recognize the real character. As a matter of fact, a good deal of religious emotion is of this kind. Instances are the childish longing for mere protection, for a sort of supersensual petting, the excessive desire for shelter and rest, voiced in too many popular hymns; the subtle form of self-assertion which can be detected in some claims to intercourse with God—e.g. the celebrated conversation of Angela of Foligno with the Holy Ghost;7777 "And very often did He say unto me, 'Bride and daughter, sweet art thou unto Me, I love thee better than any other who is in the valley of Spoleto.'" ("The Divine Consolations of Blessed Angela of Foligno," p. 160.) the thinly veiled human feelings which find expression in the personal raptures of a certain type of pious literature, and in what has been well described as the "divine duet" type of devotion. Many, though not all of the supernormal phenomena of mysticism are open to the same suspicion: and the Church's constant insistence on the need of submitting these to some critical test before, accepting them at face value, is based on a most wholesome scepticism. Though a sense of meek dependence on enfolding love and power is the very heart of religion, and no intense spiritual life is possible unless it contain a strong emotional element, it is of first importance to be sure that its affective side represents a true sublimation of human feelings and desires, and not merely an oblique indulgence of lower cravings.

Again, we have to remember that the instinctive self, powerful though it be? does not represent the sum total of human possibility. The maximum of man's strength is not reached until all the self's powers, the instinctive and also the rational, are united and set on one objective; for then only is he safe from the insidious inner conflict between natural craving and conscious purpose which saps his energies, and is welded into a complete and harmonious instrument of life, "The source of power," says Dr. Hadfield in "The Spirit," "lies not in instinctive emotion alone, but in instinctive emotion expressed in a way with which the whole man can, for the time being at least, identify himself. Ultimately, this is impossible without the achievement of a harmony of all the instincts and the approval of the reason."7878 "The Spirit," edited by B.H. Streeter, p. 93.

Thus we see that any unresolved conflict or divorce between the religious instinct and the intellect will mar the full power of the spiritual life: and that an essential part of the self's readjustment to reality must consist in the uniting of these partners, as intellect and intuition are united in creative art. The noblest music, most satisfying poetry are neither the casual results of uncriticized inspiration nor the deliberate fabrications of the brain, but are born of the perfect fusion of feeling and of thought; for the greatest and most fruitful minds are those which are rich and active on both levels—which are perpetually raising blind impulse to the level of conscious purpose, uniting energy with skill, and thus obtaining the fiery energies of the instinctive life for the highest uses. So too the spiritual life is only seen in its full worth and splendour when the whole man is subdued to it, and one object satisfies the utmost desires of heart and mind. The spiritual impulse must not be allowed to become the centre of a group of specialized feelings, a devotional complex, in opposition to, or at least alienated from, the intellectual and economic life. It must on the contrary brim over, invading every department of the self. When the mind's loftiest and most ideal thought, its conscious vivid aspiration, has been united with the more robust qualities of the natural man; then, and only then, we have the material for the making of a possible saint.

We must also remember that, important as our primitive and instinctive life may be—and we should neither despise nor neglect it—its religious impulses, taken alone, no more represent the full range of man's spiritual possibilities than the life of the hunting tribe or the African kraal represent his full social possibilities. We may, and should, acknowledge and learn from our psychic origins. We must never be content to rest in them. Though in many respects, mental as well as physical, we are animals still; yet we are animals with a possible future in the making, both corporate and individual, which we cannot yet define. All other levels of life assure us that the impulsive nature is peculiarly susceptible to education. Not only can the whole group of instincts which help self-fulfilment be directed to higher levels, united and subdued to a dominant emotional interest; but merely instinctive actions can, by repetition and control, be raised to the level of habit and be given improved precision and complexity. This, of course, is a primary function of devotional exercises; training the first blind instinct for God to the complex responses of the life of prayer. Instinct is at best a rough and ready tool of life: practice is required if it is to produce its best results. Observe, for instance, the poor efforts of the young bird to escape capture; and compare this with the finished performance of the parent.7979 Cf. B. Russell: "The Analysis of Mind," Cap. 2. Therefore in estimating man's capacity for spiritual response, we must reckon not only his innate instinct for God, but also his capacity for developing this instinct on the level of habit; educating and using its latent powers to the best advantage. Especially on the contemplative side of life, education does great things for us; or would do, if we gave it the chance. Here, then, the rational mind and conscious will must play their part in that great business of human transcendence, which is man's function within the universal plan.

It is true that the deep-seated human tendency to God may best be understood as the highest form of that out-going instinctive craving of the psyche for more life and love which, on whatever level it be experienced, is always one. But some external stimulus seems to be needed, if this deep tendency is to be brought up into consciousness; and some education, if it is to be fully expressed. This stimulus and this education, in normal cases, are given by tradition; that is to say, by religious belief and practice. Or they may come from the countless minor and cumulative suggestions which life makes to us, and which few of us have the subtlety to analyze. If these suggestions of tradition or environment are met by resistance, either of the moral or intellectual order, whilst yet the deep instinct for full life remains unsatisfied, the result is an inner conflict of more or less severity; and as a rule, this is only resolved and harmony achieved through the crisis of conversion, breaking down resistances, liberating emotion and reconciling inner craving with outer stimulus. There is, however, nothing spiritual in the conversion process itself. It has its parallel in other drastic readjustments to other levels of life; and is merely a method by which selves of a certain type seem best able to achieve the union of feeling, thought, and will necessary to stability.

Now we have behind us and within us all humanity's funded instinct for the Divine, all the racial habits and traditions of response to the Divine. But its valid thought about the Divine comes as yet to very little. Thus we see that the author of "The Cloud of Unknowing" spoke as a true psychologist when he said that "a secret blind love pressing towards God" held more hope of success than mere thought can ever do; "for He may well be loved but not thought—by love He may be gotten and holden, but by thought never."8080 Op. cit., Cap. 6. Nevertheless, if that consistency of deed and belief which is essential to full power is to be achieved by us, every man's conception of the God Whom he serves ought to be the very best of which he is capable. Because ideas which we recognize as partial or primitive have called forth the richness and devotion of other natures, we are not therefore excused from trying all things and seeking a Reality which fulfils to the utmost our craving for truth and beauty, as well, as our instinct for good. It is easy, natural, and always comfortable for the human mind to sink back into something just a little bit below its highest possible. On one hand to wallow in easy loves, rest in traditional formulæ, or enjoy a "moving type of devotion" which makes no intellectual demand. On the other, to accept without criticism the sceptical attitude of our neighbours, and keep safely in the furrow of intelligent agnosticism.

Religious people have a natural inclination to trot along on mediocre levels; reacting pleasantly to all the usual practices, playing down to the hopes and fears of the primitive mind, its childish craving for comfort and protection, its tendency to rest in symbols and spells, and satisfying its devotional inclinations by any "long psalter unmindfully mumbled in the teeth."8181 "Cloud of Unknowing," Cap. 37. And a certain type of intelligent people have an equally natural tendency to dismiss, without further worry, the traditional notions of the past. In so far as all this represents a slipping back in the racial progress, it has the character of sin: at any rate, it lacks the true character of spiritual life. Such life involves growth, sublimation, the constant and difficult redirection of energy from lower to higher levels; a real effort to purge motive, see things more truly, face and resolve the conflict between the deep instinctive and the newer rational life. Hence, those who realize the nature of their own mental processes sin against the light if they do not do with them the very best that they possibly can: and the penalty of this sin must be a narrowing of vision, an arrest. The laws of apperception apply with at least as much force to our spiritual as to our sensual impressions: what we bring with us will condition what we obtain.

"We behold that which we are!" said Ruysbroeck long ago.8282 Ruysbroeck: "The Sparkling Stone," Cap. 9. The mind's content and its ruling feeling-tone, says psychology, all its memories and desires, mingle with all incoming impressions, colour them and condition those which our consciousness selects. This intervention of memory and emotion in our perceptions is entirely involuntary; and explains why the devotee of any specific creed always finds in the pure immediacy of religious experience the special marks of his own belief. In most acts of perception—and probably, too, in the intuitional awareness of religious experience—that which the mind brings is bulkier if less important than that which it receives; and only the closest analysis will enable us to separate these two elements. Yet this machinery of apperception—humbling though its realization must be to the eager idealist—does not merely confuse the issue for us; or compel us to agnosticism as to the true content of religious intuition. On the contrary, its comprehension gives us the clue to many theological puzzles; whilst its existence enables us to lay hold of supersensual experiences we should otherwise miss, because it gives to us the means of interpreting them. Pure immediacy, as such, is almost ungraspable by us. As man, not as pure spirit, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies: that is to say, he took to the encounter of the Infinite the finite machinery of sense. This limitation is ignored by us at our peril. The great mystics, who have sought to strip off all image and reach—as they say—the Bare Pure Truth, have merely become inarticulate in their effort to tell us what it was that they knew. "A light I cannot measure, goodness without form!" exclaims Jacopone da Todi.8383 Lauda 91. "The Light of the World—the Good Shepherd," says St. John, bringing a richly furnished poetic consciousness to the vision of God; and at once gives us something on which to lay hold.

Generally speaking, it is only in so far as we bring with us a plan of the universe that we can make anything of it; and only in so far as we bring with us some idea of God, some feeling of desire for Him, can we apprehend Him—so true is it that we do, indeed, behold that which we are, find that which we seek, receive that for which we ask. Feeling, thought, and tradition must all contribute to the full working out of religious experience. The empty soul facing an unconditioned Reality may achieve freedom but assuredly achieves nothing else: for though the self-giving of Spirit is abundant, we control our own powers of reception. This lays on each self the duty of filling the mind with the noblest possible thoughts about God, refusing unworthy and narrow conceptions, and keeping alight the fire of His love. We shall find that which we seek: hence a richly stored religious consciousness, the lofty conceptions of the truth seeker, the vision of the artist, the boundless charity and joy in life of the lover of his kind, really contribute to the fulness of the spiritual life; both on its active and on its contemplative side. As the self reaches the first degrees of the prayerful or recollected state, memory-elements, released from the competition of realistic experience, enter the foreconscious field. Among these will be the stored remembrances of past meditations, reading, and experiences, all giving an affective tone conducive to new and deeper apprehensions. The pure in heart see God, because they bring with them that radiant and undemanding purity: because the storehouse of ancient memories, which each of us inevitably brings to that encounter, is free from conflicting desires and images, perfectly controlled by this feeling-tone.

It is now clear that all which we have so far considered supports, from the side of psychology, the demand of every religion for a drastic overhaul of the elements of character, a real repentance and moral purgation, as the beginning of all personal spiritual life. Man does not, as a rule, reach without much effort and suffering the higher levels of his psychic being. His old attachments are hard; complexes of which he is hardly aware must be broken up before he can use the forces which they enchain. He must, then, examine without flinching his impulsive life, and know what is in his heart, before he is in a position to change it. "The light which shows us our sins," says George Fox, "is the light that heals us." All those repressed cravings, those quietly unworthy motives, those mean acts which we instinctively thrust into the hiddenness and disguise or forget, must be brought to the surface and, in the language of psychology, "abreacted"; in the language of religion, confessed. The whole doctrine of repentance really hinges on this question of abreacting painful or wrongful experience instead of repressing it. The broken and contrite heart is the heart of which the hard complexes have been shattered by sorrow and love, and their elements brought up into consciousness and faced: and only the self which has endured this, can hope to be established in the free Spirit. It is a process of spiritual hygiene.

Psycho-analysis has taught us the danger of keeping skeletons in the cupboards of the soul, the importance of tracking down our real motives, of facing reality, of being candid and fearless in self-knowledge. But the emotional colour of this process when it is undertaken in the full conviction of the power and holiness of that life-force which we have not used as well as we might, and with a humble and loving consciousness of our deficiency, our falling short, will be totally different from the feeling state of those who conceive themselves to be searching for the merely animal sources of their mental and spiritual life. "Meekness in itself," says "The Cloud of Unknowing," "is naught else but a true knowing and feeling of a man's self as he is. For surely whoso might verily see and feel himself as he is, he should verily be meek. Therefore swink and sweat all that thou canst and mayst for to get thee a true knowing and feeling of thyself as thou art; and then I trow that soon after that thou shalt have a true knowing and feeling of God as he is."8484 Op. cit., Cap. 13.

The essence, then, of repentance and purification of character consists first in the identification, and next in the sublimation of our instinctive powers and tendencies; their detachment from egoistic desires and dedication to new purposes. We should not starve or repress the abounding life within us; but, relieving it of its concentration on the here-and-now, give its attention and its passion a wider circle of interest over which to range, a greater love to which it can consecrate its growing powers. We do not yet know what the limit of such sublimation may be. But we do know that it is the true path of life's advancement, that already we owe to it our purest loves, our loveliest visions, and our noblest deeds. When such feeling, such vision and such act are united and transfigured in God, and find in contact with His living Spirit the veritable sources of their power; then, man will have resolved his inner conflict, developed his true potentialities, and live a harmonious because a spiritual life.

We end, therefore, upon this conception of the psyche as the living force within us; a storehouse of ancient memories and animal tendencies, yet plastic, adaptable, ever pressing on and ever craving for more life and more love. Only the life of reality, the life rooted in communion with God, will ever satisfy that hungry spirit, or provide an adequate objective for its persistent onward push.



« Prev Chapter III Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



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