THE PRODIGAL RETURNS
Lilian Staveley The Author of "The Golden Fountain" and "The Romance of the Soul"
London John M. Watkins 21 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road, W.C. 2 1921
Part I. 7 Part II. 63 Part III. 81 Part IV. 102 Part V. 151
Sunshine and a garden path . . . flowers . . . the face and neck and bosom of the nurse upon whose heart I lay, and her voice telling me that she must leave me, that we must part, and immediately after anguish—blotting out the sunshine, the flowers, the face, the voice. This is my first recollection of Life—the pain of love. I was two years old.
Nothing more for two years—and then the picture of a pond and my baby brother floating on it, whilst with agonised hands I seized his small white coat and held him fast.
And then a meadow full of long, deep grass and summer flowers, and I—industriously picking buttercups into a tiny petticoat to take to cook, "to make the butter with," I said.
And then a table spread for tea. Our nurses, my two brothers, and myself. Angry words and screaming baby voices, a knife thrown by my little brother. Rage and hate.
And then a wedding, and I a bridesmaid, aged five years—the church, the altar, and great awe, and afterwards a long white table, white flowers, and a white Bride. Grown men on either side of me—smilingly delightful, tempting me with sweets and cakes and wine, and a new strange interest rising in me like a little flood of exultation—the joy of the world, and the first faint breath of the mystery of sex.
Then came winters of travel. Sunshine and mimosa, olive trees against an azure sky. Climbing winding, stony paths between green terraces, tulips and anemones and vines; white sunny walls and lizards; green frogs and deep wells fringed around with maidenhair. Mountains and a sea of lapis blue, and early in the mornings from this lapis lake a great red sun would rise upon a sky of molten gold. In the rooms so near me were my darling brothers, from whom I often had to part. Beauty and Joy, and Love and Pain—these made up life.
At ten I twice narrowly escaped death. From Paris we were to take the second or later half of the train to Marseilles. Late the night before my father suddenly said, "I have changed my mind; I feel we must go by the first train." This was with some difficulty arranged.
On reaching an immense bridge across a deep ravine I suddenly became acutely aware that the bridge was about to give way. In a terrible state of alarm I called out this fearful fact to my family. I burst into tears. I suffered agonies. My mother scolded me, and when we safely reached the other side of the bridge I was severely taken to task for my behaviour. The bridge broke with the next train over it—the train in which we should have been. Some four hundred people perished. It was the most terrible railway disaster that had ever occurred in France.
A few weeks later, death came nearer still. Having escaped from our tutor, with a party of other children we ran to two great reservoirs to fish for frogs. Laughing and talking and full of childish joy, we fished there for an hour, when all at once I was impelled, under an extraordinary sense of pressure, to call out, "If anyone falls into the water, no one must jump in to save them, but must immediately run to those long sticks" (I had never noticed them until I spoke) "and draw one out and hold it to whoever has fallen in." I spoke automatically, and felt as much surprised as my companions that I should speak of such a thing.
Within five minutes I had fallen in myself. My brother remembered my words, but before he could reach me with the stick I was under the water for the third and last time. It was all that they could do to drag my weight up to the ledge, for the water was a yard below it. Had my brother jumped in, as he said he most surely would have done had I not forewarned him, we must both have been drowned, for they would have had neither the strength nor the time to pull us both out alive. I was not at all frightened or upset till I heard someone say that I was dead; then I wept—it was so sad to be dead! The pressure put upon me to speak as I did had been so great that I have never forgotten the strange impression of it to this day. On both these occasions I consider that I was under immediate Divine protection.
I believed earnestly in God with the complete and peaceful faith of childhood. I thought of Him, and was afraid: but more afraid of a great Angel who stood with pen and book in hand and wrote down all my sins. This terrible Angel was a great reality to me. I prayed diligently for those I loved. Sometimes I forgot a name: then I would have to get out of bed and add it to my prayer. As I grew older, if the weather were cold I did not pray upon the floor but from my bed, because it was more comfortable. I was not always sure if this were quite right, but I could not concentrate my mind on God if my body was cold, because then I could not forget my body.
I saw God very plainly when I shut my eyes! He was a White Figure in white robes on a white throne, amongst the clouds. He heard my prayers as easily as I saw His robes. He was by no means very far away, though sometimes He was further than at others. He took the trouble to make everything very beautiful: and He could not bear sinful children. The Angel with the Book read out to Him my faults in the evenings.
When I was twelve years old my grandmother died, and for three months I was in real grief. All day I mourned for her, and at night I looked out at the stars, and the terrible mystery of death and space and loneliness struck at my childish heart.
After thirteen I could no longer be taken abroad to hotels, for my parents considered that I received too much attention, too many presents, too many chocolates from men. I was educated by a governess, and was often very lonely. My brothers would come back from school; then I overflowed with happiness and sang all day long in my heart with joy. The last night of the holidays was a time of anguish. Upstairs the clothes were packed. Downstairs I helped them pack the "play-boxes," square deal boxes at sight of which tears sprang to my eyes and a dreadful pain gripped my heart. Oh, the pain of love at parting! there never was a pain so terrible as suffering love. The last meal: the last hour: the last look. There are natures which feel this anguish more than others. We are not all alike.
I had been passionately fond of dolls. Now I was too old for such companions, and when my brothers went away I was completely alone with my governess and my lessons. I fell into the habit of dreaming. In these dreams I evolved a companion who was at the same time myself—and yet not an ordinary little girl like myself, but a marvellous creature of unlimited possibilities and virtues. She even had wings and flew with such ease from the tops of the highest buildings, and floated so delightfully over my favourite fields and brooks that I found it hard to believe that I myself did not actually fly. What glorious things we did together, what courage we had, nothing daunted us! I cared very little to read books of adventure, for our own adventures were more wonderful than anything I ever read.
Not only had I wings, but when I was my other self I was extremely good, and the Angel with the Book was then never able to make a single adverse record of me. And then how easy it was to be good: how delightful, no difficulties whatever! As we both grew older the actual wings were folded up and put away. The virtues remained, but we led an intensely interesting life, and a certain high standard of life was evolved which was afterwards useful to me.
When, later on, I grew up and my parents allowed me to have as many friends as I wanted, and when I became exceedingly gay, I still retained the habit of this double existence; it remained with me even after my marriage and kept me out of mischief. If I found myself temporarily dull or in some place I did not care for, clothed in the body of my double, like the wind, I went where I listed. I would go to balls and parties, or with equal ease visit the mountains and watch the sunset or the incomparable beauties of dawn, making delicate excursions into the strange, the wonderful, and the sublime. I gathered crystal flowers in invisible worlds, and the scent of those flowers was Romance.
All this vivid imagination sometimes made my mind over-active: I could not sleep. "Count sheep jumping over a hurdle," I was advised. But it did not answer. I found the most effective way was to think seriously of my worst sins—my mind immediately slowed down, became a discreet blank—I slept!
I grew tall and healthy. At sixteen I received my first offer of marriage and with it my first vision of the love and passion of men. I recoiled from it with great shyness and aversion. Yet I became deeply interested in men, and remained so for very many years. From that time on I never was without a lover till my marriage.
At seventeen my "lessons" came to an end. I had not learnt much, but I could speak four languages with great fluency. I learnt perhaps more from listening to the conversation of my father and his friends. He had always been a man of leisure and was acquainted with many of the interesting and celebrated people of the day, both in England and on the Continent. I was devoted to him, and whenever he guided my character he did so with the greatest judgment. He taught me above all things the need of self-control, and never to make a remark of a fellow-creature unless I had something pleasant or kind to say. There was no subject upon which he was unread; and when my brothers, who were both exceedingly clever, returned from college and the University, wonderful and brilliant were the discussions that went on. Both my parents were of Huguenot descent, belonging to the old French noblesse. I think the Latin blood had sharpened their brains, and certainly gave an extra zest to life.
My father was a great believer in heredity, and the following personal experience may show him somewhat justified in his belief. In quite early childhood I commenced to feel a preference for the left side of my body: I washed, dried, and dressed the left side first; I preserved it carefully from all harm; I kept it warm. I was, comparatively speaking, totally indifferent to my right side.
As I grew older I observed that the place of honour was upon the right-hand side: I understood that God had made the world and ruled it with His right hand! I was wrong, then, in preferring my left hand. I determined to change over. It was very difficult to do: so deep was the instinct that it took me some years to eradicate the love for my left side and transfer it to my right, and when I had at last accomplished it I was still liable to go back to my first preference. No one ever detected my peculiarity.
I was already eighteen or nineteen years old when one day I entered my father's room, ready dressed to go out. I had on both my gloves. Suddenly I remembered that I had put on my left glove first. Immediately I took off both my gloves—then I replaced the right one, and then the left. My father was watching me and asked me for an explanation. I gave it him, and he looked very grave, almost alarmed. After a moment of silence he said, "I want you to give that habit up—I want you to break yourself of it immediately. I had it myself as a youth: it took me years to conquer. No one should permit himself to be the slave of any habit."
I asked him which side he had loved. "The left side," he said. At five-and-twenty he had conquered the habit, and I was not born till he was almost sixty-one! yet I had inherited it. We never referred to it again, and in two years I, also, had conquered it.
We spent the winter of the year in which I was seventeen in Italy, to which country a near relative was Ambassador, and there I went to my first ball. That night—and how often afterwards!—I knew the surging exultation, the intoxication of the joy of life. How often in social life, in brilliant scenes of light and laughter, music and love, I seemed to ride on the crest of a wave, in the marvellous glamour of youth!
This love of the world and of social life was a very strong feeling for many years: at the same time and running, as it were, in double harness with it was a necessity for solitude. My mind imperatively demanded this, and indeed my heart too.
It was during this year that I first commenced a new form of mental pleasure through looking at the beautiful in Nature. Not only solitude, but total silence was necessary for this pastime, and, if possible, beauty and a distant view: failing a view I could accomplish it by means of the beauties of the sky. This form of mental pleasure was the exact opposite of my previous dreamings, for all imagination absolutely ceased, all forms, all pictures, all activities disappeared—the very scene at which I looked had to vanish before I could know the pleasure of this occupation in which, in some mysterious manner, I inhaled the very essence of the Beautiful.
At first I was only able to remain in this condition for a few moments at a time, but that satisfied me—or, rather, did not satisfy me, for through it all ran a strange unaccountable anguish—a pain of longing—which, like a high, fine, tremulous nerve, ran through the joy. What induced me to pursue this habit, I never asked myself. That it was a form of the spirit's struggle towards the Eternal—of the soul's great quest of God—never occurred to me. I was worshipping the Beautiful without giving sufficient thought to Him from Whom all beauty proceeds. Half a lifetime was to go by before I realised to what this habit was leading me—that it was the first step towards the acquirement of that most exquisite of all blessings—the gift of the Contemplation of God. Ah, if anyone knows in his heart the call of the Beautiful, let him use it towards this glorious end! Love, and the Beautiful—these are the twin golden paths that lead us all to God.
Certainly we were not a religious family. One attendance at church upon Sunday—if it did not rain!—and occasionally the Communion, this was the extent of any outward religious feeling. But my father's daily life and acts were full of Christianity. A man of a naturally somewhat violent temper, he had so brought himself under control that towards everyone, high and low, he had become all that was sweet and patient, sympathetic and gentle.
About this time a devouring curiosity for knowledge commenced to possess me. What was the truth—what was the truth about every single thing I saw? Astronomy, Biology, Geology—in these things I discovered a new and marvellous interest: here at last I found my natural bent. History had small attraction for me: it spoke of the doings of people mostly vain or cruel, and untruthful. I wanted truth—irrefutable facts! No scientific work seemed too difficult for me; but I never, then or later, read anything upon the subject of religion, philosophy, or psychology. I had a healthy, wholesome young intelligence with a voracious appetite: it would carry me a long way, I thought. It did—it landed me in Atheism.
To a woman Atheism is intolerable pain: her very nature, loving, tender, sensitive, clinging, demands belief in God. The high moral standard demanded of her is impossible of fulfilment for mere reasons of race-welfare. The personal reason, the Personal God—these are essential to high virtue. Young as I was, I realised this. Outwardly I was frivolous; inwardly I was no butterfly, the deep things of my nature were by no means unknown to me. I not only became profoundly unrestful at heart but I was fearful for myself, and of where strong forces of which I felt the pull might lead me. I had great power over the emotions of men: moreover, interests and instincts within me corresponded to this dangerous capacity. I felt that the world held many strange fires: some holy and beautiful; some far otherwise.
Without God I knew myself incapable of overcoming the evil of the world, or even of my own petty nature and entanglements. I despaired, for I perceived that God does not reveal Himself because of an imperious demand of the human mind, and I had yet to learn that those mysteries which are under lock and key to the intelligence are open to the heart and soul. But indeed there was no God to reveal Himself. All was a fantastic make-believe! a pitiful childish invention and illusion!
My intelligence said, "Resign yourself to what is, after all, the truth: console yourself with the world and material achievements." The heart said, "Resignation is impossible, for there is no consolation to the heart without God." I listened to my heart rather than my intelligence, and for two terrible years I fought for faith. I was always reserved, and never admitted anyone into the deep things of my life—but when I was twenty my father perceived that I was going through some inward crisis. He knew the books that I read, and probably guessed what had happened to me. At any rate he called me into his room one day and asked me, out of love and obedience to himself, to give up reading all science. This was an overwhelming blow to me: yet I loved him dearly, and had never disobeyed him in my life. Again I let my heart speak; and I sacrificed my mind and my books.
I threw myself now more than ever into social amusements, and in my solitary hours sought consolation in my "dream-life." I was afraid to turn to the love of Nature—to my beautiful pastime,—for the pain in it was unbearable.
Towards the end of two years my struggles for faith commenced to find a reward. Little by little a faint hope crept into my mind—fragile, often imperceptible. A questioning remark made by my younger brother helped me: "If human life is entirely material and a part of Nature only, then what becomes of human thoughts and aspirations?" Science had proved to me that nothing is lost—but has a destiny—in that it evolves into another form or condition of activity. Evolution! with its many seeming contradictions to Religion—might it not be merely a strong light, too strong as yet for my weak mind, blinding me into temporary darkness? What raised Man above the beasts but his thoughts and aspirations; and if even a grain of dust were imperishable, were these thoughts and aspirations of Man alone to end in nothing—to be lost! It was but a reasonable inference to say No. These invisible thoughts and aspirations have also a future—a destiny in a, to us, still invisible world—in the Life of the Spirit. To this my mind was able to agree. It was a step. In the realm of Ideal Thought I might find again my Faith. I had indeed been foolish to suppose that a system which provided for the continuation of a grain of sand should overlook the Spirit of Man. This was presupposing the existence of a spirit in Man; but who could be found to truly and reasonably hold that the mysterious high and soaring thoughts of Man were one and the same thing as mere animalism? they were too obviously of another nature to the merely bovine, to the solids of the flesh: for one thing, they were free of the law of gravity which so entirely overrules the rest of Nature—they must therefore come to their destiny in another world, another condition of consciousness.
That winter we again spent in Italy, in continuous gaiety amongst a brilliant cosmopolitan world of men and women who for the most part lived in palaces, surrounded with art and luxury. Here in Rome on every side was to be found the Cult of the Beautiful. Wonderful temples, gems of classical sculpture, masterpieces of colour in oil and fresco—the genius and the aspirations of men rendered permanent for us by Art; but the Temples, those silent emblems of man's worship of an Unknown God, with their surroundings of lovely nature, affected me far the most deeply: indeed, I do not pretend that sculptures and pictures affected me at all. I was interested, I greatly admired—they were a part of education, but that was all. But in the vicinity of those Temples what strange echoes awoke in me, what mysterious sadness and longing, what a mystery of pain! Something within me sighed and moaned for God. If I could but find Him—if I could even truly Believe and be at peace! But already I had commenced to Believe.
During the late winter we went to one of the great ceremonies at the Vatican: we had seats in the Sistine Chapel. It was an especial occasion, and the number of persons present was beyond all seating accommodation. To make way for someone of importance I was asked to give up my seat and go outside into the body of the great Cathedral; here I was hurriedly pushed into the second row of a huge concourse of waiting and standing people. Already in the distance the Pope was approaching. Lifted high in his chair on the shoulders of his bearers, he came slowly along in his white robes, his hand raised in a general blessing upon all this multitude. As he came nearer I saw the delicate ivory face—the great dark eyes shining with a fire I had never seen before. For the first time in my life I saw holiness. I was moved to the depths of my being. Something in my gaze arrested his attention; he had his chair stopped immediately above me, and, leaning over me, he blessed me individually—a very great concession during a large public ceremony. I ought to have gone down on my knees—but I had no knees! I no longer had a body! There was no longer anything anywhere in the world but Holiness—and my enraptured soul.
Holiness, then, was far beyond the Beautiful. I had not known this till I saw it before me.
Life hurried me on: glowing hours and months succeeded each other. In the autumn I fell in love. I came to the consciousness of this, not gradually, but all in one instant. I had no chance of drawing back, for it was already fully completed before I realised it. I came to the realisation of it through a dream (sleep-dreams were always exceedingly rare with me): on this occasion I dreamed a friend showed me the picture of a girl to whom she said this lover (he had been my lover for a year) was engaged. I awoke, sobbing with anguish. I could not disguise from myself the fact that I must be in love. When the time came to speak of it to my parents, my mother would not hear of the marriage—there was no money: I must make another choice. Two brilliant opportunities offered themselves—money—position; but I could not bring myself to think of either. Love was everything: a prolonged secret engagement followed. I went into Society just as before. At this time an aptitude for "fortune-telling" showed itself: it amused my friends—I told fortunes both by palmistry, which I studied quite seriously, and by cards. With both I went largely by inspiration. I found this "inspiration" varied with the individual. There were many persons to whom I could give the most extraordinarily accurate details of past, present, and future; others moderately so; others were a total blank, in which case I either had to remain silent or "try to make up." I got such a reputation for this—I was so sought after for it by even total strangers—that in a couple of years I pushed it all far away from me as an intolerable nuisance.
The Faith that had been growing up in me was of a very different form from that which I had had before: wider, purer, infinitely more powerful, and, though I did not like to remember the pain of them, I felt that those struggling years of doubt and negation had been worth while—without those struggles I felt I never could have had so powerful a faith as I now had. God was at an indefinite and infinite distance, but His Existence was a thing of complete certainty for me.
Of the mode and means of Connection with Him I had no smallest knowledge or even conception. I addressed Him with words from the brain and the lips. An insuperable wall perpetually separated me from Him.
Now my father became ill with heart trouble. Doctors, nurses, all the dreaded paraphernalia of sickness pervaded the house. During two terrible years he lingered on. Heart-broken at the sight of his sufferings, I hardly left his bedside. Finally death released him. But my health, which had always been good, was now completely broken down; I became a semi-invalid, always suffering, too delicate to marry. Under pressure of this continued wretchedness I sank into a nerveless condition of mere dumb endurance—a passive acceptance of the miseries of life "as willed by God," I assured myself.
I entered a stagnant state of mere resignation, whereas accompanying the resignation there should have been a forward-piercing endeavour to reach out and attain a higher spiritual level through Jesus Christ: a persistent effort to light my lamp at the Spiritual Flame to which each must bring his own lamp, for it is not lit for him by the mere outward ceremony of Baptism—that ceremony is but the Invitation to come to the Light: for each one individually, in full consciousness of desire, that lighting must be obtained from the Saviour. I had not obtained this light. I did not comprehend that it was necessary. I understood nothing; I was a spiritual savage. Vague, miserable thoughts, gloomy self-introspections, merely fatigue the vitality without assisting the soul. What is required is a persistent endeavour to establish an inwardly felt relationship first to the Man Jesus. His Personality, His Characteristics are to be drawn into the secret places of the heart by means of the natural sympathy which plays between two hearts that both know love and suffering, and hope and dejection. Sympathy established—love will soon follow. Later, an iron energy to overcome will be required. The supreme necessity of the soul before being filled with love is to maintain the will of the whole spiritual being in conformity with the Will of God. In the achievement of this she is under incessant assistance: in fact everything in the spiritual life is a gift—as in the physical: for who can produce his own sight or his own growth? In the physical these are automatic—in the spiritual they are accomplished only, as it were, "by request," and this request a deep all-pervading desire.
We cannot of our own will climb the spiritual heights, neither can we climb them without using our will. It is Will flowing towards Will which carries us by the power of Jesus Christ to the Goal.
With recovered health, I married, and knew great happiness; but as a bride of four months I had to part from my husband, who went to the South African War. Always, always this terrible pain of love that must part. Always it was love that seemed to me the most beautiful thing in life, and always it was love that hurt me most. He was away for fifteen months. I made no spiritual advance whatever. Mystified by so much pain, I now began to regard God if not as the actual Author of all pain, at any rate as the Permitter of all pain. More and more I fell back in alarm at the discovery of the depths of my own capacities for suffering. A tremendous fear of God now commenced to grow up in me, which so increased that after a few years I listened with astonishment when I heard people say they were afraid of any person, even a burglar! I could no longer understand feeling fear for anyone or anything save God. All my actions were now governed solely by this sense of weighty, immediate fear of Him. This continued for some ten years.
When my husband at last returned from the War we took up again our happy married life, and we lived together without a cross word, in a wonderful world of our own, as lovers do. It was remarkable that we were so happy, for we had no interests in common. My husband loved all sports and all games, whereas interest in those things was frankly incomprehensible to me. In the winter, when he was out in the hunting-field, I spent much time by myself; but I was never dull, for I could walk out amongst Nature and indulge in my pastime, if the weather were fine: and if not, I could observe and admire everything that grew and lived close at hand in the hedgerows and fields, and I would work for hours with my needle, for then I could think; I worked hard in the garden.
A dreadful question now often presented itself to me: Had I really a soul at all, or was I merely a passing shadow, here momentarily for God's amusement? If I had an eternal soul, where did it live—in my head with my brain as a higher part of my mind?
Men had souls, I was sure of that; and they asserted the possession of them very positively—but women? I understood Mahomed grudgingly granted them a half-soul, and that only conditionally. Scriptures spoke harshly of women; Paul was bitter against them; all the sins and troubles of the world were laid upon their delicate and beautiful shoulders. In Revelation I found no mention whatever of Woman in the life of the Resurrection.
All this hurt me. What profound injustice—to suffer so much and to receive no recognition whatever whilst men walked off with all the joys after leading very questionable lives! Why continue to struggle to please God when His interest in me would so soon be over? I went through very real and great spiritual sufferings, and temptations to throw myself again solely into world-interests, to console myself with the here and now, for I had the means: it was all to my hand. I swayed to and fro: at one time I felt very hard towards God, terribly hurt by this love-betrayal. But when I looked at the beauties of Nature and the glories of that endless sky, ah, my heart melted with tenderness and admiration for the marvellous Maker of it all. Truly, He was worthy of any sacrifice upon my part. If my poor, tiny, suffering life afforded Him amusement, I was willing to have it so. After all—for what wretched, ugly, and miserable men women frequently sacrificed themselves without getting any other reward for it than neglect and indifference. How much better to sacrifice oneself to the All-Perfect, All-Beautiful God!
I finally resigned myself entirely and completely to this point of view, and, having done so, I thus addressed, in all reverence and earnestness, the Deity:—
"Almighty God, if it is Thy Will to blot out Woman from Paradise I most humbly assure Thee of this—Man will miss her sorely; and Thou Thyself, Almighty God, when Thou dost visit Paradise, wilt miss her also!"
After this I seldom said any private prayers, for I was not of the Acceptable Sex. But I paid a public respect to God in the church, where I worshipped Him with profound reverence and great sadness. But I thought of Him in my heart constantly, with all those tender, loving, longing thoughts which are the heart's bouquet held out to God.
Happiness for me, then, must be found entirely in this world, and I found it in my love for my husband. Happiness was that which the whole world was looking for; but I could not fail to notice more and more the ridiculous picture presented by Society in its pretences of being the means of finding this happiness. None of its ardent devotees were "happy" people; they were excited, egotistical, intensely vain and selfish, often bitter and disappointed, filled with a demon of competition, jealous, and full of empty, insincere smiles. I perceived the chagrins from which they secretly suffered—the tears behind the laughter. I was not in the least deceived or impressed by any of them, but wondered how they managed to hang together and deceive each other. More and more I looked for purely mental pleasures. Mind was everything. I now began to despise my body—I almost hated it as an incubus! Social successes or failures grew to be a matter of complete indifference to me, and social life resolved itself into being solely the means of bringing mind into contact with mind. The question of fashionable environment ceased to exist for me, but the question of how and where to meet with thinking minds was what concerned me: it was not an easy one to solve in the usual conditions of country life, with its sports and its human-animal interests.
Finally, total mental solitude closed around me. In spite of my doubt as to the existence of a woman-soul, I still felt the same piercing desire and need for God—the acquisition of knowledge in no way lessened this pain. What, after all, is knowledge by itself? The light of the highest human intelligence seems hardly greater than the wan lamp of a diminutive glow-worm, surrounded by the vastness of the night. In sorrow, in trouble, in pain, could knowledge or the mind do so much more for me than the despised body? No, something more than the intelligence was needed to give life any sense of adequacy: even human love was insufficient. God Himself was needed, and the ever-recurring necessity would force itself upon me of the need for a personal direct connection with God.
I continued to find it utterly impossible to achieve this. Mere faith by no means fulfilled my requirements. God, then, remained inaccessible—the mind fell back from every attempt to reach Him. He was unknowable, yet not unthinkable—that is to say, He was not unthinkable as Being, but only in particularisation and in realisation. I could know Him to Be; but in that alone where was any consolation?—I found it totally inadequate. It was some form of personal Contact that was needed; but if my mind failed to reach this, with what else should I reach it? Ah, I was infinitely too small for this terrible mystery; but, small as I was, how I could suffer! Why this suffering? Why would He not show Himself? Harsh, rebellious, criticising thoughts frequently invaded me: the whole scheme of Nature and of life at times appeared cruel, unreasonably so. All the old ever-to-be-repeated cycle of bitter human thoughts had to be gone all through again in my own individual atom. Here and there the bitterness might vary: as, for instance, the collapse and corruption of the body with its hideous finale never caused me distress. I had become too indifferent to the body; but I found that most persons clung to it with extraordinary tenacity, indeed appeared to regard it as their most valuable possession! What I did resent, and was deeply mystified by, was the capacity for suffering and pain which had no balance in any corresponding joy. It was idle to say that the joy of festivities, even of human love, equalled the anguish of grief over others, or the sufferings of physical ill-health. They did not counterbalance it; sorrow was more weighty than joy, and far more durable. Later I became convinced that there did exist a full equivalent of joy, as against pain, and that I merely had no knowledge of how to find it.
Years succeeded each other in this way, bringing greater loosening of earth-ties, more abstraction, certainly no improvement of character.
My husband's duties as a soldier took us to many parts of the world. During a visit to Africa I was struck by lightning, and for ten days my sufferings were almost unendurable; every nerve seemed electrocuted. It was long before I quite recovered. Whilst this illness lasted, though it caused him no inconvenience and he led his life exactly as usual, I yet noticed a change in my husband's love. I was deeply pained, almost horrified, by this revelation of the natural imperfection of human love: profoundly saddened, I asked myself was it nothing but lust which had inspired and dictated all the poems of the world? I thought more and more of Jesus' love; I began to know that nothing less than His perfect love could satisfy me. In this illness I was tremendously alone.
I commenced to meditate upon the life and the character and the love of Jesus Christ. I was now about thirty-six. Gradually He became for me a secret Mind-Companion. I began to rely upon this companionship—though it appeared intensely one-sided, for at first it seemed always to be I who gave! Nevertheless I found a growing calm arising from this apparently so one-sided friendship. A subtle assistance and comfort came to me, it was impossible to say how, yet it came from this companionship as it came from nothing else.
That Jesus Christ was God I knew to be the faith of the Church, but that He actually was so I felt no conviction of whatever: indeed, it was incomprehensible to me. I thought of Him as a Perfect Man, with divine powers. He was my Jesus. I denied nothing, for I was far too small and ignorant to venture to do so: I kept a perfectly open mind and loved Him for Himself, as the Man Jesus.
This went on for some years. In all my spiritual advancement I was incredibly slow!
What had delayed me in progress was lack of using the right Procedure and the right Prayer. I sought for God with persistence and great longing; but I sought Him as the Father, and the Godhead is inaccessible to the creature. On becoming truly desirous of finding God it is necessary that with great persistence we pray the Father in the name of Jesus Christ that He will give us to Jesus Christ and nil the heart and mind with love for Christ. Only through Jesus Christ can we find the Godhead, and we cannot be satisfied with less than the Godhead. With the creature we cannot come into contact with the Godhead—but with the soul only. The soul is awakened, revived, reglorified by Grace of Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit effects the repentance and conversion of the heart and mind, for without this conversion towards a spiritual life the soul remains in bondage to the unconverted creature.
One day I returned from a walk, and hardly had I entered my room when I commenced thinking with great nearness and intimacy of Jesus; and suddenly, with the most intense vividness, He presented Himself before my consciousness so that I inwardly perceived Him, and at once I was overcome by a great agony of remorse for my unworthiness: it was as though my heart and mind broke in pieces and melted in the stress of this fearful pain, which continued—increased—became unendurable, and lasted altogether an hour. Too ignorant to know that this was the pain of Repentance, I did not understand what had happened to me; but now indeed at least I knew beyond a doubt that I had a soul! My wonderful Lord had come to pay me a visit, and I was not fit to receive Him—hence my agony. I would try with all my strength to improve myself for Him.
I was at first at a standstill to know even where to commence in this improvement, for words fail to describe what I now saw in myself! Up till now I had publicly confessed myself a sinner, and privately calmly thought of myself as a sinner, but without being disturbed by it or perceiving how I was one! I kept the commandments in the usual degree and way, and was conscientious in my dealings with others. Now all at once—by this Presentment of Himself before my soul—which had lasted for no more than one moment of time—I suddenly, and with terrible clearness, saw the whole insufferable offensiveness of myself.
For some time, even for some weeks, I remained like a person half-stunned with astonishment. Then I determined to try to become less selfish, less irritable and impatient, to show far more consideration for everyone else, to be rigidly truthful: in fact, try to commence an alteration.
For one thing—about telling lies—I had always been quite truthful in large things, but often told some social lies for my own convenience, and sometimes told them for no reason at all! This spontaneous Evil filled me with more astonishment than shame; whence did this Evil come? I could never account for this strange Intruder which seemed to have a separate life and will of its own, and which, with no conscious invitation upon my part, would suddenly visit me! and in all manner of shapes and ways! But whatever my difficulties, I had always this immense incentive—to please my Jesus, tender and wonderful, my Perfect Friend.
Two years went by, and on Easter morning, at the close of the service as I knelt in prayer in the church, He suddenly presented Himself again before my soul, and again I saw myself, and again I went down and down into those terrible abysses of spiritual pain; and I suffered more than I suffered the first time: indeed, I have never had the courage to quite fully recall the full depths of this anguish to mind.
After this my soul knew Jesus as Christ the Son of God, and my heart and mind accepted this without any further wonder or question, and entirely without knowing how this knowledge had been given, for it came as a gift.
A great repose now commenced to fill me, and the world and all its interests and ways seemed softly and gently blown out of my heart by the wings of a great new love, my love for the Risen Christ.
Though outwardly my friends might see no change, yet inwardly I was secretly changing month by month. Even the great love I had for my husband began to fade: this caused me distress; I thought I was growing heartless, and yet it was rather that my heart had grown so large that no man could fill it! I felt within me an immense, incomprehensible capacity for love, and the whole world with all its contents seemed totally, even absurdly, inadequate to satisfy this great capacity. I suffered over it without understanding it.
I had a garden full of old-fashioned flowers, surrounded by high walls with thatch. As I grew in my heart more and more away from the world, I worked more in the garden, and whilst I worked I thought mostly about God—God so far away and hidden, and yet so near my heart.
There were many different song-birds in the garden, and one robin. I loved the robin best of all. His song was not so beautiful as the blackbird's or so mellow as the thrush's; but they hid and ran away from me, whilst the robin sought me out and stayed with me and sang me, all to myself, a little, tiny, gentle song of which I never grew tired. If I stayed quite still, he came so close he almost touched me; but if I moved towards him, he flew away in a great fright.
It seemed to me I was like that robin, and I wanted to come close, close to the feet of God. But He would not let me find Him. He would not make me any sign. He would not let me feel I knew Him. Did He in His wisdom know that if He showed Himself too openly I should go mad with fear or joy? I could not tell. But every day as the robin sang to me in the garden I sang to God a little gentle song out of my heart—a song to the hidden God Who called me, and when I answered Him would not be found, and, still remaining hidden, called and called till I was dumb with the pain and wonder of this mystery.
Then suddenly came the Great War. My husband was amongst the first to have to go. All my love for him which I had thought to be fading now rose up again to its full strength: it was no mere weakly sentiment, but a powerful type of human love which had been able to carry me through fifteen years of married life without one hour of quarrelling; its roots were deep into my heart and mind: the very strength and perfection of it but made of it a greater instrument for torture. Why should this most beautiful of all human emotions carry with it so heavy a penalty, for which no remedy appeared to exist? It had not then been made clear to me that all human loves must first be offered up and ascend into the love of God: then only are they freed from this Pain-Tax. God must first be All in All to us before we can enter amongst the number who are all in all to Him—constantly consoled by Him. This condition of being all in all is demanded as a right by all men and women in mutual love, yet we deny this right to God: we are not even willing to attempt it! this failure to be willing is the grave error we make. Our attitude to God is not one of love, but of an expectancy of favours. An identical sacrifice is demanded of us in marriage—father, mother, brothers, sisters, friends: all these loves must become subservient to the new love, and with what willingness and smiles this sacrifice is usually made! Not so with our sacrifices to God—we make them with bitter tears, hard hearts, long faces. Is He never hurt by this perpetual grudgingness of love?
But I had not yet learnt any of this, and I could not accept, I could not swallow this terrible cup. I thought of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. He understood and knew all pain; I had His companionship, but He offered me no cessation of this pain. It must be borne; had He not borne His own up to the bitter end? I shrank, appalled, from the suffering I was already in and the suffering that lay before me. Relief from this agony, relief, relief! But there was no relief. In utter darkness all must be gone through. At least I was not so foolish as to attribute all this horror that was closing in upon the world to the direct Will of God: I could perceive that, on the contrary, it was the spirit of Anti-Christ, it was the will of Man with his greeds, his cruelty, his self-sufficient pride, together with a host of other evils, which had brought all this to pass. But could not—would not—God deliver the innocent; must all alike descend into the pit?
I tried to obtain relief by casting this burden on to Christ, and was not able to accomplish it. I tried to draw the succour of God down into my heart, and I tried to throw myself out and up to Him—I could do neither: the vast barrier remained; Faith could not take me through it.
A horrible kind of second sight now possessed me, so that, although I never heard one word from my husband, I became aware of much that was happening to him—knew him pressed perpetually backwards, fighting for his life, knew him at times lying exhausted out in the open fields at night. At last I began to fear for my reason; I became afraid of the torture of the nights and sat up reading, forcing my mind to concentrate itself upon the book—the near-to-hand help of the book was more effective than the spiritual help in which something altogether vital was still missing. Relief only came when after a month a letter reached me from my husband, saying that the terrible retreat was over and he safe.
Months and years dragged by. Sometimes the pain of it all was eased; sometimes it increased.
As grass mown down and withered in the fields gives out the pleasant scent of hay, so in her laceration and her anguish did the soul, I wondered, give off some Pain-Song pleasing to Almighty God.
At first I recoiled with terror from this thought; finally love overcame the terror—I was willing to have it so, if it pleased Him. My soul reached down into great and fearful depths. I envied the soldiers dying upon the battlefields; life was become far more terrible to me than death. Looking back upon my struggles, I see with profound astonishment how unaware I was of my impudence to God in attributing to Him qualities of cruelty and callousness, such as are to be found only amongst the lowest men!
Yet good was permitted to come out of this evil; for where I attributed to God a callousness and even an enjoyment of my sufferings, I learnt self-sacrifice, the effacement of all personal gain, and total submission for love's sake to His Will, cruel though I might imagine it to be. With what tears does the heart afterwards address itself in awed repentance to its Beloved and Gentle God!
A painful illness came and lasted for months. Having no home, I was obliged to endure the misery of it as best I could among strangers. At this time I touched perhaps the very lowest depths. How often I longed that I might never wake in the morning! I loathed my life.
During this illness I came exceedingly near to Christ, so much so that I am not able to describe the vividness of it. What I learnt out of this time of suffering I do not know—save complete submission. I became like wax—wax which was asked to take only one impression, and that pain. I was too dumb; I should have remembered those words, that "men ought not to faint, but to pray."
Bewildered, and mystified by my own unhappiness and that of so many others all around me, I sank in my submission too much into a state of lethargic resignation, whereas an onward-driving resolution to win through, a powerful determination to seek and obtain the immediate protection and assistance of God, a standing before God, and a claiming of His help—these things are required of the soul: in fact that importunity is necessary of which Jesus spoke (Luke xi. 7-9): "And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not . . . I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
Such times of distress are storms, fearful battles of the soul in which she must not faint but rise up and walk towards God and clamour for help; and she will receive it. In His own good time He will give her all that she asks and more even than she dreamed of. She must claim from God a continual restrengthening, and search with glowing aspiration for a more joyous love.
It was summer-time: a great battle was raging in France. A friend wrote me that my husband was up in the very foremost part of it. I heard no word from my husband; weeks passed, and still the same ominous silence. At last the day came when the shadow of these two fearful years rose up and overwhelmed me altogether. I went up on to the wild lonely hill where I so often walked, and there I contended with God for His help. For the first time in my life there was nothing between God and myself—this had continually happened with Jesus Christ, but not with God the Father, Who remained totally inaccessible to me. Now, like a man standing in a very dark place and seeing nothing but knowing himself immediately near to another—so I knew myself in very great nearness to God. I had no need for eyes to see outwardly, because of the immense magnetism of this inward Awareness. At one moment my heart and mind ran like water before Him—praying Him, beseeching Him for His help; at another my soul stood straight up before Him, contending and claiming because she could bear no more: and it felt as though the Spirit of God stood over against my spirit, and my spirit wrestled with God's Spirit for more than an hour. But He gave me no answer, no sign, no help. He gave me nothing but that awful silence which seems to hang for ever between God and Man. And I became exhausted, and turned away in despair from God, and from supplication, and from striving, and from contending, and, very quiet and profoundly sad, I stood looking out across the hills to the distant view—how gentle and lovely this peace of the evening sky, whilst on earth all the nations of the world were fighting together in blood and fury and pain!
I had stood there for perhaps ten minutes, mutely and sadly wondering at the meaning of it all, and was commencing to walk away when suddenly I was surrounded by a great whiteness which blotted out from me all my surroundings. It was like a great light or white cloud which hid all my surroundings from me, though I stood there with my eyes wide open: and the cloud pricked, so that I said to myself, "It is an electric cloud," and it pricked me from my head down to my elbows, but no further. I felt no fear whatever, but a very great wonder, and stood there all quite simple and placid, feeling very quiet. Then there began to be poured into me an indescribably great vitality, so that I said to myself, "I am being filled with some marvellous Elixir." And it filled me from the feet up, gently and slowly, so that I could notice every advance of it. As it rose higher in me, so I grew to feel freed: that is to say, I had within me the astounding sensation of having the capacity to pass where or how I would—which is to say I felt freed of the law of gravity. I was like a free spirit—I felt and knew within myself this glorious freedom! I tasted for some moments a new form of living! Words are unable to convey the splendour of it, the boundless joy, the liberty, the glory of it.
And the incomprehensible Power rose and rose in me until it reached the very crown of my head, and immediately it had quite filled me a marvellous thing happened—the Wall, the dreadful Barrier between God and me, came down entirely, and immediately I loved Him. I was so filled with love that I had to cry aloud my love, so great was the force and the wonder and the delight and the might of it.
And now, slowly, the vivid whiteness melted away so that I saw everything around me once more just as before; but for a little while I continued to stand there very still and thoughtful, because I was filled with wonder and great peace.
Then I turned to walk home, but I walked as a New Creature in a New World—my heart felt like the heart of an angel, glowing white-hot with the love for God, and all my sorrows fled away in a vast joy! This was His answer, this was His help. After years and years of wrestling and struggling, in one moment of time He had let me find Him, He had poured His Paradise into my soul! Never was such inconceivable joy—never was such gladness! My griefs and pains and woes were wiped away—totally effaced as though they had never existed!
Oh, the magnificence of such splendid joy! The whole of space could scarcely now be large enough to hold me! I needed all of it—I welcomed its immensity as once I was oppressed by it. God and my Soul, and Love, and Light, and Space!
At last my little suffering life is sheltered in the known, the felt, protection of the Ineffable and Invisible Being. The Being Who, without revealing Himself to me by sight or sound, yet communicates Himself to me in some divine manner at once all-sufficing and inexpressible. I ask no questions: I am in no haste of anxious learning. My heart and my mind and my soul stand still and drink in the glory of this happiness. All day, often half the night, I worship Him. I love Him with this new love, so different from anything known before. The greatest earthly love, by comparison to it, has become feeble, impure, almost grotesque in its inefficiency—a tinsel counterfeit of this glistening mystery which must still be spoken of as love because I know no other name.
I find it difficult, almost impossible, to speak to my fellow-creatures, because I have only two words, two thoughts in my entire being: my God, and my love for Him.
I am like a thing that is magnetised, held: I am not able, day or night, to detach my mind from God.
I wake with His name upon my lips, with His glory in my soul. In all this there is no virtue on my part; there is no effort; the capacity for this boundless devotion is a free gift. Coming immediately after my anguished prayer on the hill, it appears to me to have come solely on account of that one prayer—the previous prayers, struggles, endeavours of five-and-twenty years are entirely forgotten. I comprehend nothing of the mystery, neither as yet do I feel any desire to comprehend it; but in a world where only love, beauty, happiness, and repose exist, I walk and talk and live alone with God.
Yet the war was continuing as usual, my husband was in the same danger, I became ill with influenza, my friends continued to die of wounds, my relations to be killed one by one; but in all this there was no pain: the sting, the anguish, had gone out of every single thing in life.
My consciousness feels to be composed of two extremes: I am a child of a few years of age, to whom sin, suffering, pain, evil, and temptation are not known, and yet, though knowing so little, I know the unutterably great—I know God. This cannot be expressed—merely, it can be said that two extremes have met.
This new consciousness, this new worship, this new love is for the Godhead. Christ is gone up into the Godhead, and I worship Him in, and as One with, the Godhead. For three months this continues uninterruptedly. Then Jesus Christ presents Himself to my consciousness. Jesus, Who led me to this happiness, now calls and calls to my soul. Immediately I commence to respond to Him. He is drawing me away; He is teaching me something—at first I do not know what, but soon I know that He is leading me out of this Eden, this paradise of my childhood: I know it, because I begin to feel pain again, and to recognise evil. O my Jesus, my Jesus, must I really follow Thee out of Paradise back into pain? Yes, in less than two weeks I am fully back in the world again—but not the same world, because I know how to escape from it. The Door that I knocked at, and that all in one moment was opened to me, is never closed. I can go in and out. God never closes to me the right of way; never severs those secret wires of Divine Communication.
But my soul is not nursed, as it were, in His Hands day and night—she must learn to grow up. Woeful education, deadly days of learning, stony paths that hurt, that hurt all the more because of the felicity that only so recently was mine.
For three months I am walking further and further out of Eden and back into the horrors of the world—following Jesus.
One night I compose myself as usual for sleep, but I do not sleep, neither can I say that I am quite awake. It is neither sleep, nor is my wakefulness the usual wakefulness. I do not dream, I cannot move. My consciousness is alight with a new fiery energy of life; it feels to extend to an infinite distance beyond my body, and yet remains connected with my body. I live in a manner totally new and totally incomprehensible, a life in which none of my senses are used and which is yet a thousand, and more than a thousand, times as vivid. It is living at white heat—without forms, without sound, without sight, without anything which I have ever been aware of in this world, and at a terrible speed. What is the meaning of all this? I do not know: my body is quite helpless and is distressed, but I am not afraid. God is teaching me something in His own way. For six weeks every night I enter this condition, and the duration and power or intensity of it increase by degrees. It feels that my soul is projected or travels for incalculable distances beyond my body—(long afterwards I understand through experience that this is not the mode of it, but that the soul remaining in the body is by some de-insulation exposed to the knowledge of spirit-life as and when free of the flesh)—and I learn to comprehend and to know a new manner of living, as a swimmer learns a new mode of progression by means of his swimming, which is not his natural way.
By the end of three weeks I can remain nightly for many hours in this condition, which is always accompanied by an intense and vivid consciousness of God.
As this consciousness of God becomes more and more vivid so my body suffers more and more. By day I can only eat the smallest morsels of food, which almost choke me, but I drink a great quantity of water. I am perfectly healthy, though I have hardly any sleep and very little, indeed almost no, food—the suffering is only at night with the breathing and the heart when in this strange condition. But I have no anxiety whatever; I am glad that He shall do as He pleases with me. Nothing but love can give us this supreme confidence.
During the whole of these experiences I live in a state of very considerable abstraction. But this now suddenly increases, increases to such an extent that I hardly know whether to call it abstraction or the extremity of poverty. I now become divested of all interests outside and inside, divested of the greater part of my intelligence, divested of my will. I am of no value whatever, less than the dust on the road.
In this awful nothingness I am still I. My consciousness continues and is not confounded with or lost in any other consciousness, but is reduced to stark nakedness and worth nothing: and this worthless nothing is hung up and, as it were, suspended nowhere in particular as far from earth as from heaven, totally unknown and unwanted by both God and Man. I am naked patience—waiting. I have a few thoughts, but very few: I think one thought where in normal times I should think ten thousand. I feel and know that I am nothing, and I feel that this has been done to me; just as before, all that I had was also done to me and was a gift. So I acknowledge that I once had and was perhaps something and that now I possess and certainly am nothing—I acknowledge it, I accept it, without hesitation, without protest. One of my few thoughts is that I shall remain for the rest of my natural life in this pitiful state where, however, I shall hope to be preserved from further sinning simply because I have not a sufficiency of will, intelligence, or thought with which to sin! I am too completely nothing to be able to sin. I have another thought, which is that as I no longer have any intelligence with which to deal with the ordinary difficulties of life, such as street life and traffic, I shall shortly be run over and killed; and so I put a card with my address on it into my little handbag, for the convenience of those who shall be obliged to deal with my body afterwards.
I have just sufficient capacity left me to automatically, mechanically, go through with the necessities of life. I have not become idiotic. I live in a tremendous and profound solitude, such a solitude as would frighten many people greatly. But my beautiful pastime had accustomed me to solitude and also to something of this nothingness—a brief nothingness was a necessary part of the beautiful pastime: so I have no fears now of any kind; but I wonder. Perhaps I am just four things—wonder, patience, resignation, and nothing.
Yet through this dreadful solitude penetrates the inspiration of some unseen guide. As regards this particular time I am convinced that this guide is an outside presence. I depend in all my goings and comings upon the guidance of this guide who proves incredibly accurate in every detail, in details of even the smallest necessities. If this guide is a part of myself, it is that of me with which I have not previously come in contact; and it is not the Reason, but far beyond the Reason, for it divines. It is then either a spiritual guide, companion, or guardian angel, or it is a power possessed by the soul herself—a foretasting cognisance, a mysterious intuition of which we as yet comprehend little or nothing, and which we have not yet learnt to command: it presents itself; it absents itself; but it condescends to every need; it is always helpful, always beneficent; it sees that which it sees before the event; it hears that which it hears before the words are spoken. It guides by what would seem to be two very different modes: the greater things come by a mode altogether indescribable; but for the small things of every day I will take simple examples here and there. I am abroad. Someone in the family at home is taken dangerously ill. I am urgently needed; but the trains are overcrowded, I am unable to get my seat transferred to an earlier date, I cannot let them know at home when I shall return: all is uncertain, all is chaos. I am painfully anxious, I am ashamed to say I am greatly worried: I turn as always to my Lord, asking Him to forgive these selfish fears and to help me. A little while later a scene presents itself to me—I see my own room, I hear the voice of a page-boy standing in the door and saying, "You are wanted on the telephone"; then I am at the telephone, and a voice is saying to me, "Your train accommodation is transferred to Friday the 19th." That is all, because I am rung off.
Five days pass. I am in my room, and the page is really standing at the door, and he says, "You are wanted on the telephone." I go to the telephone, and a voice says, "Your train accommodation is transferred to Friday the 19th." That is all, because I am rung off.
Again, there is a young lay-reader, closely in contact with Christ; he has a wife and young child. The weather is bitterly cold. A picture suddenly comes before me of this family, and there is a voice saying, "He was gathering together the last little pieces of fuel when your present came." Immediately I understand that I am required to send coal to these people, and to do it at once without delay. The following day the wife comes with tears to thank me, and she tells me, "We were in despair; my husband's heart is so weak he cannot bear the cold, he becomes seriously ill. He was gathering together the last little pieces of fuel when your present came."
Or, again, I very badly need a pair of walking shoes, but for weeks I have been so absorbed in contemplation that the pain of bringing myself from this holy joy to do shopping is too great, and I delay and delay; I cannot bring myself to it; but shoes are a necessity of earthly life. Having exceedingly narrow feet, I am obliged always to get my shoes from a certain maker, and now, during the war, he makes so few shoes. To-day a picture of the shop comes before me, and the words "Go to-day, go to-day," urge themselves upon my consciousness. Then a picture comes of the assistant; I show her my foot, and she says, "There is only one pair left; how fortunate you came to-day!" So I understand I must go to my shopping and, greatly against my will, I go that afternoon. The assistant comes forward, and I show her my foot, and she says, "There is only one pair left; how fortunate you came to-day!"
Always in this mode of the guiding are the little picture and the exact words: all of it of the easiest to describe; but of the other and the greater guiding I do not know how to tell. It is sheer pure knowledge, received not in parts, pictures, or words, but as a whole and in a mode so exquisitely mysterious as to be at once too intricate for description, and yet simplicity itself!
Sure, perfect, and serene mode of knowledge! Royal knowledge which knows no toil, no sweat of work, no common drudgery, art thou of the soul herself, or art thou altogether from outside the soul? This I know, that though the first mode would seem to be very small and to deal with littleness, and the last mode seems to be entirely apart from it because of the greatnesses with which it deals that they are linked and that the power is one power soaring to the highest, condescending to the smallest.
So now, in the time of this strange abstraction and poverty, when the cinematograph of my mind is closed down, and with it the delicate mechanism which takes up, uses, and connects all that we take in by the senses, and which makes the world so real and so comprehensible, is become unhitched and disconnected, so that nothing in the world seems any longer real or possesses either value or meaning, and I stand before it all defenceless, seemingly unable to deal with it, utterly indifferent to it; then and now Reason may very well say to me, "You are in very great danger"; but I am not in any danger, because I am guided whenever necessary by some condescending sagacity far more sagacious than my poor Reason, infinitely more penetrative and effectual than any sense of eye or ear. I remain fully convinced that at this time, at any rate, it was an outside sagacity which guided me—truly a guardian angel.
This period of intense abstraction, this strange valley of humiliation, poverty, solitude, seemed a necessary prelude to the great, the supreme, experience of my life. As I came slowly out of this poverty and solitude, the joyousness of my spiritual experience increased: the nights were no longer at all a time of sleep or repose, but of rapturous living.
The sixth week came, and I commenced to fear the nights and this tremendous living, because the happiness and the light and the poignancy and the rapture of it were becoming more than I could bear. I began to wonder secretly if God intended to draw my soul so near to Him that I should die of the splendour of this living, My raptures were not only caused by the sense of the immediate Presence of God—this is a distinctive rapture running through and above all raptures, but there are lesser ecstasies caused by the meeting of the soul with Thoughts or Ideas, with melodies which bear the soul in almost unendurable delight upon a thousand summits of perfection; and with an all-pervading rapturous Beauty in a great light. There is this peculiarity about the manner of these thoughts and melodies and beauties—they are not spoken, heard, or seen, but lived. I could not pass these things to my reason and translate the Ideas into words or the melodies into sounds, or the beauty into objects, for spirit-living is not translatable to earth-living, and I found in it no words, no sounds, no objects, and I comprehended and I lived with that in me which is above Reason and of which I had, previously to these experiences, had no cognisance.
There came a night when I passed beyond Ideas, beyond melody, beyond beauty, into vast lost spaces, depths of untellable bliss, into a Light. And the Light is an ecstasy of delight, and the Light is an ocean of bliss, and the Light is Life and Love, and the Light is the too deep contact with God, and the Light is unbearable Joy; and in unendurable bliss my soul beseeches God that He will cover her from this most terrible rapture, this felicity which exceeds all measure. And she is not covered from it. And she beseeches Him again; and she is not covered; and being in the last extremity from this most terrible joy, she beseeches Him again: and immediately is covered from it.
* * *
My soul, my whole being, is terrified of God, and of joy. I dare not think of Him, I dare not pray; but, like some pitiful and wounded child, I creep to the feet of Jesus.
When on the following evening once more the day closes and I compose myself for the night, I wonder tremblingly to what He will again expose me; but for the first time in six weeks I fall into a natural sleep and know no more until the morning.
Then I understand that the lesson is over. Mighty and Terrible God, it was enough!
In the light of these measureless joys what is any earthly joy? What is the very greatest experience of earthly happiness but so much waste paper?
What are the joys of those vices for which men sell their souls, but soap-bubbles!
The whole meaning of life, together with all the graduated and accepted values of it, becomes for ever changed in the light of the knowledge of Celestial Happiness.
Wonderful, beautiful weeks went by, filled with divine, indescribable peace. The Presence of God was with me day and night, and the world was not the world as I had once known it—a place where men and women fought and sinned and toiled and anguished and wondered horribly the meaning of this mystery of pain and joy, of life and death. The world was become Paradise, and in my heart I cried to all my fellow-souls, "Why fret and toil, why sweat and anguish for the things of earth when our own God has in His hand such peace and bliss and happiness to give to Every man? O come and receive it, Every man his share."
And the glamour of life in Unity with God became past all comprehension and all words.
Is life, then, a poem? is it a melody? I cannot say; but it is one long essence of delight—a harmony of flowing out and back again to God. O blessed life! O blessed Man! O blessed God!
One morning in my room I began thinking and reasoning about a wonderful change that I knew had crept all through me. If God should now come at any moment of the day or night and turn over every secret page of heart and mind, He would not find one thought or glimmer of any sort or kind of lust, whether of the eye, of the heart, of the mind, or of the body; and all in one moment I realised the miracle that Christ had worked in me, and the words came over my mind, "Though thy sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." And I stood there, gazing before me, speechless, and the tears of a joy that was an agony of gratitude poured and poured down my face like a rain. I did not sob, I could not speak, and very quietly I took my heart and my mind and my soul and laid them for ever at the feet of Christ.
One evening as I knelt to say my prayers, which were never long, because since the Visitation on the hill my natural habit—whether walking, sitting, working, travelling, or on my bed—had come to be a continual sending up from my heart and mind the tenderest and most adoring, the most worshipping and thanking little stream of thoughts to God (very much as a flower, if we could but see it, sends its scent to the sun).
And because this mode of prayer is so smooth and joyous, so easy, so unutterably sweet, in that during it the Presence of God laves us about as the sun laves the flower—so because of this it was only for short and set times that I worshipped Him as the creature in prayers upon its knees; but those few moments of prayer would always be intense, the heart and the mind with great power bent wholly and singly upon God.
So now, this evening as I knelt and dwelt in great singleness on God, He drew me so powerfully, He encompassed me so with His glamour, that this singleness and concentration of thought continued much longer than usual on account of the greatness of the love that I felt for Him, and the concentration became an intensity of penetration because of this magnetism, He turned on to me, and my mind became faint, and died, and I could no longer think of or on God, for I was one with Him. And I was still I; though I was become Ineffable Joy.
When it was over I rose from my knees, and I said to myself, for five wonderful moments I have been in contact with God in an unutterable bliss and repose: and He gave me the bliss tenderly and not as on that Night of Terror; but when I looked at my watch I saw that it had been for between two and three hours.
Then I wondered that I was not stiff, that I was not cold, for the night was chilly and I had nothing about me but a little velvet dressing-wrapper; and my neck was not stiff, though my head had been thrown back, as is a necessity in Communion with God; and I thought to myself, it is as if my body also had shared in the blessing.
And this most blessed happening happened to me every day for a short while, usually only for a few moments. In this way God Himself caused and enabled me to contemplate and know Him; and I saw that it was in some ways at one with my beautiful pastime, but with this tremendous difference in it—that whereas my mind had formerly concentrated itself upon the Beautiful, and remaining Mind had soared away above all forms into its nebulous essence in a strange seductive anguish, it now was drawn and magnetised beyond the Beautiful directly to the Maker of it: and the soaring was like a death or swooning of the mind, and immediately I was living with that which is above the mind: in this living there was no note of pain, but a marvellous joy.
Slowly I learnt to differentiate degrees of Contemplation, but to my own finding there are two principal forms—Passive and Active (or High) Contemplation.
In meditation is little or no activity, but a sweet quiet thinking and talking with Jesus Christ. In Passive Contemplation is the beginning of real activity; mind and soul without effort (though in a secret state of great love-activity) raise themselves, focussing themselves upon the all-unseen Godhead: now is no longer any possible picture in the mind, of anyone nor anything, not even of the gracious figure or of the ways of Christ: here, because of love, must begin the sheer straight drive of will and heart, mind and soul, to the Godhead, and here we may be said first to commence to breathe the air of heaven.
There is no prayer, no beseeching, and no asking—there are no words and no thoughts save those that intrude and flash unwanted over the mind, but a great undivided attention and waiting upon God: God near, yet never touching. This state is no ecstasy, but smooth, silent, high living in which we learn heavenly manners. This is Passive or Quiet Contemplation.
High Contemplation ends in Contact with God, in ecstasy and rapture. In it the activity of the soul (though entirely without effort on her part) is immensely increased. It is not to be sought for, and we cannot reach it for ourselves; but it is to be enjoyed when God calls, when He assists the soul, when He energises her.
And then our cry is no more, Oh, that I had wings! but, Oh, that I might fold my wings and stay!
Having come so far as this on the Soul's Great Adventure all alone as far as human guidance and companionship was concerned, and having for more than a year known the wonders of the joy of Union with God—which I did not know or understand to call Union, but called it to myself Finding God and coming into Contact with Him, because this is how it feels, and the unscholarly creature understands and knows it in that way—well, having come so far, I had a great longing to share this knowledge, this exquisite balm, with my fellows, and I desired immensely to speak about it, to know how they fell about it, if they had yet come to it, or how far on the way they were to it, because I was all filled with the beauty of it, as lovers are filled with the beauty of their love. But I was frightened to speak to them, something held me back: also they felt to me to be so exceedingly full of the merest trifles—clothes and tea-parties and fashionable friends; and each time I tried to speak, in some mysterious way I found myself stopped. So I thought that I would speak to a friend that I had in the Church. Several times I had heard him preach very beautiful sermons, and I felt I very greatly needed the guidance of someone who knew. I wanted, I longed for, a human intermediary. I knew that I was in the hands of the God Whom for so many years I had so passionately sought; but He was so immeasurably great, and I so pitifully small, and I needed a human being—someone to whom I might speak about God.
Yet something warned me not to commence as though speaking of myself, but of another person. I said only a few words, of the joy of this person in finding and loving God, and immediately my friend spoke very severely of persons who imagined they had found, and loved, God. God was not to be found by our puny, shifting and uncertain love: He was to be found by duty, by obedience to Church rules, by pious attendance At Church. He explained to me various dogmas which helped me no more than the moaning of the wind; he explained the absolute necessity (for salvation) of certain beliefs and written sentences, and ceremonials in the Church. Love was not the way. Love was emotion, emotion was deceptive: the mind, and severe firm attention to the dictates of The Church was what was required; in fact, he unfolded before me the Ecclesiastical Mind. I shrank back from it, dismayed, frightened. Were all the deep needs and requirements of the soul to be satisfied in the singing of hymns and Te Deum, in the close and reverent attention to the Ceremonies before the altar, and of the actions of Priests! Did, or could, any reasoning creature truly think to Find God by merely repeating, however reverently, the same prayers and ceremonies Sunday after Sunday! Could the great mountain up which my soul had sweated, and which each soul must climb—could it be climbed by kneeling in a pew in church? No; a total change of character was needed, and Christ Himself was necessary for this change—Jesus Christ gliding into the heart and mind and soul, and biding there because of that heart's, that mind's, invitation to, and love for, Him. Secretly—in one's own chamber, every hour of the day, in the streets, in the fields—in this way it might be accomplished.
With Christ biding in the heart all the Church service would become a thing of beauty as between the Soul and God; but without this Jesus Christ dwelling in the heart, the connection was not yet made between the Soul—the service—and the Godhead.
Perhaps amongst Romans I should find the understanding that I looked for. I had a friend, a Dominican: I approached him, and I could see that for (as he thought) my own good he longed to convert me to the Roman Church: it did not seem that he wanted, or by any means knew how, to bring me into contact with God, but his thought was to bring me to The Church. "Does anyone," I asked him, "love God with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength?" "No," said he, "that is hardly possible—what is required is—"; and here he gave me once more the contents of the Ecclesiastical Mind: more authoritatively, more positively; but he spoke as I now commenced to realise all Churchmen would speak—that is to say, as persons having learnt by study, by careful rule and rote, by paper-knowledge, that which can only be learnt in the spirit direct from God. How immense is the difference to the Soul between this knowledge that comes of the spirit and the knowledge that comes of study—the knowledge which too easily becomes mechanical religion!
I thought of the beautiful and gracious simplicity of the knowledge that Christ gives to the soul: I saw the nature of the sore disease that afflicts the soul of Christ's Church, I saw also a terrible pain for Christ in all this of which I had previously been unaware.
I was thrown back and into myself by it all, and into a great loneliness as far as my fellow-beings were concerned. Yet I continued to need to share Christ with humanity, piercingly, pressingly. I would go to a library and find a book—but, on the other hand, I did not know the name of a single religious book or writer. So I wrote my need to a friend, and she sent me the life of one, Angela of Foligno. This book was a great delight to me, because, though written in tiresome mediaeval language, it yet expressed and shared exactly what I also knew and loved, and folded in strange wrappings of the fashion of the thought of long ago lay the same exquisite jewel that I also knew—the pearl for which men gladly sell all that they have in order to keep it—the knowledge of the Secret of the Kingdom of Heaven, of the Union of the Soul with God.
A few months went by, and I wrote asking for another book, and this time came Richard Rolle to my acquaintance—a little dried-up hermit, a holy man too, though I noticed how very discourteous he was to women; severe, critical, and suspicious, merely because they were women. How often I noticed this peculiarity, both in the monks of to-day with their averted eyes, as if the shadow of a woman falling on them were pollution, and long ago, Paul, and Peter also, and Moses, and many others, showed surprising weakness of intolerance and harsh judgment against Woman!
Where was Wisdom in all this? Surely it was Folly flaunting and laughing and dressing herself cunningly to deceive, for did none of these men, from Adam downwards—did they never come to know themselves well enough to see that their danger lay not in the Woman, but in their own inclination to sin!
Oh, the righteousness of the greatest saint was, and is, but as dust and ashes before the righteousness of Jesus! and I came to wonder if there ever was or could be a saint, save one—Jesus.
But this Richard Rolle, this person so discourteous to some fellow-beings, could all the same be very tender and loving towards God: he, too, held in his heart the Pearl without Price. He, too, knew that marvellous incense of the heart to God—that song of the soul, and called it by the same name as I; but how could it be called by any other name? for every soul that knows it, it must ever be the same. Oh, how intimately I knew those two people of centuries ago, and how intimately they knew me! A strange trio we made—he, the little wizened English hermit; she, the Italian woman in her nun's habit; and I in my modern Bond Street clothes: outwardly we were indeed incongruous, we had no links, but inwardly we were bound together by bonds of the purest gold.
Of whether my friend sent me another book or not I cannot be sure; but my interest was becoming altogether removed from the past, because Christ was pressing me more and more to the present and the living.
God says to the aspiring soul: Come, taste of paradise and taste of heaven, and then return thou to the earth and wait, but not in idleness, and suffer many things till thou become perfect.
So I found that in the earlier stages, in order to show me the heights to which I might by perseverance attain, He turned His Power and Glamour on to me, and I became a creature transfixed and held by love. I had one desire—God; I had one thought—God; I had one consciousness—God. There was no effort needed on my part: it was Pure Grace and the result of past efforts. Having climbed and endured and endeavoured up to a certain degree, it was necessary for further advance that there should be more knowledge, and a more complete ineffaceable assurance. He therefore exposed the soul to as much as she could enjoy of heavenly pleasures and consciousness, without death to the flesh. In these experiences the soul found and knew God to be the fulfilment of all desires and all needs. The soul stood steadied before God in an unutterable Happiness which she perceived had no limit but God's Will, and her own capacity to endure the rapture of Him.
What is it that would seem to determine this immeasurable privilege of Access to Him? It would seem to be a healthy willing will towards Him under all circumstances (to begin with).
In due time He converts this mere will into a sweet love, the natural love of the heart and mind—by Gift of the Father we love Jesus Christ. This is salvation.
But beyond salvation it would feel to be this way—after a further great endeavour and endurance on our part, a further great striving towards Him, He will awaken and prick to new life the soul and fill us with Holy Love. This is the second baptism, the baptism of the Spirit of Love. This is the entry to the Kingdom, and immediately we taste of the Godhead. What this is, what this ravishment of happiness is, cannot be known or guessed till we ourself have experienced it.
In all this we progress by the communicated Power of Christ. How is this Power to be recognised, how is it communicated? Can we stand still and receive it like the dew, without work? At first, no—but later it would almost seem to be yes; or else it is that the exact attitude of heart and mind necessary for the reception of Grace becomes so habitual, so natural, that eventually we come to live in a state in which the communication of this Power becomes nearly continuous—though at any time by negligence or by a wrong attitude of Spirit we fall away from it and lose it completely, and in all times of temptation or of testing we are cut off from sensible contact with it.
We learn then that Grace awaits every creature that attunes himself to the Will of Christ: it awaits good and bad, saint and sinner, it transforms the sinner into the saint, and but for its deliberate withdrawals we might suppose its action to be automatic, we might suppose it a fixed power like the sun, shining upon worthy and unworthy alike in degree. But Grace is far more subtle and mysterious than this. Grace is the most sublime, the most exquisite secret of all the mysteries which exist between the Soul and her Maker.
* * *
I find that He works upon my soul by two opposite ways: He draws her up to contact and sublime content; He sets her down to solitude and hides Himself: He is there, and will not speak.
And she suffers horribly: and why not? Where is the injustice of this pain?
Countless ages ago—who can count them?—the soul, born in a palace, has deliberately willed and chosen to become the Wanderer, the Street Walker; therefore fold up self-pity and lay it aside, because it does not live in the same house with Truth.
Cast off self-consciousness and pride, because they are ridiculous, and a man can only be great or noble in just so far as he has abandoned them.
* * *
What is it that often makes it so much harder for the soul to refind God when she is enclosed in the male body? Perhaps the greater strength of the natural lusts of the male: perhaps the pride of "Being"—as lord of creation; or the pride of Intelligence which says, I rely easily upon myself, I need no religion of hymn tunes, I leave hymn tunes to women, for the ardour and capacity of my manhood rush to far different aims.
But can any sane man think that the Essential Being who has created the universe, with all its infinite wonders, and this earth with its beauty and its wonderful flesh, and so much more that is not flesh but the still more wonderful spirit—can any sane man really think that this Essential Being is stuck fast at hymn tunes (which are Man's own invention!) and knows not how to satisfy the needs and longings of that which He has Himself created!
Ardent and greatly mistaken Sinner, know and remember that to Find God is to Live Tremendously.
* * *
O beloved Man with thy strangely vain and small pursuits and pleasures—thy pipe, thy wine, thy women, thy "busy" city life, thine immense sagacity which once in twenty times outwits a fool or knave—thy vaunted living is a bubble in a hand-basin!
Find God and Live!
It would seem that lazily, reposefully, comfortably, easily, we can make no entry into the kingdom of heaven, but must enter by contest, by great endeavour. The occasions of these contests will be according to the everyday circumstances of each individual; the stress or distress of everyday life; for this is Christ's Process—to take the everyday woes and happenings of life in the flesh and use them for spiritual ends. What does the Saviour Himself tell us of the means of entry into the Kingdom? He uses two parables—that of the loaves of bread, and that of the Widow, and both speak of persistent importunity. If we would find God, we must besiege Him.
Of entry to Christ's Process first it is necessary that we try in everything to please Him: subjecting our plans, desires, thoughts, intentions, to His secret approval, asking ourselves, Will this please Him best, or that?
Then the soul commences to truly know, and to respond to, Christ.
But she is not satisfied: she requires more. Woes may assail the whole creature: Christ offers no alleviation. He leads her straight into the woes: will she follow, will she hold back? The point to remember here is this, that whether we follow Christ or no we shall have woes: if we forsake Him, we are not rid of woes; if we follow Him, we are not rid of woes—not yet, but later we become eased, and even rid, by means of Consolations, for God is able by His Consolations to entirely overbalance the woe and make it happy peace, though the cause of the woe remains. Remember this in the days of visitation, and follow Christ, no matter where He leads. Christ leads through the woe, because it is the shortest way. The unguided soul wanders beside the woe, hating and fearing it, unable to rid herself of it, gaining nothing by it, suffering in vain, and no Companion comes to ease the burden with His company.
The progress of our spiritual advance would feel to be that because we become more and more aware of the failure of earthly consolations and amusements, and more and more aware of the suffering, the sin, and the evil that there is about us, so more and more our desires go out towards the good, and more and more we turn to Christ. Then Christ may deliberately make Himself non-sufficient for the soul, and if He so does she must reach out after the Godhead; then by means of more woes the soul and the creature clamour more and more after the Godhead and will not be satisfied with less than the Godhead, and, continuing to clamour, are brought by Christ to the new birth, the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.
Immediately the soul and creature become rid of Woe; and, living a life altogether apart from the world, in a marvellous crystal joy they taste of the Godhead and of Eternal Pleasures.
This for a short time only: we have entered the Kingdom, but are still the smallest of spiritual children: tenderly, wonderfully God cares for us, but we must grow, we must learn heavenly manners. So Jesus Christ calls us again, and where does He lead us? Straight back into the world, the daily life from which we thought we had escaped! Here truly is a Woe, a Woe worse than any Woe we ever had before. Now we enter the Course of spiritual temptations, woes, and endurances, and in the midst of the pots and pans of daily life Christ teaches us heavenly manners.
Since Contemplation is so necessary for Union with God and for the soul's enjoyment of God—is it a capacity common to all persons? Yes, though, like all other capacities, in varying degrees; but few will give themselves up to the difficulties of developing the capacity; and it is easy to know why, for our "natural" state is that we work for that which brings the easiest, most immediate, and most substantially visible reward.
Those who could most easily develop their powers of contemplation are those to whom Beauty speaks, or those who are delicately sensitive to some ideal, nameless, elusive, that draws and then retreats, but in retreating still draws. The poet, the artist, the dreamer that harnesses his mind—all can contemplate.
The Thinker, thinking straight through, the proficient business man with his powers of concentration, the first-rate organiser, the scientist, the inventor—all these men are contemplatives who do not drive to God, but to the world or to ambition. Taking God as their goal, they could ascend to great heights of happiness; though first they must give up ("sacrifice") all that is unsavoury in thought and in living: yet such is the vast, the boundless Attraction of God that having once (if only for a few moments) retouched this lost Attraction of His, we afterwards are possessed with no other desire so powerful as the desire to retouch Him again, and "sacrifice" becomes no sacrifice.