THE ROMANCE OF THE SOUL
Lilian Staveley The Author of "The Golden Fountain"
London John M. Watkins 21 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road, W.C. 2 1920
What am I? In my flesh I am but equal to the beasts of the field. In my heart and mind I am corrupt Humanity. In my soul I know not what I am or may be, and therein lies my hope.
O wonderful and mysterious soul, more fragile than gossamer and yet so strong that she may stand in the Presence of God and not perish!
"Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove."—Psalm lxviii. 13.
By what means shall the ordinary man and woman, living the usual everyday life, whether of work or of leisure, find God? And this without withdrawing themselves into a life apart—a "religious" life, and without outward and conspicuous piety always running to public worship (though often very cross and impatient at home); without leaving undone any of the duties necessary to the welfare of those dependent on them; without making themselves in any way peculiar;—how shall these same people go up into the secret places of God, how shall they find the marvellous peace of God, how satisfy those vague persistent longings for a happiness more complete than any they have so far known, yet a happiness which is whispered of between the heart and the soul as something which is to be possessed if we but knew how to get it? How shall ordinary mortals whilst still in the flesh re-enter Eden even for an hour? for Eden is not dead and gone, but we are dead to Eden—Eden, the secret garden of enchantment where the soul and the mind and the heart live in the presence of God and hear once more "the voice of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Gen. iii.).
It is possible for these things to come to us or we to them, and in quite a few years if we set our hearts on them. First we must desire; and after the desire, steady and persistent, God will give. And we say, "But I have desired and I do desire, and God does not give. Why is this?" There are two reasons for it. For one—are these marvellous things to be given because of one cry; for one petulant demand; for a few tears, mostly of self-pity, shed in an hour when the world fails to satisfy us, when a friend has disappointed us, when our plans are spoiled, when we are sick or lonely? These are the occasions on which we mostly find time to think of what we call a better world, and of the consolations of God.
But let anyone have all that he can fancy, be carried high upon the flood-tide of prosperity, ambition, and success, and how much time will he or she give to Almighty God?—not two moments during the day. Yet the Maker of all things is to bestow His unspeakable riches upon us in return for two moments of our thought or love! Does a man acquire great worldly wealth, or fame, in return for two moments of endeavour?
"Ah," some of us may cry, "but it is more than two moments that I give Him; I give Him hours, and yet I cannot find Him." If that is really so, then the second reason is the one which would explain why He has not been found. A great wall divides us from the consciousness of the Presence of God. In this wall there is one Door, and one only, Jesus Christ. We have not found God because we have not found Him first as Jesus Christ in our own heart. Now whether we take our heart to church, whether we take it to our daily work, or whether we take it to our amusements, we shall not find Jesus in any one place more than another if He is not already in our hearts to begin with. How shall I commence to love a Being whom I have never seen? By thinking about Him; by thinking about Him very persistently; by comparing the world and its friendships and its loves and its deceits and its secret enviousnesses with all that we know of the lovely ways of gentle Jesus. If we do this consistently, it is impossible not to find Him more lovable than any other person that we know. The more lovable we find Him the more we think about Him, by so much the more we find ourselves beginning to love Him, and once we have learnt to hold Him very warmly and tenderly in our heart, then we are well in the way to find the Christ and afterwards that divine garden of the soul in which God seems to slip His hand under our restless anxious heart and lift it high into a place of safety and repose.
When for some time we have learnt to go in and out of this garden, with God's tender help we make ourself a dear place—a nest under God's wing, and yet mysteriously even nearer than this, it is so near to God. To this place we learn to fly to and fro in a second of time: so that, sitting weary and harassed in the counting-house, in an instant a man can be away in his soul's nest; and so very great is the refreshment of it and the strength of it that he comes back to his work a new man, and so silently and quickly done that no one else in the room would ever know he had been there: it is a secret between his Lord and himself.
But the person who learns to do this does not remain the same raw uncivilised creature that once he or she was: but slowly must become quite changed; all tastes must alter, (all capacities will increase in an extraordinary manner), and all thoughts of heart and mind must become acceptable and pleasant to God.
The man who has not yet begun to seek God—that is to say, has not even commenced to try and learn how to live spiritually, but lives absorbed entirely in the things of the flesh—is a spiritual savage. To watch such a man and his ways and his tastes is to the spiritual man the same thing as when a European watches an African in his native haunts, notes his beads, his frightful tastes in decorations, foods, amusements, habits, and habitations, and, comparing them with his own ways, says instantly that man is a savage. This proud European does not pause to consider that he himself may be inwardly what the savage is—quite dark; that to God's eyes his own ways and tastes are as frightful as those of the African are to himself. What raises a man above a savage is not the size of his dining-room, the cut of his coat, the luxuries of his house, the learned books that adorn his bookshelves, but that he should have begun to learn how to live spiritually: this is the only true civilising of the human animal. Until it is commenced, his manners and his ways are nothing but a veneer covering the raw instincts of the natural man—instincts satisfied more carefully, more hiddenly, than those of the African, but always the same. There is little variety in the lusts of the flesh; they are all after one pattern, each of its kind, follow one another in a circle, and are very limited.
It is not the clay of our bodies fashioned by God which makes some common and some not. It is the independent and un-Godlike thoughts of our hearts and minds which can make of us common, and even savage, persons. The changing of these thoughts, the harmonising of them, and, finally, the total alteration of them, is the work in us of the Holy Spirit. By taking Christ into our hearts and making for Him there a living nest, we set that mighty force in motion which shall eventually make for us a nest in the Living God. For Jesus Christ is able (but only with our own entire willingness) to make us not only acceptable to God, but delightful to Him, so much so that even while we remain in the flesh He would seem not to be willing to endure having us always away from Him, but visits us and dwells with us after His own marvellous fashion and catches us up to Himself.
To begin with, we must have a set purpose and will towards God. In the whole spiritual advance it is first we who must make the effort, which God will then stabilise, and finally on our continuing to maintain this effort He will bring it to complete fruition. Thus step by step the spirit rises—first the effort, then the gift. First the will to do—and then the grace to do it with. Without the willing will God gives no grace: without God's grace no will of Man can reach attainment. God's will and Man's will, God's love and Man's love—these working and joining harmoniously together raise Man up into Eternal Life.
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God is desirous of communicating Himself to us in a Personal manner. In the Scriptures we have the foundation, the basis, the cause and reason of our Faith laid out before us; but He wills that we go beyond this basis, this reasoning of Faith into experience of Himself. For this end, then, He fills us with the aching desire to find and know Him, to be filled with Him, to be comforted and consoled by Him, to discover His joys. He fills us with these desires in order that He may gratify us.
By being willing to receive and understand as only through the medium of the written word we limit God in His communications with us. For by the Holy Ghost He will communicate not by written word but by personal touching of love brought about for us by the taking and enclosing of Jesus Christ within the heart not only as the Written Word, the Promise and Hope of Scripture, but as the Living God.
For this end inward meditation and pondering are a necessity.
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How is it that we so often find great virtue, remarkable charity and patience amongst persons who are yet not conscious of any direct contact with God? They have never known the pains of repentance, neither have they known the sublime joys of God. Are these the ninety-and-nine just persons needing no repentance? Instinctively, and almost unconsciously, they hold to, and draw upon, the Universal Christ—or Spirit of Righteousness; but they have not laid hold of nor taken into themselves that Spirit of the Personal Christ, whom Christians receive and know through Jesus. He is the Door into the unspeakable joys of God. What are these joys of God? They are varying degrees of the manifestation and experience of reciprocal Divine Love.
What is the true aim of spiritual endeavour—an attempt at personal and individual salvation? Yes, to commence with, but beyond that, and more fully, it is the attempt to comply with the exquisite Will of God; and the general and universal improving and raising of the consciousness of the whole world. Yet this universal improvement must take place in each individual spirit in an individual manner. There are those who would deny to individuality its rights, claiming that the highest spirituality is the total cessation of all individuality; yet this would not appear to be God's view of the matter, for in the most supreme contacts of the soul with Himself He does not wipe out the consciousness of the soul's individual joy, but, on the contrary, to an untenable extent He increases it. And Jesus teaches us that life here is both the means and the process of the gradual conformation of the will of Man to the will of God, and our true "work" is the individual learning of this process. But this cultivation of our individuality must not be subverted to the purpose of the mere gain of personal advantage, but because of the heartfelt wish to conform to the glorious will of God. The failure of the human will to run in conjunction with the Divine will is the cause, as we know, of all sin. In the friction of these opposing wills, forces baneful to Man are generated.
From its very earliest commencement in childhood our system of education is based upon wrong ideas. With little or no regard to God's plans Man lays out his own puny laws and ambitions and teaches them to his young. We are not taught that what we are here for is above all and before all to arrive at a sense of personal connection with God, to identify ourselves with the spiritual while still in the flesh. On the contrary, we are taught to grow shy, even ashamed, of the spiritual! and to regard the world as a place principally or even solely in which to enjoy ourselves or make a "successful career."
Children are taught to look eagerly and mainly for holidays and "parties"; grown men and women the same upon a larger and more foolish scale, and always under the terribly mistaken belief that in spiritual things no great happiness is to be found, but only in materialism: yet very often we find the greatest unhappiness amongst the wealthiest people.
Happiness! happiness! We see the great pursuit of it on every side, and no truer or more needful instinct has been given to Man, but he fails to use it in the way intended. This world is a Touchstone, a Finding-place for God. Whoever will obey the law of finding God from this world instead of waiting to try and do it from the next, he, and he only, will ever grasp and take into himself that fugitive mysterious unseen Something which—not knowing what it is, yet feeling that it exists—we have named Happiness.
But how commence this formidable, this seemingly impossible task of finding God in a world in which He is totally invisible? To the "natural" or animal Man God is as totally hidden and inaccessible as He is to the beasts of the field; yet encased within his bosom lies the soul which can be the means of drawing Man and God together in a glorious union. "I have known all this from my childhood," we cry, "and the knowledge of it has not helped me one step upon my way."
Then try again, and reverse your method, for hitherto you have been beseeching gifts from God, asking for gifts from Jesus, and have forgotten to give. Give your love to Jesus, give Him a home, instead of asking Him to give you one. Give your heart to God, set it upon Him.
What is keeping you back? You are afraid of what it will entail; you are afraid of what God will demand of you; those words "Forsake all, and follow Me" fill you with something like terror. I cannot leave my business, my children, my home, my luxuries, my games, my dresses, my friends! Neither need you but, knowing this initial agony of mind, Christ said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (the name of an exceedingly narrow gate into Jerusalem) than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
What does it mean to "set the heart" upon something? We say, "I have set my heart on going to see my son," "I have set my heart on doing so-and-so," but this does not mean that in order to accomplish it we must wander homeless and lonely until the day of achievement. No; but we set our heart and mind upon eventually accomplishing this wish, we shape all our plans towards it, we give it the first place. This is what God asks us to do; to give Him the first place. We need not go to Him in rags: David and Solomon were immensely wealthy, Job was a rich man; but we must eventually think more of Him than we do of our dress, more of Him than we do of our business, more of Him than we do of lover, friend, or child. Many well-minded people are under the impression that such love for an Invisible Being is a total impossibility. Yet the great commandment stands written all across the face of the heavens—"Thou shalt love Me with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength." Are we then to suppose that God asks the impossible of His own creatures, that He mocks us? No; for when we desire He sends the capacity, and day by day sends us the power to reach this love through Jesus Christ. There is included in the words "Give us this day our daily bread," the bread of the soul, which is Love.
Divine Love commences in us in a very small way, as a very feeble flicker, for we are very feeble and small creatures. But God takes the will for the deed, and the day comes when suddenly we are filled with true love, as a gift. This is indeed the second baptism, the baptism of fire, the baptism of the Holy Ghost; then at last the great wall which has hitherto divided our consciousness from God goes down in its entirety, never again to rise up and divide us. This is the mighty work of Jesus Christ.
Though this is not our work, still we have had the earnest will, the longing desire; we have made continually, perseveringly, our tiny, often futile, efforts to please and place Him first, and though perhaps almost all were failures, He has counted every one to us for righteousness.
We may at all times be asking ourselves, "But how shall I know the will of God, how shall I please Him, how shall I know what Christ would wish me to do or to think?" There is one test more sure than any other, which is to ask oneself, "Would Jesus have done just this?" and the answer will come from the inward of us instantaneously. But before we can use this test we must have made a careful study of Scripture and also have begun the habit of inward personal intimacy with Jesus Himself. So immense is the bounty of God to the creature that truly and persistently wills and endeavours to please Him, so great are the rewards of that creature for its tiny work that it is as though a child should scratch bare ground with its little spade and reap a harvest of sweet flowers as magic gifts. In this way it is that we find actually fulfilled in ourselves the lovely words of the prophet, "the desert shall blossom like the rose."
The great initial difficulty that surely most of us feel is how to come into personal contact with this Jesus Christ, and to know which are the first steps that we should take to bring about this contact. They are just those same steps that we use to come to a nearer understanding of and greater intimacy with any persons we are desirous of making friends with. We commence by thinking about them, by arranging to spend time in their companionship; and the more we think about them and the more time we spend with them if they are very attractive people, the more we feel in sympathy with them. Form, then, the habit of making for brief instants a mental picture of the Saviour. Note the exquisite tenderness of His hands, so instantly ready to save and heal; note the calm strength and the great love in His countenance, walk beside Him down the street, join His daily life, learn to become familiar with Him as Jesus—what would He do, how would He look, what would His thoughts be? To feel sympathetically towards a person is to take one of the most important steps towards friendship. How many of us stop in the rush of our daily amusements, interests, and work to sympathise with Christ? Most probably, if we think of Christ at all, it is to feel that He ought to sympathise with us! Now Christ not only sympathises with but ardently loves us, and our failure to receive the comfort and help of this love is due to our failure in returning to Him these same feelings of sympathy and love and friendship. We are not reciprocal, but perpetually ask and never give.
It is only by returning love to Christ that we are able to receive the benefits of His love for us. His mighty power and help flows around but not through us until we place ourselves in individual and direct contact with Him, until we make that mysterious inward and spiritual connection with Him which can be achieved only through a personal love for Him.
Again and again we may cry out, "But how love the invisible?" Christ is invisible, but for all that, he is not unknown. We all of us know Him. But we do not give ourselves time or opportunity to know Him sufficiently well. What hours, months, years, we devote to making and knowing our friends; yet a few moments a day are more than enough for most of us to spend in becoming more intimate with the only Friend whom it is worth our while to make.
"But life is so busy I have no time," you say. What of those hours spent in the train, those moments spent waiting for an appointment, that half-hour taken for a rest, but which is not a rest because of the rushing inharmonious turmoil of your thoughts? No one is so restful to think of as Jesus. Every single quality that we most admire, trust, and love is to be found in Jesus Christ. The only reason of our failure to love Him more ardently than any human being we know is that we do not think enough about Him.
How much offended we should be if anyone dared to say to us, "You are not a Christian." We all consider ourselves Christians as a matter of course; but why this certainty, what reason can we give? Many would say, "I keep the Commandments, and I am baptised in Christ's name." But Christianity is not an act done by hands, it is a life, and the Jews keep the Commandments even more strictly than we and are not Christians. The mere fact of believing that Christ once lived and was crucified is not enough. The Jews and also the Mahommedans believe that He lived and was crucified.
What is then necessary? That we believe that He is indeed the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour; for if He was no more than a holy man, by what means has He power to save us more than Moses has power to save us?
The true inward knowledge that Christ is God comes not by nature to any man, but by gift of God—which gift must be earnestly sought, striven, prayed for, and desired: this faith is the very coming to God by which we are saved. If we are not yet in this faith that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, then we are neither Jew, Mahommedan, nor Christian, but wanderers without a fold, and without a Shepherd; longing, and not yet comforted.
How do we come by this joy of the personal loving of God, this Romance of the Soul brought to sensible fruition whilst still in the flesh?
Is it a gift? Yes. Is it a gift because of some merit of goodness on our part beyond the goodness of other persons who are without it, though striving? No. Is it because of some work for God that we do in this world, charitable or social? No. Is it, then, nothing but an arbitrary favouritism on His part? No. Is it a sagacity or cleverness, a height of learning, a result of close study? No.
It is simply and solely a certain and particular obedient attitude of heart and mind towards God of the nature of a longing—giving, a grateful outgoing thinking towards Him, continually maintained, and a heart invitation to, and a receiving of Jesus Christ into ourselves.
Our part is to maintain this obedient tender-waiting, giving and receiving attitude under all the circumstances of daily life, and Christ with the Holy Ghost will then work the miracle in us.
But so difficult is this attitude to maintain that we are totally unable to do it without another gift upon His part—Grace. The whole process from first to last is gift upon gift, and that because first of our belief and desire, and then of our continually remembering that to receive these gifts we have a part to play which God will not dispense with. For an illustration let us turn to the artist and his sitter. The sitter does not produce the work of art, but must maintain his attitude: if he refuses to do this, the work of the artist is marred and even altogether foiled. So with Christ and His Divine Art in bringing us to our Father—by not endeavouring to maintain our right attitude we foil His work. God would seem to give us that which we seek and ask for, and no more. Great ecclesiastics, theologians, philosophers who sought and desired Him with the intelligence, seeking for knowledge, for pre-eminence of spiritual wisdom, were not given as an addition to their learning this exquisite fire and balm of love. Those who desired of Christ the healing of the body received that, and we are not told they received anything further. So also with the woman at the well: "If thou hadst asked," Christ said to her, "I would have given thee of the water of Life." Without we ask for and receive this gift of Love we hang to God by Faith only.
What is true religion, what is that religion by which we shall feel wholly satisfied? It is to have Christ recognised, known, adored, and living in the soul. This is the New Life within us, this is the New Birth. The first proofs of the power of this New Life in us is the victory over all the lower passions, victory over the animal "that once was ourself"! A victory so complete that not only do we cease to desire those former things or be troubled by them but we no longer "respond" to that which is base, even though we be brought into visual contact with such things as would formerly have inevitably excited at least a passing response in us. Can any man free himself in such a manner from his own nature? Common sense forbids us imagine it. It is then a Living Power within us, slowly transforming us to higher levels, from the fleshly to the spiritual, and shaping us to meet the purity of God. And such is the tender consideration of this Power for our weakness that while we are learning to give up these baser pleasures He teaches us the higher pleasures of the soul—we are not left comfortless. So in our earlier stages we may have many very wonderful ecstasies which later are altogether dispensed with, and indeed are eventually not desired by the soul, or even the more greedy heart and mind, which all now ask and desire one favour only—to be on earth in continual fellowship with Christ Jesus and ever able to enter into the love of God. To be without this glorious power of entering Responsive Love of God, to be cut off from this, is the great and only fear of the soul. This fear it is which holds the soul and the creature towards God both day and night lest by the least forgetfulness or wrongful attitude they should lose Him or displease Him.
All these changes no man can bring about for himself—they are accomplished for him by the Holy Spirit; but this he can and must do for himself, invite Sweet Jesus into his heart and enthrone Him there as Ruler. This once accomplished, that mysterious monitor within us commonly known as "Conscience" grows until it attains an excessive sensitiveness which penetrates the minutest acts of life and the deepest recesses of heart and mind. It becomes inexorable, it demands instant and complete obedience. Because of it relations with other persons undergo a drastic change. Complete, instant, entire forgiveness for every offence is demanded, and at last even a momentary annoyance must be effaced; no matter how great the cause of annoyance, it must be effaced in the same instant as that in which it crosses the mind, for a single adverse thought eventually proves as injurious to the Spirit as a grain of sand is to the eyes.
The petty human aims, the smallness of all our former standards, the instinct for "retaliation" must all be overcome, laid upon one side—a slow task of much humiliation to the creature, revealing to it its own smallness and vanity and its own extraordinary ineffectiveness of self-control, its puny powers over itself: nothing short of an absolute self-conquest is aimed at and demanded by this inward monitor—the Soul. With what profound veneration for and recognition of the power of God does the regenerated creature think of those alterations in its own nature which, after long strivings, are eventually given it by God, and of those alterations not yet stabilised because not yet gifts, but only on the way to perhaps becoming gifts—that is to say, still only where the power of the creature itself has been able to raise them: for of these last it may invariably be said that to-day we may feel serene security and to-morrow fall and fail—and this in the very meanest way!
We see on every side men and women who try to fill an emptiness, a wanting that they feel within themselves, by every sort of means except the only one which can ever be a permanent success. Women devote themselves to lovers, husbands, children, dress, society, and dogs; men to business, ambition, the racecourse, folly, drink, games, and arts. Are any of these persons truly happy, truly satisfied in all their being? No, and they descend to old age surrounded by the dust of disillusionment. Lonely and soon forgotten by the hungry pleasure-seeking crowd, such persons pass from this world, and the most their friends have to say is that they have gone to a better one. But have they? For the mere fact of shedding the flesh does not bring us any nearer to God. On the contrary, the shedding of the flesh increases appallingly the difficulty of the soul in finding God. This world is the very place in which we can most easily and quickly get into communication with God. To think that the mere act of dying improves our character and takes us to heaven is a delusion of the Enemy—it is living here which can fit us and carry us to heaven; and we have no great distance to travel either, for heaven is a state of consciousness, and by entering that state of consciousness we become united and connected with such degrees of heaven as the flesh is able to bear, though these degrees fall infinitely short of those required by the soul: hence the fearful hungering and longing of the soul to depart from the flesh. If we do not find Christ whilst we are here, when we cast off the flesh we enter a bewildering vortex of a life of terrible intensity and great solitude. We are aware of nothing but Self, are tormented by Self with its forever unsatisfied longings, and by the impossibility of achieving any other Self. In this intensity of self-tormenting loneliness the soul feels to gyrate, and all that she knows of that which is outside of this Self is the sound of the rushing of invisible things, for she is blind. Without the light of this world and without the light of Christ. The joys of space are not open to her, only the dark and lonely horrors of it: she is in an incalculably greater state of isolation from God than here in this world! The remedy for all this lies here; let no one think he can afford to wait to find this remedy until after he leaves this world, for then his chance is gone, and who is able to foretell when it will return? What can be more beautiful, more happy, than to find this remedy, to find the only Being who loves us as much as we love ourselves! the gentle, tender, gracious, all-sufficing Christ; that all-mighty ever-giving Christ who yearns over and longs for us—what madness is it that prevents us seeking Him?
All of us would seem to have two personalities: we are the repentant and the unrepentant Magdalene and daily change from one to the other. But true repentance cannot come before love: if we think we repent before we love, then it is no more than a repentance of the mind, which says to itself, "I must stand well with God because of my future well-being." Where love comes first we get the repentance of the heart, which works this way in us—we love Jesus a little, we love Him more and more, and because of this love increasing to real warmth we suddenly perceive the frightful offences we have committed against this sweet love, and instantly the heart melts and breaks and we are shaken to our depths that we have ever grieved our Holy Lover. This is true repentance—no anxious fears for our own future, but love grieving and agonised for its offences. Such repentance as this pierces to the deepest recesses of the heart and mind, and leaves upon them a deep indelible mark, changing all the aims of our life, and is the beginning of all joys in Christ Jesus. Let us aim therefore not first at repentance, but first at love. A little love to Jesus given many times a day as we walk or wait or work, if only at first said by the lips with desire for more warmth, after a while we shall find ourselves giving it from the heart; then the Divine Seed has begun to grow because we have watered it.
If the natural man were asked, "What is life? what is it to live?" he would reply, "It is to eat, drink, laugh, love, and have pleasure or pain: to hear, see, touch, taste and smell, and to be conscious that I do all these things." Yet this consciousness is but a tiny speck of consciousness, and some mysterious voice within the deeply-thinking man tells him that this is so. But how uncover a further consciousness? This is the secret of the soul.
To pass from one form of consciousness to another—this is to increase life fifty, a hundred, a thousand times according to the degrees of consciousness we can attain. These degrees would seem to be irrevocably limited because of the mechanical actions of heart and breathing, which automatic actions become suspended or seriously interfered with in very high states of consciousness. When first these very great expansions of consciousness take place, the creature is under strong conviction that the soul has left the body—that it has gone upon some mysterious journey—this because of several reasons. The first is because of a certain persistent sound of rushing; the second is because of the sense of living at tremendous speed, in a manner previously altogether unknown and totally undreamed of, in which the senses of the body have no concern whatever and are completely closed down; thirdly, on returning from this "journey" we are not immediately able to exact obedience from the body, which remains inert and stiffly cold and suffers distress with too slow breathing. But reason demands, "How is it possible that the soul should leave the body and the body not die? and also we perceive this, that, though the consciousness is projected to an infinite distance, or includes that infinite distance within itself, it yet remains aware of the existence of the body, though very dimly."
The method employed, then, for administering these experiences to the soul and the creature is not by means of drawing the soul out of the body, but by a withdrawal of the condition of insulation from Divine Life or great magnetic emanation, in which insulation all creatures have their normal existence, living in a condition which may be termed a state of total Unawareness. By Will of God this condition of insulation is removed, the soul enters Connection and becomes instantly and vividly aware of Spiritual Life and of that which Is, at an infinite distance from herself, so that the soul is at one and the same time in paradise or heaven, and upon the earth: space is eaten up. Without seeing or hearing, the soul partakes in a tremendous and unspeakable manner of the joys of God, which, all unfelt by us as "natural" man, pass unceasingly throughout the universe.
These experiences give an immense and unshakable knowledge to the soul and the creature of the immense reality of the Unseen Life, and are doubtless sent us to effect this knowledge. Why, then, is not every man given this knowledge? Because the creature must qualify before being allowed to receive it, and too many hold back from the tests. By these experiences we learn some little portion of the mystery which lies between the pettiness of that which we now are and the great glories that we shall come to; and in this awful heavenly mystery in which are fires that have no flame, and melody which has no sound, the soul is drawn to Everlasting Love. But we cannot endure the bliss of it, and the soul prays to be covered on account of the creature.
But because of the limitations of the flesh we are not to despise it but regard it not as an aim or end (as that if we satisfy its lusts that shall be our paradise), but regard it as a means. Christ willed the flesh and the world to be a rapid means of our return to God. Subdue the flesh without despising it, in humility and thankfulness. Suffer its trials and penalties not in dejection, rebellion, or hopelessness, but as a means to an end. "For everyone shall be salted with fire," says Scripture; and can anything whatever be well forged or made without it be first melted and cleaned? So, then, for each his Gethsemane. As for Christ, so for Judas, who, not being able to endure, went out and hanged himself. Let our care, then, be to choose that Gethsemane which shall open to us the gates of heaven and not hell.
In our raw state we fear the Will of God, thinking it a path of thorns; but as Christ moulds and teaches us we grow to know the Will of God as a great Balm: to long to conform to it, joyfully to join it, to sink into it as into an immense security where we are safe from all ills; and at last, no matter what temporary trials we endure, so great does our love and confidence grow by Grace of God upholding our tiny efforts that, like Job, we cry to Him with absolute sincerity and confidence, "Though Thou slay me, yet will I trust Thee"; having learnt it is not His Will to slay but to restore and purify and make glad. Incessant work is the lot of the awakened and returning soul, and justly so, for because of what folly and ingratitude did she ever leave God? A multiplicity of choices lie before her, and her great concern is which amongst all these possible decisions will prove the shortest path to God. These choices and decisions must be brought down to the meanest details of everyday life. At first on awakening the soul would like nothing better than to forsake and cast away material things altogether, and is inclined to despise the body. But Jesus teaches her that this is not pleasing: it is His Will that she should continually lend assistance to the creature in its weaknesses and uncertainties, not disdaining it but helping it. It is the soul which maintains contact with the Divine Guide, and then in turn should guide the creature. As the Divine Guide condescends to the soul, never despising her, so must the soul condescend to the creature: acknowledging and understanding that nothing is too small or humble for the soul to attend to and lead the creature to do in a beautiful and gentle manner.
By these means the permeation of the natural world by the Divine is carried out, and no act or fact of life can be considered too insignificant for the soul to attend to for the development of this aim.
The more we become familiar with spiritual life the more we observe the regularity of certain laws in it, and the more we find analogies between these new and unmapped laws and the laws and forces already known to us in the visible world. Rightly expounded by some scientific mind, these could bring the world of human thought and aspirations straight into the arms of God.
Science is the friend and not the enemy of religion. Science will light up and illuminate the dark gaps. This world is a house fully wired for lighting: the wiring is perfect, the bulbs alone are incomplete; they give no light: it is the task of the soul to perfect these human bulbs.
The life of conscious connection with God is true living as far as we may know it in the flesh, an enormous increase over the petty normal life of the world or, more rightly, the petty and lacking life of the world. For in this life of God-consciousness is an immense sanity and poise, a balance between soul and body and heart and mind never achieved in the "normal" or "natural" life. Therefore the God-conscious life is not to be named an abnormal but the complete, full, and only truly normal life: a life in which both soul and creature have found their centre, and the whole being in all its parts is brought to evenness, to harmony, to peace and a greatly magnified intelligence. If all men and women attained this state, this world would automatically become Paradise. In this true life living and feeling alter their characteristics and surpass anything that can be imagined by the uninitiated mind. Now, though to convey some idea of this condition of consciousness would seem to be impossible, still there are some types of persons to whom a little something of the commencement of the larger life of the awakened soul might be conveyed before they themselves experience it. The lovers of nature, of music, of the beautiful and romantic, and of poetry: in the highest moments reached by such they are aware of an indefinable Something—an expansion, a going out towards, a longing—yearning, subtly composed of both joy and pain, which goes beyond the earth, beyond the music, beyond the poetry, beyond the beautiful into a Nameless Bourne. At these moments they live with the soul: this is the commencement of spirit-life. When the Nameless Bourne has become to the soul that which It really is—God—and He sends His responses to her, then the soul knows the fullness of spiritual life as we may know it in the flesh.
But she can neither know the Nameless Bourne as God nor receive His responses till the heart and the mind have come to repentance of their ways and have been changed at least in part. Without this mode of living no one can be said to live in a full or whole manner, because nothing is whole which does not include the consciousness of God, and this in a lively and acute degree.
One of our great difficulties is that when, as the merely half-repentant creature, we turn to God and, beginning to ask favours of Him, get no response, then all our warm feelings and longings towards Him fall back, we go into a state either of profounder unbelief (which is further separation) or into total apathy. Apathy is a deadly thing. The more God loves us the more He will do His part to keep us from it. All the circumstances of life will be used to this end. We may lose our nearest and dearest. If it is material prosperity that causes a too complete content to live without Him, then some or all of that prosperity will be removed. In whatever spot we are most tender—there He will touch us. "Oh, if it had been anyone else or anything less that we had lost, then it would not have been so hard to bear," we say. Exactly. For nothing less would have been of any use, and alas! even this may be of no use, for Christ is ever willing and trying to save us, and we will not be saved.
If we do not get out of this apathy, we shall miss the whole reason of our life here. By these living thrusts He brings us to our knees, humbled, humiliated, anguished, in order that, having awakened and purified us, He may lift us into His Divine consolations.
We cannot in one step mount up out of our faithless indifferent wrongful condition into the glories of the knowledge of God. First we must learn to know Jesus, intimately, devotedly. Then Jesus the Christ: then the Father. Finally God the Holy Trinity, once found and known by us, becomes our All, and by some unspeakable condescension He becomes to us all things in all ways. The soul is filled with romantic and divine love, and instantly God is her Holy Lover: she is sad, weary, or afraid, and immediately she turns to Him He comforts and mothers her: she is filled with adoring filial love, and at once He is her Father. Oh, the wonders of the fullness of the finding and knowing of God!
Let the man who would know happiness here study the works of God, and not think he will gain virtue by putting everything that he sees here upon one side, saying it is not real or it is not good. It is very real of its own kind, and good also if he learns how to use it, and very marvellous. Let him study how things are made—God's things, not trivial man-made things—let him observe how all are made with equal care, the humblest and the proudest, "the tiny violet perfect as the oak." Let him learn the manner of the ways of light and the colours of all that he sees,[*] and then stop to consider how, having made all these marvels, God then fashioned his own delicate eyes that he might see and know and enjoy them all. To consider all these things, accepting them from God with love, makes the heart and the mind and the soul dance and sing together not with noise but like sunshine upon water.
[*] Scientific Ideas of To-day, by C. Gibson.
What is Nature but the demonstration in visible objects of an invisible Will? This Will we need to trace to its Source; having done this, we are able to praise and bless God for every single thing of beauty He has fashioned here: and this praising and blessing of God becomes nothing less than a continual ecstasy for both soul and creature, and, indeed, because of this and by means of this burning appreciation of God's works, both soul and creature find their sweetest consolations as they wait to be taken to a holier world.
When they both bless God with the fire of their love for every tender thing that He has made, then their days become to them one long delight.
This blessing of God and His works is not just a blessing with lips, but feels this way. The words being said by the heart, a burning spark of enthusiasm is immediately kindled there, which spark sets light to a spark in the soul; and this invisible fire joining another Invisible Fire, instantly in immense exaltation we enter the joys of God. But because of our flesh we cannot stay but only enter and come back.
We are made to love and adore God, but the mode of entry into this is not by beseeching God to come down and love us, but by constant endeavour to enter up into His estate, to offer Him love: this enthusiasm for God brings about a mysterious accomplishment of all needs, desires, joys.
We are made to love and adore God, and because of this without Him we are an Emptiness, a Great Want. Such is the lovely and perfect reciprocity of love that as this Great Want we are the pleasure and the joy of the All-Giving God. And He is the All-Giving that He may rejoice and fill our extremity of Want. So we are each to each that which each most desires. This is Divine Love.
Do not let us imagine that by making very much of earthly loves we shall by that obtain the heavenly: on the contrary, love of creatures, and too much turning to and thinking of and depending upon creatures, is a sure manner of hindering us till we have learnt to unite with Divine Love. This love for creatures is often for the heart and soul what treacle is to the wings of a fly! Do not be content with creatures, but seek beyond the creaturely for the heavenly.
This is not to say that we are not to love our fellow-creatures, attend to them, wait upon them, bear with them, and work for them; but whilst doing all these we are not to make them the object of our life: we are not to think that by merely running about amongst creatures frenzied with plans for their social improvement and comfort the nearer we are necessarily getting to God, or even truly pleasing Him. All these multiplicities of frenzied interests are best centred upon the finding and knowing and loving of Jesus Christ within our own hearts. When this finding, knowing, loving and believing has been accomplished, then we shall have accomplished the only work God asks us to accomplish, and all other works will automatically, peacefully, and smoothly come to their proper fruition in us through Him.
Neither imagine we shall do this finding of Jesus in, or because of, another person. We shall not find Him in another person or anywhere till we have first found Him in ourselves: and this by inward pondering, delicate tender thinkings, loving comparisons, sweet enthusiasms, persistent endeavours to imitate His gentle ways and manners as being some proof of our desire to love and find Him. The need which is the most pressing of all our needs is to find that Light which will light us when we have to go out from the light of this world into the awful solitudes of that which we often so lightly and confidently speak of as "the other world."
Without Christ we go out into a fearful loneliness: with Christ we walk the rainbow paths of Paradise.
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Having tasted the blissful wonders of God, nothing less than God Himself can satisfy, comfort, or fill either the soul, heart, or mind; and yet we are still in a too small and imperfect condition to endure the power and strength of God's bliss for more than brief spells, so that after coming to these high things our portion here is to learn to be a useful willing servant, carrying with as cheerful a face as we are able the burden of life in the flesh, and endure this waiting to be with Christ free of the flesh.
What are these blisses of God? They are contact with an immeasurable Ardour, they are our ardour meeting the Fountain of all Ardours: and God is communicated to us by a magnetism which in its higher degrees becomes luminous and unbearable.
Are these divine joys and comforts of God towards us because we are more loved by God, because our salvation is more sure than that of those who are without these comforts? Most emphatically no. It is because we obey a particular and subtle law of giving to God, and do not (as is more natural to us) content ourselves with merely believing, expecting, and hoping to receive from God.
Let us pray more frequently than we do: "My Lord, increase my faith, increase my love, and increase my understanding of how to use this faith and this love when they have been begotten in me."
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On every side we hear complaints against the Church. It is suggested that we are falling away from God because of some lack in the Church. But this fault of the Church is exactly the same fault which is to be found in the members of the congregation which compose it—a tepid love for a dimly known Lord. When the priest and every member of the congregation in his own heart worships the beloved Christ, then the Church will be found to have gained just that which is now lacking, and which we attribute to some priestly failure and not our own also.
Of Church ceremonials it is hard to speak, for the lover of God can have no eyes for them: he is all heart, but sees it this way—that set rules, regulations, and ceremonials in prayers and worship are most right and proper for the creature publicly worshipping its Creator. That the assembling together in church is the outward and visible acknowledgment of the creature's worship of God and also a looking for the fulfilling of the promise "where two or three are gathered together in My name." The redeemed creature worships very ardently with all its little heart and mind and all its tiny strength, learning in its own self the words of David: "I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord." But the soul cannot worship in set words, neither can she have need or use for the ceremonials invented by and for the creature, but worships God in another manner altogether, as she is taught by the Holy Spirit, and in the greatness of her worship mounts to God, and closes with God. For holy love cannot long be divided.
Often when the creature is alone, and eating, its Lord will visit it, causing the soul and the mind and the heart of it to cry out: "But of what use to me is this meat and drink which is before me? I have no need of it, I can do nothing other than sip of the holy beauty of my Lord." And immediately we are so pressed the earthly cup must be set down, and in very great ecstasy we sup in spirit with the Lord. The unnameable Elixir of God is the Wine, and Love is the Bread.
When holy love grows great in us we wonder that we ever thought that human love was love at all, for no matter how great it may once have seemed it now seems so small it is no greater than the humming of a bee around a flower in summer time. But holy love—who can commence to describe it? It rides upon great wings, it burns like a devouring fire, it makes nothing of Space and comes before Him like the lightnings, saying, "Here am I," and, gathering all things, all loves into itself, pours them out at the feet of God.
By baptism we are named and called for election by the Church. Through personal and individual repentance and connection by faith and love with Christ we enter election by baptism of the Holy Spirit. By the mere following of rituals, doctrines, dogmas, ceremonies, we are in great danger of introducing the mind of the Pharisee with his reliance as means of salvation upon the washing of hands and cups, and except we exceed this righteousness we do not enter the Kingdom. Or the mind of the lawyer, which type of mind seeks obstinately, forcefully, to mould the secrets of the soul's communion with God and fix them upon cold documents where they quickly cease to have life.
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Above the fretful and contentious human reason is the intelligence of the soul, and this soul has in itself a higher part for we become acutely aware of it—that part of it with which we come in contact with God, with which we respond to God, receive His manifestations, are laid bare to His blisses. Separated from worldly things by an impalpable veil, it rests above all such things in serene calm, and, strangest of all, has no comprehension whatever of sin: when we enter this part of the soul and live with it sin and evil become not only non-existent but unthinkable, unimaginable: we are totally removed from any such order of existence. It communicates its knowledge to the lower part of the soul, the soul to the Reason, the Reason to the rest of the creature.
We say we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and in saying this we think of the body, but far more wonderful is the making of the spiritual of us. O man, climb out of the gross materialism of thy fleshly self, for thou canst do it! As out of the heavy earth come the delicate flowers of spring, so out of the heavy body, because of that divine which is within it, come the marvellous flowers of the soul.
To think that we can come to God and know Him by means of our intelligence or reason is as unwise as to suppose we can eat our dinner with our feet; it is as necessary to use our teeth to eat our food as it is to use our heart to find God, and it is nothing but the natural vanity of the human mind which blinds us to this fact. The human reason is too small to stand the greatness of God, and could it ever reach to Him would be withered in the awfulness of His magnetic light. Even the soul in her contacts with God whilst still in the flesh is of necessity totally blind, and yet, blind as she is, is pierced by this terrible intensity of light and energy. How then shall the reason stand naked before God without madness or frenzy? To reason out upon paper where God is, why He is, what He is, and how precisely He is to be discovered, will take us no further up into the mysteries of the actual knowing of the wonders of His love than the ink and paper we employ might do. To know this love in our own heart is the necessity, for the soul and the heart live hand in hand as it were and together can find and know God. God once found by the heart, we can dwell upon Him with our reason, and feed our reason with the knowledge we have acquired of Him through the heart and soul.
The Holy Ghost aids us in this deep search, quickens us, gives us impulses. At first in our natural state we are able only in a very dim way to perceive these impulses, but we can become so sensitive to God that He pierces us, brings us to the ground with a breath, and we bend and yield before His lightest wish as a reed bends and quivers to the wind.
When the heart and soul are greatly set upon God and we have become true lovers of God, there comes a danger of falling into so deep a pining for God that the health both of the mind and of the body is weakened by it. We should aim at cheerful and willing waiting: anything else is a falling short; if we examine into it, we shall see that pining savours of unwillingness and discontent—there is in it something of the spirit of the servant who designs to give notice of leaving. The lover of God is the most blest of all creatures and should show himself serenely glad, waiting with patience, knowing as he does from his own experiences that who has God for a Lover has no need of any other.
Of how to receive from God, and of the Blessed Sacrament
Nothing is of a deeper mystery or difficulty or disappointment to the soul and the heart well advanced in the experience and in the love of God than to find that in the ceremony of the Blessed Sacrament it is possible for them to be less sensible of receiving from God than at any time. How and why can this be? is it the Ceremonial causing the mind to be too much alert to guide the body now to rise, now to kneel, now to move in some direction? Is it this distraction which prevents perception—for in all communion with God the mind is closed down, the heart and soul only being in operation? On the other hand, it is easily possible to be in closest communion with God in all the noises and distractions of a great railway station amongst a crowd of shifting persons. No, it is some imperfection in the attitude adopted by the heart and mind in approaching this Sacrament. In what way have we perhaps been approaching it? In an attitude of awe accompanied by a humble expectancy or hope of receiving. We hope and believe we shall receive God's grace. Now, the experienced soul and heart know so well what it is and how it feels to receive God's grace that they are all the more disappointed at not receiving it upon this holy occasion. What were our Lord's words? He said, "Do this in remembrance of Me," or more correctly translated, "Do or offer this as a memorial of Me before God." This implies an act of giving upon our part, whereas we have come to regard this ceremony as an act of receiving.
Now though the attitude of humble expectancy to receive is of itself a worthy one it does not fulfil the exact command, which is to commemorate, offer, and hold up before God the Perfect Love and Sacrifice of our Saviour, as a living memorial of Him before God. It should be accompanied by an offering of great love and thanks upon our part without regard to anything we may receive. But because first we give we then receive.
About nothing are we in such a state of ignorance as about the laws which govern the give and take between God and Man. On the one hand is God the All-Giving, longing to bestow, and upon the other is Man the all-needing, aching to receive, and between them an impasse. Failure to fulfil God's laws is the cause of this impasse. There is both a law of like to like, and a law of like to opposite. We cannot know God without in some small degree first being like God, and to be like God we must not only be pure in heart but also conform to the God-like condition of giving. First we obey this law that the second may come into effect—that of like to opposite, or positive to negative, the All-Giving immediately meeting and filling the all-needing. We have nothing to give to God but our love, thanks, and obedience; but of these it is possible to give endlessly, and the more we give the more God-like do we become, and the more God-like the higher and further do we enter into the great riches and blisses of God. Therefore the more we give to God the more we receive.
On going to partake of the Blessed Sacrament we do well to banish from the heart and mind all thought of what it may please God to still further give us and to make an offering to God. The only way we can make an offering to God is upon the wings of love, and upon this love we hold up before Him the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of our Redeemer, repeating and repeating in our heart, "I eat and drink This as a memorial before Thee of the Perfect Love and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ." When we so do with great love in our heart we find that we are able sensibly to receive great grace.
Of the many kinds and degrees of prayer first perhaps we learn the prayer of the lips, then that of the mind, then the prayer of the heart, and finally the prayer of the soul—prayer of a totally different mode and order, prayer of a strange incalculably great magnetic power, prayer which enables us to count on help from God as upon an absolute and immediate certainty.
We find this about perfect prayer that it is not done as from a creature beseeching a Creator at an immense distance, but is done as a love-flash which, eating up all distance, is immediately before and with the Creator and is accompanied by vivid certainty at the heart; this latter is active faith; we have too much perhaps of that kind of faith which may be named waiting or passive faith.
This combination of love with active faith instantly opens to us God's help. We may or may not receive this in the form anticipated by the creature, but later perceive that we have received it in exactly that form which would most lastingly benefit us.
After a while we cease almost altogether from petitioning anything for ourselves, having this one desire only: that by opening ourselves to God by means of offering Him great love, we receive Himself.
To enter the contemplation of God is not absence of will, nor laziness of will, but great energy of will because of, and for, love: in which love-condition the energy of the soul will be laid bare to the energy of God, the two energies for the time being becoming closely united or oned, in which state the soul-will or energy is wholly lifted into the glorious God-Energy, and a state of unspeakable bliss and an immensity of living is immediately entered and shared by the soul. Bliss, ecstasy, rapture, all are energy, and according as the soul is exposed to lesser or greater degrees of this energy, so she enters lesser or greater degrees of raptures.
It is misleading in these states of ecstasy to say that the soul has vision, if by vision is to be understood anything that has to do with concrete forms or any kind of sight; for the soul is totally blind. But she makes no account of this blindness and has her fill of all bliss and of the knowledge of another manner of living without any need whatever of sight. Has the wind eyes or feet? yet it possesses the earth and is not prevented. So the soul, without eyes and without hands, possesses God.
Contact with God is then of the nature of the Infusion of Energy. The infusions of this energy may take the form of causing us to have an acute intense perception and consciousness (but not such form of perception as would permit us to say "I saw," but a magnetic inward cognisance, a fire of knowledge which scintillates about the soul and pierces her) of His perfections; of His tenderness, His sweetness, His holiness, His beauty. When either of these last two are made known to her, the soul passes into what can only be named as an agony of bliss, insupportable even to the soul for more than a very brief time, and because of the fearful stress of it the soul draws away and prays to be covered from the unbearable happiness of it, this being granted her whether automatically (that is to say, because of spiritual law) or whether by direct and merciful will of God—who is able to tell?
Such experiences are not for the timid, but require steady courage and perfect loving trust in God.
Contemplation even in its highest forms is not to be confused with spiritual "experiences," which are totally apart from anything else that we may know in life—they are entirely outside of our volition, they are not to be prayed for, they are not to be even secretly desired, but to be accepted how and when and if God so chooses.
In contemplation the will is used, and we are not able to come to it without the will is penetratingly used towards the joining and meeting with the will and love of God. In the purely spiritual "experience" from first to last there is no will but an absence of will, a total submission and yielding to God, without questioning, without fear, without curiosity, and the only will used is to keep ourselves in willingness to submit to whatever He shall choose to expose us to. God does not open to us such experiences in order to gratify curiosity—but expecting that we shall learn and profit by them. First we find them an immense and unforgettable assurance of another form of living, of great intensity, at white heat, natural to a part of us with which we have hitherto been unfamiliar (the soul) but inimical to the body, which suffers grievously whilst the soul glows with marvellous vitality and joy.
This assurance of another manner of living, though we see nothing with the eyes, is the opening of another world to us. The invisible becomes real, faith becomes transformed in knowledge. If the hundred wisest men of the world should all prove upon paper that the spiritual life as a separate and other life from the physical life does not exist, it would cause nothing but a smile of compassion to the creature that had experience. God teaches us by these means to become balanced, poised, and a complete human being, combining in one personality or consciousness the Spiritual and the Material.
But we are not given and shown these mysteries without paying a price: we must learn to live in extraordinary lowliness and loneliness of spirit. The interests, enjoyments, pastimes of ordinary life dry up and wither away. It becomes in vain that we seek to satisfy ourselves in any occupation, in anything, in any persons, for God wills to have the whole of us. When He wills to be sensibly with us, all Space itself feels scarcely able to contain our riches and our happiness. When He wills to disconnect us from this nearness, there is nothing in all the universe so poor, so destitute, so sad, so lonely as ourself. And there is no earthly thing can beguile or console us, because, having tasted of God, it is impossible to be satisfied or consoled save inwardly by God Himself. But He opens up Nature to us in a marvellous way, unbelievable until experienced. He offers us Nature as a sop to stay our tears. By means of Nature He even in absence caresses the soul and the creature, speaks to them fondly, encourages and draws them after Him, sending acute and wonderful perceptions to them, so that, quite consoled, they cry aloud to Him with happiness. And often when the creature is alone and secure from being observed by anyone He will open His glamour to the soul and she passes into union with paradise and even more—high heaven itself. These are angels' delights which He lavishes upon the prodigal.
Another heavy price to be paid is found by the soul and heart and mind in the return from the blissful and perfect calm which surrounds even the lowest degree of the contemplation of God to the turmoil of the world. For to have been lifted into this new condition of living, this glamour, this crystal joy, to know such heights, such immensities, and to descend from God's blisses to live the everyday life of this world and accept its pettiness is a great pain, in which pain we are of necessity not understood by fellow-creatures; therefore the more and the more we become pressed into that great loneliness which is the inevitable portion of the true lover, and experience the pain of those prolonged spiritual conflicts in which the soul learns to bend and submit to the petty sordidness of life in a world which has forgotten God. It is the lack of courage and endurance to perpetually weather these dreadful storms which causes us to turn to seclusion—the cloister. To refrain from doing this and to remain in the world though not of it is the sacrifice of the loving soul—she has but the one to make—to leave the delights of God, and for the sake of being a useful servant to Jesus to pick up the daily life in the world; which sacrifice is in direct contrariety to the sacrifice of the creature, which counts its sacrifices as a giving up of the things of the world. So by opposites they may come to one similarity—perfection. How to conduct itself in all these difficult ways so foreign to its own earthly nature is a hard problem for the creature, belonging so intimately to this world which it can touch and see: and yet which it is asked by God bravely to climb out of into the unknown and the unseen. Bewildered by the enormous demands of the soul which can never rest in any happiness without she is contemplating God, adoring Him, conversing with Him, blessing and worshipping Him, the poor creature is often bewildered to know how to conduct the ordinary affairs and duties of life under such pressures. Of its emotions, of the tears that it sheds, of the falls that it takes, a library of books might be written. In the splendour, the grandeur, the great magnitudes and expanses of spirit life as made known to it by the soul, the creature feels like some poor beggar child, ill-mannered, ill-clothed, which by strange fortune finds itself invited to the house of a mighty king, and, dumb with humility and admiration, is at a loss to understand the condescension of this mighty lord. In this sense of very great unworthiness lies a profound pain, an agony. To cure this pain we must turn the heart to give love, to think love, and immediately we think of this great condescension as being for love's sake—as love seeking for love—we are consoled. Then all is well, all is joyful, all is divine. The more simple, childlike, and unpretentious we can be, the more easily we shall win our way through. Pretentiousness or arrogance in Man can never be anything but ridiculous, and a sense of humour should alone be sufficient to save us from such error. For the same reason it is impossible to regard human ceremonies with any respect or seriousness, for they are not childlike but childish. How often the heart and mind cry out to Him, "O mighty God, I am mean and foolish—mean in that which I have created by my vain imaginings, my pride, my covetousness; but in that which Thou hast made me I am wonderful and lovely—a thing that can fly to and fro day or night to Thy hand!"
The difficulties of the creature should not be raised on some self-glorifying pinnacle merely because the fickle variable heart at lasts learns the exercise of Fidelity. Do we not see a very ordinary dog practising this same fidelity as he waits, so eager that he trembles, outside his master's door, having put on one side every desire save his desire to his master whom, not seeing, he continues to await; and this out of the generosity of his heart! And we? Only by great difficulty, long endeavour, bitter schooling, and having at last accomplished it we name each other saints or saintly. Let us think soberly about these things; are we then so much less than a dog that we also cannot accomplish this fidelity—so that though hands and feet go about daily duties the heart and mind are fixed on the Master? Then the Master becomes the Beloved.
Of Blessing God
At first when the creature is being taught to bless God it shrinks back in a fright, crying, "What am I that I should dare to bless Almighty God, I am afraid to do it; I am too unworthy; let me wait till I am more righteous, till I have done more works." Then the divine soul counsels it so: "Think no more about thyself, moaning and groaning over thine unworthiness and trusting to progress in works. Cease thinking of thyself, and rise up and think only of God. Thou wilt never be worthy, and all thy works are nothing and thy learning of no count whatever; and as to thy righteousness, is it not written that it is as filthy rags? All that God will give thee is not for any merits or works of thine, but for Love's sake. He desires both to give thee love and to receive thy love, therefore rise and worship Him, give Him all the love that thou hast; keep none back either for thyself, or anything or any creature, but give all that thou hast to Him with tears and songs and gladness." Timidly the creature obeys, and with all its powers and strength it blesses God, and instantanteously God blesses the creature, sending His sweetness and His glamour about it: and the more the soul and the creature bless God the more does He bless them, and they bless Him from the bed of sickness and pain as fully as they bless Him in health. They bless Him in the night-time and in the noonday, they bless Him as they walk, they bless Him as they work, and because of this little bit of blessing and love that the two of them offer to God He offers them all heaven in Himself.
It is the duty of the soul to constantly lend counsel, courage, help, advice, and strength to the creature, and we are conscious of the voice of the soul, which without any sound yet makes itself inwardly heard, calling to the selfishness, the egoism of the creature, urging the higher part of it to come higher and the animal in it to become pure and to subdue itself, saying to it, "Lie down and be quiet, or thou wilt bring disaster to us both." "I cannot be quiet, for I could groan with my restless distress." "Cease to think of thyself with thy roarings and groanings. Lay hold of love which thinks nothing of itself but always of that which it may give to the Beloved." "I cannot do this; I am no angel nor even a saint, but a most ordinary creature, forsaken of God and miserable." "Thou art never forsaken, but thy door is closed: it opens from thy side, and thou art thyself standing across it and blocking the opening of it—I will show thee how to open it, cry and moan no more for favours and gifts, but do thou thyself do the giving. Since thou dost not know at all how to begin—do it with these set words: 'I love and praise Thee, I love and bless and thank Thee, I love and bless and worship Thee'; and see thou do it with all thy heart and mind and strength and with no thought of thyself and future benefits, but entirely that thou mayest give Him pleasure." Then the creature tries, but fails lamentably, for most of its heart and mind is on itself and a fraction only on God.
"Now try again and again and again," cries the soul, "O thou miserable halfhearted shallow worldling!" And the creature tries again, and, doing better, gets a very slight warmth about the heart; and, doing it again, gets a little comfort, and so, gradually progressing in the way of true love which is all giving, at last one day the creature does it perfectly because it has altogether forgotten itself in the fire of its love and is completely set upon God. Then automatically the door opens, and immediately in through it there rushes the breath and the blisses of God. And the creature, weeping with excess of happiness, cries, "I never asked for such delights, I did not know such happiness was to be had; and if I did not ask, how is it that I have received?" Then the soul answers, "Because thou hast learnt to give to God, and that is the key which unlocks the garden of His joys. Thou hast just three things which He desires to have—thy love and thine obedience, and thy waiting fidelity. When thou dost conform to His desire with all thy tiny unadulterated strength, immediately heaven becomes open to thee and thou dost receive more than thou didst ever dream or think to ask for. This is His lovely Will towards thee. But first always do thy part, and until thou doest thy part I cannot begin mine, for thou couldst receive neither blessings nor blisses did I not receive them first from Him and hand them on to thee; so each are dependent the one on the other, and only together can we enter paradise. Think not I do not suffer as much as thyself and far more. I know thou dost suffer with thy body and with the losses of thine earthly loves, but I suffer far more with the loss of my Heavenly Love. At first I could not understand what had come to me, buried and choked in thy strange house of flesh. I despised thee, I hated thee, thy stupid ways, thy dreadful greeds, thine unspeakable obstinacy and unwillingness; thou didst give me horrible sicknesses with thine unsavoury wants, thine undignified requirements. I thought thee foolish and now know myself to be more foolish than thee, for thou hardly knowest the heavenly love whereas I knew and left Him, seeking other loves. The Fall was not thy fault, poor human thing, but mine. I am the Prodigal, and thou the means of my return, for if I can but raise thee to true adoration of our God, then I shall pay my debt of infidelity to Him and together as one glorious radiant spirit we shall enter heaven again.
"Only listen and I can guide thee, for the Master speaks to me and tells me what to do. I am partly that which thou dost please to call thy conscience, and thou dost treat me shockingly, buffeting and wounding me when I try to whisper to thee: if thou art not careful, thou wilt so disable me that all our chance of happiness will be spoiled. Do thou listen very tenderly for my voice, for I am of gossamer and thou of strangely heavy clay."
Of Evil and Temptation and of Grace
The heart and soul are subject to four principal glamours: the glamour of youth, the glamour of romance, the glamour of evil, and the glamour of God.
When once the Spirit of Love, which is God, descends into our soul then a new light becomes created in us by which we see the glamour of evil in its true form and complexion. We see it as disease, misery, imprisonment, and death; and who finds it difficult to turn away from such?
The natural man sees evil as an intense attraction, the spiritual man as a horror of ugliness. See then how the Spirit of Love is at once and easily our Salvation.
Amongst all mysteries none seems greater to us than the mystery of Evil. God—Goodness—Love: these we understand. But evil—whence and why, since God is Love, Omnipotence, and Holiness?
We cannot but observe that all things have their opposites: summer and winter, heat and cold, light and dark, silence and sound, pleasure and pain, life and death, action and repose, joy and sadness, illness and health; and how shall we know or have true pleasure in the one without we have also knowledge of the opposite? The man who has never known sickness has neither true gratitude, understanding, nor pleasure in his heart over his good health: he does not know that which he possesses. Neither can we know the great glory that is Holiness till we have known evil and can contrast the two.
"But what a price to pay for knowledge; what fearful risk and danger to His creatures for God so to teach them!" we may cry, forgetting that with God all things are possible, "Who is able and strong to save." And does He dare set Himself no difficult thing that He may overcome it? The strong man's knowledge of his own courage forbids us think it. God wills to save us. We have but to join our will with His, and we are saved. How shall we mount to God other than by mounting upon that which offers a foundation of tangible resistance, overcoming and mounting upon evil. Evil then becomes our stairway—the servant of Good. By using the evil that we meet with day by day, we mount daily the nearer to God by that exact degree of evil which we have overcome by good—that is to say, by practice of forgiveness, compassion, patience, humility, endurance, held out over against the invitation of evil to do the exact opposite. A negligent, thieving, lying servant that we have to deal with calls forth forgiveness, and humility also, for are we a perfect servant to our Lord? The evil of a drunken husband may be used by the wife as a sure ladder to God, for because of this evil she may learn to practise all the virtues of the saints. Truly if we have the will to use it, Evil is friendly. If we misuse Evil—that is to say, if we do not use it by mounting on it but, intoxicated with its glamour, consent to it,—this is Sin, and immediately the stairway is not that of ascent but of descent and death.
The Master says "Resist not evil." How are we to understand this but by assuming that if we try our strength against Evil, Evil is likely to overcome us? but on being confronted with Evil we should instantly hold on to and join with the forces of Good and so have strength quietly to continue side by side with Evil without being seduced by it. When Evil cannot seduce—that is to say, make us consent to it,—then for us it is conquered. When we give in or conform to this seduction we generate Sin. Let us say that we are in temptation, that Evil of some sort confronts and invites us; if we battle with this presentment, this picture, this insinuating invitation held out before us by Evil, the act of contending with the invitation will fix it all the more firmly in our minds. We need to substitute another picture, another invitation, another presentment, of that which pertains to the good and the beautiful. He who has learnt so to substitute and present before his own heart and mind Jesus and the pure and beautiful invitations of this Divine Jesus can solve the difficulty. This is not contending, this is substituting; this is transferring allegiance from the glamour of Evil which is present with us, to the glamour of God, which, because we are in temptation, is not present, but is yet hoped and waited for.
To return again to the lying, dishonest, and negligent servant. If we argue, contend, and battle morally with this evil servant we do not alter him, but by this contention generate antagonism. Then what is our own position? Bad temper, a disturbed heart, an inharmonious angry mind; but if without contending we bear with and act gently with this evil, making careful comparisons with our own service to our own Lord, we learn patience, forgiveness, and humility also, for have we never lied, have we never been dishonest, have we never been negligent to this sweet Lord? Then immediately His patience, His forgiveness, His love are brought more intimately to our consciousness, and our heart nearer to His and His to ours. Is this loss or gain? Is Evil then an enemy? No, a handmaid. So is Satan made a servant to his Overlord, and his power crossed.
Of all false things nothing is more false than the glamour of Evil, for when on being drawn into it we sin, instead of the hoped-for delight we soon find satiety; instead of exhilaration, fatigue; instead of contentment, disillusion; instead of satisfaction, dust; instead of romance, the greedy claws of the harpy; and the further we go in response to this glamour the more pitiable our outlook; for the sweets and possibilities of Evil are extraordinarily limited. Can any man devise a new sin? No, but ever pursues the same old round, the same pitiful circle.
If we pursue the glamour of God, we find the exact opposite of all these things. Spiritual delights know no satiety because of infinite variety: they know no disease, no disillusionment, and who can set a boundary or limit to the beautiful, to love, and light, and God?
It is characteristic of temptation that while we are exposed to it Christ is absent from perception; for to perceive Christ would instantly free us from all temptation (and often it is by temptation faithfully borne that we mount).
When we are in a condition of contact with Christ which is His grace, we are raised above the stem of faith into the flowers of knowledge; but for the true strengthening of the will it is necessary that we live also on the harder and more difficult meat of faith. So we return again and again to that insulation from things heavenly in which we lived before we had been made Aware. When we emerge from these dark periods we find ourselves to have advanced. With regard to Grace we can neither truly receive nor benefit by it without our heart, mind, and soul are previously adjusted to Response to it.
The regenerated creature is not exempt from further temptations, but contrariwise the poignancy of these temptations is greatly increased (though of a quite different order of temptation to that known to us in an unregenerated state); it is increased in proportion to the degrees of Grace vouchsafed to us. That is to say, temptation keeps level with our utmost capacity of resistance yet never is allowed to exceed the bounds, for when it would exceed them a way out is found by the return of Grace; and we are freed. The cause is the great root called Self, a hydra-headed growth of selfishness, both material and spiritual, sprouting in all directions. We would seem to be here for ever enclosed as in a glass bottle with this most horrid growth. Through the glass we see all life, but always and ever in company with this voracious Self. No sooner do we lop off one shoot of it than another grows—never was such strenuous gardening as is required to keep this growth in check, and every time we lop a shoot we learn another pain. This is the long road to perfection, for the Cross is "I" with a stroke through it.
Who can describe the marvels, the variations, the mystery of Grace? It is a dew and an elixir, a balm and a fire, a destroyer of all fear and sorrow, a delight and an anguish, for we are martyred, pierced with long arrows by the longing of the love that it calls forth. It is a sweetness and a might, a glory and a power in which we are sensibly aware we could walk through a furnace unscathed if He bade us to do it. And by it we are lifted in a crystal vase and enclosed in the Presence of God.
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As a man's desire is so is he. If our desire is entirely towards fleshly things and joys and comforts, we are sensualists. If our desire is all towards sport and horses, we are not above horses but rather below them, for the human animal is full of guile and the horse of obedience and generosity. Nevertheless he is no goal for the human to aim at. If we desire the beautiful, we become beautified and refined. If we desire God, we become godly.
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It is characteristic of spiritual progress that each step is gained through suffering, through penetrating faithful endeavours, through grievous incomprehensible turmoils and discords of the spirit, worked frequently by means of the everyday commonplace happenings and responsibilities of our daily life; and finally as each new step is gained we are by Grace carried to it in a flood of divine happiness to crown our woes. Grace is God's magnetic power acting directly and immediately upon us and is altogether independent of place, time, services, sacraments, or ceremonies. We limit God's communication with us in this way—that He is communicable to us only in so far as we ourselves respond and are able, apt, and willing to receive Him.
Is the condition of blessed nearness to God permanent? No, not as a condition but as a capacity only. We have need to perpetually renew this condition by a positive active enthusiasm toward God. We can in laziness no more retain and use this condition as a permanency than we can sleep one night and eat one meal and have these suffice for our lifetime. But slowly, with work and with pain, we learn perpetually to regain this condition by that form of prayer which is the spiritual breathing-in of the Spirit of Christ.
All God's help, all God's comfortings are to be had by us by Grace. This Grace will constantly be withdrawn so that we may learn that we arrive at nothing by our own power but by gift of God, who is ever willing to give to us provided we whole-heartedly respond. This Response to God is surely amongst the most difficult of our achievements; unaided by Grace it is an impossibility, but we know that every man born into the world is invited by Christ to ask for and to receive this Grace. The effect of Response to God is a unity of our tiny force to the Might-Presence and company of God as much as we are able to bear it, producing in us while with us such wealth of living; and such happiness as passes all description. As we have capacity to respond to God so we shall know that of God which is not known by those as yet unlearned in response. For God, we know, is neither This nor That, but so infinitely more than any particularisation that we are able to know Him only and solely according to our own capacity to receive Him. To one He is a Personal Power that ravishes with might, whose awful magnetism draws the very heart and soul in longing anguish from the body. To another He is the dimly known silent Manipulator of the Universe, the secret Ruler to whose mighty Will creation bows—because needs must. To another He is yet even more remote, being the unresponsive, impersonal, incomprehensible, immovable Instigator of all law.
What is it in our religion that we need for a full happiness? Not the God of our mere faith, nor the God of the theologian veiled behind great mysteries of book-learning. It is the Responsive God that we long for, and how shall we reach Him? There is one way only—through the taking of Jesus Christ firmly and faithfully into our own heart and life.
It is not what we now are, or where we now stand that matters, but what He has the power to bring us to.
How is God-consciousness to be achieved—shall we do it by study, by reading? No—for the study or reading of it will do no more than whet the appetite for spiritual things—this is its work,—but can do no more in giving us the actual possession of this joy than the study of a menu can satisfy hunger.
Individual, personal and inward possession is in all things our necessity. If our friend has slept well it is no rest to us if we have slept ill. Up to a given point in all things each for himself. It is the law. Of where this law ends or is superseded by the law of all for all only the Holy Spirit can instruct us, and that inwardly and again each to himself. This state of God-consciousness is a gift, and our work is to qualify for this gift by persistent ardent desire towards God continued through every adversity, through every lack of sensible response on His part—a naked will and heart insisting upon God. This state of God-consciousness once received and in full vigour of life, there is without doubt about this condition a principle of active contagion, very noticeable, very remarkable.
That "something" which would appear frequently to be needed by persons anxious to come to God and unable to discover the manner of achieving it, would seem to be supplied by this contagion, as though a human spark were often wanted to ignite the spark in another, which done, the Divine Fire springs up and rapidly grows without further human assistance.
We see this contagion as used in its full perfection by Jesus, for with all His selected followers He had but to come in momentary contact with them, using a word or a look, and, instantly forsaking everything, they followed Him. Was this selection of His favouritism? No, they were prepared to receive this contagion, and not one of them but had been secretly seeking for God; and this perhaps for long years.
To find this new life we need then not the reading of profound books of learning, not the wisdom of the scholar, but an inward persistence of the heart and will God-wards. This time of insistent waiting is to be endured with all the more courage in that we do not know at what blessed moment we may pierce the veil and the gift come in all its glorious immensity. Ten years, twenty, thirty—what are such in comparison with the blisses that shall afterwards be ours for all eternity?
To look up by day or night into the vastness of the sky with its endless depths, and as we do it burn with the consciousness of God, this is to truly live. No distance is too great, no space too wide. All is our home. Without this burning consciousness of God, Space is a thing of fear and Eternity not to be thought of.
Of the many experiences and conditions of the soul returning to God there is a condition all too easily entered—that of an enervating, pulseless, seductive inertia. In this condition of inert but marvellous contentment the soul would love to stay. This is spiritual sensuality, a spiritual back-water. The true life and energy of the soul are lulled to idleness: basking in happiness, the soul ceases to give and becomes merely receptive.
This condition is entered from many levels: we can rise to it (for it is very high) from ordinary levels, branch sideways to it from high contemplation; drop to it from the greatest contacts with God. This condition seems strangely familiar to the soul. So much so that she questions herself. Was it from this I started on my wanderings from God? The true health of the soul when in the blisses of God is to be in a state of intense living or activity. She is then in perfect connection with the Divine Energy. She is then in a state of an immense and boundless radiantly joyful Life.
To find God is to have the scope of all our senses increased, but it is easily to be understood that our power of suffering increases also, because we are, as it were, flayed and laid bare to everything alike. But it increases our joys to so great a degree that for the first time in life joy is greater than pain, happiness is greater than sorrow, knowledge is greater than fear, and Good suddenly becomes to us so much greater than Evil that Evil becomes negligible. This increase, this wonderful addition to our former condition, might be partly conveyed by comparison to a man who from birth has never been able to appreciate music: for him it has been meaningless, a noise without suggestion, without delight, without wings, and suddenly by no powers of his own the immense charms and pleasures and capacities of it are laid open to him! These increases of every sense and faculty God will give to His lovers, so that without effort and by what has now become to us our own nature we are continually able to enter the Sublime.