THE elders shook their hands at last,
Down seat by seat the signal passed.
To simple ways like ours unused,
Half solemnized and half amused,
With long-drawn breath and shrug, my guest
His sense of glad relief expressed.
Outside the hills lay warm in sun ,
The cattle in the meadow-run
Stood half-leg deep ; a single bird
The green repose above us stirred.
“ What part or lot have you,”he said,
“ In these dull rites of drowsy-head ?
Is silence worship? — Seek it where
It soothes with dreams the summer air,
Not in this close and rude-benched hall,
But where soft lights and shadows fall,
And all the slow, sleep-walking hours
Glide soundless over grass and flowers !
From time and place and form apart,
Its holy ground the human heart,
Nor ritual-bound nor templeward
Walks the free spirit of the Lord!
Our common Master did not pen
His followers up from other men ;
His service liberty indeed,
He built no church, he framed no creed ;
But while the saintly Pharisee
Made broader his phylactery,
As from the synagogue was seen
The dusty-sandalled Nazarene
Through ripening cornfields lead the way
Upon the awful Sabbath day,
His sermons were the healthful talk
That shorter made the mountain-walk,
His wayside texts were flowers and birds,
Where mingled with His gracious words
The rustle of the tamarisk-tree
And ripple-wash of Galilee.”
Thy words are well, O friend,” I said;
“ Unmeasured and unlimited,
With noiseless slide of stone to stone,
The mystic Church of God has grown.
Invisible and silent stands
The temple never made with hands,
Unheard the voices still and small
Of its unseen confessional.
He needs no special place of prayer
Whose hearing ear is everywhere ;
He brings not back the childish days
That ringed the earth with stones of praise,
Rooted Karnak’s hall of gods, and laid
The plinths of Philæs colonnade.
Still less He owns the selfish good
And sickly growth of solitude, —
The worthless grace that, out of sight,
Flowers in the desert anchorite ;
Dissevered from the suffering whole,
Love hath no power to save a soul.
Not out of Self, the origin
And native air and soil of sin,
The living waters spring and flow,
The trees with leaves of healing grow.
“ Dream not, O friend, because I seek
This quiet shelter twice a week,
I better deem its pine-laid floor
Than breezy hill or sea-sung shore ;
But here, in its accustomed place,
I look on memory’s dearest face ;
The blind by-sitter guesseth not
What shadow haunts that vacant spot;
No eye save mine alone can see
The love wherewith it welcomes me !
And still, with those alone my kin,
In doubt and weakness, want and sin,
I bow my head, my heart I bare
As when that face was living there,
And strive (too oft, alas ! in vain)
The rest of simple trust to gain ;
Fold fancy’s restless wings, and lay
The idols of my heart away.
“ Welcome the silence all unbroken,
Nor less the words of fitness spoken, —
Such golden words as hers for whom
Our autumn flowers have just made room ;
Whose hopeful utterance through and through
The freshness of the morning blew ;
Who loved not less the earth that light
Fell on it from the heavens in sight,
But saw in all fair forms more fair
The Eternal beauty mirrored there.
Whose eighty years but added grace
And saintlier meaning to her face, —
The look of one who bore away
Glad tidings from the hills of day,
While all our hearts went forth to meet
The coming of her beautiful feet !
“ I ask no organ’s soulless breath To drone the themes of life and death, No altar candle-lit by day, No ornate wordsman’s rhetoric-play, No cool philosopher to teach
His bland audacities of speech
To double-tasked idolaters
Themselves their gods and worshippers,
No pulpit beat by ruthless fist
Of loud-asserting dogmatist,
Who borrows for the hand of love
The smoking thunderbolts of Jove.
I know how well the fathers taught,
What work the later schoolmen wrought; I reverence old-time faith and men,
But God is near us now as then ;
His force of love is still unspent,
His hate of sin as imminent;
And still the measure of our needs
Outgrows the cramping bounds of creeds ;
The manna gathered yesterday
Already savors of decay ;
Doubts to the world’s child-heart unknown
Question us now from star and stone;
Too little or too much we know,
And sight is swift and faith is slow;
The power is lost to self-deceive
With shallow forms of make-believe.
We walk at high noon, and the bells
Call to a thousand oracles,
But the sound deafens, and the light
Is stronger than our dazzled sight;
The letters of the sacred Book
Glimmer and swim beneath our look;
Still struggles in the Age’s breast
With deepening agony of quest
The old entreaty: ‘ Art thou He,
Or look we for the Christ to be ? ’
“God should be most where man is least;
So, where is neither church nor priest,
And never rag of form or creed
To clothe the nakedness of need, —
Where farmer-folk in silence meet,—
I turn my bell-unsummoned feet;
I lay the critic’s glass aside,
I tread upon my lettered pride,
And, lowest-seated, testify
To the oneness of humanity ;
Confess the universal want,
And share whatever Heaven may grant.
He findeth not who seeks his own,
The soul is lost that’s saved alone.
Not on one favored forehead fell
Of old the fire-tongued miracle,
But flamed o’er all the thronging host
The baptism of the Holy Ghost;
Heart answers heart; in one desire
The blending lines of prayer aspire ;
' Where, in my name, meet two or three,’
Our Lord hath said, ' I there will be ! ’
“ So sometimes comes to soul and sense
The feeling which is evidence
That very near about us lies
The realm of spiritual mysteries.
The sphere of the supernal powers
Impinges on this world of ours.
The low and dark horizon lifts,
To light the scenic terror shifts ;
The breath of a diviner air
Blows down the answer of a prayer : —
That all our sorrow, pain, and doubt
A great compassion clasps about,
And law and goodness, love and force,
Are wedded fast beyond divorce.
Then duty leaves to love its task,
The beggar Self forgets to ask ;
With smile of trust and folded hands,
The passive soul in waiting stands
To feel, as flowers the sun and dew,
The One true Life its own renew.
“ So, to the calmly-gathered thought
The innermost of truth is taught,
The mystery dimly understood,
That love of God is love of good ;
That to be saved is only this, —
Salvation from our selfishness ;
That Book and Church and Day are given
For man, not God,—for earth, not heaven,—
The blessed means to holiest ends,
Not masters, but benignant friends ;
That the dear Christ dwells not afar
The king of some remoter star,
Listening, at times, with flattered ear
To homage wrung from selfish fear,
But here, amidst the poor and blind,
The bound and suffering of our kind,
In works we do, in prayers we pray,
Life of our life, he lives to-day.”