Some Allies of Love

I

IT seems hardly decent to discuss so sacred a matter in the publicity of print. Dimly aware of this, we try to approach the subject delicately through such phrases as ‘The Spirit of Youth’ (Jane Addams) or ‘The Life Force’ (G. Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman). To free the word love from its association with boudoirs and morbid novels, we try to identify it with something genial and all-pervasive, to ally it with the great, sane forces of nature. For we believe that if these allies stimulate and reënforce personality, if they awaken and intensify our feeble energy, then they tend to ennoble our affections.

Elemental nature is such an ally. A group of people who start on a camping trip tolerably indifferent to each other, often come home bubbling over with friendliness. There may have been very little talking during the trip. What has drawn them together? Is it not the contact with elemental conditions: paddling, carrying, cooking, and sleeping by the camp-fire? To share fatigue, disappointment, surprise, hunger, and good appetite, gives us a common life. Facing nature we join hands, reinvigorated.

Friends who went through the horrors of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and kept their spiritual senses alert, tell me that its most poignant experience was not one of horror or of pity, but of an almost miraculous attainment of human brotherhood. Just after the disaster, when rich and poor waited in line together for their allowance of bread and milk, ‘I saw,’ says a friend, ‘a rich woman from the St. Francis Hotel lying asleep on a doorstep with her head on a muff. A long sable coat was thrown over her and under one corner of it a young Japanese boy — a perfect stranger to her — was curled up asleep. . . . Everybody was everybody’s friend, and though we were all dog-tired, there was not a word of complaint or ill-nature.’ To bivouac together in the park and care for each other’s babies around fires of driftwood gathered on the beach, transformed men and women into defenceless children of the earth, revealed each to each by their innate lovableness. Common danger and mutual helpfulness, common misfortune, common work, common confrontation with the elemental, swiftly achieved an almost ideal brotherhood. A crushing blow made all the world kin.

Within a few weeks, it is true, the San Franciscans forgot this beneficent revelation and slid back into their old animosities. But even that pitiful relapse serves to make my point the clearer. Affection, this time in the form of comradeship, was for a day reenforced, almost consecrated, by contact with hostile nature; then lost its sacredness again, when the bond of contact was broken and ‘civilization’ once more got the upper hand.

In hospital work, patients, doctors, and nurses who face terror and disease together are often knit into comradeship, like soldiers on a campaign. The ‘new patient’ just entering a hospital is as forlorn and terror-stricken as a child lost in a forest or landed friendless in a strange country. The menace of illness, the hospital’s dark and fearful suggestions, and its sights, sounds, and smells, make him so hungry for friendly guidance that it is marvelously easy to serve him as a friend in need. Through the simplest physical helpfulness or decent sympathy, one gains a foothold in friendship which could not be won in months of acquaintance outside of the hospital. Why? Because disaster and sickness have renewed the instinctive alliance of all human beings against the assault of the non-human world.

I have been speaking so far of strangers made friendly by working together against elemental nature. But nature can bring new strength not only into vague and general affections, but into all affections, even into the most sacred of human ties. On one of our rare country outings last spring, my wife and I wandered away from the violets and the apple-blossoms and came all at once upon a place where the grass was afire. Some stumps and one small cedar were also burning. It was a bit of country precious to us both; so as soon as we had explored a little and mapped out our task, we started to choke out the remnants of the fire.

Some parts we could beat out with a stick, others we smothered with damp earth. Before long each of us was possessed by that passion of accomplishment which so often carries one far beyond the original plan. We quite forgot each other, and when I at last straightened up and looked over the stump which I had been pounding, I could just see my wife far off on the brow of a hill. Her back was toward me, but I could see that she was stamping and beating out the patches of smouldering fire, quite as engrossed in her work as I had been in mine. When I joined her, her shoes were white with dust. There were flakes of ashes on her black hair. Her skirt was pinned up, and she was on the warpath, — so intent on her task that, when she raised her head, her eyes scanned me for an instant almost as if I had been a stranger. But what I felt most vividly was that we had both been down into a bath in the elemental, — ‘the healthy underworld where things slumber and grow,’ — and that in our very forgetfulness of each other, our love had taken up into itself some of the sweetness and patience of the earth.

We are apt to think that our contact with nature, in work or play, is good chiefly because it benefits our health or increases our knowledge. But I think we should remember and cultivate the beneficent influence of nature upon our affections. On them as well as on our muscles, nature bestows new spring, tone, and control.

Art, no less than nature, can enrich and reënforce the springs of our affection. How warmly we sometimes feel toward those with whom we have just sung a stirring chorus or a noble hymn! Have not all of us come away from some deeply moving music aware of something curiously familiar and endearing in those previously indifferent to us? Any lover of Wagner will recall for instance, the wonderful passage in the second act of Lohengrin, after the marriage of the hero and heroine. Their love for each other rises to a higher power when Lohengrin goes to the window and throws it open. A flood of spring moonlight and spring fragrance pours in. Permeated by the beauty of the night, spring’s creative forces in their veins, they are more deeply united to each other, and every spectator who has ears to hear is also united more sacredly with whomsoever is dear to him.

We must agree with Tolstoï that lawless art stirs up lawless love. On the other hand, to read of Stevenson’s affection for Walter Ferrier,1 or Dante’s exalted passion for Beatrice, surely increases our capacity for the nobler types of love; for to appreciate is always in some measure to appropriate.

Each of love’s neighbors contributes something precious toward the richness of its chords. Nature gives them a new timbre, art adds an ampler vibration. Playfulness, patriotism, loyalty to truth and to honor, buttress and strengthen them like contrapuntal melodies. Like a symphony without its mischievous scherzo, love is maimed and darkened if it cannot express itself in ‘jest and sport and quip and crank.’ We laugh for love as well as for joy or triumph, and smiles carry the messages of affection as often as those of fun.

By nature and art, by playfulness, patriotism, truthfulness, and all the greatest forces in our nature, love is penetrated, nourished, and supported. I marvel sometimes when I see two people marry, and then try to feed their love simply on each other. It is inconceivable that any love can live and grow unless it draws sustenance, as every soul and body must, from the world around us, from work, from play, and from all the higher loyalties that we serve.

Another ally of love comes to light when we answer the question, ‘Should one ever force or impersonate affection?’

Surely not; yet love, like a musical ear, can be cultivated to some extent through knowledge. There must be something to build on, some basis of respect, or at least of compassion. But given that, we may confidently call to our aid that great master-builder of affection, knowledge. If we give a man every chance he is almost sure to disclose some lovable quality. Knowledge joined with faith is the way to give him these chances. For example, you know people better in their own homes; you have there a promising opportunity to catch a liking for them. You find out some people’s strength by seeing them at play, others’ by learning the structure and history of their past, others by watching them as they build up plans for the future.

Of course such fuller acquaintance may reveal not strength but weakness; we may be repelled where we hoped to be attracted through close intimacy. Yet there is no other path. We are taking the only chance, and if we persevere there are few personalities so repellant as to foil us altogether. I speak with confidence upon this point, because some of the strongest and most inspiring friendships that I have known were raised from very near the zero point of attraction to the pleasantest warmth simply by taking every opportunity for better knowledge, and by hunting for favorable points of view. The affection which gradually developed was from the first genuine and unforced, but it would never have come to anything had it not been cultivated and reënforced through every available avenue of knowledge. And after all, is it not quite natural that human affection should come to us, in part at least, through intimacy of acquaintance? One gets fond of many a city, many a landscape, many an art or science in just the same way; and most — though not all — our antipathies are to be explained, like Charles Lamb’s, by our ignorance.

‘A friend said to Lamb, “Come here. I want to introduce you to Mr. A.”

‘Lamb replied with his characteristic stammer and drawl, “No, thank you.”

‘“Why not?”

‘ “ I don’t like him.”

‘“Don’t like him? You don’t know him.”

‘“That’s the reason I don’t like him.”’

I do not mean to suggest that we can often win a friend merely by scraping together a fund of knowledge about him. I mean that if you are once convinced that you ought to conquer a certain dislike or acquire a certain friendliness, knowledge is one way to go at it.

The influence of elemental nature, of knowledge, beauty, playfulness, patriotism, truth - seeking, — all the reënforcements which I have been describing, are for the most part a consecration of love, often a blessing, rarely a curse. For most of the perversions and diseases of love which are just now so much in the public mind, under the false title of ‘sex,’ are due, as I believe, less to an excess than to a deficiency of vitality, less to lack of control, than to lack of intensity.

But not all! Swift-running streams drop out some impurities, but there are intrinsic qualities in the chemistry of the water-borne molecules, which cannot be changed from bad to good by any increase of power in the stream which surrounds them. We want a swift-flowing stream, but the internal structure of the water — its chemistry — must also be right, else the water is bad. Love also may still remain a vague, impersonal life-force unless its internal structure is right. That structure is my next topic.

II

In a happy marriage the wife’s affection for her husband is often maternal as well as conjugal. She treats him like a grown-up son, looks after him and mothers him like one of her own boys. We all know this habit, and love it. We should recognize that something was missing if there were nothing but the maternal in a wife’s attitude. But we should also recognize something missing if there were nothing but the conjugal. Moreover the pair should be good comrades as well as husband-and-wife and mother-andson. Together these three affections make a richer love than any one of them alone.

The filial and maternal may also be united in a single relation. I know a little girl of ten, devotedly attached to her mother and fond of sleeping near her on the porch of their house. One night a storm blew in; the mother was awakened, not by the storm but by the touches and whispered words of her little daughter who was at her bedside covering her with a rainproof blanket, and (as soon as she saw that her mother had waked) pouring out a stream of such endearments as a mother uses to her child. She was mothering her own mother; yet the next morning she was as much her mother’s child as any one could wish.

Extend to their limit the possibilities suggested in these examples; then all possible human affections are united in the richness of a single love. I have a brother who is good enough to make his home with me and to share with me the privilege of affectionate intimacy with his children. As I read or play with his eight-year-old daughter, I find in my love for her elements of every type of affection that I can conceive. The touch of her hand thrills me. I am equally conscious of the impulse to protect and guide her, to fight for her, to foresee and prevent the dangers that will meet her at play and in school, — in short, to be a father to her. I also want her comradeship; I want to work and to play with her as an equal, and not merely as a hopeless ‘grown-up.’ And when I see how much clearer than mine is her sight for the new, how much fresher her enthusiasm, how much more beauty of speech, gesture, and mood her life contains than mine, how much more wisdom there is in her unconsciousness than in most of my thinking, I look up to her with veneration. Around and beyond all this I see that she belongs to the larger life of the world and to that Personality which envelops us all.

If I am right in the interpretation of these examples we must learn to think of personal love not so much as a single quality or impulse, but as a house of many rooms. Each room represents some type of affection: conjugal, paternal, filial, or friendly. Each room opens into those next it, so that an impulse originating in one must pass freely through all. Moreover the house is open outwardly. Through its windows there is a perpetual give-and-take between our affections and the infinite love of God. The currents of infinite love as they sweep through the universe rush through all the chambers of love’s house, giving to all, receiving from each, mingling them with each other and with the divine.

What are the practical results? If each member of the family of affections possess some traits of each of the others, each is enriched without surrendering its central characteristics. We find, then, in each affection a structure something like the present elective system at Harvard and at Yale, where each student must so choose his courses that he studies a great deal of one branch and a little of all the other main branches of knowledge. His scholarship is mainly of one type, but includes a dash of the other types for better sympathy with their aims. So a father will be mainly a father to his son, but will also be something of a comrade and a brother to him, and will even look up to him in some respects as he would to a father.

A physical element should enter into all affection. Even to clasp hands should always be a pleasure. But if we feel no physical attraction for a person, the contact of hands is boresome or distasteful. In exuberant and affectionate families, especially Europeans, it is natural for men to kiss men now and then, as women so generally kiss women. This is the normal. When those of the same sex fall in love with each other it means simply an exaggeration of the normal physical attraction which should play a part in all human relationships. This is no more shocking than masculinity in women, effeminacy or ‘ old-womanishness ’ in men. The child prematurely old, the tomboy, the ‘sissy,’ have each of them too large a share of sympathy with types other than their own. But some such sympathy there ought to be, as a basis for affection and mutual understanding. Why should a man be all strength and no tenderness, or a woman all tenderness and no strength? Why should we not preserve as we grow up some of the child’s playfulness, some of the boy’s independence, and the girl’s swift intuition?

As character is the richer for a mixture of many sympathies and interests under control of a single purpose, so I think love is ennobled when all types of affection are united within it, under the leadership of one. A mother’s love for her son becomes too clinging and sentimental if she is only his mother and not also his comrade. As comrades respect each other, every mother must learn to respect something in her son, and to recognize somewhere in their relation his authority over her as well as hers over him. He will come to treat her paternally as he grows up. Very early in boyhood he will have the instinct to protect her if she recognizes and responds to it.

When a man is tempted to be base in his treatment of a woman, one can sometimes appeal to him with success in the name of her weakness. Because she is weak, she needs his brotherly or fatherly protection, — his guidance, not his pursuit. He would not treat his own sister so; but she is in part his sister, because he has in him at least the germ of brotherly love for her.

All the unworthy or unhappy affections that I know of could be set right, I believe, by a greater infusion of some other type of affection. By the appeal to chivalry we can call out a romantic element latent in most men’s love for women, just as we call on a boy to 4 be a man ’ when he is babyish. He is not a man, but there are germs of manliness in him; to these we appeal.

So far, I have been maintaining that love is true and right when all its varieties (physical, paternal or maternal feeling, filial respect, comradeship, and the rest) are duly mingled with each other, or open into each other like the rooms of a house. Disasters threaten us when we close the outer doors and windows of our affection, shutting out the love of truth, the love of country, of art, of nature, and of God. Jealousy is a consumption bred within the structured house of love when all its windows are sealed. When we are jealous we try to shut ourselves up in shadowed privacy or timid miserliness. We want some one all to ourselves; we fear that if we open the doors and let in the currents of others’ affection or the winds of impersonal interest, our own share of love may be swept away. A woman may be jealous not only of her husband’s friends but of his work, and even of his religion. This means that she has kept her windows closed and shuttered, so that she looks always at the walls of her house of love, never through and beyond them.

Personal love is enhanced and purified by the contact with elemental nature, by the inspiration of art, play, truth-seeking, or patriotism. Floating in through the windows of love’s house, these interests sweep out impurities and cleanse the air in stagnant corners. They may be imperious and insistent, but unless they are allowed to break down the partitions and monopolize the whole house, they leave it brighter and richer, never dimmer or poorer. They kill nothing but the germs of disease. Yet, if we are to persuade a conservative and timid love to open its windows, we must first convince it that a friendly and beneficent Spirit is always touching our spirits as the infinite space touches our bodies, a Spirit which pursues us like the ‘Hound of Heaven.’2

III

Symbolism is a late and meagre growth in many of us New Englanders. As a boy I saw no sacredness in the national flag or in the symbols of religion. What others called ‘enthusiasm about the flag’ seemed to me a false and painful attempt to pump up emotions which could not spontaneously arise. One set of symbols, namely, words, I was even then accustomed to use. Literally a word is nothing but a grunt or a cough, a vibrating current of air in the larynx, or a series of black and white marks on paper. Yet by almost every one these literal facts are symbolically interpreted. Indeed the force of this habit is so imperious that when we wish to divest ourselves of it in reading proof-sheets, so that we can see precisely what the black and white scratches are, it is almost impossible. In this field of symbolism, then, we are almost all of us expert; but our proficiency is very limited. Our own home or our own fireside has usually a symbolic sacredness and value. We do not stare at its walls with cold literalness; we love them, and there are a few other symbols, such as bowing, mourning, Christmas ceremonies, patriotic songs, which most of us love.

Nevertheless, the average American is stiff and awkward when he tries to use symbols. Current thought and life discourage the use of such imagination and penetrative intelligence as symbolism demands: for a symbol which does its work must awaken us to the invisible. If we love the flag, it is not merely because its image falls on the retina, but because we see in it much that is invisible. We see the history of our country as we know and love it, the beauty which we believe is characteristic of America, the national energy and inventiveness of which we are proud, the national destiny which we believe is in store for us. In moments of enthusiasm for the flag these hopes and memories surge up and rush across the surface of consciousness like the pictures in a cinematograph. It is because we see invisible facts that any symbol becomes for us pregnant with meaning.

The marriage vow is a great symbol because it calls up with marvelous swiftness and vividness wide realms of the past and future, moments which have led to the consummation of this union, happiness which we look to in the future. In this vow we call the future before us as a witness, ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.’ Before the invisible witnesses which range themselves around a man and woman at the altar, the pledge to faithfulness is taken.

Any symbolic act or phrase points beyond itself. The most sacred symbols point to the widest and most precious reaches of invisible life. The most durable and universally valid symbols are actually part of the larger life which they call up. They serve us not merely by chance association, as the post-box calls up in our mind as we pass it the thoughts with which we last posted a letter there. The best symbol gives us a sample of what it symbolizes. Words like ‘thunder’ and ‘zigzag’ portray in miniature what they symbolize. An autograph stands for its signer: but not arbitrarily, for something of his character is given you visibly in the shape and arrangement of his letters. Unless the symbol is a piece of the reality which it symbolizes, and recalls that reality as a face recalls a character, it cannot serve the needs of many persons or extend its influence through the centuries.

There are symbols that mean abnormality and weakness, not power. People who are clumsy in the use of spoken language try to make good their deficiencies by more or less grotesque gestures, emphasis, and attitudes. The symbolic act is then evidence partly of ineptitude. But on the other hand a man’s acts may beautifully convey what his words are too poor to express. There are feelings so elemental yet so intense that action seems to express them more naturally than speech. When the dead are borne past us in the street, we uncover our heads because that silent act conveys our reverence better than words. What splendid fitness and fullness of expression there may be in the act of kneeling, when soldiers kneel about the grave of a dead comrade, or when a woman kneels by her child’s bed!

IV

The physical symbolism of affection expresses another deep human need. The clasp of two hands is literally a physical contact of two pieces of human flesh. Woefully secular and lifeless it can be! We all know the flabby, the clinging, the nervous, the icy handgrasp. Yet who has not sometimes rejoiced in the grasp of a hand that conveys life and love? Two souls are here united by a physical contact that gives birth to new aspirations and new certainties. Two human beings are here linked hand to hand in mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual encouragement.

Part of the richness and value of such experiences comes from the cloud of unseen witnesses who cluster about them. When I said good-bye to my father in 1898, going into what turned out to be a ludicrously slight danger in the Spanish War, the farewell clasp of hands joined me also to many memories. I faced uncertainties and possibilities that gave me, I suppose, the same experience that I should have had if the war had proved serious. My mind traveled back to the evenings when my father used to read to us from Emerson’s Essays the passages that meant most to him, recalled the long mornings in his study among the pine woods at Beverly where he was patient with my struggle to learn German, the afternoons by his side under a sketching umbrella, — my first lessons in drawing. At partings such memories flash through one’s mind and one sees as from a hilltop, in a single panoramic glance, the high points of the past. There are pledges too, in such a hand-grasp, unspoken but no less binding, that may reach across the grave; pledges of mutual faith, trust, and backing: ‘My faith in your fidelity till you come back to us’; ‘My love with you always.’ The parting words of Pandora to Prometheus, in W. V. Moody’s Fire-Bringer, express incomparably the spirit of such a parting, and of all parting: —

Whither thou goest I am; there, even now
I stand and cry thee to me.

Because we thus envisage the invisible past, the incalculable future, somewhat as God must see the whole life of the world, the physical symbols of farewell contain in their union a myriad of meanings, hopes, memories, and pledges to the unborn. Like the most intimate physical union of man and woman, the hand-grasp should set creative forces working through us and be consecrated in them. Live and ardent people always strike fire out of each other like flint and steel. Your best friend strikes thoughts and deeds out of you that you never knew were in you, and that truly were not fullformed in you till your friend woke them to life. The need of them, the whisper of their coming was there, but it took both of you fully to create them.

v

It is through the symbolism of the physical acts such as meeting, parting, or waiting upon one another’s physical wants, that one understands the deeper significance of conjugal affection. Many resent the physical intimacies of love, because they take them literally, not symbolically, looking straight at them instead of through them. Nothing can bear that direct, passive stare and retain its sacredness. Viewed in hard literalness, what is more ludicrous than the ceremony of raising one’s hat to a lady, what is more worthless than a dirty greenback? Yet without a moment’s hesitation we go behind the surface appearance of these symbols. In them, matter and its meaning, body and spirit, are fused into harmony as they should be, and as they are in the following words written by one of my dearest friends to one of hers: —

‘I want to tell you very boisterously and worshipfully how much I love you. I also want not to tell you at all, but to do something for you with my hands and feet, to make your bed, to pick lavender pine-cones for you, to do something you would never know that I had done. For of the many ways of love, one of the dearest is to serve in silence, to celebrate and not be found out. Mothering is a great business on these lines. The babies never guess or care how many myriad thoughts of love go into bed-making or hair-brushing.’

In this letter the joy of giving expression to love in physical service is mingled with the exultant awareness of a purifying secrecy, which banishes thought of reward. But her joy in the expression of love ‘with my hands and feet’ is just now my special interest because it is an example of that ‘ unity of soul and sense’ in love, which symbolism makes possible.

Though soul and sense belong together, they have a constant tendency to split apart, in work, play, and worship, as well as in love. Work splits into physical drudgery on the one side and unpractical scheming on the other. Thus we breed anæmic ‘thinkers’ who accomplish nothing, and submerged laborers who put no soul into their work because they get no freedom out of it.

Play and art are always in danger of suffering a similar schism; music without expression, pictures that are all technique, exemplify the fate of sense divorced from spirit in the field of art. When shapeless ‘Spirit’ tries to live without body, we are afflicted by the performance of amateurs who neither learn nor inherit their art, but try to sing without breathing and to draw without outlines.

In love the same split produces, as we know so well, a blind and destructive passion which burns itself out without vision of individuality. But on the other side of the chasm we find a corresponding monstrosity often mistaken for virtue, a sterile and frigid aloofness that shudders at loud-voiced enthusiasm and is insusceptible to physical charm. It is as bad to be dried up as to be burned up, but worse still is to live in perpetual winter because we were born withered. Such desolation is no ground for blame; like any other inborn deformity, it deserves only our pity. But it never deserves praise or helps us to defend a standard of noble love. For love, like all that mirrors divinity, must be incarnate.

The ‘Puritanical’ reticence about the body is right enough if we are equally reticent about the disembodied soul, and refuse to describe or cultivate either body or soul save in terms of the other. We are often told that we should ‘teach’ the sacredness of the body. Yes, but the body is most sacred when most forgotten in the absorption of hard work or keen sport, in the enthusiasm of dancing, painting, singing, oratory, love, or worship. So it is with the soul. ‘Mental culture’ seems to me as bad as ‘physical culture,’ wherewith the devilish split of body and soul has invaded the domain of education. To think about one’s body or one’s soul, to love with one’s body or one’s soul, is to paralyze the best activities of both. The foreground of consciousness should never be littered up with such fragments of a dismembered self. We want to devote the whole of ourselves to our job, to our family and friends, to nature, to play, to beauty, and to God.

In the industrial world the division of labor, and the necessity of doing one thing at a time, split us up into woefully small and centrifugal units. This we cannot altogether avoid, but we must fiercely insist that each of these units shall be a fragment of soulincarnate, never an arid wisp of disembodied soul or a shapeless lump of flesh. If we can prevent that diabolic schism, we shall never be crushed by the dead weight of literalism and drudgery, or enervated by fruitless and unchristian attempts to disembody our meanings or to realize them without the travail of incarnation.

So far as we succeed in this attempt we keep symbolism alive in every action. When we build our houses and sweep our offices, clothe and feed our children, we look through these acts to a deeper significance behind them. We do them in the name of the Highest-that-we-know, be it business, family, nation, or God. We feel a deeper respect for the material, greater willingness to study its texture and detail, because we believe that it stands for infinitely more than appears.

If I have conveyed anything of the sacredness of the physical expression of love, it will now be obvious why we shudder at its desecration. The greater the symbol the more horrible is its perversion. In The Ring and the Book, Browning makes us feel the snaky loathsomeness of Guido’s crime because it concealed itself beneath a priestly robe. The crime was terrible enough in itself, but far more revolting because perpetrated by a priest who used the great offices of the church for mercenary and sensual ends. Was not Judas’s kiss of betrayal the most awful act in history because it was through this sacred symbol of love that his treachery was consummated? So it is with that greatest disgrace in modern civilization, prostitution. It is not chiefly because of the physical miseries that may (or may not) follow in its train. It is because of the holiness of that great physical symbol which it drags in the mire, the misdirection of a world-force that ought to mean the creation or recreation of all that is best in life.

Love is consecrated not only by its purity from foreign admixtures, but by taking up into itself the best life of elemental nature, knowledge, art, play, patriotism, and the devoted search for truth. These vivid spirits permeate love and revive it by the infusion of their own virtues. When, moreover, the whole family of human affections, and the Infinite Love which contains them, is represented in each of the separate affections, then each of them is consecrated by the strength and tenderness of all. When through symbolism we ‘hold infinity in the palm of our hand’ (or our hand-clasp) and ‘eternity in an hour,’ we are at the altar of consecration.

When we make a dead failure of a living affection, we secularize it. Sometimes we begin the day with a disaster of this kind. Our ‘good morning’ is as secular as a snore. We come downstairs half awake, our lips so sleepy that they scarcely move, our minds still torpid and vague. We shuffle into the breakfast room and slide into a chair. Physically, mentally, spiritually, we have scarcely been penetrated by personality. Far within us its fires burn at a point near to extinction. But there is another and still worse element of secularity in our greeting. We scarcely notice who it is we greet. The personality that should exhilarate us, is for the time veiled by familiarity. So often we have greeted just this comrade at breakfast that to-day the greeting has become automatic. The spirit has gone out of it. Were a stranger at the table perhaps we might be aroused. A new personality might bring us to our senses like a dash of cold water. But as it is, our dull eyes merely record the outlines and colors of the person before us; like a savage who sees only black and white scratches in a piece of manuscript.

When we are at our best, a flood of life pours itself out in the simple old words ‘Good morning,’—a flood of meaning which strains to express itself in a thousand ways, but has to be content with verbal symbols. Our physical and vital energies, our love, our playfulness, our stores of gratitude for the world’s past gifts, all that is calling us toward the future, comes rushing out in the time-mellowed greeting. The depths of us, the concentrated and imprisoned energy of our inmost life, call across the distance to the unseen depths of our fellow.

Through the external and symbolic, the invisible depths of any friend loom up, not only in moments of enthusiasm, but whenever we are clearly aware of his individuality. ‘Love,’ G. B. Shaw somewhere says, ‘is a ridiculous exaggeration of the difference between one person and another.’ Translated from pagan into Christian terms this means that in love we call out to what is unique and individual in our friend, and therefore infinitely indifferent from all other beings. His individuality is always staring us in the face, but we wake up to it only when we love him. Others may not see it. That is their misfortune.

In our use of symbols and in our effort to penetrate through them to what is lovable, we must give every one credit for his own type of symbol and his own fashion of consecrating it through affection. The railroad magnate gazing at a mountain-side blasted and seared by the clearings which his engines have found necessary, sees there the vision and symbol of the great railroad which is to be built. That is his child. He is blind to the mere external effects that to you and me are secular and shocking, the scarred and denuded hillside, the splendid trees and cliffs torn from their places. For the hopes and visions of the future, his dreams and plans of service, centre in this spot. Their light illuminates the place for him. He sees it with no such alien and disillusioned eyes as ours, and we must put ourselves in his place, even though we may think that he has chosen the object of his affection strangely.

We should be even more modest when we judge the historic symbols of the Church. If we can take the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as an act of consecration, it is because deep calls unto deep. We bring to it our best store of thankfulness, of reminiscence, and communion with the personality of Christ. Through the symbolic elements, and in the service, we feel the light and heat of Christ’s personality more vividly than at other times. Yet I remember that, looking on this ceremony as a child, I found it not only devoid of anything to excite my reverence, but prone to drag me below my normal level. Nothing can constrain us to symbolism. We may be bored or amused or even disgusted by it. Nothing can force us to find a thing sacred, just as nothing can remain secular if we determine to make it sacred.

Any unconsecrated affection, any infatuation, jealousy, or nagging habit, any horror such as prostitution or careless excess within marriage, errs through a low tone of personal energy, a feeble, drifting, slavish attitude, or, on the other hand, through an impersonal gaze. It sees a thing, a case, a machine, where it ought to see an infinitely valuable person. A symbolic deed of love is mystical, not because it is vague, but because of the richness of meaning packed into one narrow act.

  1. As suggested in the essay called ‘Old Mortality.’
  2. In Francis Thompson’s poem.