Enlarge the Place of Thy Tent

I

WHEN the outward order disturbs or displeases, man has always sought another of his own fashioning.

The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew.

If the disturbance has been on a large scale, great cities and states have been reared by the imagination. When Athens soiled her democracy by injustice toward Socrates, and had lost her external glory under the victorious attacks of Sparta, there arose Plato’s ideal republic, a state conceived in righteousness and dedicated to justice. When the Visigoths were destroying the walls of Rome, burning and sacking the world’s centre, Saint Augustine pointed to the impregnable battlements of the City of God. When the England of Henry VIII became unendurable to good men, Sir Thomas More furnished a mental refuge in Utopia.

Genius is immortal, and to one or another of these states men in later epochs have often turned. But their successive births prove also that each racked and suffering age will find its own way to expression. The desire for citizenship in a country other than the visible is naturally strongest when the outward order most profoundly fails. Builders of ideal republics are not much noticed in periods of content. In 1912, in a book on the Greek genius, occurred these sentences: —

‘Our own age would probably decide against [Plato]. Things are well with it. It is making money fast; education and recreation are cheap; science has removed many causes of misery; savagery and revolution are rare; so at present we are riding high on a wave of humanism, and are optimistic about the nature of man and the rapidity of the march on Paradise.’

It seems incredible that this could have been said of our civilization by an intelligent student only six years ago. Plunged into the hell of war, we now seem forever to have lost the road to Paradise. The most carefully educated nation in the world has proved the most uncivilized. Science has produced horrible instruments of torture and destruction. Savagery stalks the land and sea and befouls the very air. Instead of riding high on a wave of humanism, we are swept into the maelstrom of barbarism. Perhaps this cataclysmic disturbance of our own order may give form and life to some new spiritual city, a mighty work of suffering genius inspired by ruin and despair. Some watcher of the skies above the bleeding fields of Belgium or Serbia or Poland may bid us lift our weeping eyes to a new star bright with liberty and love.

But genius, when it speaks, will but give art’s wholeness to our own broken, half-formed longings. Already each suffering soul is seeking its own place of retreat. It may be well to dwell for a little on the quest and the goal.

II

The imagination is a natural vagrant. Even when we are not suffering, we are in the habit of turning away from the actual to the ideal, of devising for ourselves a tent for the fancy, a covert from life’s unshapeliness. Such refuges are often a quaint combination of the inward and outward. Displeased with conditions in this place or that, we have flown in memory to other places where, once upon a time, for us, a fairer order prevailed. Although actually on the world’s map, these become almost dreamlands, so completely do we free them from the dust of actuality and set them stainless and bright before the inward eye.

Moods of vagrancy differ. At times we seek a retreat from the mere insignificance of our occupations. There is a round of activity which seems never to set us further along our road. Obligations which hold us in a vise seem artificial. The transitory crowds in upon the essential. Intercourse with other people lacks depth and completeness. We share the sickening sense of futility described by Seneca: ‘Life is not painful, but superfluous.’

The occasion suggests no heroic philosophy. We only turn, in memory or anticipation, to some dearer place, where work has seemed worth while, play has been sweet, and people have been real. We take the Horatian road from Rome to the Sabine farm. Some ‘smiling corner of the earth’ holds for us enthusiasms caught from the unplumbed, the illimitable, the unquenchable. There, a fine sincerity gives the lie to cynicism, and simplicity of heart removes the sense of life’s futility.

Quite another refuge opens in quite another and larger mood. Intellectually we chafe against certain limitations which are imposed upon us by our national civilization. We understand why our artists and authors often expatriate themselves. Even for us these external conditions seem to hold no color, no charm, no romance drawn from a mysterious past, no beauty of age-old manners and customs. We are uninteresting, unsuggestive. The imagination sleeps. Producing much that is ennobled by worth and power, we produce little that is roseate with charm or vibrant with feeling. Blood runs cold in us. Loveliness is a stranger to us.

Then, surely, we spread our magic carpet and fly across the unviolated sea to Italy. There, around any corner, is something lovely, or passionate, or mysterious. Perhaps, across an Umbrian valley, two hill-towns draw us back and forth, one lowering with Cinquecento memories of the high and mighty Baglioni, who spilled the blood of their enemies even on the steps of the Duomo; the other still sweet and fragrant with the spirit of Saint Francis. In the valley we listen for the tramp of Roman feet, or try to catch the strange Etruscan tongue among the oblivious vineyards and olive orchards, even while we are enchanted by the voices of the living peasants, who greet us with the mingled manners of child and prince.

In one little town there are white oxen to watch in the cattle-market, their horns aflame with scarlet ribbons, or brilliant majolica to buy in the ancient square, by the fountain. In the other there is Giotto’s hand, picturing the heart of Francis. Here the pure dawn seems ever breaking with a flush of rose in a holy sky. There the sun goes down, red as the wounds of the slain. Angel-faced and bloodstained generations, purity and passion wrought by the centuries, all can be ours, when we are irked by the monotones of our own new day.

But discontent is not always impressionistic. Sometimes, in nobler mood, we are baffled by the disharmony of all modern life. Wealth without temperance, democracy without standards of excellence, pleasures without taste, liberty without reverence, mercy without reason, power without restraint — our best possessions are at variance with others equally desirable. In isolated orbits men strive for separate ends. The artist despises the politician, and the politician overlooks the poet. The capitalist pities the scholar, and the scholar wonders at the merchant. Statecraft and art do not recognize each other. Philanthropy and the humanities pass as strangers.

From this confusion there is a refuge. It is a bright city by the Ægean Sea, where once men created an harmonious state, and where still the very ruins of the public buildings of that state feed the soul with an impression of harmony. Here, on a height above the plain, one may sit and lean against a Doric column, golden with age, fresh with deathless beauty. The landscape before the eyes is very noble. The moving sea, the buoyant air, give life and vigor to the statuesque austerity of the encircling mountains. On plain and hill and shore perfect color glows upon perfect form.

Within this area there came into being a people who created ‘the fairest halting-place in the secular march of man.’ Their primal passion for freedom resolved itself tripartitely into free institutions, art, and intellectual inquiry. And these again coalesced into a brief unity, unknown among men before or since. Reason, beauty, and liberty were welded together in their laws, their religion, their society, their statues and buildings, their manners, even their clothes and the utensils for their food and drink. On their ageless Acropolis, laden with broken fragments of the past, harmony still dwells, no pensive ghost but a living and ennobling presence. Here is a retreat from the unmoulded, the unperfected.

III

We have been speaking of these refuges of the mind as if they still existed for us. But the fact is that the war has destroyed their imaginative value. Our Sabine farm must produce food or fuel. In Perugia or Assisi we should now be seeking only news from the Piave. In Athens none of us could dream by a column of the Parthenon while Venizelos was speaking in the Senate chamber below. To all these places we might thankfully go in the flesh, to work, to help, to share the fate of the living; but no longer do we seek them in dreams as enchanted hiding-places from imaginary troubles.

Imaginary? Yes, for the danger of the hour wakes us from the unreality of minor disturbances. What time is there for artificial or futile occupations in towns and cities which we must make ready for their share in a mighty struggle? What concern can we feel for magic charm, when our country is grappling with the barbarian? Even delicate and harmonious adjustments seem unimportant, while justice and liberty and humaneness are in mortal peril.

Thus we are taken away from such annoyances in the outward order as may be accidental in our own experience, or philosophy, and placed in the universal attitude of the times. All of us are experiencing danger when we want security, sorrow when we want joy, death when we want life.

In a desert, we are told, the primary needs of life are nakedly revealed. Hunger and thirst and danger cannot be concealed; ‘there is nothing to posture in front of them.’ So in the wilderness of our present life there are no screens before our deepest needs. We see them and know them to be unsatisfied. We have the clarified vision which comes to an individual in personal sorrow, when many ambitions and desires are found to have no reality in comparison with the longing for the touch of a vanished hand. But now it is not only our own little order which is disturbed and broken, but the outward order, from horizon to horizon. We grieve, not only for some lost happiness of our own, but for the sorrows of millions of our fellows whom we have never seen, for the shattered peace, the dishonored law, the mutilated justice of the world.

Deep despair always demands a refuge which will not prove illusory when we seek admittance. In the larger disappointments of experience men have sometimes turned to the unchanging beauty of nature, as opposed to the ugly acts of humanity, or to the beauty of art, which is an interpreter of life. How well do these things serve us now ?

It is, probably, safe to assert that only deliberate recluses — and there must be few of these — find in even the loveliest landscape more than a temporary anodyne for to-day’s sorrow. In flight from personal pain and passion, one may, indeed, have found a lasting peace upon the breast of Nature. But her welcome is less satisfying when we ask for release from the pain and passion of the world. It is a brute fact that the war sobs between us and the myriad laughter of the breeze-swept bay, when the waves sport gently upon a rocky shore of the Atlantic. It roars between us and the deep-toned music of the open ocean, as the Pacific falls in white surf upon wide dunes of sand. It slips a veil between us and the sunny pasture, where purple grasses and pink laurel glow beneath the shining pines and sombre firs. It hangs as a pall between us and the vast summits of eternal snow, monuments of tranquillity born of primordial convulsions.

At the best, nature only uplifts or refreshes us, in the interludes. At the worst, she mocks our fears and our courage with her passionless serenity. The beauty-loving Greeks never expected to find in the beautiful physical world a final refuge for the mind of man. That they were right, our romantic imagination must now concede. Man’s life reaches beyond nature, with needs and tragedies untouched by her consolations.

In the case of art there is another element to be considered. It ministers to man’s spirit by interpretation, but it has not yet had time to interpret this present unexampled need.

When a sick child is well, or a dead child buried, the poet may fling his joy or grief into immortal words. But he cannot do it at the moment when, by the child’s bedside, he is wrestling with the destroyer. After Athens had saved herself from Persia, Æschylus laid the ‘calming hand of great poetry’ upon even the exultation of a righteous victor. But while the struggle was on, he fought in the ranks at Marathon and Salamis. Perhaps some day this cinematographic present of ours will become for others the past of which Bertrand Russell once wrote with insight and power: —

‘The beauty of its motionless and silent pictures is like the enchanted purity of last autumn, when the leaves, though one breath would make them fall, still show against the sky in golden glory. The Past does not change or strive; like Duncan, after life’s fitful fever it sleeps well; what was eager and grasping, what was petty and transitory, has faded away; the things that were beautiful and eternal shine out of it like stars in the night.’

So out of our tragedies may yet emerge that Tragedy which is ‘of all arts the proudest, the most triumphant.’ In that day our tears and blood will lighten men’s anguish, even as we are soothed by the beauty of the tears and blood which drenched the plain of Troy.

Soothed, we say, because this beauty of a Past interpreted by poetry supplies refreshment, rather than a perfect refuge from the present. While we read we are safe, but with the closing of the book danger again engulfs us. Nor can we read at will, even in rare hours of leisure. We are like Jerome, who exclaimed, while the capital of the. world was falling, ‘In vain I try to draw myself away from the sight by turning to my books. I am unable to heed them.’

The same limitation rests upon the power of pictures and carven marble. In music, probably, a larger number find, persistently, a remedial grace. But, even so, the divinest melody furnishes a remedy rather than a cure, an inspiration rather than a salvation. The general statement is true that, at the height of our anguish, art is no better able than nature permanently to reëstablish within the peace that has been destroyed without.

IV

The foregoing refuges, whether major or minor, have one significant point in common. Their present efficacy is denied by men and women who have tried them. From the coverts of happy dreams, of nature, and of art, we straggle back into the desert, reporting that they are too small to hold the suffering soul. Now this one thing cleaves them utterly apart from another refuge — from the one which we call religion. In all ages, the power of religion to shelter the spirit of man has been denied only by those who have not put it to the test. The triumphant affirmation of those who dwell within it resounds in the diapason of the centuries: God is my refuge. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me.

The word God means as many kinds of salvation as there are needs of salvation. Definitions of religion run an extraordinary gamut, even when they are offered in the same hour and expressed in the same speech. Very lately, in print which is scarcely dry on the pages, this definition has issued from a philosopher’s study: ‘Religion is the experience constituted by those thoughts, feelings, and actions which spring from man’s sense of dependence upon the power or powers controlling the universe, and which have as their centre of interest the cosmic fortune of values.’ From the trenches, on the other hand, have been flung these molten words: ‘Religion is betting your life on the existence of God.’

We may take our choice of these and other definitions, and yet agree that the fruit of to-day’s travail may prove to be a fresh and beautiful religious consciousness. Many things do, indeed, seem laden with this prophecy. But a day of revelation is always a day of Pentecost — every man hears the Spirit speak in his own tongue. Cloven tongues, like as of fire, will herald the day of a spiritual renaissance.

But the Spirit’s baptism wall be one and universal. And something, at least, of its character may be predicated from the threefold characteristics of the religion which to-day opens wide to the suffering soul.

Religion is a permanent refuge. This is because it is reached by the only road which ends in permanence. We discover it, not by a withdrawal of attention from the actual, but by working our way through the seen to the unseen, through the show to the reality. ‘I take my Bible and sit down where Iam,' was said by a woman who had known many sorrows to another who was planning the ‘distraction’ of travel in unaccustomed grief.

Never was a more practical chart drawn for the discovery of a trustworthy haven. The vade mecum may be what one chooses, but the point of departure must be the very centre of sorrow. In our present enlarged experience of suffering, this has been profoundly true. If we had run away from the world, we should now be tasting the husks of cynicism, despair, and cowardice. But, staying in full sight of all that appalls us, determined, not to forget but to understand, not to escape but to enter, we find ourselves, in our own despite, inspired to sacrifice, sustained by hope, fed and satisfied with faith. Disregarding the personal price, we have found the cosmic fortune of values. Staking our lives, we have found God. Our covert never grows so straitened that we must abandon it. The temporal becomes eternal. Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

Religion is a democratic refuge. The democracy of faith transcends all democracies of the imagination. Nature and art can in no wise be compared to it, for from their consolations large groups of human beings are automatically excluded by some condition of servitude. Philosophers have had much to say of inner citadels, from which the outward order could tranquilly be surveyed. Thought, says one of them, has set us free from ‘the tyranny of outside forces,’ free even ‘from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl.’ But the thought of the philosopher is no more a refuge for the illiterate than song is for the deaf, or nature for miners sunk in the bowels of the earth. In Rome Lucretius frankly enjoyed the Epicurean’s superiority. Sweet it is for the cragsman from some high retreat to watch the legions clashing in the battlefield below, but

Sweeter by far on Wisdom’s rampired height
To pace serene the porches of the light,
And thence look down — down on the purblind herd
Seeking and never finding in the night.

But now that we are suffering together around the world, ruler and commoner, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, who is so mean as to hide himself in a retreat to which others may not find the way? Nor could any such retreat be more than a half-way house on the road to that universal Truth from which none is ever turned away. ‘You can’t buy God,’ my charwoman said to me as she scrubbed my floor. No, not with money, nor with education, nor with talent, nor with opportunity. A refuge wide enough to receive the poilu with the general, the child with the philosopher, the dull with the gifted, is the only refuge wide enough to satisfy my soul, to give me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

Surely our consciousness of spiritual unity will, like a great wind, sweep away the arrogance which has hung about even our ideal turrets. A modern intellectualist, while admitting that each one of us has some ‘other life’ than that of the visible order, issues this curious ultimatum: ‘The advocates of this Other Life must not promise too much. They must not speak to us of regions of light and truth made perfect, nor of fields unshaken by snow and tempest, where joy grows like a tree. . . . Our refuge promises no eternal bliss. It gives only a rallying-point, a spell of peace in which to breathe and to think, a sense, not exactly of happiness, but of that patience and courage which form at least a good working substitute for happiness.’

But what is this but attempted autocracy in the realm where the spirit bloweth as it listeth? Because the Roman Stoics found only courage and patience in their refuge, was Paul not to publish abroad the hope and joy which he found in his? Because followers of Epicurus, ancient or modern, find in the Sum of Things no concern for themselves, are the followers of Christ to deny the Spirit’s whisper: I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me? And — a worse autocracy still — shall those who hear this whisper seek to confine it within words and phrases fashioned by themselves?

We are struggling for the spread of democracy in the outer world. Shall we not thereby bring into being a heavenly democracy? In God’s house are many mansions, but one home.

Finally, religion is a fruitful refuge. It is pregnant with blessings for the outward order. In God there is no escape from the world, but the will to remake it in his image. Our Refuge becomes our Strength.

A spiritual renaissance is as destructive to the mediævalist who looks for salvation only in Paradise as to the weakling who seeks it in temporary distraction. The great idealists have not built cities in the skies, mere cloudcuckoo towns for a race that cannot walk upon the earth. Saint Augustine interpreted God’s City to be the Christian Church. Sir Thomas More and Plato built cities to be inhabited by Englishmen and by Greeks.

If some ideal republic is born of genius to-day, it will but give artistic form to the practical desires actuating ourselves, our governments, our armies. We do not and we ought not to admit that freedom, justice, and humaneness belong only outside of this world’s order. Those who return from Belgium tell us that the people of that country have planned the very route in the streets of the capital through which Albert shall march back with and to his own. Our purest idealism does not send us skulking to some hiding-place where we cannot see the wrongs of Belgium, but drives us forth to win our right to an ally’s place in that triumphal procession.

If all wrong cannot be righted by ourselves, then we must pave the way for this accomplishment by our children’s children. If reason assert that the end can never be achieved in entirety, faith still bids each man stake his life on the triumph of God. Because no mind can fail to see the difficulty of catching the ideal, as it wings its infinite flight, within the net of the actual, Plato admits that his perfect state is confined to the region of speculation. But, he adds, what difference does that make? ‘The question of its present or future existence is quite unimportant, for the man of understanding will adopt the practices of such a city to the exclusion of every other.’ Citizenship in the spiritual controls a man’s acts in the visible commonwealth.

Metaphors vary, but the spirit remains the same in all the greater idealists. Even the early Christian visionary, whose horror of the abominations of Rome resulted in the ‘revelation’ to his imagination of a new and holy city almost completely dissociated from reality, declared that from its holiness must come salvation for the world of men. Through his city ran a pure river of life, crystal-clear, and on either side of the river grew the tree of life — and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. It is true that the early Christians in general, an obscure and helpless minority in a great Empire, forced by their very position to think in terms of inward rather than of outward power, tended to become altogether too detached from the world in which they lived. They believed, indeed, that the visible order was soon to be destroyed and therefore need not be improved. Impotent in the flesh, they turned their thoughts heavenward. But in this they were almost as remote from the spirit of Christ as from the minds of their pagan neighbors.

In the homeliest figures — since those who listened understood little of citizenship, but much of daily toil — the founder of Christianity indicated the true relation between the inner and the outer life: candles are lighted for the use of those in the house; branches draw sustenance from the vine in order to turn it into grapes. Even in the last hours, before He was slain, when the outward had completely failed Him, and He had but one last opportunity to reveal his inward visions, He said to his disciples, ‘I have chosen and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.’

So fruitful was their particular idealism that, in spite of all mistakes and limitations, these unworldly disciples and their followers did, in time, completely change the aspect of their world. It is a commonplace of history that a new spiritual consciousness transformed the philosophy, the art and literature, and the ethical standards of Western civilization.

Herein we have a dramatic illustration of the supreme potency of religion in comparison with other refuges of the human spirit. It is religion which creates and changes those minor retreats to which the fancy and the imagination take their roving way. From a new heaven is let fall a new earth.

If the fruitfulness of idealism seems often to suffer blight and decay, we must remember that the wretchedness of the soil can counteract the vigor of the seed. Enriched by such suffering as the world has never known, quickened by a faith which survives the most crucial test of history, we shall yet hear fruit and our fruit shall remain.

In that day all our longings will be fulfilled. Life will be significant, magical, and harmonious. Nature’s beauty will be the matrix for beautiful human activities. Art wall perfectly interpret for us the unseen and the ineffable. Justice and liberty will prevail. Love will be the law of free peoples.

It is but a matter of enlarging the place of our tent, until we rear one that shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.