Leaves From a Secret Journal
[THESE scattered notes have been taken for the most part from a secret diary, originally started for the writer’s own most private information, and kept intermittently over a period of many years. The notes were usually dashed down in haste and rarely reread; for which reason, in transcribing them now, the wording has frequently been changed, and the idea elaborated in the light of further meditation. Some notes have been added which belong to a later date. Occasionally the idea, or small experience, was made into verse and in a few instances these verses have been appended.
Whether or not such intimate records should ever be made public is always a question. It seems to the present writer, however, that we are all imprisoned spirits, journeying through this obscure world of matter, the great adventure of life being the freeing of the spirit and the making of it triumphant over its environment. Few of us are capable of ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’; therefore it seems well occasionally to pool our hidden experiences, sharing with one another — all fellow prisoners — whatever reflections or small adventures of the inner life have served a little to release our own captive selves. For which reason these notes are now offered, with apologies for their extremely personal character as well as for their inadequacy, and with a keen realization that others have traveled along these lines further and much more surely than has the author. — J. S.]
WHEN we are babies the body is the wonderful developing thing which claims all our attention; later we become aware of our mental faculties, and then of the spiritual. My body and mind seem to me now to have reached maturity, but for my third self, my spirit, I pray an ever-increasing growth; so great, indeed, that finally the little body and brain will no longer be able to contain it, and, casting aside this matrix, it will spread its wings for its next adventure of life. As that is now the growing part of me, I desire in all sincerity to note here occasionally what thoughts, books, people, and experiences have a share in its development. Frequently new ideas come to me, new experiences with people,
fresh and lovely aspects of nature, all of which stir the wings of the spirit. They are so vivid at the moment that they seem to me to have entered into my being never to be lost again. And yet they are lost. Time and change and other bits of life overlay them, and the bright intensity of their first revelation is gone. For which reason I wish to make little records of them for my own future remembrance and encou ragement.
And yet is it possible, I wonder, to make a record of the spirit? Must not its growth always be so secret, so silent, that one is not aware of it, or, if one is, may not the very awareness hinder its growth? I do not know; but for my own curiosity I mean to make the attempt, and to write here from time to time what little experiences upon the way have seemed to develop that hidden entity within that I call my soul. O Mystery within! Child of the unknown, of God, and of a larger life, help me with His assistance to keep a sanctuary of utter purity deep in myself, where shall be stored all the poetry, goodness, love, and imagination which life may bring! A deep withdrawing-place, where God may sometimes let me go for rest and refreshment. I say ‘where God may let me go,’for we do not seem to be able to find the way even into our own souls without His guidance. What Matthew Arnold says is true, I know.
The fire which in the heart resides.
The spirit bloweth and is still,
In mystery our soul abides.
Often for days and weeks the doors of the spirit have been tight shut against me. I have lost the way. I cannot find the sacred citadel. I open door after door, and all the chambers are empty and desolate. Then suddenly, gloriously, pursuing some pathway of meditation, or in reading, I come upon some unexpected turn of thought, the way is opened, and there — there once more is the hidden treasure! A golden flood of love and sunshine, pouring itself out for me to bathe my starved, lonely, and frightened self in once more. Within is a soft, almost tangible, radiance. I seem to be walking in a stream of sunlight, and my footsteps move to the rhythm of blank verse. I am so sure of God, of love, and of the spirit, that the thought that I had ever lost the feeling is almost laughable.
And yet — and yet, I know the dreary groping stretches will come again. I know they will; but oh, think of t he dancing Heaven-sent days, when the doors are wide open, and life is one golden stream of love! This book is to fortify me with the remembrances of the golden days when the gray ones come.
Behold, the women stitched upon their tapestry, and some wrought with threads of a bright hue, and some with those that were sombre, but in the end, when the whole was finished, it presented a picture of life that was more glad than grave.
I started this tapestry of thought in April, and now it is December, and I have not set one stitch in it since April. To-day, however, I take it up again in a moment of crisis, for I seem to have come to a turning-point in my life. A few days ago the doctor told me certain things which made it clear that I am faced by serious physical incapacity. Not death, but the grave impairment of certain faculties which will handicap me very badly in the game of life. Of course the worst may not happen. Sometimes in the pain and general discomfort that I suffer I almost wish it might.
Well, then, since my own house of life has got so badly out of repair in these various ways, it seems to me that the wise thing to do is to get out of it as much as possible, and visit in other people’s houses. In other words, since a person as incapacitated as I shall probably be cannot expect much out of life for herself, the more she can go out into other people’s lives the more she will be getting out of existence. If God will help me I may cease being too much concerned over my own forlornities, and venture forth to partake of other people’s hopes and fears. I shall be making a series of exciting visits through life. It is a gift to be able to get real pleasure out of other people’s happiness. Sometimes I have been able to do it, and since I have done it a few times it stands to reason that I may cultivate the turn into a real talent. I do love people, and have imagination, and with these two gifts as passports, in spite of my handicaps, people ought to be willing to let me step out of my own dilapidated abode, and sit down occasionally by the fireside of their experiences.
Love will do a great deal. What an amazing thing it is! I could write about it all day, and never plumb its depths. Sometimes it seems to me really tangible — I seem to feel it like warmth and sunshine. Once I was thrown for a short time with three people who were friends. I do not think that any of them were ‘in love’ with one another; it was not passion at all, just a steady affection that had lasted for many years. Sometimes when I sat with them I seemed to be conscious of that feeling of warmth, a geniality that was almost tangible, flowing forth from their affectionate companionship. It had nothing to do with me. None of them cared for me beyond a mild friendliness. It was the atmosphere of their long-standing attachment to one another. I feel sure they were not conscious themselves of this delightful warm stream that their friendship gave off, but I was, and I liked it.
Well, then, love is a wonderful thing, and it is mine in common with the rest of mankind. More and more, always with God’s help, I trust it may come to fill my whole being. Indeed I do not know but what my life may prove more exciting than it has ever been before!
But the getting out of one’s self is the great thing, the real adventure. We do it so rarely. We are all caught so fast in the prison of our own thoughts and emotions.
And weave busy thoughts,
Like a black spider making her web.
I am so intent on my own spinning
I can see nothing but the whirling of my own mind.
If I could stop a moment and be still,
I might take note of the gleaming dewdrops
God hangs all over the gossamer of thought,
His tremendous periods;
I might see also the tapestry of other spiders
Lying in gauzy freshness
Everywhere on the grass of imagination.
If I could get straight away
From the centre of my own weaving
And kneel down,
I might, indeed, perceive God Himself.
But the little shuttles of thought
Fly so fast, so fast,
I am deafened by their whir,
Entangled in my own web,
And choked by the ephemera of self.
Again I have let a long time pass without making any further entries here. I suppose I have done so because of laziness. It certainly has not been for lack of spiritual adventure. It seems to me that these last difficult years have done more to stretch my soul t han all the years of my life before. Added to my incurable and slowly increasing handicaps, attacks of neurasthenia have broken in constantly to add the severity of their education to the rest. Altogether I have been led — a devil’s dance, I started to say, but I will not, for I have a deep conviction that this journey of mine in affliction has done more to educate my spirit than any amount of travel abroad would have done. I feel sure that nothing but such severe suffering could ever have shelled me so out of my small smug self. Other experiences might have done it, but at any rate they did not.
One of the things— the best, I think — that suffering has brought me is a much keener perception of beauty than I ever had before. How amazing it is that poignant suffering should burst through so often into poignant beauty! Certainly because of what I have gone through the world appears infinitely more lovely to me than it ever did before. More beautiful in all its aspects, but especially in its little everyday experiences. This sense of the great, importance, the miraculous beauty of the simplest things of life, is like home-coming, like casting anchor in a safe harbor after a most terrifying passage.
Sometimes after acute suffering, when I have begun once more to creep back into normal life, taking hold of it again rather tentatively, fearful that some fresh twist of nerves may once more invite me into Hell, but with that keyed-up insight — almost inspiration — that such limes occasionally bring, I have seen all life in a glory, and especially the little everyday, most simple, most human facts of existence have shone with an indescribable warm delight — a delight that I never experienced in them before. There are advantages in going to Hell, not for what is there, but for the wonder that you find at home when you are permitted to return.
These occasional little insights into the miracle of the simplest, most everyday life should knock out all the sordid, trivial, and altogether deplorable rivalries. After adversity one catches a glimpse of something bigger near at hand, which all may have, and which is infinitely more desirable.
Whether God sends suffering or not, I do not know. I only know that out of mine has come a larger perception of life, and at times a sense almost of intimacy with Him which I never knew before, and for which my whole being flows out in gratitude.
And I, knowing that He at last was there,
Made anxious haste within, for friendship’s sake,
To bring the ones I love straight to His care —
O wretched one! So wantonly to break
That waiting lovely stillness with a prayer!
Deeply I know for all it had been best
Just to be still, and in His presence rest.
After I had come to experience some of the gifts of enlightenment that adversity brought, I began to accept it, and to look for some little further revelation out of each experience. For which reason I was not so anxious to run away from it, but became more willing to stand up and take what was coming. Acceptance is a great thing. Not resignation — that seems to me supine and wicked. But acceptance is healthy.
Hard to my lips. I cried with panting breast,
‘So often—Ah, so bitter often! — I
Have drunk the flagon set for me,
Only once more to see
It foaming high
With dreadful wine!
May it not ever pass me by,
Dear God, this cup of Thine?'
And still the waiting darkness held the cup
And then — at last! The light!
And at the dawn with all the world asleep,
A voice commanded, ‘Up,
My child, raise high the glass,
’T is only thus the cup may ever pass.’
I held the cup aloft for God to see —
Drew breath, and cried the toast aloud —
‘Acceptance, Life, Humanity!’
I thought the world raised high, high overhead,
A million bitter cups and drank with me
‘Acceptance, Life, Humanity!’
I wonder what beauty is. I have been seeing lovely things all my life, but they never moved me, never presented themselves so poignantly as they have done since I entered into adversity. Now beauty appears as somethin more than itself. It seems to me a gateway into God. The thrilling, moving, tremendous thing about it is not the especial aspect under which it appears, not the tree, the flower, the bird note at dusk, but the occasional sense of otherwhereness, of something more, a marvelous Something — complete ecstasy — that the beauty half reveals. How may one put down in cold words what that Something is? O utter Love! I cannot, but I know! It is this overpowering Something, hidden in the mists of beauty, that moves one so exquisitely, tears the heart out, almost terrifies at times by its nearness—‘O Ecstasy behind the grass, come softly when thou comest nigh! ‘
Do artists know this, I wonder, or do they just stop short in the beauty itself, never pushing through to what is beyond, never realizing that the gate of beauty may open upon the most lovely friendship that the universe has to offer.
I saw a little black shadow that stretched itself beneath a thorn-bush on a hillside and, looking at it, for a moment I glimpsed the wonder of creation. O utter Love, Who hast made shadows to lie at the feet of little round green thorn-bushes, and all the ecstasy of life, take my whole being, and make out of it whatsoever Thou desirest!
That others patter glibly through?
My skeptic mind, aloof, restrained,
Questions each phrase if it be true —
But all day long in secret joy
My heart flows out in song to You!
How these little glimpses of the other side of beauty should set one free of the hectic snatch and scramble of life! If one kept the vision and lived it, one might find on the veriest dumpheap of life happiness enough to overflow one’s whole existence.
I like country churches, where He comes up to the very doors in grass and trees and sky, and then one enters and finds Him within, distilled by the walls of the little sanctuary into the most intimate of friends. Walls are strange things anyway. Built stoutly enough so that they last a long time, they enclose within themselves an atmosphere which takes on a dim personality. One is often conscious of this in old places, in old churches. Not long since I read somewhere a statement by a clergyman to the effect that it was easy to pray in old churches where long usage had made for the sanctuary an unseen garment of the spirit: it was very hard on the other hand to pray in young churches. He had found it especially hard during the war to hold services in the hastily erected Y.M.C.A. huts. This seems to me perfectly understandable. I think the essence of the spirit is present everywhere; one walls it up in a house, a church, or even in a garden, and it precipitates itself into the desired thing for which the walls were built. A house becomes a home, a church a sanctuary, and after many years the place takes on that feeling of atmosphere, almost of a dim Presence. It is not quite personality; it is more an unseen storehouse, filled, in the churches, with prayer and aspiration and the holy response of the spirit, and in the houses made up of all the human experiences of those who have dwelt therein. Often in old places it seems to me that if one rubbed the air hard enough one might make a thin spot through which all the past happenings of that place might come rushing in.
But think of the marvel of the everlasting Spirit pouring itself into every manifestation! Think for a moment of the endlessness of the vehicles, and one brushes the hem of ecstasy and of awe — almost of terror! There He is in the clover and wild carrots outside the church, and there He is inside in the preacher and the people! Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost — and the clover and grass, the trees and sky, His temple also! Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
Nor knew that God was out in the sunshine, in lake, and meadow, and wood.
The preacher cried from the pulpit, and told the gospel news,
Nor knew that God dressed up in people looked at him from the pews.
Nor did the good man gather that God spoke
with his tongue,
And sang with the voice of every singer, when all the hymns were sung.
But He is more, much more. He is in everything, present everywhere, but He is above everything, and more than we can ever be or ever grasp. I wish the Eastern thought, much of which I like so much, did not so often go over into what appears to be pure pantheism. It and I part company there. The little spark of individuality that is myself digs in against all such thought. I may be a tiny split-off from God, but He is supremely more than I am, and everlastingly will be. And, moreover, I never wish to be reabsorbed into Him so completely that I lose the capacity for loving Him. A good many people seem to think — and also appear to wish — that at death their identity will be entirely lost in the Infinite. This idea seems to me somewhat of an intellectual sentimentality, an assumed pose, because they think for some reason that to wish to lose the personality is more strong-minded than to desire to keep it. Whether it is or not, I do not know; but even if it were more strong-minded that would not make it any more true than the belief in the survival of the personality. There are as many intellectual sentimentalities as there are emotional ones, but when they are offered by the head rather than the heart we are not so quick to recognize their affectation. Perhaps the people who wish to be absorbed into the Infinite are the ones who have merely speculated about God, and have never really known a living belief in Him.
Sometimes when one wakes in the night He is there. There is nothing extraordinary about it, nothing unnatural or emotional, only a feeling of complete happiness. One may tell Him everything, offering one’s whole life in gratitude, and trying with affectionate thought to bring one’s friends into the companionship. Doing so, one drifts off to sleep and, awakening again much later, finds that the Presence is still there. At the time there is nothing strange about it; it is only when the nearness is withdrawn that it seems astonishing that it could ever have been. Often this happens just as one awakes in the morning also, only then it is more fleeting. Probably it comes more easily at such times because then one is relaxed, and the mental and physical faculties are in abeyance; the spirit is not caught so fast in the flesh, and is therefore more alert.
At such times one may speak to Him of things so unhappy that one has never confessed them to any human being, hardly even acknowledged them to one’s self, feeling that He understands all the sorrows, all the anguish of the sins and failures.
I had not dared to let my thought
So much as touch it heretofore.
I was so proud, so terrified,
I strove to think it was not there —
But You were waiting at my side,
And in a broken grief to-day
I faced its sin, I dragged it forth
From out the dreadful place it lay.
I took its truth, a poignant dart
Of utter failure, grief, and pain,
And stabbed, and stabbed it through my heart,
And there confessed, I let it lie —
O healing Love, I never could
If You had not been standing nigh!
You gave no sign that I could see,
But now I can be brave again
Since You have looked at it with me.
The puppy was blind when he came into the world. His nose meant everything to him. He was always sniffing, and sniffing, and feeling. Perhaps he heard a little also, but his sense of smell was his great gift, the gateway by which he approached the rest of the world. This faculty brought him so much, how could he ever suspect that there was anything that could bring him more? Then at last — oh, amazement! His eyes opened, and he came into a whole world of light. O little dog, what a revelation! What a t urning upside down of all your small noseworld! Did you ever dream that this universe of light was waiting for you? Yet perhaps you had to give those first few sniffing days to training your sense of smell, which all your life will stand you in such good stead. Would you ever have bothered about it had you known what other greater faculty was soon to be yours? If you had had eyes from the very first would you have troubled to educate your nose? And yet without it how could you ever have had such a rounded life?
I think we human beings are for the most part in the blind-puppy stage at present. I believe there is a whole wider world about us that as yet we have no faculty to apprehend. Some day our eyes may open to it, and we may become aware of an extension of perception as stupendous as the puppy knew when he acquired sight. Some people have already appeared to gain glimpses of this other universe impinging on all our own. Perhaps more and more of us will acquire the vision. But until we do there is no doubt a reason for its being withheld from us. As the puppy might never have learned to use his nose if he had been born with sight, so probably if we knew too much about that other world we might not lay hold on this one as hard as we should, and if we do not lay hold fast upon it we may find that we have missed some essential training that this light little world of now was supposed to give us.
This is, I think, a tight little world. Once when I took ether I seemed to get outside of it into a place that was immense, fluid, ‘unwalled.’ When I came back to consciousness, I felt I had returned to a small close place. So much so that I kept saying to the nurse, ‘Well, here I am again!’ I was glad to be back, and have the door tight shut. That other place was far too wide — terrifyingly wide — for my present small-world self to venture into.
How many modes of approach He has! Glancing through this diary I find these various notes, made over a long period, of the many different ways in which He came.
So wistful and so wan to see.
One day, Heart’s Breath! I saw You look
Straight out of her sad eyes at me!
Out in my garden the other morning I had a few hours of the purest delight, when I was poured out in affection toward every growing thing, when I felt sure He was at the back of all that mad joy of life.
I have been going through a period of spiritual dryness. A door seemed to have shut, so that, I could not get it open to perceive God. Last night, however, just as I was dropping off to sleep, there came over me an aching affection and tenderness toward my mother, and in this human love there came as well a realization of His presence, that He was there in my love for her—no, more! He actually was that love. It seemed, indeed, a little revelation that God is love. I have, of course, heard these words, and read them all my life, but this seemed a real experience of their truth. It was not merely that God inspired my love for her, but that He actually was that love. This is merely what ‘the people of God’ have told us all along, but last night I seemed to know its truth.
Another note made sometime later, and also during a period of loss and darkness, records much the same experience: —
I felt a kind of rage of desire to break through to Him. I wanted to cry out, to beat my head against a wall, all because I was so mad with baffled longing. I felt as though He were on one side of a wall and I on the other, and I must break through to Him. Nothing happened at the time, but since then I have been happier, and to-night He seemed to come to me in a larger aspect than ever. I was putting my mot her to bed, and I felt an especial affection and tenderness toward her, and gladness that I could render her these little services; and for a few lovely moments I felt Him there in my love, and in the little things I could do for her. It was very beautiful -intense happiness—and I knew how He might fill every moment of one’s life.
Here again is another mode of approach. Last night in reading I came across this quotation from Blake: —
Eternally for man, man could not exist, for man is love,
As God is love. Every kindness to another is a little death
In the Divine Image.
’Every kindness to another is a little death in the Divine Image ‘ — how marvelous! How infinitely beautiful! These words make my whole being stand still in a wonder of delight and worship for their wisdom. I had read them before, and then forgotten them, only remembering that there were some special words of Blake’s that gave me passionate happiness. Now I shall copy them here, so that they will never escape me again. Also I set down here my ardent gratitude to William Blake for having conceived anything so marvelous with beauty and insight. When they came to him I think his whole being must have been standing on tiptoe, reaching up to a higher shelf of thought than any of us shorter people could reach for ourselves. I am infinitely grateful to him for having been able to reach this high thought, and to have handed it down to us distilled into these lovely words. I hope wherever his spirit may be some small amount of my happy thankfulness reached him. The words infected me with a wild rapture, and an utter sense of God’s nearness. They made me want to run about and shout with joy. I said my prayers walking up and down in a transcendent happiness. Seen through the loophole of Blake’s inspiration, God seemed so close and intimate that I could tell Him everything, asking for smaller things than I have done of late. He was so close I felt He wanted all my little and most personal desires. I told Him all the hidden things, all the difficulties and unhappinesses. I wanted this great understanding and healing love of His to pour over all the sorrowful places.
I come back and back repeatedly to the happiness in the thought that every kindness to another is a little death in the Divine Image. I like that idea better than the offering of one’s suffering to God. That has its beauty too, but it may also become morbid, too passive, introspective, and exclusive, as being just between God and one’s own soul. Whereas the other is active and outgoing, and must include at least one other human being. Tagore says, ‘I can never find Thee in renunciation.’ That is true for me also, and I think for most of us moderns. It is in flowing forth in love and service, and in joy, playing as it were the great game of life with Him, that we come nearest to Him — not in morbid renunciation. Of course one must discipline one’s self, but prayer and activity — outgoing and incoming, both in love — make the perfect, happy, and serene life. I am blocked by my handicaps from much active service, but I must find more ways, and not neglect those opportunities of the little deaths which do offer.
If every kindness to another is a little death in the Divine Image, I think also that every lifting of the heart to Him in love and gratitude, joy and mirth, every realization of the beauty of life, and all the simple happinesses of human intercourse, may be little births in the Divine Image. I do not want to give up life, but to fill it full of Him —— an outpouring, not a withdrawing. I am sure we come nearer to Him and to the life more abundant when we are filled with overflowing, outgiving joy in all life, in nature, art, humanity, and God, than when we are crucifying the flesh. It is true that I believe in a certain amount of self-discipline and of renunciation, — and probably our present world needs more than we are willing to give, — but the little deaths in the Divine Image seem the best and most healthy way of doing it, and the most lovely means of approach to Him.
The loveliness of these words of Blake continues to prick me with fresh delight. How intoxicating words may be! They seem sometimes to open out and disclose the heart of their meaning, almost like a flower unfolding. One may take hold of them then with the mind, brood upon them, turning them over and over, holding them near and far, almost tossing them into the air like a child playing with a ball; and treated thus they disclose layer after layer of meaning, and open deeper and deeper doors in one’s mind. Because I loved these words of the little deaths, they threw me into an ecstasy of the nearness of God. Love in every form is the great liberator, setting one free of all the dragging little meannesses, and bearing one up into His presence.
I think there is another way in which He comes that we often fail to take note of, and that is in mirth and in laughter. If love is at the heart of the world, I believe that humor is there also, a quaint, whimsical, and fantastic mirth. I have this sense of hidden laughter, almost of a joke about it all at times.
They taught me that at school!
Mayhap it is a fancy ball —
I’m dressed in truth as fool!
And all this grief and tears,
And all this drift of woe,
May be a laughter-hiding pall,
Love’s checkered domino;
A magic fern-seed cloak
To woo us for a while,
Till Love shall lift the masks of all,
And we behold His smile!
We seem to think that grief is the approved offering to Him, but why not laughter as well? Sometimes I almost feel as though He
‘Folk always give me tears,
Will you not laugh with me awhile
In these your mirthful years?’
So He comes to us in innumerable ways: in our affection for one another, in reading, in nature, in beauty in suffering, and in art. I put them all down at random. Some find Him more readily in one way, some in another, for ‘He comes to each in what the heart loves best.’ For myself I confess he comes most easily, after the suffering had made a way for Him, in the delight of words, and in nature, especially in that intense passion amounting to ecstasy that I have for flowers. The faces of pansies, the blue of flax, fragrance of peonies, yellow cups of lemon lilies springing up on green stems — they are all intoxications to me, all gateways into something larger. Their waiting stillness is clothed in a holy mystery. Their endless patterns of beauty are chalices — Holy Grails indeed — into which the eternal spirit pours itself for an instant of fleeting loveliness. I am half afraid of them, half afraid that they may suddenly drop their petal veils, and I shall see — I shall see more than one should see in this world. They are constantly offering me this miraculous sense of otherwhereness, of being rooted in two worlds, here in mine, there in His. Some say that they are of Paul, and some of Apollos, but I am of the woods and fields and mountains. He has showed me larkspurs, roses, and foxgloves for my conversion, to complete the apostolic work which the hepaticas, bloodroot, and wild columbine began when I was a little girl. For which I pour out all that I am in a passion of gratitude.
And so He comes to us in whatever moves our affection, for, as one of the old mystics has said, ‘ By love may He be gotten and holden, by thought never.’
It is strange how certain truths present themselves to us at times with a new and profound conviction. We know them as true for a long string of drab days, and then all at once they appear to open and pour themselves out to us creatively.
For some reason last autumn it came to me as an amazing fact that something pleasant happens every day, something to make one really happy. Never a day goes by without some little gift, be it ever so simple, of real pleasure. Obviously this is true. If I had ever stopped to think of it before I should certainly have admitted it, but to admit a truth is not the same as to have it come to you all at once as fresh and astonishingly real. All the years of my life I had let this fact blow about as it were on the dust-heap of my mind, unnoticed, and now suddenly it had risen up as a thing which was amazing. For days I was excited and keyed up over this truth which I had always known, but never taken in before. Each morning I waked with a delighted expectancy, feeling absolutely sure that in all the flotsam and jetsam of the day’s tide some event would come drifting in like a golden galleon, laden with a little gift of happiness. And every day it did, and often it was not one treasure ship, but a whole lovely fleet of them sailing in. I refused to accept anything as the day’s gift unless it came with a real thrill of happiness. Things which were supposed to make me happy I would not pretend with, if they failed to do so, but let them drift by with the rest of the day’s wreckage, and waited for the real treasure-trove.
I was so pleased with this discovery, which of course had always been true, but which I had been too stupid to take in before, that I had to tell someone, and so spoke to E. A. about it. She was as delighted over its truth as I, realizing that it was no sentimentality, but a real fact which was always there, although we had never actually perceived it before.
Life is full of these pleasant truths which we all really know, but which are so common that the wonder has worn off them, and so we do not take them in. I suppose we fail in this respect because we let outselves become encased in a sort of dull hard shell of everydayness, through which it is hard for the ‘gift of wonder’ to penetrate. It is this wonder and amazing joy in the most common things which religious conversion sometimes brings. The spirit’s uprush bursts through that hard shell, and reveals to the converted one a world which he has always known, but which now, with sharpened perception, he beholds all fresh with loveliness.
But I was stupid — I let my shell harden up again, and all winter I forgot the little truth that had come to me in the autumn with such unexpected gladness. A few days ago, however, it came back to me. I counted up, and found that eight delightful things had happened in that one day. Eight little events that had made me very happy. Yesterday was rather poverty-stricken. Only one thing could be counted in the unexpectedly happy class. That was just a few minutes of unusually pleasant conversation with an acquaintance. It took place in a crowd, and was only a snatch of talk; nevertheless, just for those moments I felt more in touch with that friend than I have ever done before. We talked about poetry, and then, just as we were separating, something I said made him laugh — really laugh, not just make a polite chatter with his teeth.
That was all for yesterday, not very much, but to-day was better — and I had hoped so little from it too! I had had a bad night, worry, sleeplessness, pain, — I am in pain most of the time now, — so in the morning I was at a low ebb. Whichever way I turned the material prospects all seemed bad. Black clouds were banking up in every direction. My own future was dark, and horrible things were happening to many of my friends; one had just died after years of agony; one had had to be placed in an insane asylum; another — but why go on? It was only to show that there was not much gayety to be hoped for from the material side of to-day. Nevertheless I knew it could not fail to present at least one gift. It did.
It has been pressed down and running over with happiness. First I got a bit of work finished and off my hands. That really pleased me, but could hardly be considered as the day’s treasure. It was merely the jog-trot gratification of ‘something accomplished, something done,’ which might, or might not, earn me a night’s repose. The real treasure must be something more than this; it must come straight home to one with a little stab of ecstasy. Also to be its ‘best self,’ as the ladies’ magazines would say, it should be unexpected, a little extra drop of pleasure that one had not counted upon. The first real gift of to-day was the finding of an unfinished poem which I had begun several years ago and then laid aside and forgotten. This morning I came across it again quite by accident. I read it over and knew it had a real swing and vitality. I loved it, and tinkered over it for hours, ‘imprisoning live words on paper.’ Oh, these Heaven-sent spaces of real creativeness! One feels them all filled with sunny light. The material disasters all about are gray and heavy, but these times of inner happiness flash out beauty across them like lightning licking out of thunder clouds.
The day went on giving happiness, like a butterfly’s wing showing fresh glints of color in the sunshine. In the afternoon I went to a small party, although it was an effort to do so, as I was extremely tired from not having slept and from having worked so hard in the morning. It was fortunate I did go, however, as so many delights were there. First of all there was a great cluster of pot marigolds, all shades of orange and yellow, in an orange-pink bowl. They were there upon the piano, complete in themselves, so still, so detached and beautiful; they were in another sphere, owning themselves; in the midst of us, and yet quite away from our world of chatter. I could not keep my eyes off them; they thrilled me away. They did not care anything about me — how could they? They were so complete and finished in themselves. But I looked and looked at them, poured out in ecstasy; and every time I turned my eyes toward them I knew I was brushing the hem of something tremendous, overwhelming, something which caught the breath away. They were a ‘golden bowl’ into which absolute beauty had been poured for a moment, only fora moment; soon the silver cord would be loosed, the golden bowl broken — the spirit return unto God! But for the moment they were there; they were exclamation points of rapture thrust through from the other side. They made a thin place in the veil that hides the sanctuary, so that the Amazement that is just without almost came bursting through. Beauty makes these thin places very often. It is dangerous, tremendously exciting, and ravishing for this reason.
Later someone played on the piano for us, and the music brought me more than it had ever brought before. Little notes burst through every now and then, little round bright drops of sound, coming just right, just at the moment I wanted them, breaking through bright and whole out of all the mosaic of the other notes. Listening to the music and looking at the marigolds — those exclamation points from the other side — cleared my mind so that I got a fresh understanding of a piece of work I have been mulling over for some time. The remembrance of the verses I had found in the morning was a delight, and all the time lovely wordcombinations came blowing through my thoughts and strung themselves into sentences, dressing up ideas.
I was extraordinarily happy. S. J. came and sat beside me, slipping her arm through mine. She is ill, and had asked me to pray for her. I hope some of the intense joy that was mine spilled over to her. L. N. was on the other side of me. We had had a little talk together about religion that I had liked. We nearly always do. We laugh a great deal together over surface things which amuse us, and underneath we care about the same things too, so we touch in mirth and at spiritual points as well. She said some laughing thing to our hostess, looking so whimsical and gay and quaint that I had to reach out and touch her too. Afterward E. A. came up, and we spoke about the marigolds. She said they came right out of the heart of creation, so I felt she had seen them as I did. It is a miracle of happiness to touch friends like this at all these various points. Wherever I looked with my eyes or my imagination there was a friend to meet the glance or the thought. They too, like the marigolds, are gateways, faërie casements, opening upon a larger life. Even the little game of afternoon tea may be played with the Great Wonder just back of it. Nothing is common or unclean when one catches a glimpse of the veiled Presence.
E. A. and I walked home together afterward. I loved being with her, and was so sorry for the hard time she is having. The sharp spring air was a delight. I felt wonderfully alive and creative. I feel as though such ecstasy is like an unseen current of electricity; it might be turned to all sorts of uses. It seems to me it might be the medium for some great art, as harmony is for music and color for painting. I suppose it is the motive power in most creative work, but perhaps it is more—perhaps the Great Artist does fashion some new thing out of such intense happiness.
Out of my leaping joy beauty to lift!
Jubilant Artist! Creator supreme,
Weave from my worship a life-giving theme:
See, I surrender my love to Thy skill,
Make from my homage new light on the hill,
Out of my rapture a rainbow distill —
Lo, all my gladness to Thee overflows,
Draw from my heart but the breath of one rose!
Again I have bad news from the doctor. A small hope I had been holding fast to has apparently very little foundation. More and more I am being slowly shut in on myself. Natural human intercourse is getting very difficult, and one consolation after another is being withdrawn. It is even getting to be a question how much longer I shall be able to continue my work. It grows increasingly hard; soon it may be impossible, or at least it may require such a severe readjustment that I do not know whether I shall be capable of it or not. At first my difficulties drove me out of myself, now they are driving me back into myself. Fortunately, however, I have a great belief in the possibilities and excitements of the interior life, in meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Undoubtedly they are pathways which may lead to Him. The inner life may be as full of adventure, explorations, hopes and fears, and ‘perilous seas,’ as the outer life; much more so indeed than the average jog-trot existence. There is a wide other world within, deep harbors of thought, marvelous seas of contemplation, waiting to be explored. It is well that someone should explore it in this cheap and surface age, when most people are running over the ground as fast as they can in motors, listening over radios, and rarely taking time to think out anything for themselves. If the active life is to be barred to me, I can still face the contemplative one with courage and even enthusiasm, knowing that it holds many mysteries, many adventures. I do not doubt that there will be plenty of suffering about it. Some of it has come already, and much more will follow, but since many precious gifts have come to me out of suffering I need not be too overwhelmed now by the thought of more. It must perforce be lonely, but if it leads to Him the loneliness will vanish.
Captive I wait this dread design,
Prisoned in life, walled up in clay,
An Ariel in a doven pine.
And dark the track that I must take,
I know the adventurer’s hardy thrill
When unknown reefs before him break;
And courage, leaping with a shout,
Cries on my heart fresh ports to win —
For if the world is shut without
I ‘ll sail the hidden seas within.
I ‘ll pioneer that waiting deep,
Where faint and far through all the gloom,
When soul and thought expectant keep,
One hears mysterious torrents boom.
Breasting the heart’s adventurous flow;
White foaming wave, and wonders wide,
Beckon to sail, set sail! And so
Bear on! Bear on! O darkling tide!
Some gift awaits, I know! I know!