More Leaves From a Secret Journal
How much simpler the requirements of the spiritual adventure often are than we fear they may prove. He never took me half so seriously as I took my small conventional self. I used to be afraid that if I gave myself completely to Him He would demand something terrifying, like preaching at street corners from a soap box, distributing tracts, or nailing up placards — ARE You SAVED? — on telegraph poles, the very thought of which filled my quaking little soul with sheer panic because I was so self-conscious in those days that it took all the spiritual courage I could muster even to step out of the general crowd far enough to drop a coin in a Salvation Army kettle. I used to wonder if any revelation would ever make me brave enough to stand by the kettle and ring the bell in the face of the Christmas crowds. Now I could do it with delight, but in the old days it seemed an amazingly brave act. I he fear of what I might be commanded to do held me back for a long time, but at last I did summon sufficient courage to make a surrender of obedience — not a very good one, it is true, but still a gesture toward Him, after which I waited in apprehension of the soap box and the tracts. Was I directed to them ? Not in the least. Of course not! Who was I to convert the world when I was not even sure of my own conversion? Instead, the inner direction that I received — but so clear that I could not doubt it — was to tidy up my desk and bureau drawers! So overwhelmingly laughable in the face of what I had dreaded!
Yet, laughably simple as it was, I did not doubt then, nor do I now, that it was a genuine revelation of what I needed to cultivate. The very unexpectedness of it was convincing. I do not believe that ‘order is Heaven’s first law,’ but it is undoubtedly a most important law, and one which I sin against frequently. If I was ever to do anything for Him, evidently the first step was to bring my small world into a more ordered state. The command has come again to me lately. I am not required to do anything great or spectacular, like preaching on street corners, for instance, or retiring into a convent, or embracing poverty, but only to bring more order into my everyday life. There is nothing symbolic about it. It is simply a practical direction, in the form of a strong desire, to put in order prosaic things, hang up garments, lay toilet articles straight, and tidy papers. In the carrying-out of it, however, it becomes a sacrament, an ideal for the whole of one’s life, a first step in the Kingdom of Heaven — yet so very small and simple!
Ten whirlwinds and a sky,
I’d make a song all thundering bars
To shout His greatness by.
But I have such a foolish mind,
It moves me more to see
His littleness, which chose to find
The littleness of me.
That was so often the way. He constantly answered my solemnity with an unexpected gayety. Sometimes I think God does not take religion so seriously as we do — at least not so seriously as a person of New England ancestry, like myself, does. Once, in a moment of complete surrender, I asked that I might be allowed to write something for Him. I petitioned it in a big solemn prayer, but afterward I forgot I had done so. These forgotten prayers, with what unexpected answers they sometimes come trailing home! I would be careful not to pray for anything unless I was very sure that I wanted it. I forgot this prayer, but He did not, and some time afterward there came to my mind every morning, just as I waked, flocks of verses. I did not understand at first where they came from, but later I realized. They poured out so fast that I could not get them all finished. As soon as I set about dressing one in words and rhyme, another would come singing through. They were so slight and whimsical, almost childish, how was I to guess He might answer a great solemn prayer with such fleeting gayety? (O Utter Love! You knew that was the way to own the last shred of my being!) I could worship and serve Him in reverent and distant awe, but if He chose to come in an intimate fellowship of mirth and song, then there was absolutely nothing of me that I would not give. We build absurd high altars to Him, when all the time He is there at the heart of life, companioning us in the smallest experiences.
Singing in my head:
Came before the day was born,
Bowed, and laughing said,
‘ Please get up and write us down.
For we are new to-day.
Please get up and weave our gown,
Ere we fade away.’
And all the east went red —
‘Arise and spin the measured line,
For Love commands,’ they said.
The verses whispered true;
Yet just in hopes I weave their dress,
And send them all to You!
But drove them all away,
For Love, I said, will scarcely wish
A gift so small and gay.
I ‘ll take my tears, the dim dark tears,
And in their gray retreat
I ‘II hide my heart, and secretly
I ‘ll lay it at His feet.
I made a gift of pain —
But never would You take my heart
Until it sang again!
Her fragile web from fairy reels within,
So, Gift-of-all-my-heart, Your dear commands
Draw from my soul’s delight faint silver strands
Of song, frail wisps of love, all gemmed with You,
Like cobwebs, fret at dawn with drops of dew.
That was the first time the songs came. They have come many times since, and often so fast that I cannot finish one before another is there.
When tides of love run strong,
Each thought flows out dew-decked with rhyme,
And song pours after song.
My heart is like a secret spring
In woodlands hid away,
At every touch from You there wells
A whispered roundelay.
Fast as I catch the living stream
In crystal cups of rhyme,
Fresh waters from the fount of life
Gush forth in measured time.
I may not chalice them in words,
So fast the songs break through —
But Love, my very self becomes
A canticle of You!
For weeks I have been working by an upstairs window which looks straight into the heart of a green maple tree all in its new summer foliage. Most of the time the wind has been blowing through it. Its green effulgence ruffled under the wind is pure magic. As the branches go up, and then slide softly down, riding the waves of the wind, they seem to half-reveal a secret. At least it is a secret from me. There is much more there than a wind-tossed maple tree. So much more that if the tree were suddenly to burst into flame, burning without being consumed, like the bush out of which God spoke to Moses, I should hardly be surprised. It would all be in line with that tremendous Something which is there. However, it is not a change in the maple tree that is necessary in order that I may know the truth about it, but rather a change in me, an awakening of the spiritual self, a clearing of the inner vision. If I could only see a little further! I feel as though if I strained harder, if I looked and looked, I might understand; or even if I could find the right word, that might open the door. But I do not, and I have been looking at the tree for weeks, and seeing the wind toss the branches up and ride them softly down in long lines of absolute poetry — green poetry, wind poetry, ecstasy! If one could only put it into words!
Probably a few weeks is not a long enough time for looking at a tree. Years and years would hardly be enough. How amazing the leaves are! Green on top and silver-white underneath. Now, as I look, the wind is turning them over, one at a time here and there, in an abstracted way, — as I flutter the leaves of a book, — so that I can see the frosted silver underneath. But, of course, not in the least for me to see. It is all a private affair between the wind and the tree, and Something — Somebody — else. Yet I do feel that if I could see far enough I should know that I had a part in it too, that that Something which dresses Itself up in maple trees and wind had dressed Itself in me also. But I can’t see far enough, or hear far enough — or, perhaps more truly, deep enough. My perceptions just can’t reach it. But it is coming closer. Perhaps around the next corner of consciousness I shall come upon it. Perhaps I already know it, but, as with a good many other things, don’t yet realize that I know it. Anyway it is much to know that something far more is there than just green leaves and wind on the surface of life. How blank the world would be if this feeling of other-whereness were to forsake me!
It would not be well, I imagine, to see too far all at once. Does n’t something strange happen to the people who hear the Elute Player? And panic is derived — so an old teacher of mine used to tell me — from the fear of Pan. And when one goes to the Back of the North Wind one is never the same again. After that one never really cares again for the important things, like diamond necklaces, motor-cars, or a distinguished career, and so of course one is just ruined for real life. That’s why Blake’s mother smacked him, when as a litt le boy he explained his lateness for supper by the statement that he had seen the prophet Ezekiel sitting in an apple tree. That’s why, too, all the grown-ups made Thomas Traherne stop gaping at the miracle of everyday life, and feeling that ‘ the corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown,’ but which ‘had stood from everlasting to everlasting,’and that ‘the dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold,’ and finally induced him to believe that the tinsel on a hobbyhorse was a fine thing, and a purse of gold of value. But Thomas Traherne was a wayward spirit, and when he was grown and could be his own master he broke away from the tinsel idea — or, as he called it, ‘the burden and cumber of devised wants’ — and went off to live as he chose in the country, on a matter of ten pounds a year. Ten pounds, of course, does not buy much tinsel, so he was delivered from that and, thus set free, was enabled to make astonishing statements like ‘You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. . . . Till you sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold and kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world. Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels . . . till you love men so as to desire their happiness with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own.’
Goodness! He would have known well enough what is going on in my wind-swept maple tree! Perhaps when I get across into the next world I can get him to tell me. But I want to know now, even at the risk of its destroying my taste for tinsel, and sounding brass, also tinkling cymbals. I think he might leave his celestial abode long enough to give me just a hint. I think a hint, coupled with the right word, would be sufficient. Or would it? Perhaps not. Perhaps what I need for illumination is to put money in its place as he did, and be content with ten pounds a year and a leathern suit. Besides, even if one returned from the dead, his message would have little meaning, unless the person to whom it came had already arrived at some conception of the truth. One must find it for one’s self first. The outside revelation corroborates what one already knows. The kingdom of Heaven is within you — and its truth also. The only way to discover it, or to solve the mystery of the maple tree, is literally to inquire within. Doing so, one goes forth on the most amazing adventure that life offers — an adventure far more exciting than any expedition to the North Pole or into the heart of Africa.
As I look at the wind in the tree a little shiver of ecstasy goes through me because the vision is so close. Just the turning of a hair would bring it. What a mystery it is! What in the world makes those green leaves? Oh no, I don’t want to know what they are composed of. A botanist might tell me that. What I want to know is why the sap ever started to run up the tree, up the trunk, along the limbs, into the buds, to spread them out into leaves. Perhaps the way to find out would be to get inside the tree one’s self, a nebulous personality, to run with the sap up the trunk, out the limbs, into the leaves and maple keys, and there hear the command to stop. The end is as amazing as the beginning. Why does the urge of life cease with leaves and seed vessels? IIow does it know when to stop — when its type is completed? If this command to halt did n’t come at the right moment the breath of life that is in the tree might go on beyond leaves and bloom into all sort s of green fantastic abortions that would spoil the type. The beginning is a marvel, the ending is an amazement. I suppose there was in the mind of God the finished thought of a maple tree, as definite and complete as is its spark of life in the seed, although He no doubt sent the thought forth in several types before the present one was achieved. It is a miracle that trees stop with themselves — that maple trees are only maple trees, apple trees only apple trees, and oak trees only oaks. The urge of life might so easily have flowed on into a green maelstrom of confusion, a sort of crazy-quilt of creation.
The same, of course, is true of every type. Why do pigs stop at pigs, and human beings at human beings? Oh, of course we human beings still have animal tendencies, and no doubt we are potential angels, but in spite of what we have been, or may be, we are human beings. Each type may have come up from something else, and be slowly drifting on to another development; nevertheless, at each stage it is itself, and not a confused medley. As I sit writing, I am surrounded by numberless finished articles, — books, chairs, tables, desk, — all of which were conceived by the mind of man. Then, as I look out into the garden, I see infinitely more things, — an innumerable company, grass, trees, flowers, bushes, — all of which the mind of God created, and all of which are separate, distinct, and finished, with no confusion, no intermixing of forms. Truly the finished type is an astonishment. I never really thought of it before. The urge of life always amazed me, but I never until now realized the marvel of its stopping when each creation is completed. It might so easily go on into confusion or shatter the type, as a child breaks his bubble by blowing too much breath into it. It might, that is, if at the back of creation was nothing but a blind force. How can anyone believe that! One might, possibly, if one thought only of the initial urge of life, but surely not when one sees it always stopping in definite forms and types.
Look at that fat dictionary over there on the shelf, so solemn and well informed — do I think a blind force created it? I do not. Then why should I suppose a blind force created the trumpet vine swaying out there in the wind? Did anybody ever see a trumpet vine forget its type and try to overflow into something else — into a maple tree, for instance? Or a maple tree forget that its urge to life should stop with sharply pointed leaves, rather than with the round edges of an oak? Nobody ever did, unless the types had been crossed by outside interference.
What keeps them all so loyally true to their own plan? Surely if there were nothing but a blind urge at the back of them they would long ago have lost their way in the maze of life and gone off into a confusion of green grotesqueries.
But to come back to my maple. I would like to get inside of it and see what it feels like to bo a tree. Perhaps I was a tree once long ago, at one stage of my journey from an atom to an angel. Perhaps I shall be again when I reach the supereonsciousness of a Thomas Traherne. Then I should not need to stop short with trees, but could project my consciousness into anything else I wanted to,—into the sky, the sea, or the stars, — could be in them, and still be myself. Most of us do not realize the possibility of this extension of consciousness. Especially those of us who dread the survival of the personality after death. Heavens! Who would want to survive forever and ever in our present small earthworm personality! The mere thought of it: fills me with desolation. But if one is to go on with unveiled face from glory unto glory, as Saint Paul says, then one may adventure with a high heart.
I can scarcely remember the time when I did not have this inexplicable yearning to get inside of growing things and taste, as it were, their consciousness. Perhaps the desire is a promise of an ultimate attainment.
At the cool green portals of vines, of flowers, of trees,
Begging a dole, the gift to enter their lives.
Jewel weeds swaying there in the shade, handfuls
Of green-gold sun dotted down on their heads, inflame
My desire. I would be one of them, making my bow
To the wind, dabbling my leaves in and out of the sun,
Yellow blossoms for earrings, and anklets, and pendants to clash
In a faint and exquisite ohime. And corn — Ah, God!
That the grams, so small, went laughing into the dark
To leap out again, so green, so straight, and so tall?
Ah, what was the word? Some day I fear I shall
One penny of birth on the corn, just to know what You said,
To stand in the heart of the field and exclaim with my tall
Tasseled finger forever and ever at You. Perchance,
Ah, let me come in! Do not keep me forever without!
See, I will give you great handfuls of love, pressed down,
Running over. But no, they are wise, they will not unbar.
Yet sometimes at dusk the bud babies open the doors
A crack, to laugh, to peep out at me, kissing
And waving their little green hands. But when I approach
There is never a chink to see, all is shut, fast shut —
The crickets and I are alone in the dusk and the dew.
This morning, just as I waked, I was conscious that the barrier, the feeling of separation, was gone. I was there. I was possessed of a larger life. I have often waked — sometimes in the morning, sometimes late in the night — with the sensation of His presence; but, wonderful as that was, there was always a bar between; long as I might to break through, it stood in the way. This morning the barrier was down — I was there. I cannot express with what utter delight the realization fills me. At the moment there was nothing surprising or particularly ecstatic about it — it merely seemed completely natural. Cut suddenly I realized that the walls were gone, that I was there at last; and in the moment of realization — of touching it with my waking thoughts — it vanished. It was with me only for the shortest possible time, but that it should have been there at all carries me away in joy and gratitude. Just, for that fleeting moment I was at the journey’s end, the haven where I would be, the destination toward which I have been traveling for so long. I did not deserve it. I had grown so slack, so desultory, in all my spiritual life, so distracted with surface activities and engrossed with things, that I had almost lost the hope that it would ever happen. Then, just when I least expected it and deserved it so very little, it came. Now I know that what the other travelers have said is true. They say that fora long time the soul stretches out to God in ardent longing, and then at last tire order is reversed, and He comes to the soul.
The tide has turned. I had begun to fear that mine was not the temperament for the revelation, or else that I was on the wrong track and should change my life in some way — how, I did not know. But now a little realization has been vouchsafed, and I can continue to persevere with infinite delight. It has happened once, in spite of all my sins and my meagreness of spirit, and in good time it will happen again.
‘It has come down, and it will come down, and I pray to the Lord to send it down.’ This old revival hymn, which I have always sniffed at in my mind, takes on a fresh significance. What a fool I am! And how foolish is all our intellectual snobbery! We stand around in the aloof scornful places of the mind, looking at religious experiences from the outside, and then, click! a little door within opens, and out of our own knowledge we too behold new wine filling the old bottles of long-familiar words with a shining truth. ‘Why, it was true all along!’ we exclaim with a startled insight. Our shabby little minds should then go down in the dust and ashes of humility. Forever and forever there is more in life than the everyday intellect can lay hold of. ‘It has come down’ — it did this morning just for a minute. It was as though two halves in me which belonged together, but which were separated, had met at last. I was filled with a larger life in which my own smaller life was swallowed but not lost. Was it God and the soul meeting, or my conscious and subconscious, or superconscious, selves coming together? I do not greatly care which it was. After all, what do we really know about the subconscious mind ? Not much more as yet than that it is a vast, unexplored, and amazing region within which may well be a gateway leading to God.
I think I now know a little of what Saint Paul meant when he said he lived in Christ — only a very little, of course. At the time, however, there was for me no particular sense of a personal God; only afterward a great rush of personal gratitude to Him, and an infinite feeling of shame and unworthiness. I never came so near to a conviction of sin. I see now why the real saints and mystics, who had such tremendously vivid spiritual experiences, set about repentance so avidly. If I had had a little further glimpse, I too might have sufficient grace and vigor to dislodge the unworthy devils who have so long accompanied me. In His light the small desires and selfishnesses appear infinitely tawdry. And how it does take the arrogance out of material things! They are no longer engrossingly important, and yet, for some reason, in the light of the spirit one may enjoy them more than ever. Is this, I wonder, being ‘free to enjoy’?
I feel a great content now to rest in His good time, and a conviction of things being done for me outside of my small self. With delight I will continue to endeavor to do my part, but for some reason I feel a little as though the burden of it rested now more with God than with me. Probably it always did, only I never realized it before.
This experience, which seems so small when I put it down and yet means so much to me, as appearing to be a definite step along the way I have been trying to follow, has come when youth is over. It fills me with delight to see how the spirit continues to unfold after the mind and body have reached maturity. Development of the physical and mental comes to an end fairly early, but one may grow in grace forever. This is the great adventure which keeps one young and expectant. Nothing in the youth of the mind or body, for me at least, was half so interesting and joyful as the awakening of the spirit. The theory that religious experiences are merely an attribute of physical adolescence is amusing.
It is curious how frequently these little extensions of perception come just at waking. We are inclined to think that something wholly new has come to us, but it just occurs to me that the real truth may be that as we develop along these lines we become more and more capable of bringing into our waking consciousness the things which we are aware of when we are deeply asleep. I think that when our physical faculties are in abeyance we ourselves become pure spirit; but the adventures of this state we cannot as a rule remember, because they are obscured, as we return into the body, by a stratum of surface dreams. These surface dreams, which the psychologists are so excited over nowadays, are designed, I believe, among other things, to dose the doors of memory between the two worlds. If the consciousness of this other existence down beneath the veils of sleep came to us without due preparation, our minds would doubtless go to pieces under the strain of the double experience.
Sometimes when one is not getting on well with another person, and the everyday selves seem to be in a snarl of antagonism, — for often the spirit finds the endeavor to realize through matter heavy sledding, — things may be improved by a desire, just as one falls asleep, to meet the other person on the spiritual plane, and there come into harmony with each other. So often disagreements are merely antagonisms of the small material selves. I find the following note made some years ago: —
‘The other night I was unhappy about someone, and prayed that when I was asleep this person and myself might meet in our deeper selves and understand each other better. Just as I dropped into sleep, I felt as though something streamed out of my side in a flood of being which seemed really tangible. I thought it was myself, going forth, just as my physical faculties lost consciousness, in a flood of affectionate desire to help and understand and be at peace with the one I was unhappy over. It may, of course, have been only a dream, but it did not seem like one. It seemed like a real occurrence, and since then that other person and I have been happier together.’
It is unknown, it is unborn;
It is coming to me through the dark of to-night.
To-day I know, and yesterday I have known,
But the day which waits on the other side of the dark tunnel
Is all unknown —
It is completely new,
And I shall meet it with a new spirit.
It is a miracle, a possibility, a gem —
It is a clear crystal in which I shall mirror myself.
God swings it to me from out the mysterious future.
Then I swing it down the past stamped forever
With an image and superscription of myself.
For an instant it is mine,
All untouched and untried, as clear as a dewdrop,
Ephemeral as gossamer on the grass.
Oh, ecstasy of to-morrow!
The dead past has buried its dead,
And all the world is new!
You are a silver trumpet that I shall blow upon,
Making of you new songs, gay songs,
Melodies never heard before.
I stand for one moment, tiptoe
On the edge of the future,
Gazing upon the wonder of the approaching gift;
Then I plunge
Down the dark tunnel of sleep.
Life is a golden chain
Strung with to-morrows,
And at the end
Is the great to-morrow of death.
Winks of beauty. There is the mystery of it dodging in and out of life all the time — ‘half guessed and gone again.’ Such slight things, but so startling with the stab of joy they give. J ust little things that one scarcely notices, would not notice at all if it were not for that thrill of ecstasy. Sparrows bathing in a city fountain, flowers spilling out into the street from a florist’s shop, the flirt of a squirrel’s tail when he hops, the solemn way Negro children roll the whites of their eyes, the lovely mirth on the face of a white primrose — all so slight, so fleeting, yet the very heart of life, compounded of love, of mirth, and of— well, we call it beauty, but I fancy that’s because we don’t know exactly what to call it. It seems to me of much more value and importance than so-called beauty, because so frequently it presents itself under an aspect that is not conventionally beautiful. There’s my little Negro maid, for instance. She has a big mouth and a flat nose, and yet that mysterious something, value, beauty, ecstasy, — other-whereness, as I sometimes call it, — is constantly winking in and out of her. It may be because of the grace of her soft movements, or it may be because she sometimes wears a yellow dress, and her little brown neck coming out of her frock is wholly appealing. Yet it does not seem to be quite either of these things. It is something that does not go into words, and no doubt I make a mistake in endeavoring to express it with them. Probably its real medium is color and line, or music: words bring in the element of thought too much, and are too concrete. The trouble may be with myself, because possibly I am an artist gone astray. As a child my great passion was drawing, but circumstances and my handicap made the carryingout of that desire impossible. So I suppose I have more the artistic response to life than the literary one, — if there is a fundamental difference between the two, which of course is open to question, — and so I am at cross-purposes with my medium, always trying to force into words that which belongs to the brush. However, even the most successful artist is never completely satisfied with his attempt, feeling always that something more which no medium can interpret; and after all I might have found the brush as unsatisfactory as the pen, so there is no good in indulging myself in a ‘gentle melancholy’ over the buried artist in me.
It is curious that I get this thrill of beauty, or value, or whatever one may call it, in Negroes more frequently than in white people. Perhaps it is because they are more primitive, and artificiality dims the thrill. I had another Negro maid once — a small brown, almost black, woman — who had a whimsical sense of humor. In memory I can see her now, down on her knees scrubbing some steps. I made a small joke, and all her little body doubled in curves of laughter. She had a way when she went to the spring — blue frock moving down the garden path — of always presenting one with an offering of fresh water. ‘Will you has a drink of nice fresh water?’ she would say, holding out the silver-frosted glass. No sophisticated cup of tea was ever presented to me with half the appeal of this simple offering. Goodness, what is the matter with us! We seem to be forever destined to seek the ornate, and yet it draws us away from the underlying ecstasy of life. Still the desire for elaboration of existence must have some real reason in it or it would hardly be so persistent. A strange world, and humanity the strangest thing in it!
As I think of it now, there is something notable in the attitude of Negroes toward water. Water appears to mean more to them than it does to members of the white race. They pay it a tribute of respect. Good water, spring water, a bucket of fresh water — these are exclamation points of satisfaction in their lives. As I look back in memory I see a long procession of Negro servants in our family performing this rite of going to the spring. There was one old woman who used to carry three buckets of water at a time, one on her head and one in either hand. The great dignity of her figure thus laden comes back to me now with a thrill of pleasure. There was another one who would sometimes set down her buckets wearily on the path and, looking up at the immense sky, cry out in a kind of protest, ‘Father in Heaven, look down, do, pray!’ When we played in the kitchen as children we might take almost any liberty provided we respected the water buckets. It is spring water that is especially reverenced; rain water not so much so, except that it is a gift from on high; and creek water is negligible. But spring water, pure and undefiled, is sacred. It is, as well, almost the only gift of hospitality that Negroes are permitted to offer to members of the white race. Perhaps this is symbolic, a prophecy that their simple and mystical faith may sometime renew the wellsprings of religion for the more sophisticated of us.
But to come back to the winks of beauty. Artificiality appears to break the connection with that Something More which seems to me to furnish that especial sense of joy. I can see a hundred thousand young painted faces go by in the city streets with never a flicker of delight — and then be enchanted by the grace of an old countrywoman’s hands. People are more beautiful against the background of nature, and nature — at least cultivated nature — appears to need them. My garden never seems so lovely to me as when people walk about in it. They seem to be the climax for which it waited. Really I think what I am trying to define is more poignancy than beauty — a sudden sharp aspect that stabs one awake. It is the Spirit glinting in and out of life. Never really out of it, of course, but for us never as yet fully realized. He is there behind the veil of it all, but some places in the veil are thinner than others, so that through them we glimpse Him more distinctly. Loopholes into reality.
Such unexpected glimpses in unlooked-for places! I remember a boy — a rough, unmannerly, smart-Alecky boy. ‘Smart, smart, smart, you can’t fool me,' was written all over him. But suddenly I caught a glimpse of the curve of his young shoulder looking out through a rent in his shirt — so young, so appealing, such a surrender, completely betraying all the rest of him; as if God had for one instant broken through, completely destroying all the cheap surface, and setting upon the whole the stamp of a divine creation.
Another time I was looking out of a car window, staring idly at a man who was leaning against the wall of the station where our train had stopped. The man seemed to me wholly uninteresting, and then all at once there was something about the fold of his rough coat at his neck that was miraculous. Now how absurd that sounds! Yet all I know is that it was true. Just the fold of a coat, an old coat covering an apparently uninteresting man; that was all it was at first, and then suddenly it was a revelation. It was the whole of humanity coming down out of the ages, — its sorrow, its wistfulness, its struggles, its divinity, — all epitomized for one instant in the fold of a garment. And such economy! Not even the whole coat used—just the fold bv the man’s neck. Some great artist in words or music could have interpreted it, but I could not — I could only see it and wonder. The eyes of my mind have stared at it through all the years since, remembering that wink of illumination, but never quite understanding it. Was it just the pathos of it? Or was it that I glimpsed the absolute garment? Or again was it that, as the man was in the coat, so God is in all life? I do not know. It might have been all of these things, for, by the sudden twist of Something More with which the sight was infused, I knew it was a pathway leading deeper into life, only I had not the spiritual sight or hardihood to follow it. How deficient I am! To see constantly, yet not understand, not be able to push on to the full revelation! ‘Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.’
Sometimes, however, the deeper meaning of these moments of revelation comes to me later. I think I understand now the experience I had in crossing the street once in New York. There were, of course, crowds of people, and so there was some concern on my part about doing my own small navigating successfully. Then all at once there was that sense of something deeper present, and a feeling that if I let go all would be well. I did. I relaxed, giving over my surface tension and letting myself float into the tide of people as a swimmer gives himself to the water. It all went simply and easily then. But there was much more to it than the simple surface fact. It was as though for a moment I had caught, the undercurrent of the crowd, its rhythm, and so could move in it, be carried easily and naturally by it. I had found my place, and fitted in like a note in a piece of music. I think this small experience might be true for all of life. Under everything we do there is probably this great life-giving undercurrent, the spirit of each activity, but we usually fail to perceive it. If we could get into touch with it more frequently, all of life would move much more easily for us. We should not then sail such choppy seas. We might catch the tune, so to speak, in everything — in people as well as in activities. But to do so one must let go of one’s surface self, and make at least a little gesture toward the spiritual. Let go, let go — that seems to be the constant command. Let go of the surface anxiety, the terrible snatch and scramble and fear of getting left in some way, and reach out toward the spiritual. If one dared to let go, one would drop only a little way, yet that little way might carry one into a whole new aspect of life. It was what Christ was always proclaiming—a losing of one’s life to save it, a surrender to the life more abundant. But the initial attempt must come from ourselves, although no doubt the Holy Spirit instigates us to it.
Sometimes one withdraws for a moment into one’s self, stepping aside from all of one’s own intense activity to look on in amazement at the great pageantry of life flowing past.
Of my mind to the flare of its lighted spaces, and thence
Lost in the wings on the left, existence unrolls,
An enchanted parade, an endless rhythmic wave,
A melody woven of color, of laughter, of tears,
A rainbow intoxication, animals, birds,
Flowers, and people. Drunk with the sight, I am mad
To live all lives, to string them upon myself,
Millions of beads on one continuous strand.
I think before I was born the face of my soul
Must have peered and peered through the gorgeous windows of life,
Like a child peeping in at a toy shop, bewildered by all
The rich display, and uncertain how to invest
His penny. Well, my penny of birth is expended,
But now, walking the aisles inside of the shop,
I see laid out an endless assortment of lives —
Sad lives, gay lives, broken lives, woolly-dog
Grotesque jumping-jack lives. I do not care —
Everything that hath breath praises the Lord; and I?
I desire them all, not to handle and touch, but to live,
To be there at the heart, at the quick of each breath. But how
Could one ever obtain such a madness and wonder of life?
The spirit of life is through it all, and life is God, and God is love — ecstasy! Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father in Heaven — of course not! How could it, since He is there at its very heart? Call not thou anything common or unclean — oh, I will not! I will not! I will hold the vision clear. The Kingdom of Heaven has come nigh unto you. It is all about, here and now, in every human being walking the streets, in every sparrow flying, in every green leaf blowing in the wind. In every living thing it is here before us, is surging up to us in every act of life. How stupid I am, how blind most of the time! But to-day my eyes are open; I am moving in the mystery of life. I must hold the vision, recapturing it every morning, every day plunging it more and more into each act of life. I see how all of life should be glorified by the realization of this life more abundant, pouring it into every activity, re-creating all with joy. But as yet the vision is fleeting, so hard to hold, so difficult to carry through into all one’s busy life. It is like cobwebs on the grass. One sees them distinctly in the early morning, gradually fading as the sun advances, but renewed again the next day. The vision comes to me again and again, but it is lost in the heat of life’s activities, even in the simple activities of the life I lead. Why am I so inept in carrying it through? It is the amazing adventure—behold the vision, then try to clothe it in the garment of fife. Nothing too small for it, nothing too big. When one tries to put it into life, one knows the poet’s despair and delight in endeavoring to put pure poetry into words. The vision is there; one struggles to interpret it; but the hardness and selfishness of circumstances carry it all awry, just as words with their inflexibility break the fleeting gift of poetry into something hard and concrete. Yet the at tempt must be made.
If we are ever to rest in pure vision, it is not now. Now it must be brought into active life in some way, through some one of the endless channels which offer. The effort is the thing. If it is bungling and unsuccessful, — as it is almost certain to be, for the vision must always be far above its realization, — no matter. The attempt has been made; you have taken a hand in the great, game; some other player sees,
knows what you are about, and is stimulated, as you have been stimulated by his effort. ‘I know! I know!’ he cries out across the murk and failure. ‘Oh, I know what you have attempted. It is my game also, the greatest game in all life — the very heart of life itself! ‘
The spirit may be utilized in all the ways of existence, once it has found an entrance into the world, but the entrance, in human lives at least, must be through the opening of the heart. That is the everlasting door that the psalmist cries upon fo be lifted up. ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in ! ‘ When one makes an attempt to lift up the everlasting door, through the offering of one’s small self in prayer and meditation as one sinks into deeper and deeper levels of consciousness, of selfsurrender and stillness, one becomes aware at times of a sensation of rhythm, almost of half-guessed music, as if just beyond this utter silence there surged a tide of melody waiting for an opening through which to pour itself.
And shawms of joy reply,
To lift the everlasting door,
To throw it wide and high;
That He, the King of Glory,
Who is the King of Song,
May enter in with laughter
Where melodies belong!
Oh, lift it up — the heart of man,
That gate so long held fast —
Oh, beat it down with melody,
With joyous blast on blast!
Throw wide, throw wide the secret way
To all the hosts of God,
That through the world their shining feet
May march with music shod!
For now I know! I know, O Heart!
I know it deep and strong —
Through the distant wall of silence
Waits Love, which is a song!