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HOME > Short Stories > Spiritual Energies In Daily Life > CHAPTER IV THE WAY OF VISION
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From the porch of my little summer cottage in Maine I can see, across the beautiful stretch of lake in the foreground, the far-distant Kennebago Mountains in their veil of purple. But we see them only when all the conditions of sky and air are absolutely right. Most of the time they are wrapped in clouds or are lost in a dim haze. Our visitors admire the lake, are charmed with the islands, the picturesque shore and the surrounding hills, but they do not suspect the existence of this added glory beyond the hills. We often tell them of the mountains “just over there,” which come out into full view when the sky clears all the way to the horizon and the wind blows fine from the northwest. They make a casual remark about the sufficiency of what is already in sight, and go their way in satisfied ignorance of the “beyond.”
Next day, perhaps—Oh wonder! The morning dawns with all the conditions favorable for our distant view. The air is altogether right for far visibility. The clouds are swept clean from the western rim, the blue is utterly transparent—and there are the mountains! We wish our skeptical visitors could be with us now. We guess that they would not easily talk of the sufficiency of the near beauty, if they could once see the overtopping glory of these mountains now fully unveiled and revealed. Something like that, I feel sure, is true of God and of other great spiritual realities which are linked with his being. Most of the time we get on with the things that are near at hand; the things we see and handle and are sure of. The world is full of utility and we do well to appreciate what is there waiting to be used. There is always something satisfying about beauty, and nature is very rich and lavish with it. Friendship and love are heavenly gifts, and when these are added to the other good things which the world gives us, it would seem, and it does seem, to many that we ought to be satisfied and not be homesick for the glory which lies beyond the horizon-line of the senses. I cannot help it; my soul will not stay satisfied with this near-at-hand supply. A discontent sweeps over me, an[52] uncontrollable Heimweh—homesickness of soul—surges up within me and I should be compelled to call the whole scheme miserable failure, if the near, visible skyline were the real boundary of all that is.
Sometimes—Oh joy! When the inward weather is just right; when selfish impulse has been hushed; when the clouds and shadows, which sin makes, are swept away and genuine love makes the whole inner atmosphere pure and free from haze, then I know that I find a beyond which before was nowhere in sight and might easily not have been suspected. I cannot decide whether this extended range of sight is due to alterations in myself, or whether it is due to some sudden increase of spiritual visibility in the great reality itself. I only know the fact. Before, I was occupied with things; now, I commune with God and am as sure of him as I am of the mountains beyond my lake, which my skeptical visitor has not yet seen.
There can be no adequate world here for us without at least a faith in the reality beyond the line of what we see with our common eyes. We have times when we cannot live by bread alone, or by our increase of stocks; when we lose our interest in cosmic forces and need something more[53] than the slow justice which history weighs out on its great judgment days. We want to feel a real heart beating somewhere through things; we want to discover through the maze a loving will working out a purpose; we want to know that our costly loyalties, our high endeavors, and our sacrifices which make the quivering flesh palpitate with pain, really matter to Someone and fill up what is behind of his great suffering for love’s sake. We can not get on here with substitutes; we must have the reality itself. Religion is an awful farce if it is only a play-scheme, a cinematograph-show, which makes one believe he is seeing reality when he is, in fact, being fooled with a picture. We must at all costs insist on the real things. It is God we want and not another, the real Face and not a picture.
“We needs must love the highest when we see it;
Not Lancelot nor another.”
He is surely there to be seen, like my mountain. Days may pass when we only hope and long and guess. Then the weather comes right, the veil thins away and we see! It is, however, not a rare privilege reserved for a tiny few. It is not a grudged miracle, granted only to saints who have[54] killed out all self. It belongs to the very nature of the soul to see God. It is what makes life really life. It is as normal a function as breathing or digestion. Only one must, of all things, intend to do it!
There will always be in the world a vast number of persons who take the most comfortable form of religion which their generation affords. They are not path-breakers; they have nothing in their nature which pushes them into the fields of discovery—they are satisfied with the religion which has come down to them from the past. They accept what others have won and tested, and are thankful that they are saved the struggle and the fire which are involved in first-hand experience and in fresh discovery.
The prophet, on the contrary, in whatever age he comes, can never take this easy course. He cannot rest contented with the forms of religion which are accepted by others. He cannot enjoy the comforts of the calm and settled faith which those around him inherit and adopt. His soul[55] forever hears the divine call to leave the old mountain and go forward, to conquer new fields, to fight new battles, to restate his faith in words that are fresh and vital, in terms of the deepest life of his time. We used to think—many people still think—that a prophet is a foreteller of future events, a kind of magical and miraculous person who speaks as an oracle and who announces, without knowing how or why, far-off, coming occurrences that are communicated to him. To think thus is to miss the deeper truth of the prophet’s mission. He is primarily a religious patriot, a statesman with a moral and spiritual policy for the nation. He is a person who sees what is involved in the eternal nature of things and therefore what the outcome of a course of life is bound to be. He possesses an unerring eye for curves of righteousness or unrighteousness, as the great artist has for lines of beauty and harmony, or as the great mathematician has for the completing lines of a curve, involved in any given arc of it. He is different from others, not in the fact that he has ecstasies and lives in the realm of miracles, but rather that he has a clearer conviction of God than most men have. He has found him as the center of all reality. He reads and interprets all history in the light of the indubitable[56] fact of God, and he estimates life and deeds in terms of moral and spiritual laws, which are as inflexible as the laws of chemical atoms or of electrical forces. He looks for no capricious results. He sees that this is a universe of moral and spiritual order.
If he is an Amos, he will refuse to fall in line with the easy worshipers of his age, who are satisfied with the old-time religion of “burnt offerings” and “meat offerings” and “peace offerings of fat beasts.” His soul will cry out for a religion which makes a new moral and spiritual man, “makes righteousness run down as a mighty stream,” and sets the worshiper into new social relations with his fellows. If he is an Isaiah, he will refuse “to tramp the temple” with the mass of easy worshipers; he will have his own vision of “the Lord high and lifted up,” with his glory filling not only the temple but the whole earth, and he will dedicate himself to the task of preparing a holy people and a holy city for this God who has been revealed to him as a thrice-holy God. If he is a Jeremiah, he will not accept the view that the traditional religion of Jerusalem is adequate for the crisis of the times. He will insist that true religion must be inwardly experienced; that the law of God must be written in the heart,[57] and that the life of a man must be the living fruit of his faith. He will cry out against the idea that the moral wounds and spiritual sores of the daughter of Jerusalem can be healed with easy salves and cheap panaceas.
The supreme example of this refusal to go along the easy line of contemporary religion is that of One who was more than a prophet. His people prided themselves on being the chosen people of the Lord. The scribal leaders had succeeded in drawing up a complete and perfect catalogue of religious performances. They supplied minute directions for one’s religious duty in every detail, real or imaginary, of daily life, and the world has never seen a more elaborate form of religion than this of the Pharisees. But Christ refused to follow the path of custom; he could not and he would not do the things which the scribes prescribed. He broke a new path for the soul, and called men away from legalism and the dead routine of “performances” to a life of individual faith and service, which involves suffering and self-sacrifice, but which brings the soul into personal relation with the living God.
St. Paul, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, a rabbinical scholar of the first rank, a man rising stage by stage to fame along the path marked out by the[58] traditions of his people, came back from his eventful journey to Damascus to take up the work of a path-breaker and to set himself like a flint against the old-time religion in which he was born and reared. Luther, a devout monk, an ambassador to the papal court, a professor of scholastic theology, discovered that he could not find peace to his soul along the path of the prevailing traditional religion, and he swung, with all the fervor of his powerful nature, into a fresh track which has blessed all ages since. These are some of the supreme leaders, but every age has had its quota of minor prophets, who have heard the call to leave the old mountain and go forward and who have fearlessly entered the perilous and untried path of fresh vision. As we look back and see them in the perspective of their successful mission to the race, we thank God for their bravery and their valiant service, but we are apt to forget the tragedies of their lives.
Nobody can enter a fresh path, or bring a new vision of the meaning of life, or reinterpret old truths—in short, nobody can be a prophet—without arousing the suspicion and, sooner or later, the bitter hatred of those who are the keepers and guardians of the existing forms and traditions, and the path-breaker must expect to see his[59] old friends misunderstand him, turn against him, and reproach him. He must endure the hard experience of being called a destroyer of the very things he is giving his life to build. Christ is, for example, hurried to the cross as a blasphemer, and each prophet, in his degree, has had to hear himself charged with being the very opposite of what he really is in heart and life. To be a prophet at all he must be a sensitive soul, and yet he must live and work in a pitiless rain of misunderstanding and attack. Still more tragic, perhaps, is the necessity which the prophet is under of doing his hard tasks without living to see the triumphant results. He is, naturally, ahead of his time—a path-breaker—and his contemporaries are always slow to discover and to realize what he is doing. Even those who love him and appreciate him only half see his true purpose, and thus he feels alone and solitary, though he may be in the thick of the throng. It is only when he is long dead and the mists have cleared away that he is called a prophet and comes to his true place. While he lived he was sure of only one Friend who completely understood him and approved of his course, and that was his invisible and heavenly Friend. But in spite of the tragedy and the pain and the hard road, the prophet, “seeing him who[60] is invisible,” prefers to all other paths, however easy and popular, the path of his vision and call.
Just when life seems peculiarly crowded with items of complexity and importance, the telephone rings a determined, significant kind of ring. This is evidently no ordinary passing-the-time-of-day affair. I interrupt my weighty concerns and take up the receiver with expectation. I say “Hello!” but there is no answer, no human recognition. The wire hums and buzzes, instruments click far away, plugs are pulled out and pushed in. Little tiny scraps of remote, inane, unintelligible conversation between unknown mortals furnish the only evidence I get that there is any human purpose going forward in this strange world inside the telephone system where I can see nothing happening.
Suddenly a voice which is evidently hunting for me breaks in: “Is this Mr. ——?” “Yes.” “Hold the wire, please.” I am led on with increasing interest and confidence. Somebody somewhere miles away in this invisible world of electrical[61] connections is seeking for me. I forget the multitudinous problems that were besieging me when the telephone first rang, and I listen with suppressed breath and strained muscles. All I get, however, is an immense confusion. There is no coherence or order to anything that reaches me. Faint and far away in some still remoter center than at first I hear clicks and buzzes, vague unmeaning noises, and the dull thud of shifting plugs that connect the lines. Once more a kindly voice breaks in on the confusion, a voice seeking after me from some distant city: “Is this Mr. ——?” “Yes.” “Wait a minute.”
I do wait a minute as patiently as I can. I dimly feel that we are plunging out into yet remoter space, and that I am being connected up with the person who all the time has been seeking me. A low hum of the far-away wire is all I get to repay me for the long wait. I grow impatient. I shout “Hello!” “Is anybody there?” “Do you want me?” Not a word comes back, only endless, empty murmurs of people who have found one another and are talking so far off that the sense is lost in the mere broth of sounds. This dull world inside the telephone seems to be a mad world of noise and confusion but no substance, no real correspondence. I am on the[62] verge of giving the whole business up and of returning to my interrupted tasks, which at least were rational.
Suddenly a voice breaks in, this time a voice I know and recognize. The person who had been seeking me all the time, across these spaces and over this network of interlaced wires, calls me by name, speaks words of insight and intelligence, and gives me a message which moves me deeply and raises the whole tone of my spirit. When finally I “hang up” and return to the things in hand, I have renewed my strength and can work with clearer head and faster pace. The pause has been like a pause in a piece of music. It has been full of significance, and it has helped toward a higher level.
Something like this telephone experience happens in another and very different sphere—a sphere where there are no wires. In the hush and silence, when the conditions are right for it, it often seems as though some one were trying to communicate with us, seeking for actual correspondence with us. We turn from the din and turmoil of busy efforts and listen for the voice. We listen intently and we hear—our own heart beating. We feel the strain of our muscles across the chest. We push back a little deeper and try[63] again. We feel the tension of the skin over the forehead and we note that we are pulling the eyeballs up and inward for more concentrated meditation. All the muscles of the scalp are drawn and we notice them perhaps for the first time. Strange little bits of thought flit across the threshold of the mind. We catch glimpses of dim ideas knocking at the windows for admission to the inner domain where we live. Then, all of a sudden, we succeed in pushing further back. We forget our strained muscles and are unconscious of the corporeal bulk of ourselves. We get in past the flitting thoughts and the procession of ideas contending for entrance. The track seems open for the Someone who is seeking us no less certainly than we are seeking him. If we do not hear our name called, and do not hear distinctly a message in well-known words, we do at least feel that we have found a real Presence and have received fresh vital energy from the creative center of life itself, so that we come back to action, after our pause, restored, refreshed, and “charged” with new force to live by.
Some time ago a long distance call came to my telephone and I went through all the stages of waiting and of confusion and finally heard the clear voice calling me, but I could not get any[64] answer back. I heard perfectly across the five hundred intervening miles, but my correspondent never got a single clear word from me. We found that something was wrong with our transmitter. The connection was good, the line was pervious, the seeking voice was at the other end, but I did not succeed in transmitting what ought to have been said. Here is where most of us fail in this other sphere—this inner wireless sphere—we are poor transmitters. We make the connection, we receive the gift of grace, we are flooded with the incomes of life and power and we freely take, but we do not give. We absorb and accumulate what we can, but we transmit little of all that comes to us. Our radius of out-giving influence is far too small. We need, on the one hand, to listen deeper, to get further in beyond the tensions and the noises, but on the other hand we need to be more radio-active, better transmitters of the grace of God.

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