Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Spiritual Energies In Daily Life > CHAPTER V THE WAY OF PERSONALITY
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
A generation ago almost everybody read, at least once, Carlyle’s great book on heroes. He gave us the hero as prophet, as priest, as poet, as king, and he made us realize that these heroes have been the real makers of human society. I should like to add a chapter on another kind of hero, who has, perhaps, not done much to build cities and states and church systems, but who has, almost more than anybody else, shown us the spiritual value of endurance—I mean the hero as invalid.
It is the hardest kind of heroism there is to achieve. Most of us know some man—too often it is oneself—who is a very fair Christian when he is in normal health and absorbed in interesting work, who carries a smooth forehead and easily drops into a good-natured smile, but who becomes “blue” and irritable and a storm center in the[66] family weather as soon as the bodily apparatus is thrown out of gear. Most of us have had a taste of humiliation as we have witnessed our own defeat in the presence of some thorn in the flesh, which stubbornly pricked us, even though we prayed to have it removed and urged the doctor to hurry up and remove it.
What a hero, then, must he be, who, with a weak and broken body, a prey to pain and doomed to die daily, learns how to live in calm faith that God is good and makes his life a center of cheer and sunshine! The heroism of the battlefield and the man-of-war looks cheap and thin compared with this. We could all rally to meet some glorious moment when a trusted leader shouted to us, “Your country expects you to do your duty!” But to drag on through days and nights, through weeks and months, through recurring birthdays, with vital energy low, with sluggish appetite, with none of that ground-swell of superfluous vigor which makes healthy life so good, and still to prove that life is good and to radiate joy and triumph—that is the very flower and perfume of heroism. If we are making up a bead-roll of heroes, let us put at the top the names of those quiet friends of ours who have played the man or revealed the woman through hard periods of[67] invalidism and have exhibited to us the fine glory of a courageous spirit.
One of the hardest and most difficult features to bear is the inability to work at one’s former pace and with the old-time constructive power. The prayer of the Psalmist that his work, the contribution of his life, might be preserved is very touching: “Establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” What can be more tragic than the cry of Othello: “My occupation is gone!” So long as the hand keeps its cunning and the mind remains clear and creative, one can stand physical handicap and pain, but when the working power of mind or body is threatened, then the test of faith and heroism indeed arrives.
A man whose life meant much to me and whose intimacy was very precious to me made me see many years ago how wonderfully this test could be met. He was a great teacher, the head of a distinguished boys’ school. He was experiencing the full measure of success, and his influence over his boys was extraordinary. He realized, as his work went on, that his hearing was becoming dull and was steadily failing. He went to New York and consulted a famous specialist. After making a careful examination the specialist said, with perfect[68] frankness: “Your case is hopeless. Nothing can be done to check the disaster. You are hard of hearing already, but in a very short time you will have no hearing at all.” Without a quaver the teacher said: “Don’t you think, doctor, that I shall hear Gabriel’s trumpet when it blows!” He went back to his school, learned to read lips, reorganized his life, accepted without a murmur his loss of a major sense, and finished his splendid career of work in an undefeated spirit and with a grace and joy which were envied by many persons in possession of all their powers.
All my readers will think of some “star player” in this hard game of patience and endurance, and will have watched with awe and reverence the glorious fight of some of those unrecorded heroes who won but got no valor medal. The only person who ranks higher in the scale of heroism than the hero as invalid is possibly the person who patiently, lovingly nurses and cares for some invalid through years of decline and suffering. Generally, though not always, it is a woman. Not seldom she is called upon to consecrate her life to the task, and often she gives what is much more precious than life itself. We build no monuments to daughters who unmurmuringly forego the joy of married life, who refuse[69] the suit of love in order to be free to ease the closing years of father or mother, grown helpless; but where is there higher consecration or finer heroism? Men sometimes complain that the days of chivalry and heroism are past. On the contrary, they are more truly dawning. As Christianity ripens love grows richer and deeper, and where love appears heroism is always close at hand. Our best heroes are mothers and wives and daughters, fathers and husbands and sons.
During one of the intense persecutions by which an early Roman emperor harried the Christians of the first century, some unknown writer (Harnack thinks It was a woman) wrote an extraordinary little book to hearten those who were undergoing the trial of their faith. I mean, of course, the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is marked by rare genius and by undoubted inspiration. It is full of vital messages and it contains passages of great power. Just before the most loved section of the little book—the account of the faith-heroes—the author, in a passage open to a variety of[70] translations, refers to the fact that those to whom he is writing have suffered, and have suffered joyfully, the spoiling of their possessions, “knowing,” he says, “that you have your own selves for a better possession”—you yourselves are a better possession than any of those goods which you have lost for your faith.
I wonder if the readers fully realized the truth, or if we should to-day realize it had we suffered a similar stripping. We are very slow to take account of that type of stock. We are very keen about our own assets, but we often fail to prize this supreme ownership, the possession of ourselves. There is a story, both sad and amusing, of an insane man who was seen wildly rushing about the house, from room to room, looking in cupboards and clothes-presses, crawling under beds, obviously searching for something. When questioned as to what he was so frantically looking for, he replied, “I am trying to find my self!” It is not as mad as it seems. I am not sure but that we who are not trying to find ourselves are after all more crazy still.
Old Burton, who wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy, well said:
“Men look to their tools; a painter will wash his pencils; a smith will look to his hammer, anvil, and[71] forge; a husbandman will mend his plow-irons and grind his hatchet, if it be dull; a musician will string and unstring his lute; only scholars neglect that instrument, their brains and spirits I mean, which they daily use.”
Not scholars only, but all classes and conditions of men are guilty of this strange insanity. If the Duke of Westminster should offer to transfer to us his estates, we would rush with all conceivable speed to acquire our new potential possessions. We would go as with wings of an aeroplane to get the transaction accomplished before anything could occur to keep us from entering into our fortune. But here we are already within reach of a vastly better possession, of which we are strangely negligent. If it came to a choice between himself and his outward possessions, this duke who owns so much would not hesitate a minute which to prefer. If in a crisis of illness he could save himself by surrender of his goods, they would instantly go. “Give me health and a day,” Emerson said, “and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.”
What we would do in a crisis we often fail to do when no crisis confronts us, and it is a fact that too often we miss and even squander that better possession, ourselves. The best way to win it and enjoy it is to cultivate those inner experiences[72] and endowments which make us independent of external fortune. All Christ’s beatitudes attach to some inherent quality of life itself. The meek, the merciful, the pure, are “happy,” not because the external world conforms to their wishes, but because they have resources of life within themselves and have entered upon a way of life which continually opens out into more life and richer life. They have found a kind of Canaan that “comes” in continuous instalments.
One of the simplest ways to heighten the total value of life is to form a habit of appreciating the world we have here and now. It presents occasional inconveniences, no doubt, but think of the amazing donations which come to us: the tilting of the earth’s axis twenty-three and a half degrees to the ecliptic by which contrivance we have our seasons; the fact that the proportion of earth and water is just right to give us a fine balance of rain and sunshine; the extraordinary way in which the entire universe submits to our mathematics so that every movement of matter and every vibration of ether conforms to laws which we formulate; the accumulation and storage of fuel and motor power, with the prospect of even greater resources of energy to be had from the unoccupied space surrounding the earth. Then, again,[73] it cannot be a matter of unconcern that there is such a wealth of beauty lavished upon us everywhere, waiting for us to enjoy it. There is here a strange fit between the outer and the inner. The more one draws upon the beauty of the world and enjoys it, so much the more does he increase his capacity to discover and enjoy beauty. Coal and oil may become exhausted, but beauty is inexhaustible. The only trouble is that we are so limited in our range of appreciation of it. We turn to cheaper values and miss so much of this free gift of loveliness.
Greater still should be our resources of love and friendship. Nothing could be stranger or more wonderful than that in a world where struggle for existence is the law this other trait should have emerged. It is easy to explain selfishness; love is the mystery. Love forgets itself; it scorns double-entry bookkeeping; it gives, it bestows, it shares, it sacrifices without asking whether anything is coming back. And it turns out to be a fact that nothing else so enhances and increases the value of this “better possession which is ourselves.”
Even more wonderful, if that is possible, is the way we are formed and contrived to have intercourse with the Eternal. With all our material[74] furnishings we strangely open out into the infinite and partake of a spiritual nature. God has set eternity in our hearts. We cannot win this better possession nor hold it permanently unless we exercise these spiritual capacities, which expand our being and add the richest qualities of life. “Thou hast made us for thyself,” Augustine acknowledged in his great prayer at the opening of the Confessions and “we are restless until we find thee as our true rest.” It is as true now as in the fourth century. Barns and houses, lands and stocks, mortgages and bonds, do not constitute life unless one learns how to win and possess his soul and to keep that best of all possessions—himself.
“After experience had taught me that all things which are encountered in human life are vain and futile.... I at length determined to inquire if there was anything which was a true good.” Those are the words of a great philosopher who says that he found himself “led by the hand up to the highest blessedness.”
Not everybody finds the choice of ends so easy as Spinoza did; not all of us are carried along into sustained and unmistakable blessedness. Life is full of rivalries which tend to divide our interest and to dissipate our attention. We wake up, perhaps, with surprise to discover that we are being carried, by the hand or by the hair, straight away from “the highest blessedness.” Not seldom the sternest tragedies of human life are occasioned by success. Failure overtaking one in his aim will often shake him awake and make him see that he was pursuing an end in sharp rivalry with his highest good. But success often dulls the vision for other issues and gives one the specious confidence that he is on the right track and “all’s well.”
Christ has a vivid parable which touches upon the rivalries of life. It is the story of a great feast to which many guests are invited. When the critical moment for the dinner comes the other rivalries begin to operate. One man, attracted by his possessions, “begs off,” to use the graphic phrase of the original. Another, occupied with the complex interests of business and busy with the affairs of trade, prays to be excused. A third is immersed in the joys and responsibilities of married life and he abruptly dispatches his “regrets.”[76] It was not that they were unconcerned about the sumptuous feast, but that they were carried along by rival interests.
The feast in this parable plainly stands for the “true good,” the “highest blessedness” of life. It symbolizes the goal and crown of life, the full realization of our best human possibilities, the attainment of that for which we were made aspiring beings. The invitation is a mark of amazing grace and the recipient of it has the clearest evidence that the feast would satisfy him. But there are the other things with their rival attractions! Possessions and business and domestic life pull us in a contrary direction. We send our cards of regret and beg off from the great feast.
The real mistake lies in treating these things as rivals. If we only knew it, an affirmative response to the great invitation of life would prepare us for all the other things and would heighten the value of all we own, of all we do, and of all we love. Salvation is not some remote and ghostly thing that has to do with another world. It is the infusion of new life and power into all the concerns and affairs of this present world where we are. It means, as Christ said, receiving “a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and[77] lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”
Nothing could be a more mistaken way than to regard human love as a rival to the highest of all relations, the love of the soul for God. One of the medieval saints said: “God brooks no rival”; but that phrase shows that the saint was caught napping, and in any case did not quite understand what love is. The way up to the highest love is not to be found by turning away from those experiences which give us training and preparation for the highest; but rather it is found in and through the experience of loving some person who, however imperfectly, is a revelation of the beauty and divineness of love. Not by some sheer leap from the earth does the soul arrive at its height of blessedness, but by steps and stages, by processes which bring illumination and richness of life. The man who has married a wife will do well to say when he answers the great invitation: “I have just married a wife and therefore I am peculiarly glad to come to thy feast, since fellowship with thee will make my love more real and true as that in turn will enable me to rise to a more genuine appreciation of thy love.”
The same is true of houses and lands, of business and trade. There is no necessary rivalry[78] here. Religion does not rob us of earthly interests, it does not strip us of the good things of this world. It only corrects our perspective and enables us to see the true scale of values. The trivial and fragmentary things of the world no longer absorb us. We refuse now to allow them to own us and drive us, or drag us. We see things steadily and we see them whole. We discover through our higher contacts and inspirations how to flood light back upon our occupations and upon the things we own, and how to make these subordinate things minister to the higher functions and attitudes of life. We get not some other world, but this world here and now transmuted and raised a little nearer to the ideal and perfect world of our hopes and dreams. We get it back item for item increased a hundredfold, raised to a higher spiritual level. The wise owner of property and the intelligent man of affairs will not beg off when the great invitation comes to him. He will say: “I have just come into possession of a piece of land, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and therefore I want to come to thy divine feast so that I may learn how to turn all I possess into the channels of real service and to make these things which thou hast given me help me find the way to the highest joy and blessedness of life.”

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved