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HOME > Short Stories > Spiritual Energies In Daily Life > CHAPTER VII THE NEAR AND THE FAR
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Anaxagoras said twenty-five hundred years ago that men are always cutting the world in two with a hatchet. William James, in one of his living phrases, says with the same import that everybody dichotomizes the cosmos. It is so. We all incline to bisect life into alternative possibilities. We split realities into opposing halves. We show a kind of fascination for an “either-or” selection. We are prone to use the principle of parsimony, and to be content with one side of a dilemma. History presents a multitude of dualistic pairs from which one was supposed to make his individual selection. There was the choice between this world and the next world; the here and the yonder; the flesh and the spirit; faith and reason; the sacred and the secular; the outward and the inward, and many[99] more similar alternatives. This “either-or” method always leaves its trail of leanness behind. It makes life thin and narrow where it might be rich and broad, for in almost every case it is just as possible to have a whole as to have a half, to take both as to select an alternative. St. Paul found his Corinthians bisecting their spiritual lives and narrowing their interests to one or two possibilities. One of them would choose Paul as his representative of the truth and then see no value in the interpretation which Apollos had to give. Another attached himself to Apollos and missed all the rich contributions of Paul. Some of the “saints” of the Church selected Cephas as the only oracle, and they lost all the breadth which would have come to them had they been able to make a synthesis of the opposing aspects. St. Paul called them from their divided half to a completed whole. He told them that instead of “either-or” they could have both. “All things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” This is the method of synthesis. This is the substitution of wholes for halves, the proffer of both for an “either-or” alternative.
That last pair of alternatives is an interesting one, and many persons make their bisecting choice of life there. One well-known type of person focuses on the near, the here and now, the things present. Those who belong to this class propose to make hay while the sun shines. They glory in being practical. They have what doctors call myopia. They see only the near. Their lenses will not adjust for the remote. They believe in quick returns and bank upon practical results. Those of the other type have presbyopia, or far-sightedness. They are dedicated to the far-away, the remote, the yonder. They are pursuing rainbows and distant ideals. They are so eager for the millennium that they forget the problem of their street and of the present day. Browning has given us a picture of both these types:
“That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it:
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,
His hundred’s soon hit:
This high man, aiming at a million,
Misses an unit.”
Browning’s sympathies are plainly with the “high man” who misses the unit, but it is one more case of unnecessary dichotomy. What we want is the discovery of a way to unite into one synthesis things present and things to come. We need to learn how to seize this narrow isthmus of a present and to enrich it with the momentous significance of past and future. Henry Bergson has been telling us that all rich moments of life are rich just because they roll up and accumulate the meaning of the past and because they are crowded with anticipations of the future. They are fused with memory and expectation, and one of these two factors is as important as the other. If either dies away the present becomes a useless half, like the divided parts of the child which Solomon proposed to bisect for the two contending mothers.
We are at one of those momentous ridges of time at the present moment. Some are so busy with the near and immediately practical that they cannot see the far vision of the world that is to be built. Others are so impressed with past issues that have become paramount, with the glorious memories of the blessed Monroe Doctrine, for instance, that they have no expectant eyes for the creation of an interrelated and unified[102] world. Another group is so concerned with the social millennium that they discount the lessons of the past, the message of history, the wisdom of experience, and fly to the useless task of constructing abstract human paradises and dreams of a world-kingdom which could exist only in a realm where men had ceased to be men.
What we want is a synthesis of things present and things to come, a union of the practical, tested experience of life and the inspired vision of the prophet who sees unfolding the possibilities of human life raised to its fuller glory in Christ, the incarnation of the way of love, which always has worked, is working now, and always will work.
Most people like to be told what they already think. They enjoy hearing their own opinions and ideas promulgated, and no amens are so hearty as the ones which greet the reannouncement of views we have already held.
The natural result is that speakers are apt to give their hearers what they want. They take[103] the line of least resistance and say what will arouse the enthusiasm of the people before them, and they get their quick reward. They are popular at once. There is a high tide of emotion as they proceed to tell what everybody present already thinks, and they soon find themselves in great demand.
The main trouble with such an easy ministry is that it isn’t worth doing. It accomplishes next to nothing. It merely arouses a pleasurable emotion and leaves lives where they were before. And yet not quite where they were either, for the constant repetition of things we already believe dulls the mind and deadens the will and weakens rather than strengthens the power of life. It is an easy ministry both for speakers and hearers, but it is ominous for them both.
The prophet has a very different task. He cannot give people what they want. He is under an unescapable compulsion to give them what his soul believes to be true. He cannot take lines of least resistance; he must work straight up against the current. He cannot work for quick effects; he must slowly educate his people and compel them to see what they have not seen before. The amens are very slow to come to his words, and he cannot look for emotional thrills.[104] He must risk all that is dear to himself, except the truth, as he sets himself to his task, and he is bound to tread lonely wine-presses before he can see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.
Every age has these two types of ministry. They are both ancient and familiar. There are always persons who are satisfied to give what is wanted, who are glad to cater to popular taste, who like the quick returns. But there are, too, always a few souls to be found who volunteer for the harder task. They forego the amens and patiently teach men to see farther than they have seen before. Their first question is not, What do people want me to say? but, What is God’s truth which to-day ought to be heard through me? and kn............
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