The Search For Deeper Things
( Originally Published 1912 )
For the spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God.-Paul.
Thought is deeper than all speech,
It is a fundamental law of all just criticism that everything must be judged by its own kind. Painting should be compared with painting, sculpture with sculpture, poetry with poetry, religion with religion. The naturalist understands the naturalist, the musician understands the musician, the theologian understands the theologian, the mystic under-stands the mystic. It is impossible to state art or religion or human affection in terms of political economy. Self-sacrifice cannot be estimated by mathematics, nor eloquence nor patriotism by tables of statistics. We do not measure the distance and magnitude of a star by a yard-stick or by grocer's scales, but by a colossal triangle whose base is the diameter of the earth and whose sides are projected until they meet in infinity. Some simple lines learned in childhood, thus express the truth that all comparisons must be sympathetic:
"Eagle mates eagle,
Perhaps we apprehend nothing fully until it is learned by experience. The mere seeing of the eye and hearing of the ear does not reveal the entire meaning of anything. Something back of the eye must behold a landscape; something back of the ear must hear music before its full meaning and beauty reveal themselves. Only to look upon suffering and sorrow is, truly, to know very little about suffering and sorrow. All facts, from the flower by the way-side to the being of Deity, only yield their essence when distilled in the alembic of the soul. The richest treasures are closely locked and cannot be possessed by any mortal until in his own forge of experience he has wrought out the key that will open the doors which guard them.
Thus, when the ancient writer declares that the deep things of life are only found by the soul when it searches for them in sympathetic mood amid the profundities of spiritual existence, and when a mod-ern mystic affirms that, beneath speech lies thought and beneath thought opens an abyss of feeling from which emerge thoughts and actions, as day seems to emerge from fathomless and mysterious darkness, they both express the conviction that in all of being there is something occult and deeper than appears upon the surface. The great day of life—that one not necessarily set down in any calendar—is that upon which this law is fully recognized ; when the eyes of the soul are opened to behold the interior meaning, the spiritual significance of the world; that leaves here falling and whirling in the brief November blast and planets yonder falling and whirling as if forever blown by some cosmic current are something more than material leaves and stars; that, after botanist and astronomer have told us all they know concerning them their remains something still unexplained, and, wonderful as they may be in their laws and phenomena as explained by science, when their spiritual meaning and splendor are made manifest, like Sheba's king at Solomon's court confession is made that the half had not been told. The fully awakened soul can see in nature that which never was and never can be written in any book of science. Jesus once thanked God that certain truths which, those who were reputed wise and prudent could not understand, were revealed to babes. The statement is very significant. Without the open mind, without sympathetic appreciation, without some surrender of scheming and calculating personality much of the beauty, much of the divineness of the world remains concealed.
What is man? Let us read the latest books on physiology and psychology. In a way the inquiry is answered. We could pass an examination upon the subject. Everything material and metaphysical —body and soul—is reduced to a convenient formula that can be carried around with us for ready use. We are like that officer of whom Shakespeare tells who carried the whole theory of war in the knot of his scarf. We assume a sophisticated and jaunty air and wonder why any one should be perplexed over such an easy question as, What is man? Then we go for a walk, and, at almost every turn, our confidence is disturbed by encountering something which our formula cannot explain; a strain of music that stirs us strangely; a flower that, without apparent association with any sad or joyful event in our lives, awakens an unaccountable tenderness; a landscape, sight of which suffuses us with a pleasing melancholy; a bank of fire-tipped clouds or a sunset seen through the branches of an autumn forest; any one of a hundred things that may make our information culled from books seem so cold and foreign as to be almost useless. Then we know what Hume meant when he said that "going out from his study and mingling with people many of his speculations seemed to be not only unworthy but unintelligible." The physiologist may map out a brain as definitely as a surveyor can measure the counties of a state. He may prove that if a certain: kind of cell predominates, in a given locality, and is inundated by blood of the right quantity and quality certain thoughts and emotions will manifest themselves. The psychologist may point out the different functions of the soul and describe all its laws and powers as if they were as well known as the parts of engine. That which is written may be exact and useful, but we may still insist that the case is only partially stated. Acknowledging that we owe much to the teachers of the exact sciences, there are times when we turn away from all they have told us and ,again wonder over the mystery of the world and mankind.
Described rather in terms of rhetoric than of science earth seems to be an arena upon which the physical and spiritual meet. In humanity the material becomes endowed with thought and power of self-realization. A German philosopher made the daring statement that "Humanity is Deity coming to consciousness." The "Word" is always becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us. Incarnation is not an insular event in the history of one nation, but a universal and unceasing process. In man extremes meet and contradictions are reconciled. He is at once acted upon and actor. He is the channel of the river and the river itself. On one side he takes counsel with experience and history and thus shapes his conduct; on the other he listens only to admonitions that seem to come directly to him from on high. Now he is a child of expediency, prudential, calculating, counting the cost; now, with noble indifference, he turns his back upon earth with all its habits and economies and rewards and penalties and ranges himself with the immense forces and august laws by which worlds were formed and are upheld. He is a slave of time and events; he builds a temporary dwelling place on a spot of earth ; he is a mendicant thankful if he receive his cup and crust; he is timid in the present and fearful for the future. He is not. He is superior to time; he es-capes unhurt when his earthly house falls in ruins about him; he levies tribute upon circumstance like a conqueror; he rises above the fear of the present and with royal boldness goes toward the great future as if confident he holds in his hand,
"The golden key Which opes the palace of eternity."
Within the last century much was said concerning materialistic science. As a science, materialism never succeeded in fully establishing itself. The primordial atom for which there was so long a search and which was to reveal so much when discovered is now generally considered as non-existing. It is now the fashionable thing among scientific men to substitute a vortex of force for the original atom.
Nevertheless, that theoretical materialism, which came so near getting itself adopted as an explanation of the world, joined with practical materialism which, in so many instances, succeeded in getting itself adopted as a method of life—like a great wave rolling over and submerging our age—has produced some sad results. The mind's grasp of spiritual things has been relaxed. Those who wished to free their hold entirely have found much to assist them; while those who have greatly desired to retain it have had a difficult task. Skepticism has been in the air. The old and tried evidences of the existence of the soul and its high origin and destiny were no longer available and those who believed, believed from habit rather than from an internal conviction. Those who sought for evidence of spirit looked in books and records of past ages instead of looking within, forgetting that, that which sought for evidence of spirit was itself spirit. The seeker and the sought were identical. We believe that the sun shines, not because of evidence found in the carboniferous age, but because of evidence that compels belief in this very moment. Some have thought they could prove or disprove the existence of mind by the method of the chemist or the historian. They have consulted brain cells and blood corpuscles; they have asked experts to determine whether the alleged affidavit of every historical saint was genuine or not rather than accept the testimony of their own experience. There have been those who trembled every time a new book was announced by a man of science lest it might contain a statement that would be fatal to their traditional belief or show that the title to their spiritual estate is clouded. Others have suspended judgment until the facts were all in. They do not know whether they have a spiritual nature or not until the biologist has traced life to its ultimate source, and the chemist has made his final report, and the anthropologist has proved that the race did or did not evolve from some species lower than itself, and that it had or had not a common parentage.
Perhaps the extreme statement on the material side and the desire for exact demonstration may have been necessary. It may be that too much regard had been granted to assumptions, to dreams and vagaries of imagination untempered by the understanding. When reason was banished from the field of religion and the scientific method was unused, there were doubtless some absurdities held in the name of religious faith. It was possible to elevate into spiritual authority and even tyranny a private whim that appeared to some overwrought heart as a revelation. Some things that were decided by credulity ought to have been tested by common sense. That which credulity sometimes pictured as a sacred mystery, mother-wit afterward discovered to be only an ingenious puzzle or a pious fraud.
The sphinx riddle was a terrible mystery to the Thebans until Edipus passed that way; then it be-came a very childish and harmless thing. The famous Gordian Knot, with its mystic spell, guarded the gates of the Eastern empire until Alexander arrived and applied common-sense to its untying; then it readily yielded. It does not matter whether these stories are history or legend; they symbolize the application of Greek intellect to the affairs of life and its power to unravel the secrets of the physical universe. They mark the beginnings of the scientific method.
Perhaps it was necessary to introduce that method into the theological field. Action and reaction alternate. If too much materialism is the recoil from too much idealism, that flouted the facts and laws of matter, too much measurement and demonstration and logic are the recoil from too much intuition and faith and imagination.
But why should we be victims of either extreme? Between the mistakes of believing everything and believing nothing, there is not much choice. An eastern sage says : "There are two things I abhor—the ignorant at their superstitions and the learned at their infidelities." Between abstract thought and concrete sensation, which are as the north and south poles of existence, lies a broad, generous, temperate zone living in which our life can be comparatively useful and comparatively happy. Logic is good and intuition is good; but all of one and none of the other is not good. If St. John was sometimes mistaken when trusting to his imagination, Herbert Spencer was not infallible when trusting to the scientific method. If Fenelon would not do for a pope neither would Haeckel.
The invasion of reason was not for the purpose of destroying the religious sentiment. Its work is not to invalidate all spiritual experiences, but to discriminate between those that are true and those that are false. Because the bravery of the Spanish knight, in the fiction, did not find worthy objects for its display we do not conclude that bravery itself is a mistake. If unworthy things have mixed themselves with religion it would be a poor form of logic to infer that religion is false. If astronomy has made it impossible for us to believe in the heaven of John or Dante or Milton, it has not made it impossible to believe in a much more glorious heaven. Common sense may admonish us to keep our feet firmly planted upon earth and pay due respect to the laws of matter, but it does not forbid us to yield to this other sentiment which commands us to be mindful of the laws of the soul. This being who can write prose and poetry, can build a mill and paint a picture, can estimate the value of stocks and can rise to those moral heights where he can see that goodness is the only thing of permanent value, this being may make many mistakes, but he cannot be greatly mistaken if he places much emphasis upon belief and love; if he freely passes from admiration of the laws of nature, by which each hour and act of his life are surrounded, to admiration for the vast and indescribable Cause from which they proceed.
For the ebb of spiritual life perhaps the churches are partly to blame. In former times the older churches taught theology and ritual and sacrament instead of the ethics and spirit of Christ. In more recent times undue stress has been placed on political economy, sociology, and biblical criticism. It is not surprising that society at large does not place a very high estimate upon them. Not being spiritual themselves they cannot confer spirituality. How seldom do we hear a company of church members talking of the soul and its relation to God ! If, in a company of cultivated people, some timid person does find courage to introduce such a theme and announces the reason of his trust in God and immortal life to be a primal intuition, self derived and incommunicable, how odd and out of place he seems! Meanwhile, for many, life, at times, is pensive and sad, because it is unsustained and uncheered by the conscious presence of an infinite Friend. In one of the eastern books there is a story of a lost jewel recalled by thought. O that our age might meditate over the deep things of life that the priceless jewel of faith in God and eternal life may be restored!
If the scientific method is to be used it should be employed in such way as to include all the facts of life. Thought, wonder, longings and hopes are as much facts as are granite and grain and gold. The impulse to prayer is as natural as the impulse to think. The temple is as logical as the chamber of commerce. Both are outgrowth of necessary human characteristics. In surveying the world we should not permit the lines to terminate with some mountain range of sense, beyond which the natural eye cannot see nor by a formless abyss called death. The mind should project these lines until, passing over the mountain they reach a sunlit plain; until, carried across the river, they find another shore.
Concerning certain rare and deep experiences there is always a reserve and hesitancy. Most souls have had thoughts and feelings that remain unuttered.
"Soul to soul can never teach
Perhaps we are all better believers than we care to tell. We do not wish to be forward or intrusive with that which is our own private affair. Perhaps it is partly for this reason we very rarely hear a genuine confession of faith. Let us then respect this privacy and sacred reserve in our associates nor expect them to reveal that which is concealed in the most holy place of their spiritual being.
But why should we be loth to acknowledge to ourselves the genuineness of those suggestions that have seemed to come to us from a Being holier and wiser than we? Why shall we not accept as authentic that which ages of human history report and which finds, at least, partial confirmation in our own experience,—that man may come in conscious contact with a world other than that which sense apprehends and can there discover that which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man to perceive, but bath been declared to him by a Holy Spirit? In whatever manner and degree inspiration may come—as ecstasy that carries the soul up to third heavens; as insight to the deepest wants of human life, resulting in psalms and litanies of the nations; as the glow of emotion suffusing our souls when we witness a brave and noble deed—may it not be a signal that the gates are open and the universal Truth and Goodness and Beauty are flowing into the private heart?
Allowance may be made for the claims of all enthusiasts, for those who seemed to be inspired of God; yet the results which followed them certify that their claims were not wholly unfounded. We grant sincerity to the men who have dealt with the phenomena and laws of the material world. Why, then, should we deny equal sincerity to those who have sought to explore the secrets of the world not material? Why should we listen to Thales and not to Pythagoras? To Archimedes and not to Paul? To Galileo and not to Behmen? To Huxley and not to Emerson? We ask Edison to tell us of electricity, Watt of steam, Beethoven of music, Angelo of painting, Brunnelleschi of architecture, and Phidias of sculpture. Why shall we not listen to Christ when he speaks of a spiritual religion?
However much he may try, no man can reduce all his life to logic. Just when it is about to become plain and mathematical he may be suddenly surprised in his fancied security. The unexpected hap-pens. A high tide of emotion submerges his reason. He is swept away from his moorings and he is afloat on a sea where his old methods of reckoning will not suffice. If he sail,- it must be by the stars. There are times when we seem to know what Jesus meant when he said he had bread to eat which his friends had not brought him. We seem to know those crises, those luminous moments in the lives of the historic saints and saviors; the parted heavens and the descent of a dove upon the Son of Man ; the light; brighter than noon-day, that gleamed upon Paul on his way to Damascus; what struck Luther to the earth as he was walking to Erfurth; illumination of Swedenborg and George Fox; trances and ecstasies and clear seeing of many in all quarters of earth ; reports of those shining envoys which, ever since the young dreamer lay on his pillow of stones, have been seen passing and repassing between the two worlds of sense and spirit.
If we believe in our low and dull, let us believe in our exalted and inspired states. If sometimes we are cast down, because we are compelled, for so much of our lives, to follow the leadings of sense, may we not yield to that exaltation which comes when some unwonted light breaks in upon us bringing clear intimations of a splendor not of earth? May we not seek instead of shun those paths which seem to lead us into the deeper and holier meanings of existence? Sometimes begirt by unfriendly circumstances, often bewildered and not knowing whither to turn, fortunate is he who can hear and recognize a friendly voice assuring him he is not forgotten. Though faint, as if coming from afar, it is sweet and welcome as sound of convent bells to belated and wandering travelers among the snowy Alps.
To trust our own spiritual experiences; to place the emphasis of life upon belief in divine things; to feel that we are embosomed in truth, and that our welfare is included in the outworking of a purpose as benevolent as it is comprehensive; to forsake all others and follow the leading of a Holy Spirit—this is to find the deep things of God. Thus to live and act causes many of those things—wealth, power, position—for which man now toils, as if they were the main end of existence, to shrink to their due pro-portion. Yea. It causes many a fear and disappointment and misfortune, which sometimes seem so great as to blot out the sun, to fade into forget-fulness as the storm cloud vanishes in the azure of the All.