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Many of us are, perhaps unwittingly, impudent to God. In this way we are impudent: We question (even though it be in secret, hidden in the heart and not spoken) the justice of God, the ways of God, the plans of God, the love of God: by which means we argue with God and judge Him. And another manner of impudence we have is this, that we dare to attribute or to blame Him for the results of man's own filth, saying: "This and this is the will of God, for we see that it exists, and His will is omnipotent." Oh, beware of this impudence, drop it out of the heart and mind, and flee from it as from the plague! "How then can these things be, if He is omnipotent?" we say. Because of this, that in the trust of His great love He gave us the royal and Godly gift of free-will, and our souls have proved themselves unworthy to have it; and now the creature is brought before the Beautiful, and the Holy, and the Pure, but turning away, like the sow, prefers the mire and the festering sores proceeding from such wallowings. If there were no choice, there were no virtue, and no progress home. But let no man venture in his heart to attribute to that Holy and Marvellous Being whom we speak of as God, not knowing as yet His Name, any will towards festers and corruptions, for what does He say Himself? "Their sins rise up before Me and stink in My nostrils!"
We surely forget that this world is not yet God's Kingdom, and that His will is not done here, and will not be until the Judgment Day. This world is but a tiny testing-chamber in His mighty workshop; and great and wonderful is the care He has for the workers in it.
O man! whence come thy wretchednesses? Look round and think. Do they not all proceed from self and fellow-men, alive or dead? Then why blame God?
"Why am I here?" we cry, "to suffer all these pains, and my consent not asked? A poor, sad puppet dancing to a tune I know not the rhythm of. Where is my recompense? And where my wages? I will take all I can of what is offered here, and give no thanks! It is but my scant due for all my wretchednesses!"
O foolish man! so timid of all future possibilities of bliss that he must grasp and burn himself with such delights as he finds here! And equally mistaken and small-minded man who thinks that all our Mighty God will have to offer us hereafter are crowns, damp clouds and mists, and endless hymns! Such little hearts are far away indeed from knowing the magnitudes of Life.
O wretched man! why this distrust? Hast thou created even thine own palate and digestion? Hast thou invented any of those fond delights that so enslave thee now? Hast thou thyself devised the means wherewith to satisfy the longing of thy creature for the sweets of life? They were provided thee; all that thou hast created is misuse! Thou art but a perverted thing!—a crooked tool of self, a fly drowning in the honey that it sought too greedily to own!
O wretched, wretched man! so cloyed with sweets of earth thou canst not raise thy head to see the sunrise out beyond the world, and know true sweets! How many are the tears wept over thee by the great heart of God!
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Since coming into this new way of living, the more I come into contact with music the more I sense a mysterious connection between melody—the soul—and her origin. Alone out of all the sciences and arts, music has no foundation upon anything on earth. There is no music in nature until the soul, come to a perfect harmony within herself, brings out the hidden harmony in all creation, and, turning it to melody within herself, returns it to her Lord in song, whether by outward instrument or inward love.
The soul, indeed, would seem to have come out of a life of infinite melody and to have dropped into an existence of mere contrary and vexing time-beat.
Who can by any means account for the variety of passions excited within him by the mere difference of the spacing, time, or rhythm of music? In my new condition of living I notice that the soul throws out with most disdainful impatience music that was formerly beautiful to my mind and heart (or my creature); and certain types of flowing cadences (very rarely to be found), sustained in high, flowing, delicate, and soaring continuity will produce in her conditions akin to a madness of joy. For one brief instant she remembers! but cannot utter what!
Of visions I know nothing, but received all my experiences into my soul as amazingly real inward perceptions. That these perceptions are of unprecedented intensity, and more realistic than those which are merely visual, can be understood by bodily comparisons; for to feel or to be one with fire is more than to see it.
To try to compare spiritual life with physical experiences would seem to be useless; for, to my feeling, while we live in the spirit we live at a great speed,—indeed, an incalculably great speed—and as a whole and not in parts. For with physical living we live at one moment by the eyes, at another with the mind, at another through the heart, at another with the body. But the spirit feels to have no parts, for all parts are of so perfect a concordance that in this marvellous harmony all is one and one is all. And this with incredible intensity, so that we live not as now—dully—but at white heat of sensibility.
Prayer is the golden wedding-ring between ourselves and God. For myself, I divide it into two halves—the one petitioning, the other offering.
Of petitioning I would say that this is the work of the soul; and of offering, that it is the pleasure of the soul.
Of petitioning, that I come to it under His command; and of offering, that I come to it of my own high, passionate desire.
I make upon my knees, three times a day, three short and formal prayers of humble worship, as befits the creature worshipping its Ineffable and Mighty God: and for the rest of my time I sing to Him from my heart and soul, as befits the joyful lover, adoring and conversing with the Ineffable and Exquisite Beloved.
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This is the circle of His way with us. First is prayer; then love; and after love, humility. With humility comes grace; and after grace, temptation; and in temptation we must quickly enter prayer again.
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O wonderful and ineffable God! who, while remaining hidden from His lovers in this life, yet so ravishes their hearts and minds and souls that they are unable to find truly sweet even the greatest of life's former joys—for nothing can now ever satisfy them but the secret and marvellous administrations of His love and grace! On one day feeling to be forsaken, the most desolate and lonely of all creatures in the Universe; and on another exalted to almost unbearable pinnacles of bliss, equal to the angels in felicity, and blest beyond all power of words to say—such and so are the lovers of God.
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The soul has six wings: love, obedience, humility, simplicity, perseverance, and courage. With these she can attain God.
We know very well that no man will find God either enclosed, held fast, or demonstrated within a circle of dogmatic words; but every man can find, in his own soul, an exquisite and incomparable instrument of communication with God. To establish the working of this communication is the whole object and meaning of life in this world—this world of material, finite, and physical things, in which the human body is at once a means and a debt.
The key to progress is a continual dressing of the will and mind and heart towards God, best brought about by continually filling the heart and mind with beautiful, grateful, and loving thoughts of Him. At all stages of progress the thoughts persistently fly away to other things in the near and visible world, and we have need quietly and perpetually to pick them up and re-centre them on Him. With the mind turned in this way, steadily towards God, we are in that state known to science as polarisation: we are in that condition in which common iron becomes a magnet. It is so that God transforms us into a diminutive part-likeness of Himself.
When at last the soul reaches union with Him, she is for a while so caressed, so held in a perpetual contact and nearness, that we may think ourselves already permanently entered into Paradise! But this is not the plan; and, our education being exceedingly incomplete, we return to our schooling.
We commence to experience profound and even terrible longings to leave the world and all creatures, for we cannot bear either the sight or the sound of them, and seek all day long to be alone with the Beloved God. To conquer this last selfishness and weakness of the soul, we must go again—as in the beginning—to Jesus. He teaches us to go to and fro willingly, gladly, from the highest to the lowest. To pick up our daily life and duties, our obligations to a physical world, in all humility, sweet reasonableness, and submission. He teaches us to willingly accept incessant interruptions, and with smiling face and perfect inward smoothness to descend from a high contemplation of God (and only those who know high contemplation can judge of the immensity of what I say) to listen and attend to some most trivial want of a fellow-creature! Reader, it is the hardest thing of all. No sooner have we learnt the hard and difficult way of ascent than we must willingly come down it, even remain altogether in the valley below, and that with a smiling face and, if possible, no thought of impatience! This is the true sacrifice of the soul. Now, the sacrifices of the creature are the giving up of the near and visible joys and prides of the world to follow Christ, and are not real but seeming sacrifices, for, if done heartily and with courage, an exchange between these joys and the joys of the invisible is rapidly effected, and there remains no sacrifice, but "the hidden treasure" is ours! But the sacrifice of the soul is real and long; for having at last re-found God, she must resign her full joy of Him till the death of the body—and this willingly, thankfully, without complaint, not asking favours but pouring up her gratitude. In joy or in pain, in happiness or in tribulation—gratitude! gratitude!—and this not by her own strength but by strength of the Holy Ghost.
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Because of this new way of living, the mind acquires a great increase of capacity and strength and clearness: being able to deal quickly and correctly with all matters brought before it with an ease previously altogether unknown to its owner. It is no exaggeration to say that the sagacity, scope, and grasp of the mind feels to be more than doubled from that which it previously was, and this not because of any study, but by an involuntary alteration. So that, though the mind and attention are now given almost exclusively to the things of God, yet when the things of the world have to be dealt with, this is accomplished with extraordinary efficiency and quickness, though very distasteful to the mind.
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As the soul returns to her source nothing is more strongly emphasised to her than the strength and intensity of individuality; she is shown that the essence of all joy is Individuality in Union.
In the marvellous condition of Contact, though we cease to be the creature or the soul adoring the Creator (but by an incomprehensible condescension we are accepted as one with Himself in love), yet we retain our own consciousness, which is our individuality.
In the highest rapture I ever was in, my soul passed into a fearful extremity of experience: she was burned with so terrible an excess of bliss, that she was in great fear and anguish because of this excess. Indeed, she was so overcome by this too great realisation of the strength of God that she was in terror of both God and joy. It was three days before she recovered any peace, and more than a year before I dared recall one instant of it to mind.
I am not able to think that even in Heaven the soul could endure such heights for more than a period. These heights are incomparably, unutterably beyond vision and union. They are the uttermost extremity of that which can be endured by the soul, at least until she has re-risen to great altitudes of holiness in ages to come.
By contact with God we acquire certain wonderful and terrible realisations of truth and knowledge. For one thing, we learn the nature and mode of spirit-life, as over against body- or sense-life. We learn, at first with great fear, something of the awful intensities of pain, as of joy, which can be endured by the spirit when free of the body: for when we are in the spirit we do not see fire, but we feel to become it and yet live! And so equally of pain or joy—we do not feel these things delicately, as with, and in, the body, but we pass into the essence of these things themselves, in all their terrible and marvellous intensity, which is comparatively without limit.
Woe to those who must gather the garland of pain—which is remorse-after death! It is easier to suffer a whole lifetime in the body than one day in the spirit. O soul! come to thy contrition here in this world, where pain has short limit! Repent and return!
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Of the marvellous favours shown to the soul the heart cries out: "O mighty God! of the magnitude of Thy condescensions I am afraid even to think; they are too great for me, and I dare to recall them, but only with all the simplicity of a little child!"
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Those who feel desire and need within themselves to reach the heights of inward life will do it best, not through diversity of interests in fellow-creatures, but by unification of all interests in God.
God once found, and possessed, we return to the interests of creatures in moderation and with judgment.
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What is pain? It is a mystery of separation, and we are gangrenous with sin and pain because of separation from the source of life.
Truth now comes to us in such small segments that we no longer see the pattern of it; but this we are able to perceive: that the mystery of Separation is equal in degree with the mystery of Union, and that the child of separation is Pain.
How did the soul ever become so separated from God? To my feeling, in curiosity of loves we may find the answer, and know the "fall" to be not that of the animal man but of the soul, which, once living in perpetual beatitude—knowing nothing of pain because of the unity with God, not understanding or being even grateful for her bliss because of its invariable presence, and given free-will,—in curiosity went out in search of newer and yet newer loves. And this is the retribution of the soul for her unfaithful wanderings—that as separation grows greater she commences to know pain, and, becoming anxious therefrom to return to the source of her remembered joys, she finds herself unable to accomplish this because of the weight and grossness of the nature of the loves to which she has hired herself, and from which she is totally unable to free herself, and yet which she must by some means overcome that she may rise again to sanctity and return to God.
Now comes the marvellous, the pitiful, the universal Christ to her aid—the Mighty Lover; and we may see in the whole scheme of Creation, as we know it here, from jelly-fish to man, a plan by which the soul may bring her wanderings to a term in time conditions instead of timeless sons. When all this earth is evolved for her great need, at last by the mercy of God she is interned in the body of finite man, and must clothe herself in the heart and mind of the human and take upon herself the nature of this creature man, made and fashioned to be a suitable instrument and habitation for her. To counterbalance the grossness and ineptitude of the creature's material body with its appetites, man is imbued with the knowledge of right, and with a secret longing for a happiness which is not that of the beast.
The soul must raise the brute in him, with all its appetites, to purity,—a mighty task, accomplished with much pain, yet in infinitely shorter duration of pain than if left in disembodied spirit-life; and, indeed, we may come to look upon pain in this world as one of our best privileges because of its powers of purification within a time-limit, and to know that by the mercy of the God of Love we may take our hell of cleansing in this world rather than in those worlds of disembodied spirits where progress is of infinite slowness—revolving and revolving upon itself, as a sand-spiral in a blast-furnace, without hope of death.
Oh, how convey any warning of this terrible knowledge, which is not communicable by words! He said, "Though one return from the dead, ye would not believe." But, O soul! repent and return while still in the body! Lay hold on the Christ!
In the life of this world, then, does our God of love and mercy give us rapid means (by conquest of the animal grossness and corruptible body, raising man to the ideal man, according to God's intention) to reunite ourselves with Him. And the soul of all animal creation is also thereby gradually raised with us into a universal adoration of the One Almighty God.
This is no fallen but a rising world, in which all Creation is slowly and gloriously rising step by step.
So may our soul repay her debt to God for her past infidelities.
"Thy Maker is thine husband," says the voice of the prophet.
And the creature, with its suffering heart and mind and body, has also its incomparable reward of bliss: for because of its love and obedience it is raised into the spiritual body, AND TOGETHER WITH THE SOUL BECOMES THE CHILD OF THE RESURRECTION.