The Chief End of Man Part 18
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To some minds the beauty of nature brings a deep and inspiring sense of divinity. As one who has this sensibility looks on the hills and woods flushing in the tender radiance of autumn, there comes to him perhaps no articulate and conscious thought. He may not name the name of God, or think it. But the soul is uplifted. There flows in upon it some high serenity, some mysterious sense of ineffable good. If from such a scene one returns to life's activities in braver, truer, and gentler mood, there has been to him a divine revelation.
Some men are of a metaphysical turn of mind, and not only their thoughts but all their emotional experience, all that directs their purpose and animates their feeling, is cast in the mould of highly abstract ideas.
They express themselves in phrases which to most people seem cold or meaningless,--an empty substitute for the warmth of religious life. But to the thinker himself these phrases stand for profound realities. It may be that words which have to other ears the dryness of a mathematical formula are to him the expression of moral purpose and sacred trust.
Such an one may say: "I do not recognize a personal God, I do not know that I shall have any personal immortality; but I believe in the moral order of the universe and seek to conform to it. I fearlessly trust my destiny here and hereafter." Perhaps on most of his hearers the words fall coldly; but if they see that the speaker's life bears fruit of goodness and heroism and service, they may be sure that, though in a language strange to them, God has spoken to his soul.
There are a great many people, and some of the very best of people, who never get any vivid or distinct apprehension of realities above the sphere of their personal activity. Often they conform to the usages and the language of a religious faith in which they have been educated, and, very likely, feel some self-reproach that they know so little of the spiritual experiences which others speak of. There are men, too, who frankly say, "I don't know much about God; I can't get hold of what folks call religion; but I try to do my work honestly, and I want to help other people just as much as I can." Some of the most genuine religion in the world exists in people who are almost unconscious that they have any religion. The simple desire to do right, and the constant readiness to "lend a hand,"--that is the revelation which such souls receive.
Another very large class--a class which once included most of the distinctively religious world--crave and find the warmth of a personal relation with Christ as the only satisfying thing. It is one of the great and wonderful facts of human history, this personal devotion of unnumbered souls throughout the ages to Jesus. In its intensest form it is affection to a living personality. Any attempt to explain it as an appreciation of beneficent influences of which Jesus was the historical originator, or as the reproduction of a temper and purpose resembling that which was in Jesus, fails to satisfy those in whom love to Christ is the ruling sentiment. It is a person, and a living person, that they love. One may decline to accept the theories which are wont to accompany the sentiment; one may not believe that Jesus was God, nor that personal love for him can be required as an essential part of religion; and, at the same time, one may believe that when a noble soul passes from earth, it rises into yet nobler existence, and may be truly apprehended and profoundly loved by those who are here. Certainly we see this: that to many men and women the strongest and holiest sentiment of life is affection for a personal embodiment of goodness and love, who once walked in Galilee and Jerusalem, existing now in the invisible realm, sympathizing with all human aspiration, pitiful to all human weakness and sorrow, inspiring to all effort and hope and trust. That sentiment is surely a blessed revelation to those in whom it exists,--the warm and living symbol of an eternal reality.
To many, the disclosure of God is made in some way especially personal to themselves. Very often some human friend is the best manifestation and assurance of divinity. Our faith leans on the faith of the best and most loving person we have known. Sometimes the heart's natural language is "My father's God," "my mother's God." With some, the life beyond death first becomes real to consciousness when the heart's treasure has been taken there. Sometimes, in looking upon one's own life, one becomes deeply conscious of the higher guidance that has led it. There are hours in which past sorrows shine out as heavenly messengers of good. There dawns upon us a sense of the blessedness that life has held; all its highest experiences become instinct with the suggestion of a celestial meaning that we as yet but half apprehend. We escape for the moment from the thralldom of self; personal happiness merges in something higher; we are glad and still in the sense of a divine Will working in us and in all things. In such hours the soul says, "_My_ God."
There is infinite variety of personal experience; "so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them without signification." One man has been deep in drunkenness and debauchery, he has grown reckless and hopeless; but through some friendly voice there reaches him an impulse to a new and successful effort; there comes in upon him the sense of a divine love; a mighty forgiving and restoring force seems to seize him and draw him back to life. In his religion thereafter there may be the glowing emotion of one who has been forgiven much and loves much.
Another man walks always in steady allegiance to conscience and right, and never has any rapturous emotions; is not he, too, the child of God?
We dislike the prodigal's elder brother for his jealousy; but his father's word to him, despite that touch of unworthiness, was: "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."
One whose life flows with smooth current may find the significance of religion in duty rather than in trust. To such a one God may appear as an ideal, inspiring conduct, but not as a power, controlling events. But upon him, it may be, there breaks some great emergency of life and death; the heart cries out like a child waking frightened in the night, and there answers it, from some depth far below its fear, a voice that says "Peace!" In that hour the soul finds its father. Thereafter passing doubts and fears can but ruffle the surface for a moment.
In our northern winter, how perfectly the trees blend with the scene about them! They seem wholly a part of winter's grand but lifeless world, and with what beauty do they crown that world,--the columnar trunks, the mighty grip of the roots upon the firm earth, the arching sweep of stalwart boughs, the delicate tracery against the sky! They answer to the season's mood, bending in patient grace beneath a load of snow, casing themselves in jewels, or springing up again in slender strength; silent, except when the deep voice of the wind speaks through them. Their shadows soften the sunlight glittering on the snow, or weave a black fretwork when the cold moon shines. Yet vital in their hearts the trees hold summer's secret. A little while, and they will be clothed in the leafy glory of June. The robin and catbird and oriole will sing hidden among their branches. Of that summer season the trees will be the delight and crown, that now stand like true children of winter. They stand now so strong and true because of that hidden life within them which summer will fully disclose. It is because it is alive that the trunk bends to the storm but does not break, and the twigs hold up their load of snow. So, there are lives that so fit themselves to this world in which they stand that they become its finest part. Their sympathy finds out the secret needs and possibilities of those about them. Their insight discerns the work which society most needs, and their fidelity accomplishes that part of the work which falls to them. Their natures stand open to all the glad influences of earth; their hearts rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. They make full proof of those experiences in which fortitude and silent endurance are the only resource. Sometimes they are happy, and sometimes they are sad; but always other people are happier because of them. They are the children of a better country. For them the soul's full summer waits. Knowing them, we do indeed know something of God and the eternal life.
There is freedom to be achieved from the pettiness of our lives. They never, perhaps, look so pitiful as when they seem made up altogether of little, necessary details. Our planting and reaping, building and buying, all the half-mechanical operations that absorb our thought and time, seem sometimes little better than the bustle of a colony of ants.
When we look down upon it all from the height of some quiet, meditative hour, are we not at times oppressed with a sense of its triviality and worthlessness? Trivial and worthless it is, except as amidst it all we are working out something higher. But to a man whose heart is set on noble ends; one whose great aim is, not to get his bread and butter, but to be a man; one who wants, not just to make a profit out of his neighbors, but to serve them and help them, these details are no more trivial or degrading than the rough dress and homely tools of a sculptor are unworthy of the marble beauty that is growing under his hands. The high purpose consecrates and transfigures all, the want of purpose degrades all. I have stood in Switzerland upon the Gorner Grat, looking upon the grandest scene in Europe. On every side a circle of towering heights look down; against the sky rise dazzling snowy summits, celestially pure, celestially tender; the Matterhorn frowns in awful majesty; vast ice-rivers sweep down toward the valley in solemn, silent march. If there be upon earth a spot that of itself has power to hush the soul with noblest emotion, it should be that. Yet there I have seen a company of travelers spend their half-hour in senseless gabble and banter and the laughter of fools. Amid the squalid surroundings of a New York tenement-house, I have seen a poor Irish woman living with such fortitude and faith and generosity that it was a comfort and inspiration to meet her. That brave soul ennobled its mean surroundings with a glory which not the Alps and the sky could flash in upon a heart made blind and dull by ignoble thoughts.
If there dwells in us the spirit of life we shall be freed from the bondage of doubt. On how many earnest and aspiring lives does doubt throw its chill shadow! The world is crossing the flood that divides the old form of faith from the new. The rising water strikes cold to many a heart. Here and there the waves sweep men off from all moral footing. I know not that for the resolute and thoughtful there is any escape from some suffering in the transition. Could we be always sure that it is only a transition,--could we know always that a better country lies waiting us,--all might be easily borne. The suffering we may not decline; but safety, utter safety, we may keep through all. _Life_ is always possible to us. Fidelity, purity, self-sacrifice,--these may always be ours. Are we baffled in our search for a divine plan in the universe? Let us look nearer home; can we not find the clew to a divine plan in our own lives? Yes, there need never fail to us an immediate token of divinity. There is always, at the lowest, a duty to be done.
There is always, at the very lowest, a burden to be bravely borne. There is always some one to be helped. Do we say, But this does not comfort me, does not reassure me? Then let it guide me! It is not essential that I should be always in the sunshine. It is only essential that in sunshine or in darkness my steering should be true. And I am never without a compass while I see that there is for me a higher and a lower, a right and a wrong, to choose between.
Does any sense of bondage weigh you down? Disappointment, it may be,--failure, life's fair promise blighted. It may be the bitter slavery of evil habit. It may be a dull and apathetic way of life, stirred with a vague yearning toward higher possibilities. It may be the darkness of a lost faith. It may be a bereavement that has emptied life. Whatever it be, the angel of deliverance stands beside you. He is perhaps in very humble garb, unsuspected of you. Some lowly duty awaits you. Some saddened life, unnoticed by your side, asks you to cheer it. Whatever opportunity of duty or of service lies in the path before you is God's own messenger. Meet it like the messenger of a king! So meet every duty, every opportunity. Find them, make them, for yourself. Live no longer in solitude but in brotherhood. So shall the very spirit of God dwell in you; so in his service shall you find perfect freedom.
The end of February is near, and not a hint or whisper of spring does Nature give us yet. We are wont to have earlier than this a few days at least that seem to start the sap in the trees and the blood in the veins, when the first bluebird is heard, and we get one swift, delicious glimpse of the good time coming. But this year the cold only takes a sharper clutch. At its average, our northern winter has a fierce and almost merciless persistence. Those first days of spring are hardly more than the taste of freedom with which the cat tantalizes the mouse. It is this lingering close of winter that is hard to bear. The supplies begin to give out. The wood-pile that stood so high when the first snow came is getting lowered to very near the ground. The poor man's little hoard, that was to bridge him over till the season of good work, is perilously shrunken. Vitality, too, begins to run low. The body pines for the out-door life from which it has too long been shut off. Winter is a hard-fisted churl who does n't give just measure. He drives off the mellow and jolly Autumn before its mid-month October is fairly gone. He bullies Spring so that the poor, gentle-hearted thing has to get almost under the wing of Summer before she dares take possession of the remnant of her own. The great robber gets almost half the year. The very bears, curled up for their long nap, must in these days wake sometimes with an uneasy shiver and wonder whether their stock of fat will hold out.
This last and worst onset of winter may stand for those experiences that come as the sharpest test of the stuff that is in men. The pressure of adversity goes on and on, until we say it has reached the last point of endurance, and then another turn is given to the screw! For three long days the battle has raged around the heights of Gettysburg, and each side seems to have done its utmost, when the word is given for Pickett's division in solid column to throw itself straight against Cemetery Hill, that becomes a volcano to meet it. Those are the times that mark men for the rest of their lives as heroes. Yet there are finer heroisms than this. The very splendor of such an hour, with a nation's fate at stake and the world looking on, is enough to find out and kindle any spark of manhood in a man. With no such inspiration as that, there are in every community men and women who are battling with poverty and adversity and all kinds of trouble with a finer courage than that of the battlefield.
They cover an anxious heart with a cheerful face, for the sake of husband or wife or children who are watching the face. No winter is long enough, no lifetime is long enough, to tire out their fortitude and patience and love. There are resources in human nature that never are known until things are at their hardest.
So at winter's worst--come it in one form or another--man summons up his courage, and though the winter be longer and sharper than he had thought--though poverty pinches him or trouble weighs upon him--he sets himself stoutly to bear it. Alone and unhelped he seems, perhaps,--the march of the seasons and the vast order of the universe taking no account of him; yet manfully he will face whatever comes. Whatever comes? It is the summer that is coming! As certain as to-day's snow and cold, the season of all beauty and warmth and delight is on its way! The apple-blossoms, the wild-flowers, the budding of every twig, the greenness of the pastures, the rejoicing life of animals and birds and insects, the sweet airs of May, the sunshine of June,--these, and all varied loveliness beyond imagination's reach or heart's desire, lie just before us. So for every soul that patiently endures an unimagined summer waits. Our patient endurance seems to us now a great matter, and indeed if we have it not we are little worth; but when the more genial season comes--when there fully reveals itself to us that high meaning of our lives and that divine destiny of which now we catch but a glimpse--we shall say, not "How well we endured the winter," but "How glorious is God's summer!"
Take the case of a man who, having engaged in the active business of life, feeling himself amply capable of it and longing for it, finds himself by force of circumstances kept out of work. Perhaps he has his living to earn, perhaps he has a wife and children to support, and he can get nothing to do. Well, that is about as hard a place as a man can be called to stand in. Idleness in itself is hard. It is a burden even to those who have wealth and all the luxuries and amusements that can be devised to while away their leisure. It is the very nature of a man who is good for anything to _do_. Idleness is as unnatural and trying to the mind as sickness is to the body. But to see those you love in need, to see them threatened with suffering, to know that you could amply provide for them if you had a chance, and not to find a chance,--what is so hard as that?
It is so hard, my friend, that, if you can bear it and not be conquered by it, you are a hero. If under that load you can keep your patience and your temper and your courage, you have won a victory such as makes life worth living. Just as in battle it is the post of danger that is most honorable, so always the hard place is the place of honor. "But," you say perhaps, "I don't care about being a hero; I want to see my wife and children taken care of." That is the best of all reasons for keeping up heart. When a good wife sees her husband unfortunate and out of work, what is it that she most dreads? Not that they will starve,--starvation seldom happens in this country. Not that they will be poor, though of that she may be somewhat afraid. Her greatest fear is lest her husband should get discouraged and down-hearted; should take to drink, perhaps; at any rate, should become so despondent and embittered that the light shall go out of their lives and their children's. Now it is his business not to let that happen. It is his part to keep up for her sake a resolute heart and a cheerful face. And if she is a true woman, how gladly will she do the same for him! Out of just such circumstances there come two opposite results, according as people meet them. There comes failure of effort and resolution, then despondency, then recklessness, drunkenness perhaps, and at last ruin, the break-up of character, the destruction of the children's prospects, or sometimes suicide. When a man, under pressure of such trouble, really gives up, even for an hour, the effort to be brave and make the best of things, he takes a step on a road at the end of which is suicide. _That_ is the consummate act of cowardice; that is the last logical result of refusing to face and conquer our troubles. Heaven have mercy on the man who seeks in death a refuge, and so multiplies the suffering of those he leaves behind! And at the point where begins the wretched road of despondency, which if followed out leads to this or some other ruin, there branches another road--manly endurance of the worst, courage which is strong because it is loving,--a road which leads to heights beyond our sight.
To bear trouble together, and for each other's sake to rise above it,--what knits hearts together like that?
Take, again, the case of a man who is by circumstances shut off from work that he could do and longs to do for the large benefit of mankind,--the man who has a gift of teaching and is not allowed to teach, or who has the statesman's quality and finds no place in public affairs, or who, with any large executive and beneficent faculty, finds himself denied all opportunity of exercising it. For a faculty to be repressed is hard just in proportion as its quality is noble. A caged canary is hardly a painful sight, but a caged eagle stirs one with regret. And the world has such need of all noble talent; such exigent and hungry need of the true teacher, statesman, seer,--of the word of inspiration and the act of leadership! How shall one who feels in him the power and sees the need; who grasps in his hand the keen sickle, yet is held back, while before his eyes the fields are white with the harvest which threatens, unreaped, to perish,--how shall he reconcile himself to his lot? How escape the thought that he and all mankind are but playthings in the grasp of cruel and ironic fate?
What, then, does the world most need of us? Is it wisdom, or statesmanship, or executive power? These things it greatly needs. But most of all it needs character. Most of all it needs that quality of personality which is moulded by the interplay of loyal will with the shifting course of outward event. For our wisest thoughts the world can very well wait, or do without them altogether; almost certainly some one else has thought them and said them. Our executive power to be added to the world's work,--it is but a fly's strength contributed to a steam-engine. One thing the universe asks of us, which no one else can give,--_ourselves_; our highest and fullest self. It is not what we do externally, but what we are, that measures our worth. The real and lasting value of a word or an act depends largely on the weight of character behind it. And in character no higher effect is wrought out than that which comes through endurance and heroic passivity. To stand long before closed doors of opportunity and keep serene; to see work waiting, see others working, and in patience and self-control to bide one's time,--that is more than to do any work; it is to be a man. The time comes when manhood finds itself to be power.
A brook goes singing on its way, marking its course through forest and field with a track of beauty and freshened life. Men throw a dam across its path, and through many a long day its course is stopped and its waters silently accumulate. And the brook says, "Alas for my lost freedom and service! Alas for the rush and sparkle and joy of my cascades! Alas for the parched meadows, the unwatered ferns and mosses!"
But the day comes when with a cataract leap it crosses its barrier; meadow and mosses and ferns revive; and now the stored power of the stream is turning great mills and grinding bread for men.
Washington rode as a subordinate in Braddock's army; ignorance commanded and knowledge looked on powerless until the mischief was done. Twenty years of quiet follow; great events are impending, eloquent men are rousing and leading; what is there for this silent Virginian? till suddenly he finds himself the chief commander. Then comes waiting to which all before was easy; holding away from the stronger enemy, holding steady under the impatience and the doubts of friends; for one bold stroke, a year of waiting and watching; till, at last, victory! And not to Washington victorious at Yorktown do we turn for inspiration so much as to Washington in the dead of winter at Valley Forge.
There are a great many women whose capacities and desires seem much beyond their opportunities. This is especially true of our New England, who stimulates the brains of her children, and consigns many of her daughters to a secluded life with small scope for action. There are many women who, being unmarried, or being married and childless, or left by the flight of the young birds to brood an empty nest, have not the full natural outlet of a woman's activities and affections, and suffer consciously or unconsciously from a partial emptiness and idleness of what is best in them. The burden upon such lives is that of isolation.
Isolation may be in the midst of a crowd as well as in solitude; it is when the heart is not filled that we are truly alone. And this real solitude, this isolation of the affections from their proper objects, is something so bad, so against the law of our nature, that, broadly speaking, it is a matter not so much for endurance as for speedy getting rid of. Do you feel yourself alone and empty-hearted? Then you have necessity indeed for fortitude and brave endurance, but above all and before all you are to get out of your solitude. You cannot command for yourself the love you would gladly receive; it is not in our power to do that; but that noble love which is not asking but giving,--that you can always have.
Wherever your life touches another life, there you have opportunity. The finest, the most delicate, the most irresistible force lies in the mutual touch of human lives. To mix with men and women in the ordinary forms of social intercourse becomes a sacred function when one carries into it the true spirit. To give a close, sympathetic attention to every human being we touch; to try to get some sense of how he feels, what he is, what he needs; to make in some degree his interest our own,--that disposition and habit would deliver any one of us from isolation or emptiness. There is but one sight more beautiful than the mother of a family ministering happiness and sunshine to them all; and that is a woman who, having no family of her own, finds her life in giving cheer and comfort to all whom she reaches, and makes a home atmosphere wherever she goes. Though she have not the joy of wife and mother, she has that which is most sacred in wifehood and motherhood. She shares the blessedness of that highest life the earth has seen, of him who, having no home nor where to lay his head, brought into other homes a new happiness, and who spoke the transforming word, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Take, again, the case of an invalid, who is for a long period shut out by illness or weakness from all ordinary activities. There are many such to whom pain and physical endurance are less trying than the feeling of being excluded from use and service, and having their moral life stunted or disordered by this stoppage of the natural play of the faculties.
There are kinds of illness, especially those of the nervous system, which seem to invade the seat of the will and soul itself, to irritate the temper and sap the resolve and foster a self-centring egotism, by a power that is literally irresistible. Before such experiences as this one thought rises: it is part of mankind's business to lessen, and so far as possible to extirpate, these maladies. The individual sufferer must meet as best he can the conditions thrust upon him, but to prevent such conditions from arising is the lesson for the rest of us. We are only beginning to appreciate how largely the salvation of mankind must be worked out through physical means. The pestilences, the transmitted diseases, the insanities, the nervous disorders, bred of violated law,--all these and the like curses, which not merely destroy human life but degrade it, are to be fought and extirpated. We must secure for soul-life some fair room and chance as against these pests and tyrants.
Here lies the noblest work of science; here, in prevention rather than in cure, lies the best field of that unsurpassed profession, the physician's. And, too, in this preventive work each man must learn to be his own physician, and minister to himself.
But what, meantime, is our disabled and secluded invalid to do? He is like a man set to fight a battle with one arm tied behind him. Others may pity, but for him his disablement must be a motive to greater exertion; he must supply by courage and skill the place of the lacking strength. It is what man can do under limitations and disabilities that shows his high-water mark of achievement. Any one can be cheerful in perfect health, but to be cheerful under weakness and pain,--_that_ is worth trying for! To be considerate and unselfish, when one is at ease and has all he wants, does not cost much; but to take thought for others and to spare them, and to be sympathetic with their joys and troubles, when pain forces you to be self-conscious, and long endurance tempts you to become self-centred,--well, if you can do that, you are good for something. If you can do that, have no fear that you are useless. Such fruit is rare enough to be precious. The lessons taught from many a sick-bed of bravery and gentleness and love,--we get no other teaching so good as that. There is many a family where it is the one who can do the least who does the most,--where it is the invalid's room from which goes out the strongest influence of patience and sweet courage and that divine quality which transforms trouble.
In one sick-room in a foreign land, for years a home-loving woman has been an exile; a woman of active and eager disposition, with large, executive capacity and ripe experience, shut up almost to idleness; a woman of large benevolence, who had entered on work of peculiar excellence and attractiveness, cut off from all such activities. This, with frequent pain, with fluctuation of hope and discouragement as to the future; and yet there is about her an atmosphere as serene as the Alpine heights that look down upon her, as cheerful as the sunny Alpine pastures with their tinkle of sheep-bell and hum of mountain bee. Her constant thought goes out to distant friends and brings them near; her close attention follows the march of the world's great interests, the fortunes of England and Russia and America, the course of freedom and reform; a sense of nature's beauty, trained to fineness through years of enforced quietude, brings exquisite ministrations; she shares the lives of the little circle of friends about her; heart and mind are at rest in the peace of God. Patience has had her perfect work.
Up, friend! leave your law case, your sermon, your accounts, and come out for an hour into this delicious March day, bracing as winter and sweet as spring. The new life of the year is stirring in the trees whose tops begin to redden, and in the brown pastures where watchful eyes can already see the green. The joy of the season is singing in a million bluebirds' and robins' throats; the cocks crow gayly; the caw of the big black crow flapping overhead with ragged wing has a cheery tone. All living creatures feel the tingle and throb of the great tide of life that sweeps in with the returning sun. See yonder two dogs, how they frolic, how they crouch and wheel and charge and roll each other over and pretend to bite. "Pure mongrels," both of them, and as happy as if they were the most aristocratic of Irish setters! See near by the tree full of flowers that has lasted the winter through. That is a tulip-tree, holding up its thousand delicate ghostly cups. Its grand trunk rises straight and unbroken full thirty feet, then branches in symmetry, and holds up as if to catch the sunshine and the rain its fairy goblets. And here is an oak that has not yet let go its grip on last year's dead leaves. How sharply the snow rattled on them, as if clashing on the iron which naturalists say the sturdy tree holds in its blood! Who ever sees these last oak leaves fall? And who knows where this dry, dead grass vanishes when the green blades fill all its room? Look at the horse-chestnut; already its buds are shiny. It must wait a good while before their
"little hands unfold, Softer 'n a baby's be at three days old."
Sharp whistles the wind to-day, but it is the breath of life that it breathes into us. It comes down from yonder hills where the snow is shining yet. Grandly on the horizon lies Mount Tom, like a crouching lion, guardian over the fair valley. Where the mountain line breaks, between him and his twin sentinel, Holyoke, we know that the broad Connecticut sweeps past Hockanum. The glorious river,--what an unfailing joy it is to the eye as it curves and winds on its leisurely, steadfast course to the sea! Here at our feet is another river, a little brook flowing in clear stream over the roadside sand, born of the last snow-drift and living till the sun drinks it up. And beside it are half a dozen happy boys, paddling with their bare feet, making mud dams, scraping new channels and short cuts for the stream.
How black is the still water of this pond, smooth as a steel mirror! what perfect pictures it gives back of its woody and snow-touched banks! The woods above are solemn as that grandest work of man, an Old World cathedral, and free as only the Lord's own works are free, with the music of the wind in the great pine-tops; the gracious, infinite sky revealing itself through their tracery; the columnar trunks swaying now like a ship's masts. How at evening the setting sun glows through their black shafts; how ethereal the light that then fills the spaces of the wood; how the stars look down through the branches in the living stillness of the night! A few steps, and below us in the hollow we see the city, all its commonplaceness charmed away, the vulgar noises of the streets blended in a soft murmur. Not one human life moves in those streets, commonplace and vulgar though it may seem, but has its own charm and beauty, if we could find the right view-point, or if our sight went deep enough.
Across a plowed field darts in swift zigzag a gleam of blue; then, perched on a fence-rail, sends a thrilling song. The bluebird is the true voice of early spring, as is the bobolink of later spring.
Bobolinks and apple-blossoms come together in the prodigal time of May.
Our Northern spring is the most arrant of coquettes,--the most delicious in allurement, the swiftest in retreat. One day she seems to pour her whole heart out to us, and we think she is ours once and for all; next day she pelts us with sleet; buffets, freezes us; she--nay, she is gone, and we never shall see her again; it is the sourest shrew in the whole sisterhood of the year that has come in her stead! But the true lover thinks not so. He knows her woman's heart,--coying it a little, holding back her treasure till she sees if her worshiper be faithful, to pour it out all unstinted at the last, when May's perfect bridal day shall usher in the full and fruitful marriage blessing of the year.
On this June morning, place yourself here, under the shade of this noble, wide-spreading apple-tree on a garden lawn. Last night the earth was washed by showers, and a thunder-storm cleared the air. This morning a fresh northwest wind breaks the clouds, and opens pure, sweet depths of sky. Around us the flowers of early summer are blooming. Over the grass trip the young birds, mottle-breasted robins and bluebirds; the trees ring with frequent song; from the barnyard comes cheery cackle and cluck, and the chickens stray forth to investigate the secrets and riches of the world. A catbird pours out an opera in which he takes all the parts in succession, and the voice of the wind rises and falls in mysterious, delicious cadence.
"Oil and wine:" the oil poured on the wounds to soothe and heal, the wine drunk to revive and hearten with cordial life. The Hebrew symbolism has its roots in strong material soil: its imagery is vigorous and ruddy,--"wine of gladness," "oil of joy," "wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart." A modern psalmist might add, "and coffee which uplifts his spirit, and tobacco which soothes his cares."
Jesus chose, as the two symbols by which he would be remembered, bread and wine. Bread stands for nourishment and substantial support, wine for exhilaration and joy. When his disciples were full of the sorrow of approaching parting, he showed them that the loss was only in semblance: the reality was to be a higher energy, a purer joy,--bread to eat, wine to drink,--not death, but life. The sorrow attendant on death and loss is to be esteemed but the pangs that usher in life. "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world."
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." What a key-note is that,--how jubilant, tender, strong!
As the earth revolving passes alternately into light and shadow, so human life in its divine appointment moves by turns through sorrow and through joy. Each has its service for the soul, as for the earth has day and night each its ministry and message. Of pain come hardihood and strength and sympathy. What a sapless, fibreless thing is a man untrained by endurance and untaught by suffering! How flaccid in muscle, how narrow in intelligence, how shallow in affection!
Yet, as to an all-beholding eye the sun pours light through all the planetary spaces, and the night, which to us on the world's darkened side seems all-enfolding, is in truth but a shadowy fleck in the vast sun-steeped sphere: so, of the soul's universe, the native, all-pervasive element is conscious good. Gladness is man's proper atmosphere. It is by the impulse of his deepest nature that he seeks joy, it is by the force of spiritual gravitation that he is drawn to it. But two hard lessons await him. One is, that to reach that goal he must trust himself to a higher Power, his own effort and purpose being to obey that Power.
The other is, that the goal is not for one alone, but for all; and he can reach it only as he shares the common lot, making himself partner in the vicissitudes of his comrades, rejoicing with them that rejoice and weeping with them that weep. On our long voyage the stars by which we steer must be Duty and Love. The stars guide us, the winds and currents bear us, to the port of perfect good. The instinct of our journey's end we call Hope; the instinct by which we cleave to our true course, even when wholly doubtful of its end, and though false lights beckon us alluringly,--that instinct we call Faith.
Open your eyes upon the world on such a morning as this. Forget your own cares long enough to really see, but for a moment, yonder spray of roses waving in the breeze. Watch the play of light and shade in the flickering leaves overhead. Listen to the chorus of voices from bird, insect, and wind. The wine of gladness! Nature pours it in a sparkling flood, unceasing by day and night, for every one who will drink.
Nature pours the wine of gladness, but only from the mingling of human hearts comes the oil of tenderness. From sorrow it gets its sacred fragrance, from mutual service it draws its healing power, from the bitterness of parting it wins the sweetness of an inexpressible hope.
It was under the stroke of a great bereavement, the death of his child, that Emerson, in the "Threnody," gave utterance to highest consolation soaring out of sorrow's darkness. It was under the shadow of that loss that he heard the voice,--
The Chief End of Man Part 18
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The Chief End of Man Part 18 summary
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