Chapter III. God and His Self-Expression
 

I

It will be clear from what I have said already that I see no fundamental conquest of fear that is not based in God. There may be knacks by which fear can be nipped and expedients by which it may be outwitted, but its extermination can be brought about, it seems to me, only in one way. According to our capacity and our individual needs we must know God; and knowing God is not as difficult as the Caucasian mind is apt to think. It stands to reason that if knowing God, in the senses in which it is possible to know Him, is so essential to mankind it could not be difficult. The making it difficult is part of the dust the Caucasian throws in his own eyes.

We know God through His Self-Expression, and His Self-Expression is round about us in every form. Except through His Self-Expression there is no way of our knowing Him. No speculation or theory will teach us to know Him. It must be His own revelation of Himself, or nothing.

II

Such little knowledge of Him as has come to me came much more freely when I began to look for that revelation not alone in solemn mysteries, or through the mediumship of prophets, apostles, and ancient scriptures, but in the sights and sounds and happenings of every day. Here I must ask not to be misunderstood. The solemn mysteries have their place, but it is one of climax. The mediumship of prophets, apostles, and ancient scriptures is of unreckonable value, after I have done something for myself. By this I do not mean that all cannot work together simultaneously, but rather that it is useless for the soul to strike only at the more advanced, having ignored the elementary.

As I write I look out on a street full of the touches of spring. The rain-washed grass is of bright new green. The elms are in tenderest leaf, the hawthorn bursting into flower. Here and there a yellow clump of forsythia is like a spot of sunshine. Tulips are opening their variegated cups, and daffodils line the walls. Dogs are capering about, a collie, a setter, a Boston terrier. Birds are carrying straws or bits of string to weave into their nests--or singing--or flying--or perching on boughs. Children are playing--boys on bicycles eagerly racing nowhere--little girls with arms round each others' waists, prattling after their kind. Overhead is a sky of that peculiar blue for which the Chinese have a word which means "the blue of the sky after rain," a hue which only these masters in colour have, to my knowledge, specially observed.

How can I help seeing so much beauty and sweetness as the manifestation of God? How could He show Himself to me more smilingly? How can I talk of not seeing God when I see this? True, it may be no more than the tip of the fringe of the hem of the robe in which His Being is arrayed; but at least it must be that. True, also, that beautiful as these things appear to physical eyes they must be still more beautiful to spiritual eyes--the eyes of those who have passed on, for instance--to say nothing of the delight which God must have in them Himself. But even with my imperfect mortal vision they are rapturously good, a veritable glimpse of the Divine.

This is what I mean by the elementary--the common, primary thing, the thing I look at every day and hardly ever accredit to its source. I am not speaking pantheistically here, any more than when I spoke of light. These things are not God, or part of God. They are expressions of God. If I speak of seeing God in them I mean that in them, as well as in many other simple things, we see Him as nearly as is possible to such comprehension as ours. "No human eye," writes St. John, "has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the Father's bosom--He has made Him known."[8] He made Him known in His own Person; but He appealed also to the everyday sights and sounds, the lily of the field, the blowing wind, the sparrow falling, the children at their mothers' knees, for the evidence to declare Him. As expressions of Him they may be misinterpreted by the error in my physical senses, or distorted by my limitations of spiritual perception; but even then they bring Him near to me in the kind of radiance which I can catch.

[8] Most of the quotations from the New Testament are taken from a recent translation, "The New Testament in Modern Speech," by R.F. Weymouth and E. Hampden-Cook.

III

In order to banish fear I think it necessary to train the thought to seeing God as expressing Himself in all the good and pleasant and enjoyable things that come to us. This means forming a habit. It means saying to oneself daily, hourly, "This is God," "That is God," of incidents, persons, and things we have rarely thought of in that relation. To do this is not as easy as it would be if our race-mind worked that way; but unfortunately it does not. In general we take our good things for granted, complaining that they are not better. The things we lack are more vivid to us, as a rule, than those we have acquired. Having hung, as it were, a cloud about ourselves we disregard the uncountable ways in which God persists in shining through, in spite of our efforts to shut Him out.

To try to enumerate the uncountable would be folly. You cannot reckon the good which comes to every one of us through such channels as family, home, friendship, income, business, amusements, studies, holidays, journeys, sports, books, pictures, music, and the other hardly noticed pleasures of any single day. We are used to them. To ascribe them specially to God would seem to us far-fetched. That is, theoretically we may ascribe them to God, but practically we dissociate Him from them. Few of us, I think, ever pause to remember that through them He is making Himself known to us before doing it in any other way.

And yet, it seems to me, this is the beginning of our recognition of the Divine. I have little hesitation in saying that this is what parents should teach children before they teach them to lisp prayers. The prayers have hardly any meaning to the baby-mind, and not much more than a sentimental influence on the later life, if they have as much as that. But any child, from the very budding of the intelligence, could grasp the idea of a great, loving Super-Father, who was making Himself visible through gifts and care. If he prayed to Him later he would know to whom he was praying. As it is, the later prayers are neglected, or definitely given up, oftener than not, because this is precisely what the child does not know. He does not know it because he was never taught it; and he was never taught it because his parents have probably not been aware of it themselves.

IV

I myself was never taught it. Notwithstanding all for which I am truly grateful, I regret most deeply that so many years of my life went by before I was led to the fact. I am willing to believe that the lack of understanding was my own fault, but a lack of understanding there was. I got the impression that God, so far from making Himself known to me, was hiding away from me, and that I must have faith to believe in One of whom I had no more than hearsay evidence. If I could do this violence to such measure of reason as I possessed I could count on a reward in some other world than this, though on little or nothing here.

Faith I saw as of the nature of a tour de force. You took it as you took a leap. It was spiritually acrobatic. You didn't understand but you believed. The less you understood the more credit your belief became to you. The more hidden and difficult and mysterious and unintelligible God made Himself the greater your merit in having faith in spite of everything. I am far from saying that this is the common understanding of Christians, or from holding others responsible for my misconceptions. I speak of these misconceptions only because they were mine, and it was I who had to work away from them.

For this reason, too, I speak of my reaching the idea of a God who had been visibly smiling at me all my life while I had never seen Him, as a "discovery." To me it was a discovery; and it came at a moment when I sorely needed something of the kind.

V

It was perhaps three or four years after the turning-point at Versailles. The intervening time had been one of what I may call spiritual ups and downs. It had not all been straight progress by any means. I had got hold of what for me was a great idea, round which other great ideas grouped themselves; but I grasped them waveringly or intermittently. Nevertheless, during seasons in Boston, Nice, Cannes, Munich, London, and Berlin, life on the whole went hopefully. The malady I have already mentioned tended to grow better rather than worse; the advancing blindness became definitely arrested. I worked easily, happily, successfully. Returning to the New England city which had become my adopted home, I bought a house and settled down to American life once more.

I mention these facts only because they help me to make myself clearer. For all at once my affairs, like the chariots of Pharaoh in crossing the Red Sea, began to drive heavily. Trust in an all-conquering life-principle which had meant much to me for a time no longer seemed effective. Difficulties massed themselves. Business misunderstandings sprang up. Friendships on which I had counted suddenly grew cold. Worse than all, the working impulse gave out. There were two whole years in which I slaved at producing little more than what had to be thrown away. My active life had apparently come to another deadening full stop.

I reached the decision that there was but one thing to do--give up the pretence at working, sell the house to which I had grown attached, and resume once more the life of aimless, but at that time inexpensive, European wandering. There came a day when I actually offered my house for sale.

And yet that day proved to be another turning-point. On the very morning when I had put my house in the market the chain of small events which we commonly call accidents brought me into touch with a man I had never seen before. During a first meeting, as well as in several that followed, he made certain matters clear to me which changed my course not only then but ever since. These explanations came under three distinct headings, to each of which I should like to give a little space.

VI

Of these the one I put first is probably familiar to most of my readers, but to me, I confess, it was new.

God among His other functions must be a tireless activity working towards an end. Everything He calls into being works toward that end, I myself with the rest. I am not a purposeless bit of jetsam flung out on the ocean of time to be tossed about helplessly. God couldn't so will an existence. It would not be in keeping with His economy to have any entity wasted. As Our Lord puts it, the sparrow cannot fall without Him; without Him the lilies are not decked; the knowledge possessed by His infinite intelligence is so minute that the very hairs of the head are numbered. My life, my work, myself--all are as much a necessary part of His design as the thread the weaver weaves into the pattern in a carpet.

In other words, I am not a free agent. I am His agent. Not only am I responsible to him, but He is responsible for me. His responsibility for me will be seen as soon as I give up being responsible for myself.

It was upon this last point that I seized with most avidity. I was tired of trying to steer a course for myself, with no compass to go by. I was tired of incessantly travelling along roads which seemed to lead to nothing but blind-ends. To change the figure to one I used not infrequently at that time, my life seemed pitchforked, first in one way and then in another, no way bringing me anywhere. It had no even tenor. It was a series of seismic pulls and jerks.

But in the light of what my new friend told me I saw I had been too busily engaged in directing my life for myself. I was like a child who hopes to make a smoothly working machine go still more smoothly by prodding it. I couldn't leave it alone. It had not occurred to me that the course of that life was God's own business, and that if I could follow the psalmist's advice and "commit my way unto him he would bring it to pass." It had seemed to me that nothing would be brought to pass unless I worried and fretted over it myself, whereas the same wise old psalmist says, in words which our generation would do well to lay to heart, "fret not thyself else shall thou be moved to do evil."

"Trust in the Lord and do good," he goes on; "so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."

This was nothing new; it was only new to me. To feel that I could give up being responsible for results and devote myself to my work was in itself a relief. If I tried to "trust in the Lord and do good"--by which I suppose is meant doing my duty to the best of my small ability--He would look after the rest. My position was somewhat that of a trusted subordinate given a free hand, but having over him a supreme authority taking charge of all consequences. I was not working on what our modern idiom neatly summarises as "my own." I was His agent.

Thus it might be said to be to His interest to see that as His agent I was sheltered, clothed, fed, and in every way kept in such condition as to be up to the highest standard of His work. This provision would naturally include those dependent on me, and without whose well-being I could not have peace of mind. I need worry about them no more than about myself. They, too, were His agents. In certain conditions He might provide for them through me, or in certain conditions He might provide for me through them; but in all conditions He would provide for all of us.

VII

The second point was this: those with whom I had had misunderstandings were equally His agents. They might not be more aware of the fact than I; but this in no way disqualified them as His trusted subordinates given a free hand. Their work with me and mine with them, whatever its nature, wrought one of the infinite number of blends going to make up the vast complexity of His design.

It was, therefore, out of the range of possibility that under Him there could be opposition or contradiction between one of His agents and another. It would be inconsistent with His being that one man's advantage should be brought about at another man's cost. Where that was apparently the case it was due to both sides taking the authority into their own hands, and neither sufficiently recognising Him. If His trusted subordinates in being given a free hand played Him false, they naturally played each other false, and played false to themselves first of all. Where one was afraid of another and strove to outwit him there was treachery against the supreme command.

Again there was nothing new in this; but to me it was a new point of view with regard to those with whom and for whom I worked. For the first time I saw their true relation to me, as mine to them, and something of the principle of brotherhood. Up to this time brotherhood had been a charming, sentimental word to me, and not much more. Children of one Father, yes; but discordant children, with no restraint that I could see on their natural cut-throat enmities.

But here was a truth which made all other men my necessary helpmates, and me the necessary helpmate of all other men. I couldn't do without them; they couldn't do without me. Hostility between us was as out of place as between men pulling together on the rope which is to save all their lives. If peril could bring about unity God could bring it about even more effectively. God was the great positive, the solvent in which irritation and unfriendliness must necessarily melt away.

VIII

The third point, involving my obvious first step, was to put suspicion out of my own mind. I was to see myself as God's Self-Expression working with others who were also His Self-Expression to the same extent as I. It was in the fact of our uniting together to produce His Self-Expression that I was to look for my security. No one could effectively work against me while I was consciously trying to work with God. Moreover, it was probable that no one was working against me, or had any intention of working against me, but that my own point of view being wrong I had put the harmonious action of my life out of order. Suspicion always being likely to see what it suspects the chances were many that I was creating the very thing I suffered from.

This does not mean that in our effort to reproduce harmonious action we should shut our eyes to what is evidently wrong, or blandly ignore what is plainly being done to our disadvantage. Of course not! One uses all the common-sense methods of getting justice for oneself and protecting one's own interests. But it does mean that when I can no longer protect my own interests, when my affairs depend upon others far more than on myself--a condition in which we all occasionally find ourselves--I am not to fret myself, not to churn my spirit into nameless fears. I am not a free agent. Those with whom I am associated are not free agents. God is the one supreme command. He expresses Himself through me; He expresses Himself through them; we all. I as well as they, they as well as I, are partakers of His Sonship; and the Son--His Expression--is always "in the Father's bosom," [9] in His love and care.

[9] St. John

IX

Having grasped this idea the new orientation was not difficult. There was in it too much solace to allow of its being difficult. If I state the results it is once more not because I consider them important to anyone but myself, but only because they became the starting-point of a new advance in the conquest of fear.

Within forty-eight hours, with no action on my part except the Metanoia, the change in my point of view, all misunderstandings had been cleared away. The other side had taken the entire initiative, I making no advance whatever toward them. A telegram expressing their hearty good will was followed by an interview, after which I was at work again. I have not only worked easily ever since but with such fecundity that one plan is always formed before I have its predecessor off my hands. This says nothing of the quality of my work, which, humble as it may be, is simply the best I know how to do. I refer only to its abundance. I have found that in "working together with God," I am less involved in conflicts of wills than I was before, and that the words of Amos are literally fulfilled to me, "that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed." I say it without knocking on wood, and with no fear lest my "good luck" will be withdrawn, that from that time to this I have had plenty of work which I have accomplished happily, and have never lacked a market for my modest wares.

X

From all of which I have drawn one main inference--the imperative urgency of Trust.

I had hitherto thought of trust as a gritting of the teeth and a stiffening of the nerves to believe and endure, no matter what compulsion one put upon oneself. Gradually, in the light of the experience sketched above, I came to see it as simply the knowledge that the supreme command rules everything to everyone's advantage. The more we can rest mentally, keep ourselves at peace, be still and know that it is God,[10] the single and sole Director, the more our interests will be safe. This, I take it, is the kind of trust for which the great pioneers of truth plead so persistently in both the Old and New Testaments.

[10] The Book of Psalms.

Trust, then, is not a force we wrest from ourselves against reason, against the grain. To be trust at all it must be loving and spontaneous. It cannot be loving and spontaneous unless there is a natural impulse behind it. And there can be no natural impulse behind it unless we have something in our own experience which corroborates the mere hearsay testimony that there is a Power worth trusting to. Job's "Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him," could only have been wrung from a heart which had proved the Divine Good Will a thousand times and knew what it was doing. Some experience of our own we must have. It is an absolute necessity. Desperate hope in another man's God may do something for us, but it cannot do much. A small thing which I have proved for myself is a better foundation for trust than a Bible learnt parrot-like by rote and not put to the practical test. Once I have found out for myself that to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him is the surest way to security and peace I have the more willing confidence in doing it.