By Harris Franklin Rall
XIV THE WAYS OF LIFE
ROGER BABSON reports a visit that he once had with Charles P. Steinmetz, the world's outstanding electrical engineer of the last generation, in which they discussed the future of inventions. He put to Steinmetz the question: "What line of research will see the greatest development during the next fifty years?" And the answer came: "I think the greatest discovery will be made along spiritual lines. Here is a force which history clearly teaches has been the greatest power in the development of men and history. Yet we have merely been playing with it, and have never seriously studied it as we have the physical forces. Some day people will learn that material things do not bring happiness and are of little use in making men and women creative and powerful. Then the scientists of the world will turn their laboratories over to the study of God and prayer and spiritual forces. When this day comes, the world will see more advancement in one generation than it has seen in the past four." In these last four generations mankind has made incredible advances in the mastery of the physical world and the production of wealth. Just now it is facing the social-economic problem, the task of working out right relations between man and man, so that we shall not suffer from want in the midst of plenty, or destroy each other in war. But we cannot escape the third question, which Steinmetz raises: How shall we have wealth within? How shall we gain for ourselves strength and poise and peace and joy in life? For here is our worst failure. There is a world of spiritual life and power just as real as the physical world. Like the physical world it has its laws, its order; and if we will adjust ourselves to it, its resources may be ours.
At one point Steinmetz was wrong; we have much to learn, but this world and its laws are not unknown. Many men have learned these laws, not in the laboratories of science but in that of life, where alone they can be discovered. They have found certain definite ways of life, simple but absolute, ways to which man must conform if he would gain this inner satisfaction and wealth. First among these discoverers is Jesus. Some time ago the distinguished physicist and inventor, Michael Pupin, in a volume called The New Reformation traced the steps in the advance of physical science. Then, in his concluding chapter, he turned to the spiritual realm. As there have been master discoverers in thermodynamics and electrodynamics, he declared, so in spiritual dynamics Jesus stands forth as the supreme discoverer of the laws of power.
Our task is to consider those ways which have been found by men of insight and tested through the years. Richard C. Cabot, distinguished writer in medicine and ethics, filling chairs in both fields at Harvard, wrote a book on What Men Live By. Work, play, love, and worship are his four great words. He began as a doctor concerned especially with neurasthenics; he became interested in that problem of the inner life which underlies all the problems of health of mind and body. He came at last to see that educators, social workers, and physicians all agreed on one prescription, which he puts thus:
That is the answer. The way to life is life—not to run away from life, not to devote yourself to a little section of life called spiritual, certainly not to live on unthinkingly or meanly, but to live life at its fullest and best. We have already considered the place of faith, and we will reserve prayer for a separate study; here we will take for discussion four words, Love, Truth, Joy, Work, as representing four main highways of life.
Two mistakes we must seek to avoid. First, it is an error to think that there is some one road that we must all take to find life. Life is too rich for that, truth is too varied; and the God whom we seek, the God who is life, is present everywhere. There are more gates than one to the city of God. Second, it is a mistake to suppose that the way to life is an easy one. In the Survey Graphic of January, 1929, Donald Richberg wrote about the great scientists, Millikan and Michelson, whom he knew as a student: "Mostly I marveled at the everlasting patience and courage of these men, who won Nobel prizes, not by flashes of genius, but by relentless, unceasing work, illuminated by godlike imagination and sustained by childlike faith." It is not different in the realm of personal life. It has its laws—there is no magic about gaining results here. It makes its demands. The imagination that sees, the faith that trusts and dares, the relentless, unceasing work are even more necessary here than with the scientists. "The utmost for the highest" is its word; and though there is no one way of entrance, the same demand is laid upon us whatever gate we choose.
I. THE WAY OF LOVE
We use love here in its largest sense to include all human fellowship that is marked by good will: the ties of friendship, the intimate relations of the home, affection between opposite sexes, the endless forms of fellowship in which we join with others in work and play and service and worship, and that good will, most like the spirit of Christ, in which we give ourselves and do not think about returns. There is no life for man unless he takes this way. Along this way lie burdens, responsibilities, anxiety, disappointment, sorrow; but apart from this way man cannot find joy, satisfaction, strength, peace, or God. Lose yourself, or you will never find yourself.
Every human life has two sides; it is lived, indeed, in two worlds. There is the world within, the world of my consciousness, of my self-consciousness. There is a "salt, unplumbed, estranging sea" that forever divides that world from even my closest friend. If in that inner world I am not rich and strong, then bonds and broad acres and rich mines and high office would still leave me poor and weak. But here is the paradox: the life within remains poor and mean unless I enter into the full, rich life of the world without, and that means first of all the world of iny fellow men. No one ever had such inner resources as Jesus, yet the Gospels show how he too sought and needed the life of fellowship. There were homes where he loved to go as guest, there were friends who ministered to him, there was the inner circle of comrades, the Twelve, who accompanied him everywhere, and within that circle three to whom he felt closest— Peter and James and John. The example of Jesus enforces the lesson of all experience: get outside of yourself, share your life with others, find your life in others.
Love, as we are here using the term, is expressed in many and widely differing forms, but has two common elements. (1) It means good will. When a man begins calculating how much he is going to get out of marriage, or figures how much friends will mean to him in developing his personality or advancing his business, then love is absent and its high rewards as well. Love, in this high sense, is self-forgetting. Selfishness is death, Jesus taught. It is the temptation of us all. Someone has defined the bore as the man who insists upon talking about himself when you want to talk about yourself. Love lifts us out of this, gives life another and higher center of interest, and pushes out beyond the narrow horizons. (2) It means fellowship—sharing, communion, having in common. That means more than a bargain by which we agree, for value received, to help the other man. It is, rather, the generous giving which follows from good will, and which finds its reward in the very act of bestowal. But beyond that, it means in its highest form some faith or loyalty, some task or high devotion which is shared. If a fellowship is to be rich and creative, it must rest upon this common devotion to something higher. No marriage has the promise of happiness or stability, no home the basis for a rich common life, unless there is some high faith and moral idealism which its members share. You may find it with scientists searching after truth, with a group of artists stimulating each other in a common love for beauty and creative effort. Schweitzer, from his hospital in mid-Africa, issues a call for a fellowship of those who sympathize in the service of those who suffer. An enduring and enriching friendship depends absolutely upon finding in common something higher and finer than individual advantage. That is what gives the Church such high possibilities, though so often in practice not realized; for the Church is a fellowship cemented by common faith in God, by common worship, and by union in service. The world of industry will never be redeemed until it ceases to be the strife for selfish advantage, and becomes a common effort to secure to all the needed goods of life.
Thus it is plain how love, or fellowship, becomes a way of life. It redeems us from littleness, it widens life and thus enriches it, it releases the finest elements of human nature, it makes available life's highest goods. The truth of the sage and scientist, the beauty that we all desire, the love without which "the light of the whole world dies," yes, and God himself, all these men can have in very truth only in human fellowship. In the words of the old Persian poet, Firdausi,
How can a man know the God who is love if he has not found the way of love among men? Whit tier sings rightly of "the silence of Eternity interpreted by love." Nor is it possible here to bring out how through such fellowship the spirit of man grows finer in sympathy, purer through affection, how imagination and insight are quickened, and character gains poise and strength, while on the other hand we take from our friends comfort in sorrow, courage for action, with release and healing for pent-up emotions and hampering inhibitions as we unburden ourselves to their affection and understanding.
II. THE WAY OF TRUTH
In the assembly hall of one of our great universities there used to be on the wall the word from the fourth Gospel: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Truth is not mere knowledge, not piled up facts; it deals, rather, with the meaning of facts. How do these facts hang together? What do they signify? Where do they point? Here again man differs from other animals. He challenges the world of appearance and asks what it means and whither it is moving. He expresses that in ideas and ideals, in ends and values. So he finds the meaning and goal of his own life. This truth becomes a way to life. It sets us free from fear. It widens our horizons. The ages are ours, not just this moment of time; ours are the life of distant lands and the glory of the heavens. It brings us into a world whose wealth moth and dust do not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. And because it reveals our life's meaning and ends, it gives purpose and strength and peace. Someone, contemptuous of his poverty, once referred to Samuel Johnson as "the critic who lives in an alley." To which Johnson responded with the remark about people whose souls lived in an alley. Truth takes the soul out of the alley onto the highway.
Here is where books serve as a way to life. The printed page in itself has no value. Indeed, the flood of speech from press and radio today is one of our perils. What chance is there for the best when the worthless and evil are thus poured out upon us. But if we will resolutely choose and wisely use, what a highway to life books offer us! The reader may say with Emerson:
Here the immortals of the ages offer themselves to us. They bring their hopes and fears, the insights won through years of searching and noble living. They are the souls who have won through to beauty and truth and God, and they bear it all to us.
The Bible, of course, stands first here. Nowhere else do we find men who have thought so clearly and lived so deeply. As we read them, it is not simply noble ideals of life and high insights into truth that come to us, but a kindling imagination, a stirred heart, a deep desire, a faith created or confirmed—in a word, they bring us face to face with the Eternal who stands everywhere behind time.
But we must not miss the service which other books render. There is biography like Axling's Kagawa, or Schweitzer's Out of My Life and Thought, or Gandhi's self-revealing autobiography. There are those intimate transcripts of the soul like Augustine's Confessions, Amiel's Private Journal, or John Woolman's Journal. There are the words of the poets, who have known how to wed truth and beauty in a certain inevitability of expression which makes their work the highest creation of man. One might begin with such a collection as The World's Great Religious Poetry, selected by Caroline Hill, or the unmatched Home Book of Verse edited by Burton Stevenson. History, drama, fiction, all have a claim on us. It is well to gather through the years, one by one, a shelf of books, the friends of the printed page whom you have found of special help.
The way of truth is not without cost to us. It is not the book on the shelf, or the word idly read that counts; it is the truth in heart and mind. These men of the printed page must become our friends; we must live with them. There must be time for quiet and meditation. We must turn back to the same word again and again and carry it with us during the day, if it is to have liberating power in our lives. Honesty, courage, and action are the other great requisites. There must be honesty, the open mind, the courage to face the truth and follow it, despite consequences. We must be like Tennyson's friend, who
There is no way to truth except through patient search, the single mind, the loyal will. Not lack of knowledge is our weakness, but failure to let the high truth be our constant guest and the ruler of our desire and will. "What we half believe and what we half do, he did utterly," says a recent writer concerning Jesus.
III. THE WAY OF JOY
To some it may seem curious to put among these few paths to life that we have selected for emphasis the way of joy; yet the New Testament has no less than one hundred thirty-five passages that use the word "joy" in some one of its forms, and the Old Testament has even more. The Christ of the fourth Gospel says: "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." Paul makes the definite demand: "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice." One of the four tests which the Roman Catholic Church applies before admitting any candidate offered for Sainthood is the note of "expansive joy." And here is an article by an experienced practitioner of medicine and psychotherapy with the title, "The Unhappy Are Always Wrong." The opposite of joy is not sorrow or pain, for a deep and true joy may co-exist with these. It is, rather, what the old teachers called acedia, "a compound of gloom, sloth, and irritation"; and this acedia the Church listed as one of the seven deadly sins. This lack of joy, this apathy, indifference, surliness, is no mere misfortune; it is a wrong way from which we are to turn. On the one side joy is the crown of life, the mark and the fruit of a life that is complete and healthy, physically, morally, mentally, religiously. But it is more than that; it is one of the ways of life toward which we ought to set ourselves, a life that we are to practice, not simply a gift that we are to receive.
Evidently we must distinguish here between joy and pleasure, and particularly between the search for pleasure and the task of joy. Joy is an achievement of the spirit; pleasure is the accompaniment of the physical. Joy has an enduring quality; pleasure passes with its immediate occasion. Joy is essentially unselfish and social in its nature; its cost is not the toil and pain of others, and it grows in the sharing. Pleasure is to be gratefully received when it comes in the normal course; but there is a constant temptation to make it an end of life and to pursue it selfishly. The search for pleasure, as all men know, is self-defeating. It will make more clear what joy is and how it leads to richer life if we note how it comes and what its foes are.
Joy is a summons to forget ourselves, to take thankfully, humbly, appreciatively all that is good and beautiful in the world that God has given us, and to rejoice in it all. Its three great foes are fear, stupidity, and selfishness. A recent story tells of a woman whom fear had shut out from the joys of life. She was afraid of the future, afraid of people, afraid of losing her health and job, afraid of poverty, afraid of herself. And then the doctor told her she had but six months to live. Before this prospect all her little fears vanished and she began really to live, to find joy in all that life had for her—and in the end she found her health as well. The coward dies a hundred deaths before death comes; worry makes slaves of millions and cheats them of the joy that they should have. Faith is part of the way of joy, a trust that looks at life unafraid, as does the child, and rejoices in each gift as it comes.
A second foe is our too great concern with ourselves. Its marks are pride, jealousy, envy, sensitiveness, and that constant comparison with others which leads to the inferiority complex. In a fine novel, The Coming of the Lord, Sarah Gertrude Millin depicts a young physician, ambitious, jealous, always comparing himself with real or imagined rivals, always suffering in defeat, until at last he learns to accept himself and stop comparison with others: "Whether anyone else is better or worse," he said, "I am I. Whether I win the race or lose it, my achievement is what it is." To accept ourselves as we are, to see what is ours and find joy in it, better still, to find something higher and finer than our own life and give our life to it and rejoice in it, is the way, not only of escape from unhappiness, but of joy.
Stupidity, insensitiveness, dullness of mind and heart in the presence of beauty and goodness—that is a third hindrance to joy. This is no mere misfortune; it is a sin. Stevenson's lines are worth recalling:
Every spring is a resurrection from the dead that speaks of the power of the God of life. Every morning is a new creation in which once more we hear him say, "Let there be light." The common gifts of every day renew this summons to gratitude and joy—the tender green of leaves just now unfolding outside my window, the stars into whose depths I looked last night, the rich memory of friends that came to me from the past as I turned over old letters a few days since, the quiet and peace and love of my home. A year or two ago an Atlantic Monthly correspondent wrote of a "summer in London amid a political and economic world unutterably disheartening. At its nadir I became suddenly conscious of a world of beauty about me." It began with an ancient Chinese vase, with glory of color and grace of curve, and led to a notebook page headed, "Things of Beauty," with a long list that included items as varied as the curve of a ploughshare, Dean Lutkin's "Choral Blessing," the hymn "Where cross the crowded ways of life," Captain Scott's last letter to Barrie, and the laughter of little children at play. Beauty, after love, is one of the greatest of the summons to joy.
To this let us add the thought of joy in God. Here is the deepest cause for joy and one that always waits for us. It lies in Wordsworth's phrase about "a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thought." It is a summons to high imagination. It lifts us out of the narrow round and the selfish interest. It bids us call to mind what God means: the order that spans the measureless heavens and reaches to the swift whirling electrons of the invisible atom, the beauty that is of the very texture of being, the majesty of high holiness, the sure justice that bids us face all threats of evil unafraid, the infinite good will that reaches each least human life. To dwell on all this in wonder and worship and joy is to find one of the great highways of life.
IV. THE WAY OF WORK
Work is a way of life. Not drudgery—drudgery is work that has no meaning, that is carried on in the spirit of the slave; but work rightly conceived is a way of life for which there is no substitute. Such work is, first of all, necessary for health of body and mind. Like a machine running without a "load" and racking itself to pieces, so is a human life that has not found work to do or that will not do its work. The energy of body and spirit remain, but the nervous force turns in upon itself in restless thought, in unsatisfied desires, and brings inner disintegration and social maladjustment. War experience with shell-shock cases and the insights of applied psychology have shown work to be one of the great curative means. The educator, the psychotherapist, the social worker dealing with the physically handicapped or facing the terrible results in moral deterioration which come from enforced idleness, all realize that work is a supreme necessity for a wholesome, happy, socially adjusted, and rightly developing life.
But beyond all that, work is a way of fellowship with God. Ours is not a God who sits aloft, serene, unmoved, unmoving. He is Creative Good Will, the Energy that toils ceaselessly to carry out high ends. How can men enter into his life except as they share that life in work motivated by good will? So man becomes cocreative with God. "My Father worketh until now; and I work." An ancient papyrus, found in Egypt and purporting to give sayings of Jesus, has these words: "When two are together, they are not without God, and where one is alone, behold! I am with him. Lift the stone and thou shalt find me; cleave the wood and there am I." He who will may find fellowship with God in the humblest task. There is a poem of Rabindranath Tagore, in his volume, Gitanjali, where he summons the worshiper, if he would find God, to leave the dark temple and seek him where men are at work.
We have considered the ways of life. They are all of them equally ways to the knowledge of God, ways by which men may enter into fellowship with God. For God himself is love and truth and beauty and joy and creative good will.
QUESTIONS TOR DISCUSSION
FOR FURTHER READING
Some of the books listed with the last two chapters and the next following are of value for this chapter also.