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2. A Lost Art of Jesus

Cover page for Glenn Clark The Soul's Sincere Desire

2. A Lost Art of Jesus
by Glenn Clark
The Soul's Sincere Desire

Jesus had a power of overcoming trouble, a power of triumphing over the “prince of this world,” which was unique in the history of mankind. All will agree to this, even the skeptics and agnostics and those of alien faiths. Among the recorded promises which have come down to us as spoken from His lips was one that He would leave us this power: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12) Up to now the world in general and His professed followers in especial have failed, as a whole, to experience that power which He said He was going to leave with us. The question that is left unanswered is, What is that power which Jesus promised He was going to leave us, and where shall we find it?

Is Jesus’ power of healing the sick, of bringing peace to the troubled, and harmony out of discord a lost art? Perhaps nothing in song or story is more alluring to the imagination than the so-called “lost arts.” What were they, and where are they to be found? Like the riddle of the Sphinx or the oracle of Delphi, they remain shrouded in the veil of mystery which all the king’s horses and all the king’s men of modern scientific and philosophical research are powerless to uncover.

I have come to the conclusion that the greatest of all the lost arts—lost for these twenty centuries—is the great art of living as Jesus practised it: living in such a way that trouble fell like scales from the eyes of all those about Him who were in need. If this art is lost, where shall we go to find it? For if it is truly the greatest of all the arts it is certainly worth the seeking.

Where does one go when he has lost something? Naturally he goes to the place where it was last seen, and makes that the starting-point for his search.

Let us take for an example what is probably the commonest of lost articles in this athletically ardent nation—the lost golf-ball. Just imagine you are caddying, say, for the greatest of all masters of the game. Stroke after stroke you have seen him drive down the course. Nothing equal to it have you ever seen before. And yet in spite of his marvelous power he does not require you to go on ahead, as a servant in his hire, but he invites you to accompany him at his side—as a companion. “I call you not servants,” is the beautiful phrase of the Gospel, “I have called you friends.” And oh, how you glory in this friendship and want to prove yourself worthy of this great trust! And then, in an evil hour, when you should have been giving your undivided attention to the game, you lose sight of the ball for just one moment and when you try to see it again in its onward flight you are not able to do so, and when you go down the course to seek it, try your very best, you cannot find it.

After wasting precious minutes threshing through the deep grass of inductive speculation on one side of the course, and searching among the high trees of deductive speculation on the other, and after poking in the sand traps of logic in the fairway, you are ready to give up in despair. But if you are a good caddy you still have one recourse left. You can return to the tee and take the same stand you saw the master take when he struck the ball, you can take the same grip upon the club, and you can give exactly the same swing which he gave, while you let your eye follow the course such a stroke would inevitably carry the ball. If you do this, and then follow the track which your thought has recharted for you, you will come right to the lost ball.

That is, figuratively speaking, exactly what I did. Having assured myself, beyond peradventure of a doubt, that Jesus meant us to take Him absolutely at His word when He said, “The works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do,” (John 14:12) and having convinced myself that within Jesus’ own life lay concealed the secret of doing these mighty works, I went back down the pathway of history to where Jesus stood before He sent the Christ Idea whirling down the ages. I went to where He stood; examined carefully, as best I was able, the way He took His stand upon this earth, the manner in which He gripped the great issues of life, the way He swung the full force of that matchless strength and harmony of thought in the great game of life; and then I let my eye follow the course which the Idea must have followed in its triumphant flight.

And this is what I found—that Jesus’ attitude toward life was one of converting everything He saw and touched into parables. He stood on this earth as a symbol of a greater world. He gripped the issues of life as mere symbols of eternal and heavenly Realities. Petty problems and sorrows and disasters He converted into beautiful symbols of eternal and infinite goodness. Thus nothing was petty, nothing was trivial, nothing was without meaning in Jesus’ world, for all things combined to reveal the Kingdom—the Kingdom of Heaven in which He lived and moved and had His being.

“And in ... parables spake he unto them ... and without a parable spake he not unto them.” (Mark 4:34) Jesus was one above all others who never let His lips say what His mind and heart did not authorize. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45) If Jesus talked in parables, He thought in Parables; if He thought in parables, He felt in parables—the parable point of view of the universe was at the heart of His being. From somewhere about the beginning of His ministry He adopted this parabolic method of looking at the universe and thenceforth He never departed from it. There is something tremendously significant in this fact. It reveals that this method of thinking and talking about life for Jesus was not a halfway method. He did not use it occasionally as a means to an end, but continuously, exclusively, utterly. Perhaps no teacher in all history has so completely given himself to one particular method as Jesus did to this.

To me this was the greatest discovery of my life. It took its rank, in my little universe at least, beside Newton’s and Watt’s discoveries that apples fall downward and steam pushes outward. And I am firmly convinced that when the religious world as a whole awakes to the full significance and meaning implied in these simple words the result will be just as transforming to the spiritual life of the world as the discovery of gravitation and of steam power has been to the scientific and material life of the world. For just as the discoveries of Watt and of Newton awakened man to the presence of a new world of physical and material forces outside of him, so the discovery of Jesus’ way of looking at life will awaken man to the presence of a new world of cosmic and spiritual forces within him.

Somewhere back in my memory I can recall seeing two books side by side on a library shelf, one entitled The Parables of Our Lord and the other entitled The Miracles of Our Lord. Either for this reason or for some other reason I early associated these two words as one would associate two companion-pictures that have hung on the wall in his childhood home, such as Sunrise and Sunset, the Parting and the Reunion, or those other heirlooms of our childhood memories the dictionary and the family Bible that used to grace the centre table of the old living-room. But it was not till I made the discovery that I have just referred to that there came to me a realization of the deeper and closer association of cause and effect which existed between the parables and the miracles of our Lord. For in Jesus’ parabolic interpretation of life actually lay the secret of the signs and wonders that signalized His healing and teaching ministry.

If all this is implied in Jesus’ parabolic view of life, it behooves us to consider carefully just what manner of thing this mystery is that we call a parable this thing that is so filled with moral and spiritual dynamite.

“A parable,” says the dictionary at my hand, “is an allegorical relation of something real. There we have it: a parable deals first of all with Reality. Second, it translates this Reality in terms of the imagination. Jesus looked at Reality through the lens of the divine imagination. By means of that fact troubles vanished around Him, obstacles fell away, the lost became found, the sick became well, sinners became redeemed, and rough places became smooth. Moreover, He promised that those who followed Him and used the way He used should have similar dominion over all things on earth, and that greater works than He did should they be able to do also.

The imagination is the power we all possess of seeing harmonies, unities, and beauties in things where the non-imaginative mind sees nothing but discords, separations, ugliness. It is the tool of the mind with which we build up our affirmations—the “staff” of the Shepherd Psalm that comforts us when all other faculties fail us. To look at life imaginatively, then, to see everything about us as a great parable full of deep inner meanings—meanings of love, joy, wholeness, symmetry, and perfection—is to see life truthfully, that is to say, spiritually. It brings us into a condition of continuous prayer, a condition of cosmic consciousness, which is conducive, above all else, to bringing into our life those larger harmonies and unities that to our physical eyes appear to be miracles.

I am aware that I have here dug up from the ash-heap the stone which the theologians and the metaphysicians have for the most part rejected. And in setting it to be the head of the corner I know I shall meet with the scoffs and jeers of many who maintain that we should confine our attention to those things that can meet the test of logic and are capable of objective analysis. But the imagination is of all qualities in man the most godlike—that which associates him most closely with God. The first mention we read of man in the Bible is where he is spoken of as an “image.” “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) The only place where an image can be conceived is in the imagination. Thus man, the highest creation of God, was a creation of God’s imagination. The source and centre of all man’s creative power—the power that above all others lifts him above the level of brute creation, and that gives him dominion over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the animals that move and creep on the earth—is his power of making images, or the power of the imagination.

The imagination of man is but the window or door which, when thrown open, lets the divine life stream into our lives. When it is thus thrown open man is brought into a condition of consciousness which, for want of a better word, is called inspiration. This heavenly inspiration is what links man to the divine and brings into existence our poets, composers, prophets, mystics, seers, and saints. This is a power that Jesus Christ had and that lifted Him above all other men—a power that He, however, in His immeasurable compassion and His infinite humility, wished to bestow upon others and share with them, that greater works than He had done they might do also.

These works—these mighty works, these miracles, if you will—are the direct outcome of Jesus’ converting everything that He saw into parables. And a parable, we find, is merely “an allegorical relation of something real.” Looked at from this angle, the performing of a miracle is not such an impossible task. It consists merely of looking at Reality through the lens of the imagination, and then letting this parable, or imaginative way of looking at Reality, bring to pass that thing which is spoken of as a miracle.

And what is Reality? Reality, in the eyes of the practical man, is made up of cold, hard facts. And what are the hard, cold facts of life? As we look about us in this world what we see all too frequently are the quarrels, bickerings, unhappiness, unfaithfulness, treachery, covetousness, and materialism everywhere. These are facts of life. But what are facts? Fact comes from the word factum, meaning something that we do or make. Are these facts of life identical with the realities of life? Not according to Jesus. To Him Reality does not consist of that which is made, but of that which eternally is. Love is—quarrels are made; joy is—unhappiness is made; truth is—lies are made; loyalty is—betrayals are made; purity is—impurity is made; life is—sickness is made. So Jesus went through life seeing no quarrels, no unhappiness, no lies, no impurity, no sickness. Where they appeared to be He turned the lens of His divinely inspired imagination upon them; He converted them into parables, and behold, they stood forth revealed as mere shadows or reflections—upside down—of the reality. And every time that Jesus converted a fact into a reality the people exclaimed that a miracle had been wrought.

Bear in mind I do not mean to imply that Jesus went about disregarding and overlooking the facts of life. Rather He looked at them so much more steadily, so much more understandingly than the rest of mankind that He looked right straight through them into the underlying Reality of which they were the mere counterfeits or reflections. This is what the parabolic point of view consists of. He looked steadily at the dead girl until He could utter with absolute conviction, based upon perfectly clear understanding, this startling parable: “The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.” He looked through the palsied sufferer until He could pronounce with conviction another parable, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” For to Jesus a parable meant simply the going back behind the fact to the Reality that the fact represents. It does not mean watering the leaf that is waving conspicuously in the sunshine, but watering the roots that no one can see. It does not mean healing a man’s skin, but healing his soul. It does not mean dealing with the seen, but with the unseen; not with the carnal, but with the spiritual. Once perform the inner watering, the inner cleansing, and the outer healing will follow as a matter of course. “Whether is easier, to say. ... Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?” (Matt. 9:5; Mark 2:9; Luke 5:23)

And here let me pause a moment to clear up a misunderstanding in regard to the imagination that may have cropped up in the thought of many of my readers. There are some who have always thought that the imagination was something which makes believe that which is not. This is fancy—not imagination. Fancy would convert that which is real into pretense and sham; imagination enables one to see through the appearance of a thing to what it really is. Let me illustrate.

You who are reading this essay are probably sitting in a room with a perfectly flat floor beneath you. A carpenter, a contractor, and an architect brought their combined skill into action to see that the floor was flat—set level with the world. When you look out of the window, you very likely see the streets and gardens about you as also flat. For three thousand years—and perhaps far longer—all mankind believed the world was flat. Why? Because they believed the evidence of their eyes. At last there came a man who looked at the world with his imagination, and he saw that it was round.

As you are reading you look out of the window and see the sun setting behind the western hills. You say the sun is going down. For thousands of years all mankind believed that this was so—in short, that the earth was the centre of the universe, and the sun, moon, and stars revolved around it. At length there arose a man who used his imagination sufficiently to see through the appearance of things to the Reality. Because he insisted that the sun stood still and the earth revolved around it—in short, tried to duplicate Joshua’s miracle of making the sun stand still—his theory was regarded as a heresy.

Now did Columbus create a miracle by proving that the earth was round when all the kings and all the kings’ men “knew” it was flat? And when he proved it was round did he actually make it round? No. It was round all the time—he merely demonstrated to mankind that it was round. Did Copernicus make the sun stand still and the earth revolve around it? No, he created no miracle—he merely demonstrated and proved what was actually so. And, like Jesus, “he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:6)

And in like manner we may ask, Did Jesus perform a miracle when He said the leper was made whole? (Mark 5:34) No, He merely demonstrated it. Did He break a natural law when He said, “The maid is not dead, but sleepeth”? (Matt. 9:24) No, He merely demonstrated that Life is the Reality, and Death is merely a shadow or counterfeit of Life.

Then can we create miracles? Yes, we can if we use our imagination and look steadfastly through appearances of things to the Reality behind them. We cannot create miracles by our fancy—by trying to make believe we see things that we do not and cannot see because they do not exist. We can create miracles by faith—by knowing the Reality that exists behind the things that only seem to exist. Faith will indeed move mountains.

And what is the greatest of all Realities, the Reality around which all lesser Realities centre, as it were? The Great Reality, the realization of which was at the core of all Jesus’ miracles, was the truth that Man is eternally united with all that is good—in other words, with God and His Kingdom—and eternally separated from all that is bad. Merely to see this Reality and see it clearly enough will make the sick whole, the sorrowful happy, the sinful redeemed, and the lost found.

© 1925, The Atlantic Monthly Press Inc.