3. In the True Spirit
by Glenn Clark
The Soul's Sincere Desire
I come now to where all this has led me: If Jesus talked, thought, and felt in parables, He must also have prayed in parables. In other words, when He asked for physical and material blessings He must first have translated these needs into symbols of spiritual values and prayed not for the material facts but for the spiritual Realities which these facts represented. When He prayed for things that are seen He used the language of the unseen. Interesting evidence for believing that this is exactly what Jesus did is furnished us in some old records unearthed in Egypt, which contain a saying ascribed to our Lord: “Ask for great things, and the small things will be given unto you; ask for heavenly things, and the earthly things will be given to you” [Attributed to Origin and quoted from Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Exposition by Charles Gore, 1905]. I can paraphrase this as follows: Seek spiritual values, and earthly things, expressing those values, will be given to you. Or, as Paul would put it: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Which is simply to say in another way, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Let us apply this method of prayer to two of the commonest things in American life, two things that are quite generally thought to be so worldly and mundane that they fall outside the proper scope and field of prayer. I refer to our sports and our business. Here, if anywhere, we certainly agree that the parable method will be brought to its severest test. How can a man in either of these fields with any sense of propriety go to God in prayer unless he can first pass his desires through the filter of Jesus’ parabolic vision and bring them forth purified of all dross and sediment of personal desire—that is to say, of Self? Imagine two rival athletic coaches both praying for victory. Imagine the presidents of two rival business firms praying for a monopoly of the trade in their line. How can either prayer be answered without disregarding, annulling, or violating the hallowed sanctity of the high office of prayer?
Just let us imagine a scene up in Heaven when two such conflicting prayers are received there. God gathers His angels together and says, “Down there are two earnest men asking for victories. Search through our stockrooms and our treasuries and gather together all the victories you can find and send them down to them.” Presently the angels come back and report, “We don’t find any such thing up here as victories. But we do find an old record which relates how an angel, the most beautiful of all those who sang before Thee, once made the request to be first in Heaven. If memory serves us right, Thou didst recommend that he journey down to a lower realm, where such requests might more appropriately be granted.” Needless to say that the prayers of the two men, while not reproved in so emphatic a manner as was Satan, nevertheless remain unanswered.
Then how may one pray for athletic victories?
First of all by seeking the Reality back of the idea of victory. What is the real object of these contests? To improve the condition—physical, mental, and spiritual—of the men, and tone up the morale or condition of consciousness of the institution they represent. Will victory help this? It certainly will help it if achieved honestly and fairly, but it is in no wise indispensable or even essential. I find—by looking hard at Reality—that the physical condition of the men depends chiefly, not on the muscle fibre, but on the condition of the heart and the circulation of the blood. When I trace the heart back to its symbolical, that is to say, its parabolic meaning,—a meaning associated with it ever since the time of Homer,—I find it is the symbol of love; and likewise the circulation of the blood is the symbol of the circulation of joy through the consciousness. Love and joy for his athletic team are what the coach should pray for, not for victory. To summarize this briefly:—
To pray just for victory is bad—actually unmoral, if not immoral.
To pray for the team members to do their best is only a little better, for it leaves each member thinking of his own little “best,” his own little personal responsibility to do his bit. It does not get back to the roots of things—to realities.
To pray for a condition of consciousness—a spiritual quality, not physical—that will enable an athlete to do his best is far better, as it goes down to the roots of things, to the Spirit, to the abiding trust that all are one body in Christ Jesus, and that all power comes from the Father.
This was all summed up by Jesus when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,” including love and joy, “and all these things,” victory and self-expression, “shall be added unto you.”
I had occasion to apply this truth last spring to a track team I was coaching, with amazing results; but, lest I clutter up this article with signs and wonders, I shall proceed to make clear the principles upon which it is based. For is not this method of prayer eminently logical and scientific? Do not physical scientists present to us situations that are analogous to this in their little outer universe of Time and Space?
Light, as we all know, comes to us from the sun. And yet scientists tell us that what comes to us as light is not light at all until it strikes the atmosphere that is wrapped about the earth. Then it suddenly breaks up into innumerable sunbeams, and we say that light is here. If anyone traveling through space should meet the sunbeams that are coming from the sun he would not recognize them as sunbeams. To him they would not appear as light at all, but as something else. Now let us imagine the people of this world getting together and deciding to petition the sun to send more light. They would send up a radiogram, “O Sun, send us more light!” The Sun would call together his servants and say, “The good people down below are asking for more light. Search all our stockrooms carefully, and if we have any on hand send it to them at once.” So the servants of the Sun would hunt carefully and finally come to him and say, “We have searched far and wide and find no such thing as light. We find vibration, motion, all kinds of beautiful rhythms, but no such thing as light.” Yet the people down below, in their blindness and ignorance, would continue to cry, “More light! Give us more light!” and the only answer they could receive is the comment of James, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.
Indeed, I used this very illustration one day to a college president who had telegraphed me that he was coming to talk about the problem of praying for a large endowment campaign that was fraught with immense possibilities, if it succeeded, as well as immense peril, if it failed, to the college whose destinies he guided. We were talking together in a downtown hotel and I used the above illustration as applied to money problems. Then I added:—
“You have a problem of raising many hundreds of thousands of dollars. For many days you have been thinking and living and praying in terms of dollars. Let us stop and see just what these dollars represent. Are they not ideas—ideas of culture, inspiration, beauty, freedom, wisdom, and truth? Have not men obtained such ideas seated on wooden benches in country schoolhouses? Have they not received them when seated on one end of a log with a Mark Hopkins on the other? Have they not received them while gathered on the shore, with their Master seated in a boat? Ideas are really what the world wants, what the students want, what you want; and the thousands of dollars you need for endowment, for buildings, for equipment, are merely the means by which you would have these ideas released in the largest possible way in order to do the greatest possible good to the greatest number. I know that if you could go back to Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a boy on the other you would gladly do it. But as a matter of fact that would require more money—not for the logs, but for a sufficient number of Mark Hopkinses to go around for the boys and the logs—than the actual money you are looking for now.
“At any rate you know and I know that the real thing you want is ideas, and not money. If one should pray to his Heavenly Father for money, what would happen? Suppose the Father should gather the angels about him and say, ‘They seem to want money down below there. Look through our treasuries and our storehouses and find that which they seek and send it to them, for it is my good pleasure to grant every request of my children.’ Presently the angels would return and report, ‘We have searched all the inner treasuries of the Kingdom and we find no such thing as money. We have nothing up here that moth and rust can corrupt or that thieves can steal. All we can find are ideas—beautiful, glorious ideas—of abundance, of ease, of leisure, of service, of truth, of beauty. Shall we send them?’ ‘No,’ the Lord might reply; ‘wait until they ask for them.’
“Again the only answer they who are asking could receive would be the words of James: ‘Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.’
“But suppose we should ask, seek, and knock for spiritual ideas, and not for material things what would happen? Simply this: that a veritable downpour of ideas—almost a hurricane or blizzard of ideas, if you please—would be shed down upon us, and as soon as these ideas struck the atmosphere of this earth they would—many of them, at least—be converted into good round hard practical dollars, the means by which these ideas of truth, culture, beauty, and happiness could be released in up-to-date colleges in this modern, complex, cosmopolitan age. For one thing we must give God credit. He has sometimes been accused of being a tyrant, and once—by the author of Job—of being a practical joker. But no one at any time has ever accused God of being an ignoramus or a fool. He knows our practical modern needs better than we do ourselves. Not until we set our affection on things above rather than on things of the earth will He grant the requests of His children.
‘“When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.’”
And now I am called upon to answer a sensible and sincere question. Is there not a certain amount of hypocrisy and subterfuge in asking for one thing in secret, as it were, and desiring another thing to be given to us openly? In asking for ideas, for instance, and desiring money; in asking for love and joy, and desiring victory?
There is the very issue, my friend. As long as one asks for one thing and desires another his prayers remain unanswered. Not until the athletic coach has persuaded himself in his own heart that the pearl without price that he desires above all other things for his athletes is that they be filled to overflowing with love and joy, entirely regardless of whether victory or defeat shall accompany this love and joy, can he begin to see the real power that such love and joy can release in his men. Not until the college president genuinely desires first and foremost that actual ideas shall come to his college, if need be from teachers in homespun talking to boys on broken benches, and ceases to press down on the thought that these ideas must be presented in great million-dollar buildings and paid for by great million-dollar endowments, can he begin to see the real supply contained in the spiritual idea made manifest.
But how can I explain why so many petitions asked in the old way—without a parable—have been answered? Always for this reason and for no other: they were first translated—if not consciously in the mind, then unconsciously in the heart of the petitioner—into a parable. The petitioner was looking at the inner spiritual Reality and not at the outward material manifestation of Fact or Thing. In other words, such prayers were answered only when they were offered in simple trust and always with that complete surrender to the will of God—uttered or unexpressed—contained in the simple words, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” “Thy will”—whether the seeker knows it or not—is always the spiritual will, just as “my will” is always the material will. Thus this simple statement, when uttered from the heart and not from the lips only, is a veritable Aladdin’s lamp for converting a petition for material things into a petition for spiritual things. In other words, it grants to God the privilege of substituting His will for ours—that is to say, of translating our literal language of the flesh into the parabolic language of the spirit, and thus releasing the spiritual powers and forces so that they may become manifest in whatever way seems necessary to meet the need that our petition contains.
What I am trying to make clear is that we must pray not so much in another language as in another spirit. I am convinced that Jesus Himself used both the new spirit and the new language, as His continuous use of the parable in both His thinking and His speaking gives us good reason to infer. Moreover, I am convinced that He has given us good authority for following His example and using the new language as well as the new spirit when He said, “Neither do men put new wine into old wineskins: else the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins perish: but they put new wine into fresh wine-skins, and both are preserved.”
And this assurance I can offer to all those who are willing to give themselves to the Jesus method of prayer: You will find yourself lifted into a purer realm, where it will be easier to let the gross material of this earthly world drop from your consciousness, and where you can more easily give your thought, not to the Facts, which are made, but to the Realities, which are not made, but eternal. You will find yourself lifted into a rarer atmosphere where soon you will not be seeking for treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but you will be seeking—in language as well as in thought for those treasures which are in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your language and your treasure are, there will your heart be also.
Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered. Greater than speaking in parables, than thinking in parables, yes, even than praying in parables, is living in parables. This is the secret underlying the parable method of speech of Jesus it is the parable method of living. He allied Himself spiritually—or, if you will, mystically with the universe, just as a scientist allies himself with it mentally. And as a scientist talks of and about the great powers of nature that are unseen, Jesus lived, moved, and had His being knowing Himself to be one with the powers that are unseen, and gave expression to them in His life. He moved amid these spiritual forces with a grace and ease that are the marvel of the ages.
And this art—which He mastered in such a magnificent manner—upon the testimony of Jesus Himself can be ours if we are willing to pay the price: to take up our cross, follow in His footsteps, and look upon life as He looked upon it. And He looked upon life imaginatively—that is to say, spiritually. For the imagination sees things not in the flesh but in the spirit; not in imperfection but in perfection; not in ugliness but in beauty; not in discord but in harmony; not in parts but in wholes. Jesus came to make men spiritual, beautiful, harmonious, and whole. To that end He talked to them in parables. He thought for them in parables, He prayed for them in parables; “and without a parable spake He not unto them.”
Now I come to that part of my message which is directed not primarily to the individual, but chiefly to those collective groups of religious bodies in this nation into whose keeping the divine fire of the Holy Spirit has been largely entrusted. And every word I speak is conceived in love, and every thought that goes out from me is born of prayer.
For I am like one who has been for a long while standing in an art gallery, shut away from the noisy world without. All around me hang the marvelous portraits and landscapes that Jesus has painted for us in His incomparable parables—pictures painted by the spoken word, conceived and colored in the depths of His divinely inspired imagination. Before me hangs the picture of the Samaritan, member of a despised race, bringing help and succor to one who had hated and despised him. Beside it hangs a picture of the righteous ruler, paying exactly the same recompense to all the workers in the vineyard, regardless of whether they represented faiths or creeds that had served him one hour or twelve. I see the prodigal and outcast son returning and being received into the open arms of a forgiving father. I see all about me the marvelous results of a Master Artist who has been painting pictures lovingly, patiently, conceived and inspired by an imagination great and broad enough to look out upon all types of humanity and have compassion upon them.
Having lived in this atmosphere of beauty, of harmony, of glory, I have become, like the Lady of Shalott, oblivious to things outside. But as I turn at last from this great, compassionate, harmonious, imaginative world that is within to the little world of chaos, discord, and logic that is without, when I lean far out the casement window and look around, what is it that comes into view to bring a catch in the throat and a dimness before the eyes? Far off down the winding ages I see Catholics who have no imagination burning Protestants; and Protestants who have no imagination burning Dissenters; and Dissenters who have no imagination burning Quakers; and Dissenters and Protestants joining forces to burn Catholics; and Jews burned and massacred by unimaginative Protestants and Catholics alike. And in the foreground we find Fundamentalists who have no imagination fighting Modernists who have no imagination, and one half of a congregation without imagination forming into a clique to quarrel with the other half formed into a clique, until one is tempted to raise his hands and exclaim: “If the blind lead the blind, shall not both fall into the ditch?”
The pity of it is that all these acts of the stunted, dwarfed, and crucified imagination, which bring discord, hate, and misunderstanding into the world, are done in the very name of Him who told the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.
How can we account for this failure of the Christian Church to live up to the marvelous tenets of its Founder? Is it not because for centuries we have considered religion as a science—not as an art? Is it not because we have taught it in precepts and not in parables? Is it not because we have looked at it in the cold light of reason, and failed to live it in the warm light of imagination? Is it not because we have based our conduct upon the dogmas and creeds and formulse of Aquinas, of Luther, of Calvin, of Jonathan Edwards, and not upon the simple parables of Jesus?
I am led to cry out: When, O men of the churches, were we told to cast out the imagination from our midst? Is it not time to take the stone which the builders have rejected and make it the head of the corner? Is it not time that we cease making of our religion a science merely, and make of it an art, as Jesus made it an art—an art of harmony, cooperation, sympathy, understanding, and brotherhood?
Strange it is that we have singled out and set apart the field of religion alone of all the branches of human activity for this glorification of science! In all other branches of human activity the art phase is stressed and the scientific basis considered subordinate. In business and in sports a man is not classified according to what he believes about a thing; he is classified according to the efficiency with which he does a thing.
What should we think of a golf-player turning to another and saying, “I am sorry, but you cannot play with me. I don’t like your stance or the way you grip your clubs. This course is reserved for Presbyterians—you belong to the Baptists. You get over on your own course!” The actual test in golf is how far and how true a man can drive the ball. And the only test in the art of religion, as contrasted with the science of religion, is how far a man can give his allegiance to the spiritual conception of the universe, and by his own life and conduct try to make the will of God prevail.
Science talks of and about God, of and about Love, of and about Joy, of and about Peace, Truth, Wisdom, Purity, Harmony. Art expresses God, Love, Joy, Peace, Truth, Harmony, and Wisdom. Science investigates and correlates, unifies and explains life’s great affirmations; Art grows into, becomes one with, and expresses life’s great affirmations. A man may learn the laws of a science in a day; he can grow in an art for all eternity.
There may be many disagreements over the laws or methods underlying an art, but there is only one test of the art itself—does it get results? In the realm of science there may be as many hypotheses as there are scientists; in the realm of art there can be but one test: does it manifest itself in life? Does the orator make you weep, make you laugh, make you act? Then don’t ask what theory of elocution he used. Did the boat’s crew win the race? Then don’t ask what theory of stroke they used. Did the picture smite you with beauty? Then don’t ask what was the school of painting it represents. Did the good man throw open the windows for you and let God’s blessed Spirit enter and fill your home? Did he make you realize you are a spiritual being living in a spiritual universe? Then don’t ask what is his creed or to what church he belongs. Don’t ask what mansion he lives in, for in our Father’s house are many mansions. Suffice it to know that he belongs to the Father’s house; that he lives in the consciousness of God’s all-pervading Presence; that in God he lives and moves and has his being.
Brother Lawrence, that sweet-souled Catholic, was one who practised the presence of God as it was rarely given to man to practise it. Phillips Brooks also, in another age and another environment, lived the God-conscious life. The science, the “ology,” the technique of their methods differed, and yet the results were the same. By their fruits they were brothers. Had they lived in the same age, in the same city, they would undoubtedly have found each other out—they would have become comrades in heart and partners in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into the community where Providence had brought them together. Would that we had more like them to-day!
Could the Allies ever have won the war if Frenchmen had refused to fight in the same sector with Englishmen, and Belgians had refused to fight side by side with Americans? It was not until all united in harmony, in spite of the fact that each naturally represented a different theory or creed of military training and discipline, that the successful outcome of the World War was possible. And I prophesy that not until Catholics, Christian Scientists, Methodists and Unitarians, Fundamentalists and Modernists, can forget the differences underlying the science of their creeds and unite in the common cause of living their religion—that is to say, practising the art of living in allegiance to the spiritual conception of the universe—may we hope to see the power of Mammon broken and the victory achieved that will bring peace on earth and good will to men.
© 1925, The Atlantic Monthly Press Inc.