6. Praying on the Mountain
by Glenn Clark
The Soul's Sincere Desire
There is a beautiful symbolism among primitive peoples, extant in the times of the prophets of Israel and extending clear down to Jesus’ day, that the abode of the Most High was in the mountain. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?” “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Moses, we know, went up on Mount Sinai to commune with God, and we read that Jesus went frequently into the mountain apart to pray. But we do not have to go to Mount Sinai, “neither in this mountain,” according to Jesus; for whoever prays retires—symbolically—into God’s holy Mountain. Have we not often in our prayer said in our heart, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help,” and where is there any more beautiful expression of trust than this: “O send out thy light and thy truth ... let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.”
The Mountain is symbolical of praying with the uplifted thought, that is to say, with the mind fixed on God. The higher the thought—the higher we into the mountain—the further we are removed from the petty ills and troubles in this world and the closer we are to God and Heaven. As we start to climb the mountain of prayer the world-thoughts still cling close around us and we find that we are kept pretty busy protecting ourselves from their claims. But as we rise higher, where the vision is broader and the air is clearer, the petty troubles and annoyances of this world dwindle in the distance until, if we continue far enough, we reach the place where protection against them is no longer needed. When we finally reach the summit we discover that all we have to do is to keep our thought on God and His goodness, and realize that heaven with all its harmony is round about us here and now, and our troubles vanish before us like mists before the sun. This is getting “up into the high mountain.” And Isaiah tells us how the whole world will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into prun-inghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” when the praying in our churches becomes of this exalted nature, that is to say, when “the mountain of the Lord’s House shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”
The references in the Bible to the “top of the mountain” are allegorical references to the highest type of prayer that it is possible to conceive. They describe the condition of prayer that Jesus attained. He stood at the very summit of prayer, and everything on earth was made subject to him. Jesus had no need of the denial in life, because to Him there was nothing to deny. He stood at a vantage point where He could look straight through the symbolism of facts to the Truth beyond, and by means of His correlating, harmonizing synthesis of vision, expressed through parables and miracles, bring all things into harmony.
Since the first chapter in this book I have hardly once used the terms “denial” and “affirmation.” Why? Simply because you and I have been climbing a mountain: we have been very rapidly outgrowing them, leaving them behind. When they have reappeared at times they have usually appeared in somewhat different guise and under other terms. The imagination, for instance, has taken over the office of the affirmation and proved far more effective and adequate to the situation. Up to the present we have spoken of nothing which can stand forth and take over the office of denial.
And what, after all, is the function of denial? Is it not our weapon of defense, our shield and buckler, just as affirmation is the sword of attack? The knights of chivalry discovered that the more expert they became in attack the less use they had for the defense. Is not this also the philosophy of our modern knights of the gridiron, the arena, and the tennis courts,—in football, boxing, polo, basket ball, and tennis,— that the best defense is an irresistible attack? And when an attack becomes absolutely invincible, something which nothing can stand before, there automatically ceases to be any need for defense at all. This explains why Jesus never used the denial excepting in two very serious cases, where he was raising people from the dead; and in both those cases he used it to drive away the thoughts of limitation—not from his own consciousness, but from the consciousness of those who were about Him; and in each case the denial took the form of a creative parable: “The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.” This utterance was like the chivalric act of a knight of old, who knowing himself to be impervious to the arrows of the enemies, nevertheless did not scorn to lean forward and interpose his own glorious shield, to ward off the attacking arrows from the bodies of weaker brethren. In other words, while Jesus stood on the summit of the peak, He did not forget that there were in the great throng many who were still lingering near the foot of the mountain.
May we too hope to reach the mountain top where our prayers may become a simple and direct reaching out for the good, instead of a puttering and fretting over things that are bad? Will our attack ever become so irresistible that we too may use the sword only, and throw away the shield and buckler?
It depends upon how utterly we give ourselves in trust to God, and how completely we open our imagination as a window for the light of God to shine through us. It depends upon how successfully this inner light can reveal to us that the earth which appears to be flat is actually round; that the man who appears to be bad is actually good; that the tapestry of God’s infinite plan for us is not a patch-work of hideous designs but a magic web of marvelous workmanship and infinite beauty. For the imagination, when illumined by the light of God,—as explained in a former chapter,—shows us unities, harmonies, and beauties where the unimaginative mind sees only separations, discords, and ugliness. But with most of us poor humans, who give our imagination only partly and not wholly to God, we find that after it has converted nearly everything into harmonies and unities there still remain scattered bits of discord, of separation, of ugliness, which, like chips that fall from the woodcarver’s table, cannot be correlated and unified into the universal scheme of things.
What shall we do with these chips that fall by the way? Deny them? If you will be patient with me I will show you a better way.
When God blessed us with the imagination to see the harmonies and congruities and logical relationships in this world, He blessed us at the same time with the sense of humor, to see the inharmonies, the incongruities, and the illogical relationships in life and laugh at them. Moreover, humor enables us to see these things without malice and without fear; it transforms them, rather, into the means of giving us diversion, rest, and enjoyment, so that they actually enrich our store of human experience, become assets and not liabilities in the possession of our heart. A teacher can eradicate a pupil’s fault by laughing at it more quickly than by any punishment. Doctors can cure people of trivial complaints by laughing them away better than by surgery or drugs.
So we may say that the laugh is the spirit which denies, just as the imagination is the spirit which affirms. Both are needed for a sane, practical, and substantial spiritual life. The one is useful to protect • us against relativity, the other is needed to carry us forward into infinity. One represents the Falstaff of our nature, the other the Ariel; one the Sancho Panza, the other the Don Quixote. But the further we climb up the mountain in our quest for the perfect prayer, the less and less we have to depend upon the Falstaff and the more and more we can depend upon the Ariel to fulfill all our needs. As John the Baptist—he who came to make the way straight by denying the bad in man—said when he saw the Son of Man approaching, the one who was to affirm the good in man: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
I made reference to two occasions where Jesus interposed His denial like a shield to protect those about Him who were weaker than Himself. Let me give an example of where He used His sense of humor to protect and save others who were near Him. The Pharisees took great pride in their ability to understand spiritual things. And in spite of their manifest faults it is true that there was a great deal of real piety among them. However, there was one colossal evil in their midst that, for some reason or other, they could not as a class easily escape; this was their bondage to hypocrisy. In order to help them to see the ridiculousness of this bondage Jesus painted a series of word pictures that for sparkling humor and brilliant sarcasm have no equal in literature. In one of these pictures, for instance, he described a learned and sober scholar carefully straining out a gnat from his soup and then proceeding to swallow a camel with its immense hump, long, hairy legs, and long, scraggly neck. Merely to visualize this picture would be enough to set an Oriental audience into roars of laughter. If these words had come from the mouth of Sancho Panza or Falstaff, students of literature would be saying to this day that there had been nothing funnier in all literature. That Jesus’ heroic treatment of this serious situation in the hearts of the Pharisees brought forth fruit in later years, converting many of the younger Pharisees to join his followers, is evidenced from the mention made ’in the Book of Acts of the very influential place held in the Apostolic Church by men who had formerly been Pharisees.
By humor and laughter of course I do not refer to the low, coarse type of buffoonery. I mean the exalted, spiritual, joyous type of laughter. Laughter that is compounded of love and joy and gratitude is divine laughter, whose echoes are heard in heaven. It is such laughter that sends us tripping higher and higher up the mountain. The more evil that comes upon us and the more we find ourselves able to laugh at it lovingly and joyously, the quicker we shall reach the stage where no evil can touch us; for as the touch of Midas converted everything into gold, so can the touch of heaven-born laughter convert every shadow and bit of darkness into golden bits of sunshine to brighten and gladden our path.
When Hercules wrestled with Antaeus he found that every time he threw him down upon the ground the enemy arose stronger than before. But when he discovered that Gaea—the Earth—was the mother of the giant, and that every time her son fell back upon her bosom he rose with renewed strength, then Hercules changed his tactics. Lifting Antteus high in the air, away from the source of strength, he held him there till he brought him into subjection.
We, who are not children of Earth but children of God, could learn much from the lesson of Antaeus. We too, whenever troubles cast us back upon the bosom of our Father, rise with renewed strength. But just as Antaeus let Hercules, who was smaller in stature than he, lift him away from the source of his power, so circumstances, infinitely small and trivial, may drag us away from God. Troubles, misfortunes, disappointments, and handicaps, if they but throw us back upon God, if they merely give us opportunity of bringing into play our God-directed imagination and our heaven-blessed sense of humor, may become converted into marvelous good fortune. For trouble, if it merely turns us to God and hence renews our strength, ceases to be evil, and becomes good; it becomes the best thing that could possibly come to us, next to God Himself. For our growth in power and happiness depends upon the number of seconds out of each twenty-four hours that we are resting in God.
Had Hercules continued to throw Antseus back upon Mother Earth often enough, the giant would have risen at last so strong that neither Hercules nor any other creature could throw him down. Thenceforth the giant would no longer have required any weapons of defense, for he would have possessed within himself all the strength of his mother; he would have become invulnerable, invincible, irresistible, for he and the Earth-strength would have become one. And so it is with us. After trouble has thrown us back upon God a number of times, our strength will become so great that thenceforth trouble no longer can toss us anywhere, for we shall abide in our Father, and His strength will abide in us. This use of trouble Jesus had in mind when He said: “Blessed are they that mourn. ... Blessed are they which are persecuted. ... Blessed are ye when men shall revile you ... and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” And what is this reward in heaven if it is not this at-one-ness, this unity with the Father? As Antaeus might have achieved dominion over all the physical creation had he ever attained sufficient unity with his Earth Mother, so may we hope to achieve dominion over our little world of time and space, if we can only attain sufficient unity with our Father.
And now, because we are near the summit of the mountain, let us pause and take one look back over the path we have trod, filled as it is with cast-off weapons of defense and attack, outgrown garments, axioms that no longer serve us, rules that no longer rule, commandments that no longer command. For, like Dante when he passed from the leadership of Vergil to the leadership of Beatrice, we too have come out from the reign of law and have come under the reign of grace. And as we pause and consider what has happened within us, this great realization comes to us: Axioms, laws, commandments are not the Truth until they have been incorporated into a life and have life. The one condition of Truth, according to Jesus, is that it be alive. Any axiom, law, or commandment which is not used is dead. This is as certain as that seven times one is seven. Jesus declared, “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” This is one implication in all of Jesus’ teachings which is not sufficiently understood. It accounts, among other things, for His frequent reference to His own life, His own personality, as though He considered it greater than His teaching. It was greater! He did not say, “Follow my teachings,” He said, “Follow me.” He did not say, “My teachings are the way,” but “I am the way.” He did not say, “My teachings are alive,” but “I am the life.” He did not say, “ My teachings are the truth,” but “I am the truth.”
Perhaps one reason for our common mistake in thinking that Truth is something that can be confined in books is due to our dictionary-makers who treat Truth as a noun—something static—when it really has the positive, dynamic quality of a verb. This is peculiarly true of Truth as Jesus used it. For Jesus never dealt with people, facts, or formulae from the outside, but always from the inside—that is to say, from the point of view of the Spirit. This accounts for the fact that whenever He discussed Truth He spoke not as the scribes, who clothed it with vestments of laws, dogmas, and outward things, but “as one having authority,” because He spoke with that freedom with which only those who live and move and have their being on the unconditioned basis of Spirit can speak. In other words, when Jesus used the word “Truth” He always meant the Spirit of Truth. And the Spirit, as we all know, cannot be brought into captivity to any form, any formula, any concept. When a man thinks he can confine the mighty rhythms of God within the narrow’ confines of law and logic, and believes he can measure the very frontiers of Infinity with fragile and feeble theories, hypotheses, and formulae, he is deluding himself even as Thor deluded himself when he believed he could drain the cup whose contents were linked up with all the seven seas.
The Spirit of Truth, like the Spirit of Love, or the Spirit of Joy, is a condition of Consciousness or a state of Being. It is the Spirit which brings us into at-one-ness with All-Truth. It is a state of perfect discernment, perfect understanding, because of perfect unity with the Father. Truth, then, as Jesus used it, is not a concept. Truth is the power to conceive and to express concepts. It is an eternally active principle, ever operative, ever available, ever emancipating man. It is not dead, but lives—the Living Christ in man. “I am the truth,” said Jesus. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” For Truth, as Jesus used it, is not statistics; it is not statements,—even the aphorisms of the wise,—it is not laws. For statistics will grow old, statements will cease to be applicable, laws will fail; but the power to conceive and express Truth will never die. This power is eternal; it comes from God and it goes to God; it is the one thing which continually lifts man God-ward. It is the Holy Ghost working in man.
This, then, is what awaits us at the top of the mountain—this unity with the Spirit of Truth. To attain this, everything else is but a means to an end, and when it has served its purpose we may, if we wish, cast it aside as we would an outgrown garment. That is why I say: when you have outgrown Denial and Affirmation, you may throw them away without any regret. You may even abandon Humor as a necessary means of growth in spiritual life, if you find yourself able to bring everything into harmony, unity, and beauty without it. And how can we tell whether to-morrow or the next day we shall not find something even greater than the Imagination for opening doors to the love of God for finding our absolute and unconditioned oneness with the Father?
For this reason man will continually reach new concepts, use them, and pass on to find others. One concept of Truth after another will come and go. But the power to conceive and express concepts, the power to realize and live Truth, will remain eternally in the heart of man. This is the power that links man to God, that brings him into harmony with the Divine. This power is what Jesus referred to when He said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” And so, while not all of us agree upon the exact meaning of every teaching of Jesus, while we may not be able to comprehend all the Truth of every statement He made, we are all able to comprehend that He had the power to conceive and express Truth, eternally, universally, instantly—that, in short, He was the Truth. And only in so far as we also conceive and express Truth shall we understand His promise: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
This, then, awaits us at the top of the mountain—this freedom that comes from knowing the Truth. Then we shall know what the Scripture meant when it said of man, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” All that we shall need to do will be to look at the thing, the need, the problem, the trouble, with Faith, Love, Joy, and Gratitude—in other words, with our hearts and minds stayed on God—until we can see through the thing or fact to the Truth or Reality which abides in it or is behind it. Once get this inner realization clear enough and the thing or fact will fade into its native nothingness and the Reality within will take its place. The inharmonies will fall into harmonies, the ugliness will turn into beauty, and the dissociated parts will reassemble in marvelous unities.
Nor will this require effort on our part other than merely to be conscious of the Living Presence of God in us. Just as the rain needs only to become conscious of the sun’s rays shining in it for the rainbow to become manifest in the heavens, so we shall need only to become conscious of God shining in our hearts for the fulfillment of prayer to become manifest upon earth. Just as the action of the sky upon the earth can bring marvelous harmony, symmetry, and beauty into being, so the action of God upon man can also bring into being marvelous harmony and symmetry and beauty. Moreover, the result in both cases follows naturally, automatically, and inevitably. No effort, no striving in either case is required, merely a letting go and letting the light shine in and through, and the rainbow of fulfillment will appear in the sky.
The rainbow is one of the first great symbols mentioned in the Old Testament, the symbol of answered prayer. It appeared to Noah, but he would never have seen it with his physical eyes in the sky unless he had first seen or “ thought it in his heart.” For it was merely the reflection or refraction of what had already taken place in his own heart. Had he not first prayed a perfect prayer in his heart, he would never have seen the perfect manifestation in the sky.
I referred in the preceding chapter to the perfect prayer—the prayer that has no beginning and no ending, because it begins with God and ends with God; because it is a circle. The rainbow is an outward symbol of such perfect inner communion. The rainbow as seen by man, limited and circumscribed as he is by the bounds of earth, is only a half circle; but the rainbow as seen by God is always the perfect and complete circle. The rainbow as a spiritual symbol is never seen save from the point of view of Heaven. Noah with his mortal eyes could see only half of the promise of God; the rest he must needs see with spiritual eyes. The ordinary man sees only the phenomenon of nature or the half circle; Noah saw the promise of God because he saw the completed circle. But again I reiterate: he would not have seen God draw a perfect circle in the sky had he not first seen God draw a perfect circle in his own heart. For again we must remember that as a man thinketh—and prayeth—in his heart, so is he.
© 1925, The Atlantic Monthly Press Inc.