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   Chapter 2 THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL

The Ascent of the Soul By Amory H. Bradford Characters: 18045

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The process of physical awakening is not always sudden or swift. The passage from sleep to consciousness is sometimes slow and difficult. The soul's realization of itself is often equally long delayed. The effect of eloquence on an audience has often been observed when one by one the dormant souls wake up and begin to look out of their windows, the eyes, at the speaker who is addressing them. In something the same way the souls of men come to a consciousness of their powers and, with clearness, begin to look out on their possibilities and their destiny.

The prodigal son in the parable of Jesus lived his earlier years without an appreciation either of his powers or possibilities. When he came to himself this appreciation flashed upon his will and he turned toward his father.

Two chapters of this book will have to do with thoughts suggested by this "pearl of parables," viz., the Soul's Awakening and its Re-awakening. Before this young man decided to return to his father he knew himself as an intelligent and as a responsible being; the power of choice was not given him then for the first time. Long ere this he had decided how he would use his wealth. He knew the difference between right and wrong. He was intellectually and morally awake before he saw things in their true relations. "The wine of the senses" intoxicated him; the delights of the flesh seemed the only pleasures to be desired. At first he did not discover the essential excellence of virtue or the sure results of vice. Later, when he saw things in a clearer light, their proper proportions and relations appeared, and he came to himself and made the wise choice.

In this chapter we are to study the process of the soul's awakening to a consciousness of its powers, and in a subsequent chapter that re-awakening which is so radical as to merit the name it has usually received, viz., the new birth.

There is a time when the soul first realizes itself as a personality with definite responsibilities and relations. This experience comes to some earlier, and to some with greater vividness, than to others. So long as we are blind to our powers, responsibilities, relations, we can hardly be said to be spiritually awake. He only is awake who knows himself as a personality; who has heard the voice of duty; who, to some extent, appreciates the fact that he is dependent on a higher personality or power; and who recognizes that he is surrounded by other personalities who also have their rights, responsibilities, and relations. I think, I choose, I love, I know that I am dependent upon a Being higher than myself. I see that I am related to other personalities with rights as sacred as my own, and, therefore, that I must choose, think, love so as to be acceptable to the One to whom I am responsible, and harmonious with those by whom I am surrounded.

The soul's awakening is primarily a recognition and an appreciation of its responsibility. It may think, choose, love, without realizing responsibility, and, therefore, live as if it were the only being in the universe; but the moment it recognizes responsibility it also discerns a higher Person, and other persons, since responsibility to no one, and for nothing, is inconceivable.

The soul's awakening, therefore, carries with it the idea of obligation, and that includes the recognition of God, of duty, of right and wrong, in short, of a moral ideal. I do not mean to insist that every one appreciates all that is implied in consciousness of responsibility. There are degrees of alertness, and some men are wide awake and others half asleep.

However it may have come to its self-realization, that is a solemn and sublime moment when a human soul understands, ever so dimly, that it is facing in the unseen Being one on whom it knows itself to be dependent; and when it discerns the hitherto invisible lines which bind it to other personalities, in all space and time. At that moment life really begins. Henceforward, by various ways, over undreamed-of obstacles, assisted by invisible hands, hindered by unseen forces, in spite of foes within and enemies without, the course of that soul must ever be toward its true home and goal, in the bosom of God.

The difficulties in the way of such a faith for the thoughtful and sensitive are many and serious. Not all blossoms come to fruitage; not all human beings are fit to live; processes of degeneration seem to be at work in nature, in society, and in the individual life.

Apparently true and time-honored interpretations of Scripture are quoted against the faith that in some way, and by some kind of discipline, the souls of men will forever approach God; while the belief of the church, so far as it has found expression in the creeds is urged in opposition. But when I see how timidly the creeds of the church have been held by many in all ages, how large a number of the most spiritual and morally earnest have questioned them at this point, and how often they have been rejected in whole, or in part, by those who have dared to trust their hearts; when I remember that the Scripture quoted as opposing is susceptible of another interpretation, when I remember that blossoms are not men, and, most of all when I see the God-like possibilities in every human being, I cannot resist the conviction that every soul of man is from God, and that, sometime and somehow, it may be by the hard path of retribution, possibly through great agonies and by means of austere chastisements and severe discipline as well as by loving entreaty, after suffering shall have accomplished all its ministries it will reach a blissful goal and the "beatific vision."

The awakening of the soul is its entrance upon an appreciation of its powers, relations, possibilities, and responsibilities.

What awakens the soul? The answer to that question is hidden. The wind bloweth where it listeth. Elemental processes and forces are all silent and viewless. The stillness of the sunrise is like that of the deeps of the sea. No eye ever traced the birth of life, and no sound ever attended the awakening of the soul; and yet this subject is not altogether mysterious. A few rays of light have fallen upon it. I venture suggestions which may help a little toward a rational answer to this question.

The soul awakens because it grows, and its growth is sure. Everything that is alive must grow; only death is stationary. It is as natural for us sometime to know ourselves as having relations both to the seen and the unseen as for our bodies to increase in stature. The Confession of Augustine[3] is true of all, "Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee."

The soul turns toward God as naturally as children turn toward their parents. I know no other way of explaining the fact that in all ages the majority of the people have had faith in some kind of a deity; and that, widely as they differ as to what is right, all feel that they should follow their convictions of duty. The various ethnic religions, however repulsive, cruel, and vile some of their teachings may be, all indicate a realization of dependence, and all, in some way, bear witness to man's longing for God. Augustine was right-"The heart is restless until it repose in Thee."

The healthful soul will always move along the pathway of growth. The next stage in its evolution after its birth is its awakening. Its progress may be hindered, but it cannot be prevented, and it may be hastened.

The means by which a soul comes to its self-realization has been a favorite study with poets, dramatists, and novelists. Marguerite, in "Faust," was a simple, sweet, sensuous, traditionally religious girl until she was rudely startled by the knowledge that she was a great sinner; that moment the scales began to fall from her eyes. In her, Goethe has shown how one class of persons, and that a large class, come to self-realization.

Victor Hugo, in a passage of almost unparalleled pathos, has pictured in Jean Valjean a kind of big human beast who, when half awake, steals a loaf of bread to save others from starving, but who is startled into fullness of manhood by the sympathy and consideration of the good Bishop whose silver he had also stolen.

Hawthorne, in Donatello, has pictured a beautiful creature fully equipped with affections, emotions, passions, but with little consciousness of responsibility, until the fatal moment in which a crime illuminates his soul like a flash of lightning.

Such experiences are not to be compared with those of the prodigal son or of Saul. Before the one was reduced to husks, or the light blazed upon the other, they felt the obligation to do right. The prodigal chose pleasure with his eyes wide open and Saul was, mistakenly but truly, trying to do God's will even when he assisted in the stoning of Stephen.

Hugo, Goethe, and Hawthorne have accurately delineated single steps in the growth of the soul. They have shown how the process of the soul's awakening may

be, and often has been, hastened. It may be hindered by false ideals and a vicious environment, and it may be hastened by lofty ideals and a holy environment.

Dr. Bushnell, in his lectures on Christian Nurture, has said that the formative years of every man's life are the first three. Is he correct? I am not sure, but there can be no doubt but what with a good environment the consciousness of moral obligation will be very early developed.

The soul cannot long be imprisoned. The consciousness of "ought" and "ought not" will break all barriers as a growing seed will split a rock; and, when that stage of growth appears, the soul knows itself.

When the soul is finally awakened, when it realizes that it is indissolubly bound to a larger personality in the unseen sphere; when it finds that it is tied to other souls, and that it cannot escape from its responsibility for itself and them,-what then? Then the struggle of life begins. The awakening is to a realization of conflict with the seen and unseen environment, with forces within and fascinations without. When Paul speaks of the law as the minister of death, he simply means that law introduces an ideal, and ideals always start struggles. Law is something to be obeyed. It is sure to antagonize the animal in man. When our possibilities dawn upon us, in that moment there comes the feeling that they should be our masters. Then the lower nature resists and becomes clamorous. Duty calls in one direction and inclination impels in another. The period of ignorance has passed. Weakness and imperfection remain, but not ignorance. There is a conflict in the soul. The law in the members wars against the law in the mind. We feel that we ought to move upward, but unseen weights press heavily upon us, and to rise seems impossible.

Between God calling from above and animalism from below the poor soul has a hard time of it. The morally great in all ages have become strong by overcoming their fleshly natures. They have risen on their dead selves to higher things. The vision of God has reached them even in their prison-houses; and it has broken their chains and they have begun to move toward Him. To the end of the chapter they have had a long fight, and not seldom have been sadly worsted. Goethe and Augustine, Pascal and Coleridge, DeQuincey and Webster-how the list of those who have had to fight bitter battles for spiritual liberty might be extended I and many have not been victorious before the shadows have lengthened and the day closed. Should they be blamed or pitied? Pitied, surely, and for the rest let us leave them to Him who knoweth all things. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Men have nothing to do with judgment; the final word concerning any soul will be spoken only by Him whose vision is perfect. "Steep and craggy is the pathway of the gods," and steep and craggy is the path by which men rise to spiritual heights.

He who is sensitive to life can hardly survey this universal human struggle with undimmed eye or with unquestioning faith. The young are driven here and there by heartless and, sometimes, almost furious passions; some are weak and fall because they are blind, and others because they love and trust; and many who desire to do good mistake and choose evil. The strong often try to run away from themselves but can find no solitude in which to hide; and all the time right and truth shine in the darkness like stars. What shall we say of these confusing conditions? To ignore them is foolish; to insist that the struggle is but a delusion is nonsense. The only sane course is to face facts and adjust our theories to them.

The battle between duty and inclination, between the ideal and the actual, will continue as long as life in the body endures. It is not an unmixed evil. In the end right is never worsted. The way that leads to holiness is long and sometimes bloody; but it always develops strength and courage. The fight, for each individual, will be ended only by the full and perfect choice of truth and virtue, which are always the will of God. The victory will be secure long before it is fully won. Enough for us to know that conformity to the will of God at last will be the end of strife.

It is not well to be overmuch troubled when we see those whom we love fighting a hard battle against inherited tendencies and an evil environment, for the fight, however fierce, is a good sign. Those alone are to be pitied who are drifting, and not resisting. Progress is ever by a steep and spiral pathway. Sometimes the face of the ascending soul is toward the sun and sometimes it is toward the darkness. No man can deliver his friend from the forces which oppose him. Each must conquer for himself and none can evade the conflict. From the hour when the soul awakens to a consciousness of its powers and possibilities, its movement, in spite of all hindrances and difficulties, must be to the heights. Those only need cause anxiety who are not yet awake; or who, having been awake, have turned backward instead of pressing onward.

We are now face to face with a momentous inquiry. When the soul is awake, when it realizes something of its descent from God and of its relation to Him and to other souls, what should be its environment? Intelligent and otherwise sane people at this point have been strangely insane and blind. We are always affected by influence more than by teaching. Education by atmosphere is quite as effective as education by study. Involuntarily all become like their ideals. Personalities absorb characteristics from surroundings as flowers absorb colors from the light. The awakened soul, therefore, from the first should have a spiritual environment. Parents and friends should be helps, not hindrances, to its progress. I once read a letter from one who had changed an old for a new home. The letter was full of aspiration for the best things, of thoughts about God and the spiritual verities. It was not difficult to see that the new home in its reverence for truth, its loyalty to right, its reaching for reality, was providing the same good influence as the old one. If, in the environment, truth and duty are honored, virtue reverenced, God worshipped sincerely and devoutly, manhood held to be as sacred as deity, the unseen and spiritual never spoken of unadvisedly or lightly, courage always found hand in hand with character, the soul will never long fight a losing battle.

The home should be organized to promote, as swiftly as possible, the awakening of the souls of the children; and, from the moment of this awakening, everything should be planned to help their growth. The books on the tables should tell the life-stories of those who have bravely fought and never faltered. Biographies of men like Wilberforce and Howard who have lived to help their fellow-men; and of women like Florence Nightingale and Lady Stanley, who have regarded their social gifts and ample wealth as calls to service; histories of charities, intellectual development and noble achievement, pictures like Sir Galahad and The Light of the World are potent forces in the formation of character. The ideal side of life should ever be presented in its most attractive form to the awakened soul in its near environment. Because the ideal culminates in the religious, and the feeling of moral obligation rests at last upon the conviction that God is, and that He is not far from any one, Jesus, in all the beauty and pathos of His earthly career, in all the tragic grandeur of His death and glory of His Resurrection, in all the nearness and helpfulness of His continuing ministry, should be the subject of frequent, earnest, honest, sane, and sympathetic conversation.

The awakened soul needs first of all an environment which will be favorable to its growth. Its development then will usually be steadily and swiftly toward God and conformity to His will. There ought to be no need of any re-awakening. If the soul opens its eyes among those who reverence truth and righteousness, who guard virtue and revere love, to whom God is the nearest and most blessed of realities, and Jesus is Master, Saviour, and daily Friend, its growth toward the spiritual goal will be as natural and beautiful as it will also be swift and sure.

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THE FIRST STEPS

No mortal object did these eyes behold

When first they met the placid light of thine,

And my soul felt her destiny divine,

And hope of endless peace in me grew bold:

Heaven-born, the soul a heav'nward course must hold;

Beyond the visible world she soars to seek

(For what delights the sense is false and weak)

Ideal form, the universal mould.

The wise man, I affirm, can find no rest

In that which perishes: nor will he lend

His heart to aught which doth on time depend.

'Tis sense, unbridled will, and not true love,

Which kills the soul: Love betters what is best,

Even here below, but more in heaven above.

-Sonnet from Michael Angelo. Wordsworth

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