We sometimes think that we are physical beings in a material world, but this is less than the whole truth. It is of far more importance to see that we are in the process of becoming responsible in the spiritual side of our nature that works through these very sensitive body-instruments; and that just as these bodies undergo constant renewal, so the world changes and is being continually renewed by the authority of the same invisible forces of nature. To understand how the changes are brought about we shall have to look through them, as effects, and discover their spiritual bases.
We have a twofold duty: to stand alone on the solid ground of life itself, while following the course of intellectual and spiritual fulfillment in cooperation with our fellow men. From one point of view we can say that wherever we look we find aspects of our imagination that await our touch and thereby furnish the work we can do. From another, the world goes about its business and each of us is only a very small part of it. In the highest sense the world is the product of divine imagination, out of whose scope we catch only fragmentary glimpses. We are told that man is a replica of the universe, which is the functioning organism of this divine degree of imagination, and therefore we are capable of eventually becoming conscious partners in divine processes.
We have no greater ally than imagination for establishing our confidence to face the future of ourselves and the world as inseparable. In truth, we are incapable of seeing ourselves as totally separate from what we see around us. We need our surroundings to think and work in. Our thoughts, our habits and expectations, are so entangled with our fellows and the world that we cannot possibly unravel their strands to beginnings, whether in ourselves or our environment — with all that environment means.
But while we cannot get along without each other, that does not mean that we should try to be alike. To help us be better individuals, we need each other as parents, as children, as husbands and wives — and especially as friends who grow ever more firmly so by honest and confident sharing of experience. We even need each other as opponents at times, to extend our understanding of human nature generally. Doesn't this show that we are subject to laws of a unity more vast than we dream of, that we have yet to comprehend the roots, the plant, and the flower that a human being really is? But we can surely trust, with strength and imagination, the spiritual unity that overshadows all life.
Though we have barely begun to fathom our mutual interdependence, not only with people but with the other kingdoms of nature, there are enough traceable threads to conclude that anything we do does not affect just ourselves, nor are we ever powerless to help others. The fact is that we do not "help" others or receive help from them deliberately so much as by indirect but powerful influences that flow between us. Every choice we make is felt by others, no matter how private we think it is. We do not even own the energies that flow through us, for their qualitative influences mingle with their own kind in the subtle atmosphere that surrounds and interpenetrates all the life of earth. In terms of qualities our private lives are public property, though not printed in newspapers or talked about over teacups or back fences. We daily experience influences not only from people but especially — and happily — from green grass and flowers, the song and flight of birds, the friendly pup who wags his tail in greeting as we pass; from earth and trees and wind and sky and the glory of sunshine.
They are all alive, and the life they share with us we respond to according to the degree of our receptivity. They express truths and beauties that mean a great deal to us, though as far as we can tell they do not know this. But in some way unknown to us perhaps our gratitude and appreciation register in their world, for interdependence works both ways. Just as they give us natural qualities of themselves, so surely we do to them. The circulations of qualities are as open to us as the air we breathe. They cannot be bought or acquired by simple assertion, but settle only where they are welcome. On the other hand, we do not yet understand how some of the less desirable have found entrance into our domain! In any case, it is not too difficult to see, in a very real sense, that we are bundles of qualities continually active.
We have all known people whose presence was like sunshine that brightened the gloomy side of human nature wherever they were. An ancient truth likens our inmost spirit to a spark of the divinity of Father Sun, whose life brightens the universe. So it may be that our aspiration for truth opens the way for this bright energy, whose work is to uncover the dark corners of our nature so that we may clean, air, and renew them. A step further in imagination can envision that it is thus our highest function to raise the lower by our higher qualities and so become their redeemer and savior, again and again, while pursuing the course of our own evolving consciousness.
Our consciousness is indeed many-layered, from all the involuntary factors of growth out of infancy to old age, through all the stages of heart- and mind-awareness, including the moments of keenest aspiration and spiritual joy. The challenge is to fathom on which level we can truly identify ourselves. And as we climb, we have been assured that always along the way we will meet the friends and brothers we need as soon as we have earned their fellowship. For ages it has been said that the gods need human beings as much as we need them, and every selfless step in their direction attracts their response and encouragement.
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If we hang beautiful pictures on the walls of our souls, mental images that establish us in the habitual companionship of the highest that we know, and live with them long enough, we cannot will evil. — Harry Emerson Fosdick