Most people agree that the universe is a thing of wonder and beauty, and that the teachings of the world-religions concerning this universe are also wonderful and beautiful, while those who think deeply find their own minds far-reaching, and at moments co-extensive with the universe. Instead of enjoying a friendly unity as among our universe, our religion, and ourselves, we are confused and shut in, our imagination and understanding darkened by the absence of sure knowledge about the background of life. "Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me." That first prayer is perfect and lovely, "Keep thou my feet," but we quarrel a little with the second statement. Human beings do require to see somewhat of "the distant scene," not in any sense of foretelling the future, but in that we need a broad vision of the position and purpose of man's life within a living universal scheme, and the beginning of a guess as to how it all works.
Science, in its newest and best aspects, is indeed becoming more religious than religion. In saying that "the universe is more like a great thought than a great machine," Sir James Jeans reveals the eternal adventure of evolution in which the conscious divine thought at the heart of the atom, the sun, and the tree are all included, and will continue to evolve within "the Great Thought" forever.
By taking hold of a few sound ideas we can build up a rough and unfinished but quite convincing picture of how it all works. As the mind grows and the heart opens the picture will become clearer. We grow, and there will always be more to learn, but we can win knowledge to give the mind a sure resting-place in any stage of evolution, and illumine "the distant scene" to a useful extent.
We have often imagined Heaven or eternal bliss as rather a dull place, with all battles won, and nothing left to learn! But when our god-spark is able to pour its light into our brains and hearts we shall discover an entirely different universe. We shall wonder how on earth we managed to endure life in this dark confined understanding.
Of course it would be too presumptuous for us to think that we can know the ultimate purpose. But we can surmise that part of the purpose will be that all beings, in every kingdom of Nature from the lowest to the most supernal, are sent out to win ever widening sweeps of consciousness, to realize in themselves the glory of their divine root.
Yet our lives are not all beauty and happiness as it would seem they should be if their background is divine! There is duality somewhere at work.
"Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom" sings the hymn. "The night is dark and I am far from home." Then a poet says:
"I saw eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
As still as it was bright."
How can we reconcile the circle of gloom with the circle of light?
Doesn't man, still but partly evolved, spend a deal of energy stirring up his own gloom around himself? As illustration, let us picture a restful stretch of country road — fine view, sweet scents. Along comes a bus, with a racket of clumsy activity, poisonous smell, and a cloud of dust that blots out the view! Rather like the commotion we kick up in the order of the universe, of which we are a part.
Spirit and matter are the "world's eternal ways" says an Eastern scripture. Man finds himself pulled first one way and then the other. Hence there are often great dangers for the soul to encounter. Owing to its partly developed condition it is strongly drawn to the less evolved side of universal nature, and if it persists in turning to the less instead of the greater it may have to spend many a long lifetime in darkness and loss.
In the very nature of things, therefore, man must be allowed to work out his own salvation. His "guardian angel" cannot take free will and responsibility away from him, for that would stop his growth. There is nothing "pretty pretty" about this guiding light of spirit. Sometimes it may lead to the most terrible places, where we are stripped of everything that seems to us to be good and helpful. But stand alone we must without help from the outside. If we would become gods we must live like gods while in the most distressing and miserable conditions. We must face pain and loneliness, as well as the weary grind of daily life.
This universe of ours is a progressive, experimenting universe, which educates itself as it goes along, and some of its evolving "god-sparks" are so inexperienced in spiritual living that they are continually seeking to push mankind away from the path of light. They have their value, however, for they help to hold the material worlds together. To the struggling spirit of man they are a darkness and a trial. We need never fear, however, for there is a law of cause and effect which ensures that every living being gets exactly what it earns — no hard and fast fate, because we can change the value of our earnings by the way we live each moment.
A most delicate balance is necessary for the human soul. On the one hand there must be a gentle laying aside of personal desires and ambitions, for if we are interested only in ourselves, absorbed in our own reactions and impulses, we are led into the matter side, that immature side of nature, and lose touch with our source of wisdom and strength. Life becomes small and petty, and its meaning obscure. There must be a constant quiet effort to find that "middle way" whereby the light of our spiritual nature will shine through the turmoil of the mind and emotions. And yet there must be initiative, keen discrimination, a firm will, and high courage. As the soul becomes more able to reflect the light from "our inmost center" it will gradually become strong enough to pursue a cosmic destiny, and thus in turn help those below it on the ladder of life.
Thus it appears that the words in the old hymn "Lead Kindly Light" are an excellent description of the way in which nature is built, kingdoms fitting within each other, spirit and matter being bi-polar aspects. Spirit is the mature, emancipated consciousness of the universe, ready to impart its wisdom to the rough and tumble of matter, but having to wait until that helter-skelter mass of slowly evolving beings is sufficiently awakened to see its light, at the same time silently guiding the mathematical movements of the cosmos, and the life and formation of matter itself in perfect order.
The soul may have great suffering and dangers to encounter, but truly we can say:
So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the
Night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since and
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)