We live in a world of unutterable natural beauty, and one pathway to the mysterious Being we call God is through beauty. To stand in our California Sierras and discover a deep, blue lake surrounded by dark green firs, while across the water the mountain is white with glacier and snow, the setting sun touching the topmost peak with crimson — this is an experience to move the soul. A geologist friend finds the same joy from the California desert — looking out across the endless expanse of sand, covered with a myriad tiny flowers, the distant hills ever changing their brown and green and purple hues — here, too, is a scene to bring serenity. Others find beauty in the silent cloister of the forest, the ever-changing moods of the sea, the quiet of an English countryside, the Scottish heather, the vineyard hills of Italy, in the glory of distant corners of the globe.
Man may make ugliness with his tenements and billboards, but nature is never ugly by herself. The scars left by storms are soon covered by moss and vine, ever protecting and renewing the loveliness of her garb. This "something in the universe that makes for beauty" is one of the things that men call God.
Another pathway to Deity is through science. Men have always recognized a creative power within the universe; but it has remained for modern science to give us some inkling of how marvelous this creative power is. There is an orderliness in nature that reaches from the farthest heavens to the minutest particle that can be seen with the microscope. Everywhere the same laws prevail — even the same chemical reactions go on in all parts of the cosmos. A few years ago our Young People's group went to visit the observatory on Mt. Wilson, and the astronomer who showed us the instrument which determines the chemical composition of the sun remarked:
This instrument proves that the chemical elements in the sun and in our earth are just the same. But even if we did not have this device, we would still believe it, because there is a fundamental orderliness to the universe.
There is in the universe a fundamental unity beyond our comprehension — a cohesive principle which holds it together, a regularity in operation, an orderliness in its design — so wondrous that it seems as if it might be the product of some vast mathematician. This, I think, is what Einstein had in mind when he said:
It is enough for me . . . to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe, which we can [but] dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.
Perhaps the most marvelous thing about this universe is that it is the dwelling-place of the human mind. In man we see a supreme achievement — the human spirit — capable not only of reason, but of creating great beauty. Here is a being capable of producing the mighty speculations of Plato, the analyses of Aristotle, the music of Beethoven, the art of Michelangelo, the architecture of Brunelleschi, the poetry of Dante, the epics of Milton, the drama of Sophocles, and the plays of Shakespeare. Here is a being capable of giving himself for his neighbors in self-sacrificing love, as did Jesus and St. Francis; a being who counts intellectual integrity and freedom of thought of greater worth than life itself — as did Socrates and Christ.
We need not go to the immortal names of history to find examples of human valor and achievement. All of us have known people among our own circle who have had a spirit so creative, so self-sacrificing and generous that we have been moved to reverence and humility in their presence. Does anyone think that so amazing a thing as the human spirit can have evolved simply by accident?
If it is true, as the astronomer at Mt. Wilson said, that the chemical elements are the same through all the reaches of the cosmos, could it be that the spirit we see in man is likewise related to a Universal Spirit which is behind and within everything that exists and lives in this vast cosmos?
If only we could really have a deepened appreciation of truth — not in its legal sense, the acquaintance of fact, but in its philosophic sense, the awareness of what really makes life worth while. If we could only have a heightened sense of beauty, a tenderer sense of goodness, and a sympathetic outreach toward other people without blemish, or faultfinding, or pride — if we could see the truth, beauty, and goodness of human life, then perhaps we could come into richer fellowship with that perfect Truth, Beauty, and Goodness we call God.
We do not need to read the Bible to find Deity, for there are living Bibles all about us. We have all come in contact with people, who through the beauty of their own lives, through the tenderness of their own sympathies, through their heroic struggles against great obstacles, have made us realize the wonder of the human spirit, which is divine.
The Master Jesus was not nearly so much concerned with a person's spiritual excellence, as with his possibilities of growth. Who were his first disciples, for instance? People known for their piety? Leaders of the synagogue? To many who considered themselves "orthodox," they must have seemed like a poorly chosen crew. A few fishermen, an ex-tax collector (which was the same as saying an ex-thief), a few political radicals (zealots), a group of unlettered men.
When Matthew looked up to him, with all the money he had fleeced from people spread out on the table, something in his unhappy eyes told Jesus that here was a man who hated the piracy he was in, that here was a soul that was yearning for a life of true spiritual worth. Jesus did not question Matthew about his education or theology, nor did he ask him to sign a creed. He simply said: "Rise! Follow me!" Matthew did. According to Luke, the first thing that Peter said to Jesus, when the Master invited him to join his band, was: "Leave me, Master, for I am a sinful man." But Jesus said to him: "Come with me, and I will make you a fisher of men." Peter did, and Jesus made him one of the strongest characters of history.
He had a quaint and biting way of putting things, a way that stuck in the mind. Often we lose the picturesqueness of his speech in our English translations. Take the First Beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Jesus did not really say that. An exact translation of the Greek is: "Blessed are the beggars in spirit." There is all the difference in the world.
Jesus, speaking about beggars of the spirit, insisted that the first step in spiritual life was an awareness of one's lack. The truly religious man knows he does not possess all the world's wisdom. But he is not simply aware of this poverty — he reaches out for help, and then takes a first step in spiritual growth. Modern scholars have paraphrased the statement in many ways. Moffatt has it: "Blessed are those who feel poor in spirit"; Goodspeed says, "Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need"; and Dean Hodges once rendered it, "Blessed is the man who feels dissatisfied with himself." But Jesus said more than that: "Blessed are the beggars in spirit" — those who realize their lack and reach out for help.
We all wish to grow spiritually, to strengthen our spiritual roots. We want to expand our sympathies, to lift up our eyes higher than they have ever been raised before. We want that inspiration which can be gained from sharing with others in the common quest. The mark of the true Christian is not snobbishness but humility. No one has any corner on virtue, any monopoly on truth.
Therefore, another important road to God is through one's own deep thinking, for through searching and constant inquiry in one's own mind, one can come closer to God. To the ancient question, "Can a man by searching find God?" the answer must be emphatically yes — at least one can go a long way on the journey. But such questing must be fearless and honest. One must not be shackled by inherited concepts and traditional ideas. We may take all the wisdom that the past and present have to give us — all the ideas of the ancients, the Bible, the saints, the church, the other religions of the world, our parents, our contemporaries, our reading — but these are only grist for our mill, suggestions for our consideration, acceptance or rejection, and continued development. The only ideas that can really control a man's life are his own — ideas which he has made his own through his own experience and wrestling.
A final way of deepening the spiritual life is through prayer — for prayer, to quote the words of the Welsh parson in How Green Was My Valley, is "nothing more than clean, straight thinking." It is thinking about the meaning of life — especially our own lives — with the eyes fixed on the Divine, that we may grow in understanding; that we may have our lives transfused by the consciousness of God working in us, by a consciousness of partnership with him, and by devotion to his will. With all our questing, we shall probably never know much about God — but we wish to share with others in this pilgrimage.
We believe that this universe is filled with something which we call Spirit — and that this universal Spirit is something of which we are a part. In the beginning was the Spirit, and that Spirit became incarnate in the beings we call men, and housed in our human frame. That universal spirit, whose offspring we are, we call God.
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1986; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)