Universal Brotherhood – December 1898

THEORY AND PRACTICE — Vespera M. Freeman

From the foundations of the world, before literature was, all great Truths have been orally transmitted and finally embalmed in Legends. These legends speak an Universal language, for the truths conveyed are universal and each man hearing, receives and comprehends according to his merit or the degree of his development.

We find in the Legend of the Holy Grail as retold by Tennyson with all the magic art and flowery setting possible to modern language, one of these old truths which at this time specially seems to press forward for recognition and assimilation. One asks here:

"What is this phantom of a cup that comes and goes?
For on a day she sent to speak with me.
And when she came to speak, behold her eyes
Beyond my knowing of them; beautiful
Beyond all knowing of them; wonderful.
Beautiful in the light of holiness.
She said Sweet Brother, I have seen the Holy Grail.
For, waked at dead of night, I heard a sound
As of a silver horn from o'er the hills
Blown and the slender sound
As from a distance beyond distance grew
Coming upon me. Oh never harp nor horn,
Nor aught we blow with breath or touch with hand
Was like that music as it came; and then
Streamed through my cell a cold and silver beam,
And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail,
Rose red with beatings in it, as if alive,
Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed
With rosy colors leaping on the wall:
And then the music faded, and the Grail
Past, and the beam decayed, and from the walls
The rosy quiverings died into the night.
So now the Holy Thing is here again
Among us, brother; fast thou too and pray
And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray,
That so perchance the vision may be seen
By thee and those, and all the world be heal'd."
* * *
"Then leaving the pale nun, I spake of this
To all men; and myself fasted and pray'd
Always, and many among us many a week
Fasted and pray'd even to the uttermost,
Expectant of the wonder that would be."
* * *
"Then on a summer night it came to pass,
While the great banquet lay along the hall
That Galahad would sit in Merlin's chair.
And all at once as there we sat, we heard
A cracking and a riving of the roofs
And rending, and a blast, and overhead
Thunder, and in the thunder was a cry,
And in the blast there smote along the hall
A beam of light seven times more clear than day:
And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail
All cover'd over with a luminous cloud,
And none might see who bare it, and it past.
But every knight beheld his fellow's face
As in a glory, and all the knights arose
And staring at each other like dumb men
Stood, till I found a voice and sware a vow."

One great difficulty always presents itself to me, when I attempt to deal with any single subject. I can never find a good beginning point where that subject may be wholly detached from any other. Live tendrils cling and pull in every direction, showing more clearly with every effort that nothing is anything in itself but only is, as it is part of something else. Its meaning lies in its relation to other things. Cut off its clinging tendrils, separate it by force from its relations, you find its horn of meaning, mutilated, dead. There are no beginnings. All beginning is assumed. There is no detachment. All things are but parts of one thing.

I will not try then, to find a beginning. I will not try to separate one thing from another, but just tell you clearly as I can, what I have been thinking lately about theory and practice in their relation to the moral health and consequent happiness of all mankind. That the sorrows of the world are grievous, is but too well-known. I need not stop and try to picture them; they show too plainly and speak too loudly for themselves. Their daily burdens seem too heavy to be borne by those who have no true theory of life — no light — no guide — no refuge — no sure goal.

All those who have passed beyond this condition, who have won through even to that point of vantage where they know that there is light and help, if they are men, must feel constrained to give what aid and cheer they can to those who still are in this greater stress and darkness. How is it then with those to whom the message has been given to "fast and pray," and pass the word on to the brother knights that they too "fast and pray," so that the Holy Vision may be seen again by men and all the world be healed?

Always in learning anything, first comes theory — basic rules — formulas. Then follow examples to demonstrate, explain and prove. Then certain questions or problems are put to the pupil which he must analyze and adapt for himself, to that particular rule or formula under which it properly falls. That is, he puts into practice what he learns in theory. It seems clear to me that in such practical application of theory the benefit lies. I will not say all benefit — but much of it. Let us suppose for instance that music were left to theory and all its strings were dumb; that artists studied light and shade, color and form and picturesque effects, leaving the canvas bare; that men learned in navigation were to sail no ship across seas to its happy destination; that men knowing seasons, soils and seeds were never to sow nor reap; that no miner, mine, no builder, build, no potter turn his wheel.

In short, suppose no knowledge were applied. Could benefit and progress come from theory alone? What a naked world we should find it and sadder than it seems even now. And after all, is the knowledge our own and can we hold it unless we put it to the test of use and prove our right? The very meanings of our words are lost if we neglect to keep them well applied and used. A word repeated, parrot like, soon turns into an empty form and stands for nothing, or like a house dismantled, shelters unworthy tenants. Look at the words: Religion, Brotherhood, Faith, Love, Justice. What have these come to stand for, to the world at large! Have not the most atrocious crimes all been committed in these sacred names? Nothing is truly ours except through use. No song of bird, no scent or bloom of flower, no poet's thought is ours or can remain and help us, unless we seize upon its meaning and relate it to ourselves and apply it in our daily lives.

We have been studying a great and beautiful philosophy. I should say the great philosophy, since there is only the one in reality. Its basic principles appear self-evident truths. It satisfies the mind and gives the key through use of which the complex problems of existence may be solved. Understanding even the outlines of this Philosophy, the Chaos which the world presented, falls into perfect order, governed by perfect law. Now comes this question of theory and practice.

Our burdens have been eased through even this partial understanding. Shall we now study further detail and hurry on for more relief and greater freedom, or shall we put to use what we have learned in helping others? Can we go on and leave these others who have no understanding of life or why they suffer, to sink under their heavy loads or struggle on unhelped? I do not think we can. I think the only path to greater knowledge lies through our effort at application of what knowledge we already have. For the keynote of our philosophy is that all men are simply different presentations of one thing. That the Soul of all Humanity is the One Great Soul manifesting itself to itself, through the medium of matter in individualized centres and forms, for a purpose of Its own. Here is the true basis of Religion, of Brotherhood, of all ethics and of moral law and of the proper conduct of Life. If this be true, then the real aim and purpose of each man must be the same. That is to learn to understand and consciously carry out in his own particular way the purpose of the one Soul. There can be no conflicting interests, no opposing duties, no good for one that is not good for all — no unequal gifts or unmerited awards. There can be no injustice in the Soul. The only way a man may gain or merit a reward lies in his conscious obedience to the impulse of the Soul. And the reward he gains is only a more enlightened understanding and an increased ability and power to work more surely toward universal ends.

We are all here for each other — each for all. We are object lessons for each other, but what we learn or what we gain is equally for all — no other gain is permanent — it is Dead Sea fruit. We must rise and fall together as we advance through fiery trials and crucifixions of earthly life to a common destiny. This doctrine, of course, is nothing new. It has been repeated from age to age. It is the underlying meaning in legend and fairy tale, in the folk lore of every people, in the old tragedies and in the great world epics.

At the Centre of his being every man recognizes its truth, but he is not helped if he lets it pass as theory and does not apply it in his life, nor can he help others; until he in some measure delivers himself, he is powerless to deliver others.

The trouble is, so few believe. The pity is, there is so little Faith. Even the good knight Percivale lacked faith enough to carry him safely through his first trial. After he had made his vow and started on his Quest he said:

"Thereafter the dark warning of our king,
That most of us would follow wandering fires,
Came like a driving gloom across my mind.
Then every evil word I'd spoken once
And every evil thought I'd thought of old
And every evil deed I ever did
Awoke and cried 'This Quest is not for thee.'
And lifting up mine eyes, I found myself
Alone and in a land of sand and thorns.
And I was thirsting even unto death
And I, too, cried 'this Quest is not for me.'"

Man holds himself too cheap, seeing and recognizing the truth he is ready to yield when difficulty presents itself.

He will not see that in the very struggle lies his opportunity; that strength and courage and all noble qualities develop and strengthen only through his efforts to overcome these evils in his nature and in the adverse circumstances of his life. He is still too ready to cry out "this Quest is not for me." But the Quest is, indeed, for every man at every moment; by different paths perhaps, but the same Quest.

Into his daily life, into each word and thought and act must enter the recognition of this living truth. No question of right or duty or propriety in our relations with each other, no matter how great, no matter how small, but will fall into its proper place and find its answer if we simply apply this test: "Will it help on or will it obstruct the purpose of the Soul manifesting through me?" If it help, it is right, if it hinder, wrong.

This is the only path toward happiness, for true happiness is the conscious approval of the Soul. It has nothing whatever to do with outward conditions and environments, with the so-called failures and successes of life. The individualized Soul, the real man, is swathed round and in a way imprisoned in material forms while on this earth. He has a body and a physical brain and senses and organs, which he has assembled for himself that he may carry on his investigations in matter. It is in this contact with physical nature that the trouble lies — also the opportunity.

There is an element of delusion inherent in Nature. She is full of temptations. She is all the time trying to lead a man up into some mountain to show him some shining possession or other, and saying to him "All this will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me." The senses say to him "you certainly are separate from these other men." The mind reports to him that his good is separate from the universal good — that he certainly can gain riches and fame for himself — that the body must be fed and clothed and taken care of and that it must not be overworked or lack sleep or risk illness for anything but his own pleasure — that he must compete for possessions and place and power in order to exist. It insists that the present life is all the life he knows and that he must believe nothing he cannot see proved. All these combined efforts on the part of Nature more or less involve the man. He imagines he is identified with the mind that doubts and hesitates and with this brain that reasons and speculates and with these senses that make false and faulty presentations and with the body that feels heat and cold, hunger and thirst. Thus is the man beguiled and bound and loses command of his own servants in his own dwelling place. Then does he need a trumpet call from some good brother that will rouse him to exert his strength in battle. For he must fight or quit the field He must win free and take command or the purpose of his life can never be accomplished. Identifying himself with the soul alone what doubt or fear can reach him? What evil thing can touch him? What good, either of beauty, truth or love can miss him? These passing shadows which the lower nature casts upon him cannot affect him permanently. They cannot affect us now if with our whole heart and mind and strength we work on steadily until Brotherhood is recognized in the world for what it is and humanity is humanized. This is the proper application and real use of what philosophy we already have, — and for the present it seems enough.

"Fast and pray," the message came to Sir Percivale. Brothers, let us too fast and pray. Jesus said "Watch!" We have been told "Work!" The words do not matter, — the meaning is the same in all. Let us then fast and pray and watch and work, "that the Holy vision may be seen again of men and all the world be healed."

Universal Brotherhood