Magic

Oh! joy for he who has escaped from this world of perfumes and color! For beyond these colors and these perfumes, these are other colors in the heart and the soul. The armies of the day have chased the army of the night, Heaven and earth are filled with purity and light.

This will never change, not even if the latest scientific notion that the genesis of all the multitude of organic forms on earth can be traced back to one single, most primitive, primeval form of life should ever appear to be anything more than what it is today, a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact. Even if this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that nation, would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form [an ape] as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus, and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures.

She offered her mouth to him, as if enchanted. A Persian princess, a little Indian, a fox, a morning glory, a lovely wisteria--it always pleased them when you told them they looked like something, like something else.

Envy is impotent, numbed with fear, never ceasing in its appetite, and it knows no gratification, but endless self-torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat, which gnaws its own foot in an effort to escape.

I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it - there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

The test of a work is our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good.

In a culture where profit has become the true God, self-sacrifice can seem incomprehensible rather than noble.

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been - a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.

States of profound happiness, like all other forms of intoxication, are apt to befuddle the wits; intense enjoyment of the present always makes one forget the past.

Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane.

Military strength in reserve is better than military strength being reigned upon the other side including all of its innocent civilians.

All true work is sacred. In all true work, were it but true hand work, there is something of divineness. Labor, wide as the earth, has its summit in Heaven.

No man is born without ambitious worldly desires.

He is no longer with me—by my orders—but then that is merel the carrying-out of an order, after all a kind of negative being-with-me, as he would say. As for any independent life which Bashan might lead without me during these hours—that is not to be thought of.

This conflict between the powers of love and chastity ... it ended apparently in the triumph of chastity. Love was suppressed, held in darkness and chains, by fear, conventionality, aversion, or a tremulous yearning to be pure.... But this triumph of chastity was only an apparent, a pyrrhic victory. It would break through the ban of chastity, it would emerge — if in a form so altered as to be unrecognizable.

Contradictions have always existed in the soul of [individuals]. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.

A Farmhouse on the Wei River -
In the slant of the sun on the country-side,
Cattle and sheep trail home along the lane;
And a rugged old man in a thatch door
Leans on a staff and thinks of his son, the herdboy.
There are whirring pheasants, full wheat-ears,
Silk-worms asleep, pared mulberry-leaves.
And the farmers, returning with hoes on their shoulders,
Hail one another familiarly.
...No wonder I long for the simple life
And am sighing the old song, Oh, to go Back Again.

There are times when minds need to turn to simple things. Perhaps for a few of these nights all of us might do well to leave the briefcases at the office and to read again the pages of the Bible, and to re-read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. We might do well to stay home a few days and walk over the fields, or to stand in the shelter of the barn door and reflect upon the relentless and yet benevolent forces of Mother Nature. The laws of nature are relentless. They can never be disobeyed without exacting a penalty. Yet they are benevolent, for when they are understood and obeyed, nature yields up the abundance that blesses those who understand and obey.

We are living at a time when it is absolutely es­sential to make a clean cut distinction between the magical attitude and the religious attitude in life. We have today as men never dreamed of having in other days, coercive control over tremendous forces in the natural world. We make daily trial of these forces, we “tempt” them, and they obey. We press the button, and throw the switch, and spin the dial, and step on the accelerator and the gods of all mythology touch their caps in deferential obedience to our slightest whim. The applied sciences of the twentieth century do make magicians of us all.

It should be said at once that the pure scientist stands absolutely free of the charge of practicing magic. The affinities of pure science are with re­ligion, in that its reference is not from the universe to man’s uses, but from man to the realities of his universe. But the pure scientist is as rare a creature in our world as the pure saint. The vulgar modern heresy that society is made up of a large number of very pure scientists and an equally large number of very impure Christians is simply grotesque. Once in a while this world sees men like Saint Francis, John Woolman, Charles Darwin, and Michael Faraday; once in a great while. But the pure scientist is as much an exception in a university laboratory as the pure saint is an exception in a sectarian meeting house. For the most part we have at hand a society of persons practicing variously in the names of re­ligion and science a self-willed, uncritical, and arro­gant attempt to make the ultimate forces give them what they severally desire. And this temptation of the Lord their God is neither science nor religion in the noblest meaning of those words.

The true alternative to the outworn magic of primitive peoples is not the modern magic of persons disciplined in the applied sciences or the “new thought.” It is no solution of the ultimate moral and intellectual problem to trade self-will from the left hand of primitive magic to the right hand of applied science. What matters is a changed disposition and reference in this whole final commerce of man with his universe. Call it pure religion or pure science, the name does not matter. The one thing needful is that temper and disposition towards the will of God which we find in Jesus, Bernard, Pascal and Lister alike.

The men who returned from the third attempt to climb Mount Everest, made in the summer of 1924, have told us that from now on the character of the endeavor is clearly defined in advance. One of them has recently said that the higher altitudes, from 22,000 to 28,000 feet, reached by the last party, were attained not by sportsmen and scientists break­ing the mountain to their intention, but by men who had come to feel towards the mountain an almost mystical relationship. He said that the mountain itself, with its tremendous appeal, must take men to the top, and that only a spirit, which for the want of any other accurate word must be called religion, would ever carry men the last exacting two thousand feet.

What he seems to mean is that, in the presence of that imperious and majestic reality, the cheap coercive attempt to conquer the world must always break down, and that only something like the spirit of worship can draw and lift men at the last. The climbing of Mount Everest has ceased to be purely a geographical, political, and physiological problem. It has passed, as every great human endeavor must finally pass, into the realm of religion. And only the man whose peace is found in the imperious will of that terrific reality will ever stand upon its summit.

After he had dragged the blankets out of the empty tent at Camp VI, high up on the shoulder of Everest, and had laid them in a “T” on the snow to tell the watchers below that there was no trace of Mallory and Irvine, Odell closed the flap of the tent and began the third retreat to India. “I glanced up,” he says, “at the mighty summit above me, which ever and anon deigned to reveal its cloud-wreathed features. It seemed to look down with cold indiffer­ence on me, mere puny man, and to howl derision in wind gusts at my petition to yield up its secret—the mystery of my friends. What right had we to ven­ture thus far into the holy presence of the Supreme Goddess, or much more to sling at her our blasphe­mous challenges. If it were indeed the sacred ground of Chomo Lungma—the Goddess Mother of the Mountain Snows—had we violated it, was I now violating it? Had we approached her with due rev­erence and singleness of heart and purpose?”

That, in modern parable, is the crux of the tempta­tion in the wilderness. Magic in us dies and religion is born with that question which, if rightly answered, prefaces the true reference of the soul to God. What right have I to make trial of my God? Have I vio­lated his holy being with my self-will? Have I ap­proached him with due reverence and singleness of mind and heart?