"Strains musical, flowing through ages, now reaching hither,
I take to your reckless and composite chords, add to them, and cheerfully pass them forward."
Listen to the song of Life.
Store in your memory the melody you hear.
Learn from it the lesson of harmony.
Only fragments of the great song come to your ears while yet you are but man. But if you listen to it remember it faithfully, so that nothing which has reached you is lost, and endeavor to learn from it the meaning of the mystery which surrounds you. In time you will need no teacher. For as the individual has voice so has that in which the individual exists. Life itself has speech and is never silent, and its utterance is not, as you that are deaf may suppose, a cry. It is a song. Learn from it that you are a part of the harmony. Learn from it to obey the laws of the harmony.
—"Light on the Path."
In the old crusading days, when King Richard was returning to England after his battles with Saladin, he was taken prisoner by an Austrian baron and confined in his castle. Richard's comrade, Blondel, the troubadour, sought his place of concealment in order to release him. He went wandering through Europe singing his minstrel lays outside castle walls and under tower windows in the hope that Richard might recognize his voice and know that rescue was at hand. At last he came to the Austrian dungeon. As he sung the old-time ballads there floated to his ear at last the familiar tones of his friend taking up the answering part of a song in which they had often joined.
Blondel hastened back to England, raised the ransom demanded for the king, and speedily accomplished his release.
This story is beautifully suggestive of the history of the soul.
Coming down through the forgotten ages of spirit life, man has wandered into matter. He seems to be a captive to the senses. Why he needed to come at all he may not have yet discovered. He only knows that every experience is valuable in the history of his evolution. He feels that his first and greatest need is freedom. Assured of this, all suffering would cease.
Liberty is the watchword of the world. All modern wars are undertaken in its name; all colonization schemes developed. We recognize it as the first condition of unfoldment.
Much has been said of the danger of losing our souls.
Can we ever be more lost than we are today?
As we awaken to real life do we not find ourselves and learn that matter is not an enemy, nor is the soul really fettered by the senses unless with its own consent. If we prefer the lower to the higher self our powers decline and our perceptions become dimmed, while even the sense life grows clouded and dull. We seem then to be cramped and shackled by material existence. The truth is dawning upon the world that the soul is always free and has the power of controlling and spiritualizing matter. As we become alive to what we are we hear the voice of spirit sounding in notes that are not wholly unfamiliar. New confidence and gladness are awakened in us, and we take up the responsive strains.
The first step toward freedom is right listening.
The next step is right answering to our part in the song of life.
It has been discovered that the reason some people do not easily learn a foreign language is not that they cannot pronounce well, but that they do not hear well.
Consequently the first work of the teacher is to open the ear of the pupil.
Nothing in life is of greater importance than that we should learn the law of harmony.
If we hear truly we shall live truly. Our higher self is lifting up its voice continually in song for our deliverance, but we hear only broken chords, —we are so deafened by the tumult of the world in which we live.
The ear is a wonderful avenue of sense. More than eight thousand delicate nerves lead from it to the brain. As yet they are only partially developed. The average range of human hearing includes about twenty thousand vibrations to the second. The extreme limits appear to lie between sixteen and forty-two thousand.
Many insects hear a lower vibration and some animals a higher one than reaches our mortal ears.
Scientists tell us that a sound wave goes on forever.
The ether becomes a reservoir of sound that never perishes. Let us think for a moment of the tones that have been poured into it through the ages: nature's voices of earthquake and tornado, the roar of waters and of forest fires, the rustling of leaves, the humming of insects, and the songs of birds. There are, besides, alas! the noises of battle, the shouts of victors, and the groans and cries of wounded men.
Then, too, there are melodious strains—great bursts of organ music and chorus songs of worshippers, the prattle of children and the laughter of mirth and joy.
All human emotions have contributed to the song of life.
We may draw from this great reservoir of sound at will.
We may listen to the bass notes of human passion and suffering or to the lighter, higher strains of gladness. All have their place and purpose in the scale of being.
Through currents of sympathetic vibration the sounds to which we are attuned will reach our ears. If we hear only the lower tones of pain and sorrow all life seems to us a cry. If we are ourselves in grief we listen to minor chords. If we are selfish we hear the notes of selfishness. If we are happy we hear those of joy. Everything depends upon the place that we ourselves hold in the chromatic scale, whether we are most related to the wailings or rejoicings of the race. It is as true as that we choose the evening concert according to our taste in music. Our freedom of choice and action is as complete in one case as the other.
All life has speech and is never silent. The bitter cry of outcast London and the moans of famine-stricken hordes in India are as real as the song of the morning stars. If our ears were not so dull we would hear all these notes in their true relation to the symphony of life. We would not then be pained through our imperfect listening. As we develop spiritual sensitiveness and better understanding we will widen our range of hearing and learn from nature that which will bring all sounds into harmony.
We will listen to the higher as well as the lower octaves. We will perceive the "motif" which runs through all the song, where now we hear, as well as see, imperfectly.
If King Richard had been deaf to Blondel's voice it would not have brought his deliverance.
If he had not sung the answering part his prison doors would never have been opened.
What makes the soul deaf to truth? What are the obstructions to right listening? Let us examine some of the laws of the harmony. Perhaps oftener than in anything else we fail through discouragement. We do not take life genially.
We moan at our own vexations, and the atmosphere in which we live seems filled with cries of disappointment and distress. Dissatisfaction with ourselves and our own lot dulls all sense of harmony.
If we have ever crossed the ocean we know that when we traced Our course upon the chart in the cabin it never showed the shortest distance between two points. Yet we had sailed upon the most direct lines the winds made possible. When we were blown off by storms we set such canvas as the gales permitted, and our storm sails brought us back to the right track. Our compass was always true to the north, regardless of wind and weather. We never had reason for discouragement, and safely made port at last.
Why can we not take life as cheerily as the sailor takes his changeful voyage? We can never pay too dearly for experience, for it is all we get of any value here. Our suffering proves our need of the lesson that causes it. If it teaches us to listen more carefully to the inner voice we have made a distinct gain in spiritual hearing.
Discouragement results in pity for ourselves. This is a further cause of deafness; self-pity is an opiate that benumbs the nerves of a higher consciousness.
In trying to evade our own responsibilities we deepen trouble and emphasize weakness. Our ear is at fault because we are not teachable. We will not patiently listen to the truth. We resent criticism because we are not seeking for our own weak points. We are not honest pupils of our higher selves. Sensitiveness to pain shows an unsound part.
Grief, too, makes us deaf to the song of life. We look into a grave. It seems so wide and deep it shuts out all the world of life. It is as if the sun had set in inky darkness and the clouds of our sorrow hang heavily about us. We do not wish to be comforted. We are dismayed or angry. We see only the great horror—Death. We hear only " Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes."
If we will but listen to the higher voice we will even now know that death means only change of consciousness. It means fresh opportunities that bring new steps of progress to the awakening soul. If we will listen we shall hear:
"A music that entwineth with eternal threads of golden sound
The great poem of this strange existence,
All whose wondrous meaning has been found.
Let us turn our thoughts from the body to that which alone made the body dear to us, the loving and imperishable intelligence that animated it. This we cannot lose, for there is no separation to kindred spirits. If we will open our ears we will hear a new strain of gladness in the song of life—a clearer note that has been added to the Choir Invisible.
Another influence that dulls our hearing is resentment. We are impatient at the ills and inconveniences of life. We resent our pains and seeming helplessness. We cultivate the sense of vexation which comes from unpleasant people and undesirable conditions. As long as we indulge these feelings we prolong our difficulties. We must learn friendliness to all events and people that touch upon our lives. We need not dwell upon the things that most distress us, except to gain from them some larger knowledge of the laws of harmony. If this is our most earnest purpose we will quickly find that everything contributes to its accomplishment.
Indecision is another note of inharmony. The more we listen to discordance the more the ear gets out of tune. If we have not reached a final decision in our own minds that we can be well and happy and prosperous, if we are not yet quite sure that life is really good and sweet and joyous in itself, we are not likely to hear melodious tones.
The work of reconstruction begins with action of the will.
With confidence in life restored and a true purpose assured, we will soon find our hearing is enlarged. The sound waves change their character and pass from grave to gay. We find in the song the ripples of merriment where once all was mournful and sad. We hear and see according to our moods as long as we permit our feelings to govern our lives. In the mist of the emotions all vibrations are refracted and unreliable.
But the one great hindrance to right hearing, which sums up and includes all others, is that most common weakness of humanity—fear. Fear is the great strangler. How we pride ourselves upon the faithfulness of “conscience" in applying its torture! An accusing conscience is the handmaiden of fear. It has never been baptized into the freedom of the spirit. It dwells in bottom lands infested with the ghosts of a dead past. It remembers chiefly disappointments and disasters. It feeds upon the bread of remorse.
It is deaf to the stirring strains of the song of life that should arouse every soul to the enjoyment of an ever-present opportunity and power.
It was just as necessary that Richard's voice should reach the ear of Blondel as that the tones of the troubadour should make his own presence known.
So must we sing clearly our answering part. It is through our response to spiritual chords that we find the way out of our houses of bondage.
We must answer in tones of confidence. We must drop the word and thought of limitations, must forget our prison days, let go the past, abandon our discouragements, self-pity, grief, and fear.
We will claim the strength that is our birthright. We will go forward in the confidence of victory with which men follow the flag, reckless of all threatening danger.
Our ready response shall be in tones of gladness, ringing clear and true without a quavering note.
We will not talk of faith only when we have the luxuries and superfluities of life. We will not moan when everything seems to be going away from us on an ebb tide. True gladness opens to us visions of unclouded skies.
The land of the soul is never swept by storms; it is never shadowed by darkness and uncertainties. There is in it no fear of evil.
This is our native home. We have never strayed from it except in thought. When we clear up our thought atmospheres we recognize again the familiar landscape. We know that all our distress has been a fantasy of the disordered senses. We have been bullied by shadows.
Now we will answer the song of the soul with a new sense of freedom. We will not creep any longer. We will arise and walk, and will not sneer if we are told that even wings are not the especial property of angels and artists. Perhaps some day we will learn to fly and be as careless of the breaking of the boughs beneath us as the birds who know their home is in the air.
We will meet all the experiences of life in tones of patience. We will not utter fretful complaints. We will not care if every day is not served up to us with all the niceties and dainties we have coveted. We will console ourselves with the reflection that our place is where we find ourselves, and our proper work is that in which we are engaged, till we have fitted ourselves for something different. We will no longer live in such a fever of unrest. We will not exhaust ourselves with constant hurry. There is surely time and opportunity for everything in life that we should do. The centuries are ours. If we do not find time to live we shall very soon be forced to find time to die. Life administers severe rebukes to our impatience when we make it necessary. Nothing is more valuable than to learn how to wait cheerfully. It is good evidence that we are answering life's song in notes of power. Can we imagine infinite love that would be satisfied with children that were paupers? Can we believe that anything less than the largest good it could bestow would satisfy a love that is supreme? We have surely the right to claim for man all that we have ever thought of God.
If we are capable of conceiving love it is because we ourselves are loving. We understand wisdom to the extent that we are wise. We believe in power because we have its possibilities within us.
"I am an acme of things accomplished, I am an encloser of things to be," is the answer of the soul to the challenge of life.
"The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?"
Power is expressed in positive conditions. We cannot afford to risk the negatives. There is no danger to the fearless soul. All force seeks its service.
Power attracts power, as strong men enroll themselves under the banners of successful leaders.
The highest and best things are never behind us. The choicest fruit is on the topmost branches.
The soul will never be satisfied with mediocrity. From every level it perceives another height towering above it and pushes forward strong and buoyant in the spirit of conquest and with no sense of weariness.
We will answer life's song in a spirit of service.
Service is the law of harmony as it is the law of love.
It is in activities for others that we gain the largest freedom for ourselves.
In teaching others songs of gladness we open fountains of melody in our own hearts. In guiding others to the light our twilight is dispelled. In feeding others we appease our hunger. In helping others we grow strong.
We are never without our opportunities of service. Every opportunity brings with it its own power. Every sincere thought or act of helpfulness is an impulse of spiritual development.
We think sometimes that it belongs to those who possess to give.
Possession comes through giving, and not giving through possession.
The universal stores of God are open to every honest demand. God's work is never hindered for the want of supplies. Our theories of benevolence are often at fault, and we are apt to think the thing we ought to give is that which we cannot command.
Responsibility and opportunity never exist apart. If we discover one we may know that the other is close at hand.
When we have learned that every human being is a part of the harmony we very soon begin to know its laws. When we are ready to obey them the discords of life are ended.
If the race had understood this the records of history would never have been blotted with blood; the drama of the stage would never be the picturing of crime and pathos; the worship of the temples would never be voiced in "Misereres" and confessions; the minor strains of life would never have found such utterances as these; religion would not have been a "binding back;" worship would never have become a cry of terror; creeds would not have been required as the expression of man's fears and superstitions. Of all the religions in the world there are none but what belittle human life and darken earth to brighten Heaven. The retina of the eye receives all images reversed, but the brain restores them to proper attitudes. The senses thus invert the truths of life. It is the soul alone that can interpret the vision.
Before the soul has been awakened we cannot understand the meaning of existence. All our deities reveal the crudeness of our thought. Our images are blurred; our negative plates are so imperfect that we cannot get clear outlines in the positive picture. The lights and shadows are confused.
Man has successively outgrown all his Deities from Joss to Jehovah.
But still we grope in a world of unreality and think of happiness as something vague and far away.
Adown the centuries has come the voice of one whom Christians call "the Master." Legend and superstition have combined to make his accents fragmentary and uncertain. Dogmatists and translators have done what they could to mutilate the message. But out of all this babel of commentators we know today that the Nazarene's tones are so full of melody that when the ear of man has heard his whole soul listens. He hears anew the song of life and finds in it the grandest harmonies of earth. Jesus taught life as a science speaking with authority. The scribes have turned his teachings into weak, moral platitudes. Christianity itself has never proved a failure. It has never been tried. It has been taught as a theory. It has been followed as a "faith." But never yet has the Christian world believed it would be practical until after a "second advent" had transformed man and altered his conditions. How strangely deluded we have been! How could the trail to the mines of truth have become so completely hidden? How could we have lived so long with an inverted vision and listened so long to the discords of theology? We have not thought it possible to learn the lesson of harmony outside the music schools of the Celestial City.
And now new voices from the unseen reveal to us that the earth life confers on man a privilege that angels covet; that here are the choicest fields in all the universe for the soul's harvesting; that we are as yet but pioneers blazing a path through matter, clearing the ground upon which shall be built the White City itself, with its jeweled gates and golden streets, rich symbols of such glories as the undeveloped mind cannot yet outline in its gross conceptions of life. Here are the highest problems of the soul worked out. Here will its stately mansions be built. Even now we faintly discern new notes in the great song as it is sung by human voices such as have not been heard for many centuries.
Now we really know for the first time that the law of love is the law of life, and that the golden rule is the most scientific proposition that has ever been submitted to a skeptical world.
We are even beginning to suspect that it is the only rock foundation upon which man can rear his governments, his social orders, or his financial institutions. All else is sand that many tides have washed away before our eyes. The law of harmony permits no note of selfishness. The Sermon on the Mount is but a transposition of the science of Euclid. It is a key to all the mysteries that surround us.
By and by we shall find the fulcrum of the lever Archimedes coveted, with which we can move the earth itself.
By and by we shall call across the stellar spaces and wake the echoes of the distant stars.
The seven planets will be compassed by the circuit of our telephones. Our wireless telegraphy will send its messages to other spheres than ours.
On planes yet unexplored we will apply the spiritual principles we are learning here.
By and by we shall hear the song of a larger life and know the beauty of the astral harmonies.
The musical staff as we have it today has been the growth of centuries. One generation after another has added line by line as it found its scope too small. Man's sense life has expanded with his spiritual consciousness—one sense following another. His constantly increasing range of sensibility has demanded larger expression in music as well as literature.
The lines of the staff are the number of the senses. But musical instruments are very incomplete. We are told by a recent writer in " Atheism and Mathematics" that to get complete command over all the keys used in modern music would require an instrument having seventy-two notes in every octave—that earth's instruments are out of tune, and no one can tune or play them perfectly.
This same author asserts that man's vocal organs are so carefully planned and constructed in accordance with mathematical and mechanical laws that they can produce every possible grade and shade of sound within a compass of a hundred to a thousand vibrations per second.
The time will come when in a grander chorus these human voices will utter sweeter songs than ever yet have been sung or written.
Today we are but learning single notes.
Tomorrow we shall blend them into chords.
The hour will chime when all humanity shall know the law of harmony—when every note in every chord shall find its part in the sublime oratorio of universal life.