"'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,
And robes the mountain in its azure hue."
If this familiar sentiment be true of the things of sense, it is still more marked in the realities of the higher realm. The human mind is prone to rear its altars and erect its sanctities in the faraway and unknown. The imagination takes wings and discovers the Golden Age in the hazy mist of the remote past. The inauguration of the heavenly harmony is pushed forward beyond the confines of a chasm of interminable ages. What is near-by is rated as common and prosaic. It lacks the charmed atmosphere with which the soul invests its distant fancies and sacred visions.
It is a strange mistake to heap up devotion upon the long-ago, to the neglect of the realization of the divine immanence of today. Historic shrines, holy relics, and sacred places absorb the interest and draw out the soul. Instead of emulating the life and spirit of the old-time prophets, we build tombs for them and consecrate their remains. Tradition would restore old walls which have served their purpose. What an object lesson of the possible furor of this spirit is furnished by the history of the crusades! An idolatrous homage paid to material sacred remnants swept over Europe in great psychological waves. It was a contagion which demonstrated the force of the far-away. Palestine was sacred soil, and the Holy Sepulcher and Cave of the Nativity were priceless jewels to be snatched from the grasp of the infidel at any sacrifice of blood and treasure. Untold thousands of young lives were wasted for this purpose by endless marches, famine, and war. All this received the high sanction of popes and monarchs, and was carried on under the banner of the Cross of the Prince of Peace. The colossal tragedies of the "Children's Crusades" and of constant disasters were not sufficient to cool the blind zeal which for a considerable part of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries sapped the lifeblood of Christian Europe. What horrors have been perpetrated in the name of religion!
Traditional sanctity is so easy and sentimental that we may draw an outline as large as we will, and fill it in, and yield it homage. But that prophetic and poetic spirit which is unhampered by land-marks finds truth in the eternal Now, independent of time and space. The spiritual world is located neither in the dim past nor the remote future, but we are living in it today, even though unconsciously. We only lack awareness of the great reality.
Turning to the natural world for correspondence and illustration, if we look deeply we are overwhelmed by the wonders of that which is in most immediate proximity. Modern science affirms that the laws and activities of the cosmos and solar system are duplicated not only in man —the microcosm—but in the atom. The universe without, is no more complicated or marvelous, than the universe within. The creative order repeats itself through all relativities and correspondences. Every seed and bulb which we brush aside in our pathway carries within it the implied promise of a general resurrection. Every flower or twig which we count as a trifle is an orderly expression of the Universal Life. "Canst thou by searching find out God?" Not mainly by a study of that which is imposing and afar-off, but more by what is near and in thyself. We extol the great, but the infinitesimal has yet to receive appreciation. An eminent scientist has recently made the startling suggestion that below us in the scale of being there may exist molecular universes with intelligences and even civilizations. Every atom and molecule has its own peculiar vibration and rhythm, and thus joins in the universal anthem of praise to its Maker.
Was God nearer to the world in the days of the patriarchs and prophets than he is today? Is he not as ready to lead our nation as he was the Hebrew people? Why do men hunt for him in the darkness and distance rather than in the light, and near-by? Special devotion to the sanctities of the dead past, through mistaken contrast, takes from the present a large part of its value and beauty. Whittier voices the spiritual ideal:
"That all of good the past hath had
Remains to make our own time glad,
Our common daily life divine,
And every land a Palestine.
"Henceforth my heart shall sigh no more
For olden time and holier shore.
God's love and blessing, then and there,
Are now and here and everywhere,"
What is near-by and now, includes all the potentiality and inspiration of the past and future. "Day unto day uttereth speech," if we will but listen. "The flower in the crannied wall" is as marvelous as the Milky Way. The mountain shrinks in importance beside the mind which can measure and weigh it and divine its laws. If the image of God is inscribed in every soul, must we necessarily gaze for it through a long vacancy of time and space?" The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father…God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth."