I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome.
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools and the learned clan.
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?
—From "Good-by" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The above lines by Emerson, in their climax, voice the greatest truth which can occupy the human mind. They are inscribed upon a bronze tablet which is set in a mass or conglomerate rock, near the summit of "Schoolmaster Hill," in Franklin Park, Boston. It is on or near the site where his humble cottage stood among the trees, when, in early life (1823-1825), he was engaged in school-teaching. They form a part of one of his early poems, which is entitled "Goodbye."
Here we are furnished the key which will unlock the mystery of Emerson's great individuality. In this is revealed the source of the forces which afterwards rendered him the most intuitional and idealistic of philosophers—nay, prophets—of modern times.
In this brier sketch we propose no exposition of the Emersonian philosophy, but only a momentary penetration beneath the surface of circumstances to discover the motif of his life and work. Why was Emerson, Emerson? What afterwards differentiated him from the other great minds of the Concord school, and singled him out from among the Transcendentalists of the period for his unique inspiration? The few lines quoted above lift the curtain, and make it all plain.
The prophetic authors of "Holy Writ" were the Emersons of their respective eras. They met with God "in the bush;" but, incidentally, their own reports of their interviews were tempered and tinged by the peculiar conditions of their own environment. Had Emerson been a contemporary of Isaiah, their messages doubtless would have been much alike.
The scientific accumulations of the past form a great capital which is now available for a present starting-point, and so the modern seer has a great advantage over his ancient predecessor. While his access to the high plane of divine wisdom may be no more free, the fruits of his insight crown the summit of ages of evolutionary progress. The world needs more Emersons. An overwrought intellectual activity among the Occidental races has hidden and displaced the faculty of spiritual insight, until its very existence is generally ignored, if not denied. "Where man in the bush with God may meet,"—how few realize that such a statement is more than poetic license or visionary idealism! How few know it as a truth, and still less as an experience!
The Universal Christ, speaking through the personal Jesus, proclaimed the Spirit to be a "teacher." Has this been looked upon as a scientific statement or a religious platitude? If in the highest attainable zone of spiritual knowledge and universal wisdom there be unbounded supplies waiting for appropriation, they are available for those who lift their receptive capacity to that high level. From the limitless divine reservoir nothing is withheld. If ever it seems restricted, the condition is due only to our low view-point. The pure mountain ozone cannot be inhaled from the low level of a malarious plain. "The bush"—or the silence—may form the pathway of ascent to the "Mount of Transfiguration." "The secret place of the Most High" is no fiction. Paradoxical as it may seem, the literalists, more than all others, have missed the scientific exactitude which so often crops out in the Bible.
The "Mount," or the divine auditorium, is existent in the supreme altitude of the human consciousness; and all may make themselves at home there, in varying degree, as they will. The attendant ushers are desire, aspiration, and stillness. At intervals the soul must be emptied of intellections, and swept clean and void to invite the occupation of the Presence.
Nothing less than some degree of experimental research can prove to any one that the Spirit is "a teacher." Therefore, the world is slow to accept it. It need hardly be noted, also, that the modern Church—using the term inclusively—has been reluctant to recognize this most fundamental of all truths. With the impartation of divine wisdom will come, also, a wealth of wholesome forces which promote harmony and kindle energy.
The vital communion of the Divine with the human is impossible upon the plane of the intellect. We may reason about God, and speculate regarding his character and methods; but this alone has little power to develop a positive and intuitive conscious oneness. The great mass of the controversial theological tomes of the ages almost wholly represent intellectual concepts. It is upon this level that creeds and dogmas have their birth and dwelling-place.
The utterances of some of the seers and psalmists of old depict an earnestness for the divine consciousness which it were well for us to cultivate, in an age when the divine presence is so generally put far away. We should divest them of strangeness and supernaturalism, and receive them as exact scientific statements and as truths which are normal and in full accord with the psychological, ethical, and spiritual laws of the human constitution. Only then will their true import be realized. A single example from the Psalms will illustrate their spirit:
How could fervid desire be more graphically and beautifully expressed? Supply responds to demand, and there is no law more veritable or exact. The divine intimacy of each soul includes elements which are both special and universal. In each case there is something unique and unlike the relation of any other.
and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it.
The visions of "Saint John, the divine," underneath "the letter," have a wonderful quality which is yet very lightly appreciated. On the human side the divine companionship with each one is a personal secret. It is the channel which keeps us in vital touch with the Universal Life. A sense of incompleteness ever waits upon man's nonrecognition of the mystic union. Perfect unity must include variety. A conscious individual relation with the Universal, with the ear attuned to the utterances of the "still small voice," tends powerfully to heal the complex discords which otherwise reverberate through the chambers of the soul.
Emerson was what he was, not only because he discerned the unity and interrelation of all things, but yet more because he met God face to face "in the bush." He early gave full exercise to his spiritual equipment; and, therefore, the scope of his seership was remarkably broad in extent and rich in quality. In high degree he became the mouthpiece of God to this generation.