How few of us realize the value and necessity of rhythm outside a piece of music. Volumes have been written on the necessity of work—nearly as many on the necessity of rest and recreation; but it is necessary to realize that work and rest must alternate in a fixed way that life must be balanced, rhythmical, perfectly adjusted, or it will fail of its full power.
The laws of nature consistently teach this truth. The archer soon learnt that his bow was better unstrung when not in use; the violinist relaxes his instrument almost automatically when a performance is over. The animal world in a state- of nature shows the most perfect alternations of vigorous motion and perfect rest. But man has grown out of the automatic physical wisdom of the animal and has not reached the full stature of spiritual wisdom and power. He finds it hard to rest, and so his life loses its rhythm and becomes monotonous and hard. In modern life healthful rest is little sought. There are plenty of holidays to be had, but how are they spent by the majority? See Hampstead Heath on a Bank Holiday! Four times a year a large proportion of slum-dwellers find their way to the ‘Vale of Health,’ and ‘let themselves go.’ It is a weird kind of enjoyment that prevails at these times, but, weird or not, it is a frantic loosening of the bonds of routine and monotony; it is the ‘tuning down’ of the fiddle that the next ‘tuning up' may be a little bit more satisfactory to the performer. The more monotonous and unintelligent the work of life is, the more frantic will be the recoil in the direction of recreation. The ideal would be to combine work and rest in a gentle and even way, so that there should be no recoil in the transition from the one to the other.
But it is not only in work and rest that rhythm tends to be disturbed. Life’s joys and sorrows should be rhythmical too. ‘What a strange idea!’ says someone. It is only strange on the surface. Joy and sorrow are but spiritual counterparts of sunshine and rain lf we accept the necessity of both and receive both wisely they will increase the fruitfulness of our lives. It is resistance that hurts. Look at that slender willow branch in a storm, it bends gracefully, now slowly, now quickly according to the strength of the breeze, but it does not break. Non-resistance is its saving principle. Look, on the contrary, at the tall beech tree. It resists the storm as long as its strength holds out, and then it falls, helpless before it.
Nature is full of examples of perfect and of broken rhythm, and is not nature a living book of lessons for us? It is possible, nay is it not as certain as the fact of life itself, that as our standpoint becomes higher we shall find that these apparently broken rhythms which cause us pain really belong to some higher cycle which we have not yet power to perceive—when, for instance, life is suddenly darkened and made hopeless by the breaking of ties that we cannot hold but which yet seem dear to us. For the moment we think that we can never again be happy, that the sunshine will never again seem fair, or the sky bright. At these times it is well to yield to the rhythm of emotion, to be passive and to absorb the spiritual rain that is falling on our spirits, to let our wills go steadily until they are thoroughly relaxed and ready to be absorbed into the Divine Will. When this point is reached we shall see light and hope and joy again.
There is a pessimistic idea abroad that one is permanently injured by having passed through sorrow, and that sorrow-stricken souls somehow have first claim on our sympathy. This view is one-sided. Sympathy is needed at all times. Moreover, when we look back at life, we see that:
"Not enjoyment and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way,
But to act that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today."
It is not the joy or the sorrow, but the rhythm which combines and alternates, and regulates for good these two opposing elements of our soul-life that give to that life power and depth and beauty.