The old Coptic bishop had been talking of magic and ancient wisdom. He had told me stories of the horrors of sorcery in his own beloved land, where the majority of the people were grossly ignorant and superstitious. Then he went on: "You Western people can scarcely realize the reality and horror of these things. Your civilization has taken the edge off your spiritual susceptibility. Your minds are not so responsive to the deeper things of the universe of Being. The years have led you into a subjection to material interests, which has alienated you from the real life of God. Your very services of devotion proclaim this. The tendency of your forms of worship is to stir the mere emotions. Your material absorption has led to a development of the sensual. The ritual, music, elocution, rhetoric, affect only transient affections, leaving the real spirit life unaffected. You think you cannot afford to set apart hours for contemplation—your religious leaders will laugh at the Eastern contemplative. This is why you have missed the real significance of life. It is not untrue to say that your life is merely the activity of Today—the today of earthly existence. Tomorrow—the tomorrow of eternity is not for you, you are not concerned about it, for you say ‘it never comes.‘ We cannot afford to dream is constantly upon your lips; and you mock the dreamers, forgetting that in dreams you approach reality. The hurry and bustle of your Western activity have deprived you of the power of detachment which is essential to the real and abundant life of the spirit. But your intense restlessness is not so much a puzzle to us Easterners as is your flagrant carelessness of the hereafter. You seem to live as if time were all, and that death was finality, and yet you think we envy your progress and enlightenment! We look upon you all as living in narrow places, gasping in the throes of spiritual suffocation, which may, perhaps, account for your restless activity. We do not envy the undesirable, rather we pity you for your perverted conceit. For us Eternity is all, and time is but a swiftly passing phase. We are not concerned by the passage of time, because we know from earliest consciousness that we belong to eternity. And you, in your strangely distorted ill-called wisdom, mock us, and seek with fine condescension to impart to our ignorant souls your progressive enlightenment!
As for you, yourself, you know through your desert experience, and your sojourn in this fair land, something of the Reality that I speak. You have become one of us, and now, as you go back for a time to the land of your nativity, go with this determination—that you may impart something of the glory you have gathered to the cold weary men of your restless North-west land.
Tell them of the splendor of the desert—of its spreading grandeur. Bring them beneath the glamour of its wondrous spell. Let them hear the surge of its mighty stillness, and see the elusive beauty of its mysterious mirage.
Tell them of the dreams it brings—the sense of boundless magnitude—the grandeur of its purple mists-—the inexpressible magnificence of its nightly dress. The expansive desert brings a spirit of exultant freedom, an exhilaration which is the life of the soul. You have caught the spirit, you do not need human artifice to aid you in your worship. Communion with the Unseen and Eternal is as natural to us as breathing. Our life is permeated with the spirit of devotion, for life is a religious experience. That is why all inspired religious systems have had their origin in the East, where they at present only truly live.
Only through great tribulation will Western peoples learn to appreciate the things that matter. They talk glibly of the mysterious East, but do not know what they mean. We have no mysteries—nothing but a clear child-like perception of Life and Truth. We have clung tenaciously to the life of the spirit; shunning the material, because we would not be spoiled of our divine intelligence.
We know that the material exists only as a vehicle whereby infinite Being finds expression. It is an aid, to the cultivated mind, which assists in the appreciation of the Real. Every material object is as it were a stepping stone across the waters of obscurity. Or to change the metaphor—a rung in the ladder of spiritual perception? Therefore the mystic finds a deeper interest in the material than does the materialist who cannot appreciate spiritual value. We admire the material because it is an expression of the very power which is our life. We know that all material forms pass with our passing. That is to say they no longer exist for us, being unnecessary to the spirit freed from its material limitation.
Thus material forms possess a permanence which transcends what to the materialist is decay. They portray the reality of an eternal mind, and convey messages that must live forever—and though our passing, so far as we individual personalities are concerned, also means their ceasing to exist in their familiar forms, yet the messages remain, and our life is enriched by the lessons they teach.
You know these things; your mind, stripped of conventional artifice, and reduced through knowledge to simplicity, can appreciate that which to the worldly wise is denied. Go to your homeland as a messenger of hope and happiness. Desire to be good and you will do good. Desire love, and you will be loved. All that you have learned in the ‘Halls of Life' belongs to men. Impart that knowledge. Desire to be a means of blessing and you will bless. That which you give will you receive—increased a thousand-fold. So shall sorrowing hearts be cheered, and weary men and women gladdened by your presence. You will be an inspiration making men better in spite of their tendencies to sordid selfishness. Goodness begets goodness, thought stimulates thought—'Give, and it shall be given you, good measure, pressed down, and running over,’ is a profound truth—the deepest and yet most simple secret of the Abundant Life. Your life will be reflected, as in a mirror, in the lives of those around you—each pupil you have will aid you to self-realization. That is why no pilgrim on the pathway of Truth can be a hater of his fellows—he is of necessity the Lover of All. The richer his love for his fellows, the deeper and finer will be his love of self, and the sublimer his love for God, walk in humility this Way of Life, and at the end you will achieve perfect self expression which shall satisfy completely the desire of your illuminated soul."
—From Halls of Life
Are not these, O God, the vision of Him who reigns?
Speak to Him, then, for He hears, and spirit with spirit can meet;
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.