Those who would attain to real happiness, and who would make their lives fragrant to all with whom they come into contact, must cultivate that spirit which holds nothing for itself, because of the realization that everything which contributes to human happiness is the inheritance of all irrespective of creed or nationality. The men and women who have done the finest work in the world are not those who have become famous (or infamous) through conquest; but those who have lived and died that others might be happy—those who have been animated by a spirit of self-sacrifice, and who labored not for gain or self-aggrandizement, but essentially for love.
Renunciation is not so much the yielding up of certain cherished possessions or rights, or the stifling of personal desire, or the cultivation of a persistent attitude or spirit of selflessness, which manifests itself in a series of positive actions on behalf of the welfare of others—that outlook on life which regards the endowment of a natural gift, or the possession of certain property, as something to be used for the benefit of the community. It involves the forsaking of amusements which may cause another pain or discomfort, the putting aside of inclinations which may mar another’s happiness. It means that our sole aim and object in life is to live for others, and to subordinate everything to that end. As we cultivate this spirit, life will become more full of meaning, and will be clothed with new beauty and wonder which must increase as the days go by.
One of the fairest manifestations of Renunciation in this world is seen in the love of a mother for her child. No sacrifice is too costly which may make the little one happy. The spirit of self-sacrifice manifests itself not merely in a series of isolated actions, but in a continuous outpouring of sacrificial love, all freely given for its own sake.
Renunciation involves passion, a burning zeal for all that is pure and holy, noble and true, for the things that are lovely and of good report. Such passion must be governed by the power of discernment which can gauge accurately the value and significance of things. How many sad failures there are in human society! men and women whose happiness has been spoiled because they lacked this power, and who chose that which seemed to be pleasant, but which experience proved to be an evil that brought about their undoing. "No man can serve two masters"—how true that is! We cannot indulge in evil, and love the beautiful: we cannot walk the Way of Holiness, and engage in questionable pursuits; we must abandon one or the other, for it is impossible to cleave to both.
Renunciation is one of the rudimentary principles of the Mystic Way, and it must be practiced until it becomes a habit of life. It’s worth depends upon our passion for the object in view, and, although at first it may seem to make very great demands upon us, as we go forward, patiently submitting to its promptings, we shall find we become better able to give up the things that tend to hinder us in our journey.
Like everything we attempt in life, success in Renunciation depends upon faithfulness in matters of detail, a conscientious application of the principle to the little things. How many failures are due to neglect in this direction! We meet numbers of people eager and willing to do great things, but who think attention to minor matters is too irksome, or not worthy of their concern. There are far too many dream heroes in this world, those who would but do not, and their impotence is almost invariably to be traced to their neglect of the little things. A good parody of an old proverb would be, "look after the little things and the great things will look after themselves." If we attend carefully to the minor details we shall be better prepared to perform the greater tasks. It is the cumulative effect of conscientiousness in small matters which will tell in the long run, and which will enable us to rise successfully to meet the great occasions.
Not a few people owe their failure to the fact that they have not been able to put their idealism into practice. They have been deceived by the belief that the glow of enthusiasm for a high Ideal is all they require. They have confused the zeal inspired by contemplation of some fine theory of life and conduct, with definite action, and seem to think that they merit divine favor because of the beauty of their conceptions! Their practice does not harmonize with their theories. Many well meaning folk regard themselves as virtuous, whose conceptions of beauty are too lofty to allow them to have any regard for the commonplace, which is classed with what is ugly and undesirable. Their aestheticism is too idealistic to be practical, and they fear that their artistic susceptibilities will be outraged by contemplation of anything but that which is classic in its beauty!
This divorce between theory and practice is more common than is generally supposed, and is a subtle pitfall against which ‘artistic’ souls should be on their guard. It is very probably one of the great causes of failure on the part of orthodox Christianity. Christ Himself was intensely practical. He emphasized all that He taught, by practice. His life interpreted His teaching. He carried His Idealism into the highways and byways, and so lived, that the "common people heard Him gladly."
The successful pilgrim must test his theories by practice and be prepared to cast them aside if their utility is in question. Our ideals must work out in our daily experience if we are to attain the Highest; we must be essentially "Doers of the Word, and not heaters only."
If I have a line theory of life and behave myself unseemly, or am guilty of neglect of my fellows, I am in a worse condition than the child of the slums whose hereditary taint and evil environment have destined him to become a habitual criminal.
Renunciation is essentially practical, it involves absolute self-surrender—a perfect, unqualified yielding to the demands of Holiness—a shutting out of all that is evil, and an implicit obedience to Divine impulse. It means too, whole hearted self-effacement. The spirit that shrinks from the plaudits of the multitude, and which seeks goodness for its own sake, loving to perform acts of kindness in secret—and above all, yet including all, it means self-sacrifice even unto death.
"Greater love hath no man than this—that a man lay down his life for his friends."