From a point of view sufficiently over-arching, the problem of humanity all over the civilized world is social and religious, and is to be finally met and treated by literature.
To take expression, to incarnate, to endow a literature with grand and archetypal models—those forms of majesty and beauty, put in highest of art’s forms, namely, the literary form—
To achieve spiritual meanings, and suggest the future—
These, and these only, satisfy the soul.
Few are aware how the great literature penetrates all, gives hue to all, shapes aggregates and individuals, and, after subtle ways, with irresistible power, constructs, sustains, demolishes at will.
(Why tower, in reminiscence, above all the nations of the earth, two special lands, petty in themselves, yet inexpressibly gigantic, beautiful, columnar? Immortal Judah lives, and Greece immortal lives, in a couple of poems.)
In its highest aspect, essential poetry expresses and goes along with essential religion—has been and is more the adjunct, and more serviceable to that true religion (for of course there is a false one and plenty of it,) than all the priests and creeds and churches that now exist or have ever existed.
The priest departs, the divine literatus comes,
A boundless field to fill! A new creation, with needed orbic works launch’d forth,
A hundred, a thousand other saviours and mediators and bibles to revolve in free and lawful circuits—to move, self-poised, through the ether, and shine like heaven’s own suns!
We consider bibles and religions divine—I do not say they are not divine,
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of you still—realms of budding bibles,
It is not they who give the life, it is you who give the life,
Leaves are not more shed from the trees, or trees from the earth, than they are shed out of you.
Religion, when greatest, knows not bibles in the old way, but in new ways—the identified soul, which can really confront religion when it extricates itself entirely from the churches, and not before;
Latent within thee the bibles equal with any, divine as any,
We are the skald, the oracle, the monk, we easily include them and more.
Sermons, creeds, theology—but the human brain,
And what is called reason, and what is called love, and what is called life?
Concealed beneath the ostensible life, the deep, silent, mysterious quality of life itself—never to be examin’d, never to be told—the eternal life, which will not let a man ever entirely rest but one way or another arouses him to think, to wonder, to doubt, and often to despair.
As fuel to flame, and flame to the heavens, so must wealth, science, materialism—even this democracy of which we make so much—unerringly feed the highest mind, the soul;
Wo to the age or land in which these things, movements, stopping at themselves, do not tend to ideas.
Man, so diminutive, dilates beyond the sensible universe, outcopes space and time, meditating even one great idea;
Thus, and thus only, does a human being, his spirit, ascend above, and justify, objective nature.
What we moderns have come to mean by spirituality has so expanded and color’d and vivified the comprehension of the term, that it is quite a different one from the past.
Freed from fables, spangles, trickeries, from the painful constipation and poor narrowness of ecclesiasticism,
Religion soon assuming—nay already assumes—grander proportions—
Mounts flying to the skies.
The true adoration is without words and without kneeling.
Bibles may convey, and priests expound, but it is exclusively for the noiseless operation of one’s isolated self, to enter the pure ether of veneration, reach the divine levels, and commune with the unutterable, religious, possessing the idea of the infinite.
Mask with their lids thine eyes, 0 soul,
The standards of the light and sense shut off.
To darkness now retiring, light and the senses abdicated,
The objective world behind thee left afar,
Exalt thyself to musing—speed thy flight!
From thy inward abysms pass to the vast unknown.
Alone, and silent thought and awe, and aspiration—and then the interior consciousness, like a hitherto unseen inscription, in magic ink, beams out its wondrous lines to the sense—and the soul emerges, the spirit rising in vagueness, and all statements, churches, sermons, melt away like vapors.
The mind, raised upward, then holds communion with angels and its reach overtops heaven; and yet then it stays in the meshes of the world too and is stung by a hundred serpents every day.
Final and paramount to all is man’s idea of his own position in the universes of time, space, and materials, his clue to the relations between himself and the outside world, his ability in intellect and spirit to cope and be equal with them, and with time and space.
Realize where you are at present located—the point you stand, that is now to you the centre of all—Look up, overhead—think of space stretching out—think of all the unnumbered orbs wheeling safely there—think of the sun, around which the earth revolves—the moon, revolving round the earth—think of the different planets belonging to our system—spend some minutes faithfully in this exercise.
Then again realize yourself upon the earth, at the particular point you now occupy—Which way stretches the north, and what countries, seas, etc.? Which way the south? Which way the east? Which way the west?—Seize these firmly with your mind—pass freely over immense distances—fix definitely in your brain (turn your face a moment thither) the directions, and the idea of the distances of separate sections of your own country—also of England, the Mediterranean sea, Cape Horn, the North Pole, and such like distinct places—though personally in solitude, travelling all over the world.
Only in the perfect uncontamination and solitariness of individuality may the spirituality of religion positively come forth at all,
Only here, communion with the mysteries, the eternal problems, whence? whither?
Only here, and on such terms, the solemn and visionary meditations, the devout ecstasy, the soaring flight—a soul-sight of that divine clue and unseen thread which holds the whole congeries of things, all history and time, and all events, however trivial, however momentous.
The devotion which belongs to any well-developed man—
The most ethereal and elevated spirituality,
Stronger than the propulsion of this globe,
Ecstatic as the closest embraces of the god that made this globe,
Fiercer than the fires of the sun around which it eternally swings,
More faithful than the faith that keeps it in its company and place,
Divergent and vast as the space that lies beyond—
This seems to be what subordinates all the rest.
The ripeness of religion is doubtless to be looked for in this field of individuality, and is a result that no organization or church can ever achieve.
But not that half only, individualism, which isolates. There is another half, which is adhesiveness or love, that fuses, ties and aggregates, fraternizing all—
Both are to be vitalized by religion.
Went over to the religious services main insane asylum. O the looks that came from those faces! From every one, (I saw the face of the most smear’d and slobbering idiot they had at the asylum,) the devotional element radiating.
That there was a good deal of real devotional feeling, there could be no doubt. And even if it all were without the formality and literary refinement of some other devotional outpourings—as it came thus fresh and genuine from the heart, why can we not suppose that it was as effective in the estimation of the Deity as even the most polished and elegant supplications?
Mirror’d from those crazed faces, yet now temporarily so calm, like still waters, was it not, indeed, the peace of God that passeth all understanding, strange as it may sound?
If you have those sublime moments released from all cares and soaring to the idea of God, rapt, sublime, elate with immortality, realizing the divine of man, then you have religion—the curious something, the crown of life, the lumine of the soul, without which all else is darkness.
Religion means moral development, duty, the idea of man’s duty in the abstract, and duty toward his fellows, toned and colored by that something out of which prayer and worship arise.
In the making of a full man, all the other consciences, (the emotional, courageous, intellectual, esthetic, etc.,) are to be crown’d and effused by the religious conscience.
This inner light—only another name for the religious conscience, the inward Deity-planted law of the emotional soul—is moral power and ethic sanity, antiseptic to the real inmost disease of our times, probably any times—the huge inflammation call’d society, and that other inflammation call’d politics.
True religion (the most beautiful thing in the whole world and the best part of any man’s or woman’s character) consists neither in rites or Bibles or sermons or Sundays—but in noiseless secret ecstasy and unremitted aspiration, in purity, in a good practical life, in charity to the poor and toleration to all.
True religion consists in what one does square and kind and generous and honorable all days all the time—especially with his own folks and associates and with the poor and illiterate and in devout meditation, and silent thoughts of God, and death—and not at all in what he says nor in Sunday or prayer meeting gas.
If you have that in you which makes you realize the deliciousness of visiting the sick in hospitals and the poor, then you have religion.