Wednesday, September 12, 2007

When Words Spark on the Page: Catching Reflections of My True Self

My friend, Lucy, knowing that I love to read Emerson, e-mailed me a link to his address delivered to the senior class of the Harvard Divinity School on Sunday evening, July 15, 1838. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the kindred spirit of Teachers of A Course in Miracles, wrote essays of poetic prose that come to us from across the generations, expressing the truth of who we are, the holy Sons of God.

Before reading the address on the internet, I was curious to see if I had read it as a sophomore at Kalamazoo College in the fall of 1960, when I took an American Literature class, my first class as a recently-declared English major. Over the years through all the moves, I kept a copy of one of the texts for that class, The Selected writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, (Modern Library Edition, 1950). This precious, dog-eared book has weathered the years, the pages browning at the edges.

Sure enough, a few paragraphs into the essay, I saw the first faint pencil under-linings made by me as a nineteen-year-old kid. I was amazed that he even read the entire essay, thirty-four paragraphs spread over seventeen pages. As I leafed through the pages, I was astonished at what he had thought significant. I could not believe that the passages that he underlined, asterisked, and circled still stood out as highly significant to me today, almost fifty years later. I only remember a young, lean athlete with a crew cut, five feet nine inches tall, 165 pounds primarily concerned with playing football, running track, his physical conditioning, and delighting in the delicious cafeteria food that was dished out generously with an “all you can eat” policy. This was two years before foreign study in France, two years before his first serious romantic relationship (ending with a broken heart), and three years before graduation.

Before I take a look at the sparks that he saw in the words and phrases and sentences of Emerson’s address, I want to outline briefly what Emerson was expressing in his address. He tips his hand in the third word of the first sentence, “refulgent.”

In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life.

It means “shining brilliantly” from the Latin refulgere, “ to shine back, reflect.” Emerson is seeing a reflection of his own bright mind. He is seeing through the eyes of Christ, standing before the seniors who invited him to speak, experiencing the light of his true Self.

This is one way Jesus expresses it in His Course in Miracles.

The world becomes a place of joy, abundance, charity and endless giving. It is now so like to Heaven that it quickly is transformed into the light that it reflects. And so the journey which the Son of God began has ended in the light from which he came. W-p.II.249:5-7

And here is another.

In this world you can become a spotless mirror, in which the holiness of your Creator shines forth from you to all around you. You can reflect Heaven here. T-14.IX.5

And now let us enjoy what Emerson sees all around him in his magnificent first paragraph.

In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the pine, the balm-of-Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart with its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. Man under them seems a young child, and his huge globe a toy. The cool night bathes the world as with a river, and prepares his eyes again for the crimson dawn. The mystery of nature was never displayed more happily. The corn and the wine have been freely dealt to all creatures, and the never-broken silence with which the old bounty goes forward, has not yielded yet one word of explanation. One is constrained to respect the perfection of this world, in which our senses converse. How wide; how rich; what invitation from every property it gives to every faculty of man! In its fruitful soils; in its navigable sea; in its mountains of metal and stone; in its forests of all woods; in its animals; in its chemical ingredients; in the powers and path of light, heat, attraction, and life, it is well worth the pith and heart of great men to subdue and enjoy it. The planters, the mechanics, the inventors, the astronomers, the builders of cities, and the captains, history delights to honor. (To read Emerson's essay in its entirety, click on the link at the end of this post).

But, and Emerson does begin his second paragraph with a “But,” because he recognizes that, although he is seeing a bright reflection of his Self, the members of his audience are most likely seeing only a projection of the self, a small speck of their mind that has no source in reality, a small part that serves as an instrument to interpret the world in which our senses converse. But when their minds open to the state of mind of the peace of God, when they experience themselves as created by God, then the mind opens. Thus, he begins his second paragraph in this way.

But when the mind opens, and reveals the laws which traverse the universe, and make things what they are, then shrinks the great world at once into a mere illustration and fable of this mind. What am I? and What is? asks the human spirit with a curiosity new-kindled, but never to be quenched.

In this opening of the mind, man can recognize this huge globe a toy, and fable of the mind, simply the result of a small part of his mind that is projecting, interpreting the world with the senses.

In the third paragraph, he goes on to amplify what he means by the mind opening, revealing the laws which traverse the universe, beginning with this sentence.

A more secret, sweet, and overpowering beauty appears to man when his heart and mind open to the sentiment of virtue.

“Sentiment” comes from the Latin, sentire, meaning “to feel.” “Virtue” comes from the Latin virtus, meaning “worth.” When a man feels his worth as the son of God, that he is truly as God created him, his instruction begins.

Then he is instructed in what is above him. He learns that his being is without bound; that, to the good, to the perfect, he is born, low as he now lies in evil and weakness. That which he venerates is still his own, though he has not realized it yet. He ought.

Even though man is on a journey lying in evil and weakness, he can, now, recognize that he is virtue, that his is light.

And so the journey which the Son of God began has ended in the light from which he came.

He knows the sense of that grand word, though his analysis fails entirely to render account of it. When in innocency, or when by intellectual perception, he attains to say, — `I love the Right; Truth is beautiful within and without, forevermore. Virtue, I am thine: save me: use me: thee will I serve, day and night, in great, in small, that I may be not virtuous, but virtue;' — then is the end of the creation answered, and God is well pleased.

Within this context, this point of view, Emerson goes on to warn the seniors who are about to graduate from divinity school of two defects of traditional Christianity.

The first:

In this point of view we become very sensible of the first defect of historical Christianity. Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons.

The second defect of the traditionary and limited way of using the mind of Christ is a consequence of the first; this, namely; that the Moral Nature, that Law of laws, whose revelations introduce greatness, — yea, God himself, into the open soul, is not explored as the fountain of the established teaching in society. Men have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. The injury to faith throttles the preacher; and the goodliest of institutions becomes an uncertain and inarticulate voice.

Now we can see why Emerson was objectionable to so many clergymen that the officers of the School disallowed responsibility of his address. Nearly thirty years passed before Emerson was invited again to speak at Harvard. However, Brooks Atkinson noted in his Introduction to Emerson’s Selected Writings:

Not everyone understood what he was talking about, or approved. Young people seemed to follow him more easily than their elders. A Boston attorney said Emerson’s lectures are utterly meaningless to me, but my daughters, aged 15 and 17, understand them thoroughly.”

With this context established, I can now turn to a sampling of the under-linings of my young self as he noted the particular words and phrases and sentences that caught his eye, sparking from the pages.

Here is the first.

The sentiment of virtue is a reverence and delight in the presence of certain divine laws. It perceives that this homely game of life we play, covers, under what seem foolish details, principles that astonish.

And a couple of pages later.

So much benevolence as a man hath, so much life hath he. For all things proceed out of this same spirit, which is differently named love, justice, temperance, in its different applications, just as the ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes.

This sentence deserved a circle.

Life is comic or pitiful, as soon as the high ends of being fade out of sight, and man becomes near-sighted, and can only attend to what addresses the senses.

This passage was circled and asterisked.

Alone in all history, Jesus estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, `I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or, see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.'

These lines drew under-linings and and circles.

The spirit only can teach. Not any profane man, not any sensual, not any liar, not any slave can teach, but only he can give, who has; he only can create, who is. The man on whom the soul descends, through whom the soul speaks, alone can teach. Courage, piety, love, wisdom, can teach; and every man can open his door to these angels, and they shall bring him the gift of tongues.

Finally, he circled God is.

It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.

As I said above, when I perused the under-linings throughout the essay, my first thought was astonishment, but my second was why be astonished? Since we are walking around in the world, but not of the world; since we are as God created us; since we are the light of the world, it is the most natural thing in the world to experience light sparking.

Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. (Psalm 82:6)

It is inevitable that our Godliness break through, that we see sparks, that we see our light reflected, that the thin veil part between our self and our Self, that we experience the holy instant.

In the holy instant nothing happens that has not always been. Only the veil that has been drawn across reality is lifted. Nothing has changed. Yet the awareness of changelessness comes swiftly as the veil of time is pushed aside.

In the holy instant, in which you see your Self as bright with freedom, you will remember God. For remembering Him is to remember freedom.

During the time I was writing this essay Peg, my musician friend, came up to me, eager to tell me about her recent experience. She said that the other afternoon, while listening to music in her apartment, she remembered a powerful experience she had in college while playing in the school orchestra.

When I was in college, I had an undeniable experience of God while performing with our orchestra. We were playing Shostakovich's 5th symphony. During the slow (Largo) movement, I became aware of a moment of intense focus, where everyone in the hall, performers and audience alike, was completely joined in the event. I was barely breathing. It seemed as though the performance would fall apart, and yet it felt that we were playing perfectly. I could hear every part, and the music was gorgeous! There was nothing else happening at that moment -- just the music and everyone's experience of it. At that time, I called this an experience of extreme intensity. Now, I think it's more accurate to call this a holy instant, simply a personal experience of God.

The reason she was so eager to tell me of this holy instant is because, in the same moment, she had thought of me reading Emerson, knowing that I probably had similar experiences. I looked at her in utter amazement and said to her, "Yes. I am writing about it right now!"

Again, on the one hand, I am truly amazed; on the other, this communication, this communion, is the most natural thing in the world, joining with your brother who is also in the world but not of it.

That Peg and the young guy experienced these sparks demonstrates the inevitability of recognizing our birthright.

It is certain because it is impossible.

This motto is one of the first things you see when you cross the threshold into the lobby of Endeavor Academy. It is certain that you are as God created you because it (what you have made of yourself) is impossible.

It does not surprise, nor astonish me, to remember that Kalamazoo College’s official motto is Lux esto, “Let there be light.”

Here is today’s lesson.

The Son of God is my Identity.

My Self is holy beyond all the thoughts

of holiness of which I now conceive.

Its shimmering and perfect purity

is far more brilliant than is any light

that I have ever looked upon. Its love

is limitless, with an intensity

that holds all things within it, in the calm

of quiet certainty. Its strength comes not

from burning impulses which move the world,

but from the boundless Love of God Himself.
How far beyond this world my Self must be,
and yet how near to me and close to God!

Father, You know my true Identity.
Reveal It now to me who am Your Son,

that I may waken to the truth in You,
and know that Heaven is restored to me.

There is a plan.

To read Emerson's address, click here.

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