Have you ever seen how ships going up a canal or river are lifted from one level to another? It is a very interesting and instructive process. First the ship is floated into a small enclosure where the water level is the same as that of the lower part of the river where the ship has previously been sailing. Then the gates of the enclosure are shut and the ship is cut off from the outside world by the high wall of the lock. It cannot go back to the river without; even the light is dimmed around it, but above the moving clouds or the brightest sunshine are seen beckoning. The ship cannot rise without assistance, and the law of gravity make it impossible for the water in that part of the river where the ship has been sailing to float it to a higher level, hence no help may be looked for from that source.
There are also gates in the upper part of the lock which prevent the waters on the higher levels from rushing into the lock from above, otherwise the inrushing water would flood the lock in a moment and crush the ship lying at the bottom level because acting in conformity with that same law of gravitation. It is from above, nevertheless, that the power must come if the ship is ever to be lifted to the higher level of the river, and so to do this safely a small stream is conducted to the bottom of the lock, which lifts the ship very slowly and gradually but safely to the level of the river above. When that level has been reached, the upper gates may be opened without danger to the ship, and it may sail forth upon the expansive bosom of the higher waterway. Then the lock is slowly emptied and the water it contained added to the water at the lower level, which is thereby raised even if but slightly. The lock is then ready to raise another vessel.
This is, as said in the beginning, a very interesting and instructive physical operation, showing how human skill and ingenuity overcome great obstacles by the use of nature's forces. But it is a source of still greater enlightenment in a spiritual matter of vital importance to all who aspire and endeavor to live the higher life, for it illustrates the only safe method whereby man can rise from the temporal to the spiritual world, and it confutes those false teachers who for personal gain play upon the too ardent desires of the unripe, and who profess ability to unlock the gates of the unseen worlds for the consideration of an initiation fee. Our illustration shows that this is impossible, because the immutable laws of nature forbid.
For the purpose of elucidation we may call our river the river of life, and we as individuals are the ships sailing upon it; the lower river is the temporal world, and when we have sailed its length and breadth for many lives, we inevitably come to the lock of upliftment which is placed at the end. We may for a long time cruise about the entrance and look in, impelled by an inner urge to enter but drawn by another impulse towards the broad river of life without. For a long time this lock of upliftment with its high, bare walls looks forbidding and solitary, while the river of life is gay with bunting and full of kindred craft gaily cruising about; but when the inner urge has become sufficiently intense, it imbues us with a determination not to go back to the river of worldly life. But even at that stage there are some who falter and fear to shut the gate behind them; they aspire ardently at times to the life on the higher level, but it makes them feel less alone to look back upon the river of worldly life, and sometimes they stay in this condition for lives, wondering why they do not progress, why they experience no spiritual downpouring, why there is no uplift in their lives. Our illustration makes the reason very plain; no matter how hard the captain might beg, the lock keeper would never think of releasing the stream of water from above until the gate had been closed behind the ship, for it could never lift the ship an inch under such conditions but would flow through the open gates to waste in the lower river. Neither will the guardians of the gates of the higher worlds open the stream of upliftment for us, no matter how hard we pray, until we have shut the door to the world behind us, and shut it very tight with respect to the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, the sins that so easily beset us and are fostered by us in the careless worldly days. We must shut the door on them all before we are really in a condition to receive the stream of upliftment, but once we have thus shut the door and irrevocably set our faces forward, the downpouring begins, slowly but surely as the stream of the lock keeper which lifts the vessel.
But having left the temporal world with all its deed behind and having set his face towards the spiritual worlds, the yearning of the aspirant becomes more intense. As time passes he feels in increasing measure the void on both sides of himself. The temporal world and its deeds have dropped from him as a garment; he may be bodily in that world, performing his duties, but he has lost interest; he is in the world but not of it, and the spiritual world where he aspires to citizenship seems equally distant. He is all alone and his whole being cries and writhes in pain, longing for light.
Then comes the turn of the tempter: "I have a school of initiation, and am able to advance my pupils quickly for a fee," or words to that effect, but usually more subtle; and who shall blame the poor aspirants who fall before the wiles of these pretenders? Lucky are they if, as is generally the case, they are merely put through a ceremonial and given an empty degree, but occasionally they meet one who has really dabbled in magic and is able to open the flood gates from the higher level. Then the inrush of spiritual power shatters the system of the unfortunate dupe as the waters of the river above would wreck a vessel at the bottom of the lock if an ignorant or malicious person were to open the gates. The vessel must be lifted slowly for safety's sake, and so must the aspirant to spiritual upliftment; patience and unwavering persistence in well-doing are absolutely indispensable, and the door to the pleasures of the world must be kept closed. If that is done we shall surely and certainly accomplish the ascent to the heights of the unseen world with all the opportunities for further soul growth there found, for it is a natural process governed by natural laws, just as is the elevation of a ship to the higher levels of a river by a system of locks.
But how can I stay in the lock of upliftment and serve my fellow man? If soul growth comes only by service, how can I gain by isolation? These are questions that may not unnaturally present themselves to students. To answer them we must again emphasize that no one can lift another who is not himself upon a higher level, not so far above as to be unreachable, but sufficiently close to be within grasp of the reaching hand. There are, alas, too many who profess the higher teachings but live lives on the level with ordinary men and women of the world or even below that level. Their professions make the higher teachings a byword and call down the scorn of scoffers. But those who live the higher teachings have no need to profess them orally; they are isolated and marked in spite of themselves, and though handicapped by the misdeeds of the "professors," they do in time win the respect and confidence of those about them; eventually they call out in their associates the desire of emulation, they convert them in spite of themselves, reaping in return for this service a commensurate soul growth.
Now is the time of the year (Christmas) when the crest wave of spiritual power envelops the world. It culminates at the winter solstice, when the Christ is reborn into our planet, and though hampered by the present (from the limited viewpoint) deplorable war conditions, His life given for us may be most easily drawn upon by the aspirant at this season to further spiritual growth; therefore all who are desirous of attaining the higher levels would do well to put forth special efforts in that direction during the winter season.
On the morning of Good Friday, 1857, Richard Wagner, the master artist of the nineteenth century, sat on the verandah of a Swiss villa by the Zurich Sea. The landscape about him was bathed in the most glorious sunshine; peace and good will seemed to vibrate through nature. All creation was throbbing with life; the air was laden with the fragrant perfume of budding pine forests--a grateful balm to a troubled heart or a restless mind.
Then suddenly, as a bolt from an azure sky, there came into Wagner's deeply mystic soul a remembrance of the ominous significance of that day--the darkest and most sorrowful in the Christian year. It almost overwhelmed him with sadness, as he contemplated the contrast. There was such a marked incongruity between the smiling scene before him, the plainly observable activity of nature, struggling to renewed life after winter's long sleep, and the death struggle of a tortured Savior upon a cross; between the full throated chant of life and love issuing from the thousands of little feathered choristers in forest, moor and meadow, and the ominous shouts of hate issuing from an infuriated mob as they jeered and mocked the noblest ideal the world has ever known; between the wonderful creative energy exerted by nature in spring, and the destructive element in man, which slew the noblest character that ever graced our earth.
While Wagner meditated thus upon the incongruities of existence, the question presented itself: Is there any connection between the death of the Savior upon the cross at Easter, and the vital energy which expresses itself so prodigally in spring when nature begins the life of a new year?
Though Wagner did not consciously perceive and realize the full significance of the connection between the death of the Savior and the rejuvenation of nature, he had, nevertheless, unwittingly stumbled upon the key to one of the most sublime mysteries encountered by the human spirit in its pilgrimage from clod to God.
In the darkest night of the year, when earth sleeps most soundly in Boreas' cold embrace, when material activities are at the very lowest ebb, a wave of spiritual energy carries upon its crest the divine creative "Word from Heaven" to a mystic birth at Christmas; and as a luminous cloud the spiritual impulse broods over the world that "knew it not," for it "shines in the darkness" of winter when nature is paralyzed and speechless.
This divine creative "Word" has a message and a mission. It was born to "save the world," and "to give its life for the world." It must of necessity sacrifice its life in order to accomplish the rejuvenation of nature. Gradually it buries itself in the earth and commences to infuse its own vital energy into the millions of seeds which lie dormant in the ground. It whispers "the word of life" into the ears of beast and bird, until the gospel or good news has been preached to every creature. The sacrifice is fully consummated by the time the sun crosses its Easter(n) node at the spring equinox. Then the divine creative Word expires. It dies upon the cross at Easter in a mystical sense, while uttering a last triumphant cry, "It has been accomplished" (consummatum est).
But as an echo returns to us many times repeated, so also the celestial song of life is re-echoed from the earth. The whole creation takes up the anthem. A legion-tongued chorus repeats it over and over. The little seeds in the bosom of Mother Earth commence to germinate; they burst and sprout in all directions, and soon a wonderful mosaic of life, a velvety green carpet embroidered with multicolored flowers, replaces the shroud of immaculate wintry white. From the furred and feathered tribes "the word of life" re-echoes as a song of love, impelling them to mate. Generation and multiplication are the watchwords everywhere--the Spirit has risen to more abundant life.
Thus, mystically, we may note the annual birth, death, and resurrection of the Savior as the ebb and flow of a spiritual impulse which culminates at the winter solstice, Christmas, and has egress from the earth shortly after Easter when the "word" "ascends to Heaven" on Whitsunday. But it will not remain there forever. We are taught that "thence it shall return," "at the judgement." Thus when the sun descends below the equator through the sign of the scales in October, when the fruits of the year are harvested, weighed, and assorted according to their kind, the descent of the spirit of the new year has its inception. This descent culminates in birth at Christmas.
Man is a miniature of nature. What happens on a large scale in the life of a planet like our earth, takes place on a smaller scale in the course of human events. A planet is the body of a wonderfully great and exalted Being, one of the Seven Spirits before the Throne (of the parent Sun). Man is also a spirit and "made in their likeness." As a planet revolves in its cyclic path around the sun whence it emanated, so also the human spirit moves in an orbit around its central source--God. Planetary orbits, being ellipses, have points of closest approach to and extreme deviation from their solar centers. Likewise the orbit of the human spirit is elliptical. We are closest to God when our cyclic journey carries us into the celestial sphere of activity--heaven, and we are farthest removed from Him during earth life. These changes are necessary to our soul growth. As the festivals of the year mark the recurring events of importance in the life of a Great Spirit, so our births and deaths are events of periodical recurrence. It is as impossible for the human spirit to remain perpetually in heaven or upon earth as it is for a planet to stand still in its orbit. The same immutable law of periodicity which determines the unbroken sequence of the seasons, the alternation of day and night, the tidal ebb and flow, governs also the progression of the human spirit, both in heaven and upon earth.
From realms of celestial light where we live in freedom, untrammeled by limitations of time and space, where we vibrate in tune with infinite harmony of the spheres, we descend to birth in the physical world where our spiritual sight is obscured by the mortal coil which binds us to this limited phase of our existence. We live here awhile; we die and ascend to heaven, to be reborn and to die again. Each earth life is a chapter in a serial life story, extremely humble in its beginnings, but increasing in interest and importance as we ascend to higher and higher stations of human responsibility. No limit is conceivable, for in essence we are divine and must therefore have the infinite possibilities of God dormant within. When we have learned all that this world has to teach us, a wider orbit, a larger sphere of super-human usefulness, will give scope to our greater capabilities.
Thus says Oliver Wendell Holmes, comparing the spiral progression in the widening coil of a chambered nautilus to the expansion of consciousness which is the result of soul growth in an evolving human being.
"But what of Christ?" someone will ask. "Don't you believe in Him? You are discoursing upon Easter, the feast which commemorates the cruel death and the glorious, triumphant resurrection of the Savior, but you seem to be alluding to Him more from an allegorical point of view than as an actual fact."
Certainly we believe in the Christ; we love Him with our whole heart and soul, but we wish to emphasize the teaching that Christ is the first fruits of the race. He said that we shall do the things He did, "and greater." Thus we are Christs-in-the-making.
Thus proclaims Angelus Silesius, with true mystic understanding of the essentials of attainment.
We are too much in the habit of looking to an outside Savior while harboring a devil within; but till Christ be formed IN US, as Paul says, we shall seek in vain, for as it is impossible for us to perceive light and color, though they be all about us, unless our optic nerve registers their vibrations, and as we remain unconscious of sound when the tympanum of our ear is insensitive, so also must we remain blind in the presence of Christ and deaf to His voice until we arouse our dormant spiritual natures within. But once these natures have become awakened, they will reveal the Lord of Love as a prime reality; this on the principle that when a tuning fork is struck, another of identical pitch will also commence to sing, while tuning forks of different pitches will remain mute. Therefore the Christ said that His sheep knew the sound of His voice and responded, but the voice of the stranger they heard not (John 10:5). No matter what our creed, we are all brethren of Christ, so let us rejoice, the Lord has risen! Let us seek Him and forget our creeds and other lesser differences.
Once more we have reached the final act in the cosmic drama involving the descent of the solar Christ Ray into the matter of our earth, which is completed at the Mystic Birth celebrated at Christmas, and the Mystic Death and Liberation, which are celebrated shortly after the vernal equinox when the sun of the new year commences its ascent into the higher spheres of the northern heavens, having poured out its life to save humanity and give new life to everything upon earth. At this time of the year a new life, an augmented energy, sweeps with an irresistible force through the veins and arteries of all living beings, inspiring them, instilling new hope, new ambition, and new life, impelling them to new activities whereby they learn new lessons in the school of experience. Consciously or unconsciously to the beneficiaries, this outdwelling energy invigorates everything that has life. Even the plant responds by an increased circulation of sap, which results in additional growth of the leaves, flowers, and fruits whereby this class of life is at present expressing itself and evolving to a higher state of consciousness.
But wonderful though these outward physical manifestations are, and glorious though the transformation may be called which changes the earth from a waste of snow and ice into a beautiful, blooming garden, it sinks into significance before the spiritual activities which run side by side therewith. The salient features of the cosmic drama are identical in point of time with the material effects of the sun in the four cardinal signs, Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn, for the most significant events occur at the equinoctial and solstitial points.
It is really and actually true that "in God we live and move and have our being." Outside Him we could have no existence; we live by and through His life; we move and act by and through His strength; it is His power which sustains our dwelling place, the earth, and without His unflagging, unwavering efforts the universe itself would disintegrate. Now we are taught that man was made in the likeness of God, and we are given to understand that according to the law of analogy we are possessed of certain powers latent within us which are similar to those we see so potently expressed in the labor of Deity in the universe. This gives us a particular interest in the annual cosmic drama involving the death and resurrection of the sun. The life of the God Man, Christ Jesus was moulded in conformity with the solar story, and it foreshadows in a similar manner all that may happen to the Man God of whom this Christ Jesus prophesied when He said: The works that I do shall ye do also; and greater works shall ye do; whither I go thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards.
Nature is the symbolic expression of God. She does nothing in vain or gratuitously, but there is a purpose behind every thing and every act. Therefore we should be alert and regard carefully the signs in the heavens for they have a deep and important meaning concerning our own lives. The intelligent understanding of their purpose enables us to work so much more efficiently with God in His wonderful efforts for the emancipation of our race from bondage to the laws of nature, and for its liberation into a full measure of the stature of the sons of God--crowned with glory, honor, and immortality, and free from the power of sin, sickness, and suffering which now curtail our lives by reason of our ignorance and nonconformity to the laws of God. The divine purpose demands this emancipation, but whether it is to be accomplished by the long tedious process of evolution or by the immensely quicker pathway of Initiation depends upon whether or not we are willing to lend our cooperation. The majority of mankind go through life with unseeing eyes and with ears that do not hear. They are engrossed in their material affairs, buying and selling, working and playing, without an adequate understanding or appreciation of the purpose of existence, and were it unfolded to them it is scarcely to be expected that they would conform and co-operate because of the sacrifice it involves.
It is no wonder that the Christ appeals particularly to the poor and that He emphasizes the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom of heaven, for even to this day when humanity has advanced in the school of evolution for two millenia since His day, we find that the great majority still value their houses and lands, their pretty hats and gowns, the pleasures of society, dances, and dinners more than the treasurers of heaven which are garnered by service and self-sacrifice. Although they may intellectually perceive the beauty of the spiritual life, its desirability fades into insignificance in their eyes when compared with the sacrifice involved in attaining. Like the rich young man they would willingly follow Christ were there no such sacrifice involved. They prefer rather to go away when they realize that sacrifice is the one condition upon which they may enter discipleship. So for them Easter is simply a season of joy because it is the end of winter and the beginning of the summer season with its call of outdoor sports and pleasures.
But for those who have definitely chosen the path of self-sacrifice that leads to Liberation, Easter is the annual sign given them as evidence of the cosmic basis of their hopes and aspirations. As Paul properly states in that glorious fifteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
"Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He raised not up if so be that the dead rise not.
"For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.
"And if Christ be not raised your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
"If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me if the dead rise not?
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept."
But in the Easter sun which at the vernal equinox commences to soar into the northern heavens after having laid down its life for the earth, we have the cosmic symbol of the verity of resurrection. When taken as a cosmic fact in connection with the law of analogy that connects the macrocosm with the microcosm, it is an earnest that some day we shall all attain the cosmic consciousness and know positively for ourselves by our own experience that there is no death, but that what seems so is only a transition into a finer sphere.
It is an annual symbol to strengthen our souls in the work of well-doing that we may grow the golden wedding garment required to make us sons of God in the highest and holiest sense. It is literally true that unless we walk in the light as God is in the light, we are not in fellowship; but by making the sacrifices and rendering the services required of us to aid in the emancipation of our race we are building the soul body of radiant golden light which is the special substance emanated from and by the Spirit of the Sun, the Cosmic Christ. When this golden substance has clothed us with sufficient density, then we shall be able to imitate the Easter sun and soar into the higher spheres.
With these ideals firmly fixed in our minds, Easter time becomes a season when it is in order to review our life during the preceding year and make new resolutions for the coming season to serve in furthering our soul growth. It is a season when the symbol of the ascending sun should lead us up to a keen realization of the fact that we are but pilgrims and strangers upon earth, that our real home as spirits is in heaven, and that we ought to endeavor to learn the lessons in this life school as quickly as is consistent with proper service, so that as Easter Day marks the resurrection and liberation of the Christ Spirit from the lower realms, so we also may continually look for the dawn of that day which shall permanently free us from the meshes of matter, from the body of sin and death, together with our brethren in bondage, for no true aspirant would conceive of a liberation that did not include all who were similarly placed.
This is a gigantic task; the contemplation of it may well daunt the bravest heart, and were we alone it could not be accomplished; but the divine hierarchies who have guided humanity upon the path of evolution from the beginning of our career are still active and working with us from their sidereal worlds, and with their help we shall eventually be able to accomplish this elevation of humanity as a whole and attain to an individual realization of glory, honor, and immortality. Having this great hope within ourselves, this great mission in the world, let us work as never before to make ourselves better men and women, so that by our example we may waken in others a desire to lead a life that brings liberation.