I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. — Zechariah, 13.9
Like the heaving of a vast, unresting ocean the surges of pain kept pounding, relentlessly, inexorably against the crumbling shorelines of my consciousness. Every quivering nerve was drawn tense in an instinctive, panic effort to fend those surges off. Every slightest movement of my body — even my labored breathing — was a source of fresh agony. I felt my strength wearing away; like the last grains in the top of an hour-glass, the sands of resistance running lower and lower.
Yet, even so, from somewhere in the depth of my consciousness I continued to draw the certainty of being able, in spite of everything, to win out in the end. I must win out . . .
In the extremity of agony I turned my face toward the window of the hospital room and gazed out over the tree-tops, far out into the infinity of space. . . . After a while I found myself praying: "Father, I've done all that I can; I can do no more. From here on I leave it to You."
Soon, midst the tumultuous crashing of the sea of pain in which I was engulfed, an idea, vague and uncertain at first, gradually came into sharp focus: "Resist . . . not . . . evil . . . resist . . . not . . . evil . . . resist . . . not . . . evil." Over and over again.
My mind struggled with the thought. What could it mean? Resist not what evil? Suddenly the answer broke through: Why, pain, of course; pain like this was most definitely an evil. And how foolish I had been always to steel my nerves against it, thereby not only increasing my sensibility but also using up my last ounce of strength — all to no purpose!
I would try to relax. Starting at my toes, I endeavored to "let go," in every part of my aching body: to release the powerful tension in which it was gripped. However, while my muscles responded well enough, my frayed nerves refused to relax. Evidently, deep down in my subconsciousness there still ruled the primitive fear of pain. I must try a different approach, I thought.
I began, then, to talk to the situation as though there were here a sort of demon bound on tormenting me: "Come on, you! Do your worst! Hurt as much as you will. You can't touch me, after all; you can only reach my body." I settled down in bed to flatten myself against it. "Go right ahead, you demon! See if you can hurt me."
Amazingly, unbelievably, the onslaughts subsided. The tension gradually lessened. An ineffable relief, and in a little while I sank into a deep, restorative slumber, such as I had not known for months.
When I awoke I was clear-headed and strangely at peace. The pain was still there, now more now less; but even at its worst it was never again to approach its former fury.
As I pondered over the whole experience I was reminded of an incident that I had observed some years ago while living on the desert. A young city couple had just moved into the cottage next door. It was clear that they were new to the region, otherwise they would never have sent their five-year-old out to play in his bare feet. That inviting, innocent-looking desert sand is all too often full of vicious little cactus spines and other stickers, shed by the harsh native vegetation and scattered about by wind and water. Soon my diminutive neighbor, having exhausted the possibilities of his own yard, was now heading for a foot-path that wound its way across the big vacant lot opposite. It would be well to keep an eye on the little fellow: at the farther end of the lot ran the busy highway.
As the boy wandered along, stopping to look at this and at that, he caught sight of something new to him. He went over for a closer look. It was a clump of long-spined cactus. With an inquisitive toe he tentatively poked at the strange-looking creature. Instantly there came a screech of enraged surprise: the mean thing had bit him! Completely carried away by his temper, the boy drew back his bare leg and, with all the strength of his small body, let go a terrific kick. This time he had more than ample cause to howl! As he went limping home, every now and then looking back accusingly over his shoulder, his little eyes were black with fury. "He won't do that again!" thought I.
Carefully the patient young mother removed, one by one, the wicked barbed spines. She then applied a soothing lotion, meanwhile admonishing him to stay in his own yard and to keep away from strange bushes that bit and scratched and pricked. Then she turned him loose again to play.
No sooner was the boy out of his mother's sight than he made a bee-line for his late enemy. His tightly clenched fists and black, vengeful looks left no doubt as to the nature of his intentions. Again there came the vicious kick, followed by the scream of agony. Once more the ever-patient mother had to tend his hurts and earnestly warn him against crossing the street. Just then the father came home from work. On hearing what had been going on he promptly gave his disobedient young scion a severe thrashing. Again I said to myself: "I'll bet he stays home this time!"
But in less than ten minutes the little drama at the cactus patch was enacted for the third time — this, however, proved the last. The lad seemed finally to have learned his lesson, for he was never again seen to bother the cactus.
The memory of this absurd yet revealing adventure reminded me of a similar one from my own long-past childhood. In the big log barn, back East, there had stood a winnowing-machine. An outside set of geared cog-wheels, turned by a crank, powered the fans on the inside. These cog-wheels were within easy reach of a small boy if he stood on a box. How dearly I had loved to turn the crank and watch the wheels go round and round. Fascinated by the unerring interaction of the parts, one day I hit upon a new and exciting game, to be played all by myself. I placed a finger-tip in the cogs of the biggest wheel as it revolved: then, with bated breath, let my hand be carried slowly all the way round, up to the very last split-second before it should be caught in the gears, when I would quickly jerk it out to safety. Incredible as it may appear, it is a fact that not until, on three occasions, I had had the ends of different fingers so badly mangled that they lost their nails and had to grow new ones, did I desist from this obsessive diversion! To this day, more than a half-century later, several misshapen fingernails remain, to remind me of my stubborn childish folly.
"One would think," I mused, as I regarded them now, "that by this time I should know better!" However, had I not been just as perversely foolish in regard to pain? Through one long, wearying day after another, and through the interminable, black nights, hadn't I, too, persisted in "kicking against the pricks," resisted evil to the point where the evil itself threatened to overwhelm me completely? Indeed, only in the last extremity of need had I remembered to return unto the Father and sink back into the everlasting arms of the One in whom all creatures live and move and have their being.
Always now, since that day of utmost need, whenever I find myself at the end of my own rope, or in doubt as to what course to pursue, I have recourse to that same unfailing Source of wisdom and strength. I know of a certainty that there does exist a Power, beyond our purely human comprehension it is true, yet reachable nevertheless, whereby we can always find the help we need, provided we have utter trust and confidence that there is a Plan.
It is conceded by many thinkers that the entire cosmos must in reality constitute one great coordinated unity, one single super-entity, which very possibly is infinite in time and space. Moreover, there must exist and always must have existed since "the beginning" a universal master-plan, according to which the entire cosmos was formed and by which it continues to be governed; and further, that this master-plan covered not only the original "beginning" of the universe but also, in advance, the whole scope of the evolutionary process from thence forward — something that obviously could only have been the work of a cosmic super-intelligence capable of looking ahead for aeons upon aeons into the seemingly limitless future.
Whether one considers this cosmic super-intelligence to be present and active in the heart of every atom in the universe, or whether one believes it to belong to a personal, extracosmic God, each concept is to be respected as being the result of individual conviction. Probably both ideas contain truth; in the Bhagavad-Gita the Deity is made to say: "I established this whole universe with a single portion of myself, and remain separate."
In any case it seems undeniable that each and every living being is rooted in Divinity. When a man succeeds in achieving complete love and trust, so that his confidence in the divine Plan and in the Planner cannot be shaken, then he becomes entirely willing to relinquish his own personal strivings in favor of "letting God do it," so that he feels himself not so much the doer as the instrument for what God or the Father "wants done." He continues to do his duty in life, to work out his own particular destiny; but a new condition supervenes, a spiritual intervention takes place, for a longer or shorter space of time a union is effected between the individualized spark and its parent Flame, and this brings about both bodily and mental healing, filling that man with renewed strength, energy and peace.
Such is the explanation that has seemed to me most satisfactory. Not satisfactory only, but productive of eminently practical results. For, regardless of whether or not it is altogether the correct theory, it undeniably can and does serve excellently as a working hypothesis — which fact, when all is said and done, remains the true measure of the worth of any theory.
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Be sure that God
Ne'er dooms to waste the strength he deigns impart!
Be sure they sleep not whom God needs!
I go to prove my soul!
I see my way as birds their trackless way
I shall arrive' what time, what circuit first,
I ask not, but unless God send his hail
Or blinding fireballs, sleet or stifling snow,
In some time, his good time, I shall arrive.
He guides me and the bird. In his good time!
— Robert Browning, Paracelsus