The following piece by James Martineau, speaks to us who have not attained the high and mystical experience with God: we have not taken heaven in a single bound, but neither are we content with a secular life separated from the divine. We pursue God but fumble and stumble along the way looking for helps. In this piece he suggests an intermediate path where we draw on the Christian history to help us kindle our weak faith and gain hope by the successes of others.
"There is an intermediate realm, or rather an intervening path that spreads from the one extreme to the other, and it has with it stages of sweet rest for weary souls, and many loving helps on the way from earth to heaven. For the Christian with weak faith or just beginning the journey and cannot take the whole distance at a bound, God has prepared, between the natural and the spiritual, the heroisms, the martyrdoms, the sanctities of History. If we cannot live in the high realms of spirituality at first and being alone with God is difficult, we may at least live with those, through books etc., who have lived with Him; and find in our admiring love for their purity, their truth, their goodness, an intercession with his pity on our behalf. To study the lives, to meditate on the sorrows, to commune with the thoughts of the great holy men and women of this rich world, is a sacred discipline, which helps us as we begin our walk of faith and deserves at least to rank, so to speak, as the forecourt of the temple of true worship, and may train the spiritual tastes, before we pass the very gate of heaven. It strengthens what is weak in our souls by the sympathy of the ages: it relieves the sense of our life's littleness by showing us the possibilities of greatness. Above all, it corrects and inverts our delusive estimates of what is solid and powerful in this world.
In our individual experience we are ever tempted to think nothing real, nothing positive and practical, except our material business, the visible produce of our pains, the outward administrations of our life; while the inner and ideal life is deemed so unsubstantial a dream that those who speak of it are supposed to be beating the air or speaking of the unattainable. But the experience of the nations and history of the ages reverses and contradicts this. The glories of the past are not in huge businesses and trades, or fine properties, nor the laws and rites and institutions which in their day kindled the passions of the public: these, chafed into dust by the moldering hand of time, successively fall away with the earthly conditions from which they come; while the mere impulses of expression, through which affection and admiration pour themselves forth and heart appeals to heart, mold themselves into imperishable Arts, taking form and tones in color and language; and precisely the most ethereal and interior of thoughts, which visit us only in evanescent gleams, or of something terrible in sin, of something infinite in duty, of a possible union with God through love and a mastery of life through entire surrender to Him, these prove the most permanent realities of history; constructing themselves into faiths which have been the cradle of nations and the divine nurse of the most vivifying individual minds."
Photo by Sara Treanor.