DAVID’S DESK #21
David's Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is ©2009 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org. Previous issues of "David's Desk" are posted on www.lorian.org.
As we move deeper into what President Obama called in his Inaugural address “this winter of our hardship,” some inspiration might not be unwelcome. During the years I lived in the Findhorn community in northern Scotland, our work itself was inspiring. But we often found inspiration of another sort when we were visited by Sir George Trevelyan, one of the founders of the adult education movement in Britain. Sir George had a gift for oratory, and his lectures were studies in eloquence, graced with poems that he recited from memory. It was always thrilling to hear him speak.
One of his favorite passages that he introduced to us was from the play A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry, an English playwright. First produced in 1951, it tells the story of a group of soldiers who are prisoners of war held in an empty church at night. In the play, one of the characters, Sergeant Meadows says:
The human heart can go the lengths of God.
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our Time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
Is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake
But will you wake for pity's sake?
For Sir George, this poem encapsulated the times in which we live. I agree. And its sentiments are no less true now than they were nearly forty years ago when I first heard them. Down the years, many of its passages have rung in my memory and have been an inspiration.
The human heart can go the lengths of God. What an amazing statement this is. In a way it is at the heart of the incarnational worldview I wrote about last month. It says that as human beings, as individuals with bodies and personalities and all the foibles and challenges of earthly life, there is nothing of God that is closed to us. We have in ourselves the dimensions of the Sacred. Our humanity does not separate us from that great Mystery but rather folds us into it. Wherever God loves, our hearts can follow. And that is everywhere. In a world still dangerously riven with hatred, strife, fear and anger, it is good to know we have such a power within us. If our hearts can go the length of God, then there is hope and promise we can go the lengths of the differences between us.
Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to face us everywhere. In an interview when asked how he felt becoming President at a time of major crisis, President Obama said that it was such times that made public service meaningful. In his address to both house of Congress last night, he revisited this theme, saying, “Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege, one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans, for in our hands lies the ability to shape our world, for good or for ill.”
No one wishes for crisis, but when crises come, they can call forth our best impulses, those of compassion, courage, creativity, and community. And if there are crimes and evils hidden in the dark places of our society and the darker places of our consciousnesses, all the better they come to the surface to be seen, understood, confronted, and healed. If our generation is called to bear a burden of that healing, it is a powerful calling and honor and one within our capability.
But the playwright is saying more than that crisis brings forth the best in us or gives thanks that evil is being brought into the light. The full quote is asking that this wrong, coming up to face us everywhere, “never leave us till we take the longest stride of soul men ever took.” It’s not the crisis or the confrontation with wrongness that is most important but that we have the opportunity, the impetus, to take that long soul-stride, to stride the “lengths of God.” In short, to fulfill the potential of our human hearts. Rather than being beaten down by crisis, by evil, by the wrongs of the world, or the challenges and fears of the moment, we need to find that spaciousness of love and hope and vision that can truly transform things. And we can, for that spaciousness is in us, accessible to beings like us that can “go the lengths of God.”
The nineteenth century American poet Sam Walter Foss wrote in his work The Coming American, “Bring me men to match my mountains, Bring me men to match my plains…” The American Rockies inspired awe with their majesty and ruggedness, and the vastness of the American plains offered an unmatched spaciousness and fruitfulness. They were symbols of the challenges and opportunities of a new world, calling to an adventurous and creative spirit. Generations of Americans responded.
But now a poet might write, “Bring me souls to match this world. Bring me hearts to match its life.” It is no mere continent that lies before us now but the earth itself with all its rich diversity and wonder of life and all humanity upon it. The global challenges we face are as unknown a terrain as the American continent was to the pioneers of two hundred years ago, daunting and yet capable of inspiring our creative spirit. But to meet these challenges we shall have to let our hearts go “the lengths of God” and find in us the source of our power to create wholeness. As Fry says, “affairs are now soul size.” So let us be men and women to match our souls.
The enterprise is exploration into God. Yes, it is. It is an exploration into the sacredness within all things great and small around us and within us. But it’s also an exploration into ourselves and into each other in new ways, honoring ways, respectful ways, loving ways, incarnational ways. We need spirit, but we also need a vision of love for the life of the earth that let’s us cherish it as home. For that life—human life, plant life, animal life, earth life—is all within the length of God.
Where are you making for? This is the question of our time. What is our vision? What kind of world do we want, for ourselves, for our children, for our children’s children? What kind of world do we want for the fish and the birds, the beasts and the insects, the forests and the meadows, the crops that feed us and the flowers that bring us beauty? I believe we want to create a world large enough to be a soul home for us and for all beings, loving and large enough to give expression to the soul of the world itself, spacious and whole enough to express the lengths of God. And I believe we can. The capacity to do so is innate in us. If affairs are soul size, we can meet them because we are soul size, too.
It takes so many thousand years to wake but will you wake for pity’s sake? This is the call. To wake to ourselves and our incarnations. To wake to each other. To wake to our world as home. To wake to our hearts that can go the lengths of God.