1. ‘The Shock of Vision’

At last, at last I have seen you.

My Mind's star, my heart's heart!

All my life long I was looking for you; but absently, as a sleep-walker, who, seeing, sees nothing. All my life long I vacillated in the dark-bright world, searching, devouring. The bright intoxicated me, for I was greedy; the dark dismayed and paralysed me, for I was always a coward. And I could see no pattern, no meaningful form, no Thou.. But today, when I am already old, surely you have touched my eyes, for I see. And the dark-bright itself is your face.

To have wandered so far, looking for you in vain! And all the while you were very near, you were with me. Gazing at you, I could not see you. I stumbled in darkness, or following poor spectres of you. And yet you were with me all the while.

If I were to go to my friends and say, 'I have news, I have good news, God is, and I have seen him,' I should be lying. For of God I know nothing. How can I know that you, my mind's lord, my heart's king, are lord also of the galaxies, and king of heaven? How can I know that you are the underlying intelligence, and the poet of all creation, and the all-loving lover? My heart protests that it must be so, but my mind knows that it does not know.

In my mind I hear you saying, If you proclaim me God, you betray me. You cannot know what I am. You may see me, darkly, but you cannot know me.'

True, it is true! I have no understanding of you. But oh, I have seen you. And I have heard you speak in my heart. You have said in my heart, 'I am, and you are mine.'

Yes, I am yours. You are the meaning of my life. But till today, how I have misconstrued, how violated you!

Use me, use me, before it is too late! May the breath of your presence flood through this little instrument, while your fingers dance upon the stops. .

Again in my mind I hear you. 'If I am God, then all things are instruments for my music. Every sparrow and sand-grain and galaxy, every Jesus and every Hitler, has a part in my music. Satan himself must contribute, unwillingly, to the ultimate harmony.'

But in my heart you say, 'My instruments are rare. The wood is strictly chosen, seasoned, turned and chiselled. Then painfully but faithfully, in constant, ruthless practice, the pipe wears true to the temper of my music.'

I am abashed. My prayer was blind, presumptuous and self-concerned.

It is enough that I have seen you. Help me to be faithful to you to the utmost of my power!

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2. ‘Protest for Intellectual Integrity’

In my mind you challenge me. 'Very many who claim to see me are deluded. Longing for a vision that is denied them, they conceive from books and rumour and the vapours fuming in their own hearts a false phantom of me. And since even in that fog some glimmer of my light formlessly seeps, irradiating the figment with an alien brightness, they persuade themselves that they are face to face not with an idol but with me. And so they become false prophets, misrepresenting me. And you? Make very sure that you are not lying to yourself. A false claim to have seen me is deadly sin against me. Better far to be blind and dumb about me than to betray me with fantasy and false witness.'

Anxiously in my mind I hear you. And I search through all my mind's pigeon-holes for a neat and final proof that I have, seen you. There is none.

Must it be, then, that I am indeed lying to myself? Do I, in my very passion for you, sin against you? Saluting you, do I betray you? And is this my hell?

But you confront me. You are other than I, more than I, infinitely greater than I. You cannot, cannot be my figment merely. And your brightness is not formless. You are an alien and lovely form invading me, transforming me. Beyond that, indeed I know nothing of you. You excel me. I am yours. True it is that from books and rumour and my own heart's vapours I did conceive a phantom of you, a pale concept of you. But now, you have broken through that murky window, revealing yourself; revealing at least something of your very self. Confronting me from beyond the stars and from my own heart's deeper heart, you are indubitable.

In my mind you sternly answer, 'You cannot know whence I confront you. Only within the confines of your own universe, within the range of your own mind and heart, can you ever see me. Only in the strictest clarity of your own thinking, and the strictest purity of your own feeling, and in the integrity of your own conduct, may you catch any authentic glimpse of me. Of my ulterior being and location you know nothing.'

Yes, it is fatally so. But within these confines you confront me not as a figment of my own conceiving but as a most glorious alien invader. Your intruding radiance shatters and reshapes the mind, the heart.

At every stage of my life you have intruded upon me with new revelations, new lovely forms, beyond my then conceiving. At every stage you have remade me to see you better.

But now, within my mind and heart you are revealed so clearly that the rest was blindness.

Have I spoken truly? Oh, have I spoken truly?

In my mind you give no answer.

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3. ‘The Need to pass through Fire’

In my heart you challenge me. 'Those who claim to see me see little of me unless they have passed through fire. They must be seered and tempered up to the limit of their endurance. They must see me even in the pit of despair, or see me falsely.'

Hearing you thus in my heart, I tremble before you, for I have not passed through fire. And the pit of my despair, abysmal to me, seems outwardly no more than a mere depression in the even plain of my good fortune. All the suffering of my life, beside the cripple's smouldering misery or the martyr's blazing death, seems but an occasional slight burn or scald.

Yet even I have suffered; and almost, I believed, up to the limit of my small endurance. I was the child lost and frightened; the youth rejected by the beloved; the young man whose work exceeds his power; the ageing man, who with new eyes sees his small triumphs as failures, his highest aims as false to you.

When I was young I promised myself that beauty should spring from my hands and truth from my brain. In the end you would say to me in my heart, 'Well done, my servant!'

It has not been so. Ranging from lure to lure, from interest to interest, from duty to comfortable duty, I gained indeed some inkling of you, but never in all those decades did I see you clearly. With trumpets I gave myself to you, but unwittingly I withheld myself. All my service was at heart self-service. I opened all my windows to the world, but never my door. I opened my mind to the world's seductive and diverse features, but never my secret heart to you. And so you did not enter, and I never saw you clearly.

Ageing, I now look back, and there is nothing that I can lay before you; nothing but words without force and deeds equivocal and ineffectual. For words and deeds alike sprang from a false vision of you, an illusion that was scarcely you at all.

My blessings persist. But my high ventures one by one have stalled. Spiritually false, they yield no gold for the payment of my fabulous debt. And now, in old age, the reckoning! But shame! I cannot pay. I shall never pay. I am bankrupt.

It is a very small matter in the universe. But for me it is the final condemnation and despair. Better that I had not been born.

Yet I have not, seemingly, been a very sinful person. I have kept the law, more often than not. I have even in a way loved my neighbour. Whenever his need has become painfully obtrusive to me, I have helped him, from a safe distance; persuading myself always that even his dire need must never hinder-my own consecrated task.

No! I have not sinned over-much.

Yet—my law-abidingness and my easy gestures of friendliness, and my too comfortable consecration to a task beyond my powers, all have been sin.

At last I see, with stark clarity, what I have till now success- fully ignored, that my whole life has been founded on sin.

And now the miracle! In the very pit of my shame you stand clearly before me!

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4. ‘The Vision is of the Actual World, Transfigured’

In my mind and heart you challenge me. 'Tell yourself now clearly and without embellishment what it is that you have seen of me, there in the pit of your shame. For if you have seen and cannot tell, the vision is sterile.'

In my heart I plead against your challenge. How can I describe you, how conceive you, who exceed all language?

At once and coldly in my mind you answer. 'To describe me, me, indeed no human words suffice. But what you have seen of me is nothing ineffable.'

The rebuke strikes home. For never have I, like your chosen saints and seers, been swept in ecstasy up from this lowly world (or so they affirm) into some loftier, ampler, beatific sphere. Not in one timeless and eternal moment but over years the vision has shaped itself before me. And only in its final clarity do I seem to see the dark-bright flux of the world as your very face, and timeless. But thus I do glimpse, and lose again, some glimmer of eternity. And this elusive glint, try as I may, I cannot capture in any net of words. I can say only that for you, though not for me, past and future, even to the beginning and the end, are now and here. But to say this is to say nothing. My final clarity is after all obscurity. When a sleeper's eyelids at dawn are pierced with sunlight, he may stir and half-wake, and be at the point of opening his eyes and looking at the world of day; but if the sunlight fades, he sleeps again, and is again imprisoned in his dreams.

In my mind you speak once more, and gravely. 'The image is false. The world that you inhabit is no dream-world. It is real as highest heaven. It is urgently alive. And it rightly claims you. True, there are spheres beyond it, ampler and more lucid, but it alone, the here and now, is the sphere of reality in which you have your footing and your task. To shun your world is death to you, and treason against me.'

Dare I plead that I have not shunned my native world, that I have not craved eternity as a refuge merely? I dare not plead. Sometimes when I have seen through the corner of an eye the feeble hand of suffering raised for succour, I have passed by, with gaze averted toward eternity; thereby betraying my own cherished vision.

But rightly, oh rightly, I cherish my glimmer of eternity, for it illuminates the world where I belong; and in its light I see more clearly what my world needs of me. In that precarious clarity, though indeed the heavens do not open for me, though indeed I see no other world, separate and sublime, I see at least this ordinary world transfigured. Its dark and bright, that seemed so hateful to each other, become at last the shade and light that shape your features, here and now, and in all time, and in eternity.

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5. ‘Salutation of the Dark-Bright’

In my mind you press the challenge home. 'How, just how, do the bright and dark of the world compose my features? And how can you know that I, in your mind and heart, am also the dark-bright of the world?'

I search for words, and vainly. But let me say first how it was with me before I fell from my complacency, before I saw you.

In my blind pilgrimage toward you, I had conceived you simply as all the loveliness of the world. You were the light embattled against the dark; and the dark was hateful to you. You were the speedwell's 'darling blue', and the celestial blossoming of the sunrise. You were the flight of swallows and of gannets, and the untamed stampeding of stallions. You were the tiger, 'burning bright', seen by the poet but not by the antelope. You were the lightning, but not the stricken tree. You were the Christ child and the Christ crucified, but not the crucifiers. You were the loveliness of all loved persons, and of love itself. You were the comradeship of work-mates; the creative power of leaders, and of thinkers and of artists. Indeed you were the spirit in each one of us and in us all, striving always toward loving awareness of the cosmos, and toward the creating of further loveliness within the blossoming cosmos. And the cosmos itself, I believed, must be judged strictly according to the degree of your triumph in it; in each one of us, and in all the galaxies together.

But now, in the pit of my humility I see that though you are indeed all this, you are more. As though from the bottom of a well, my sight, deprived of daylight's glory, reaches up beyond the world of day into the boundless world of night, and sees one star, an earnest of all heaven.

I ask myself searchingly what it was that really happened. And it seems to me that the failure of all my cherished ventures was a stripping off, one by one, of obscuring films before my eyes; until at last the innermost film of all, the lust to be your chosen servant, was torn away, leaving the lens bare to your brilliance and your form.

And now it was clear to me that your concern with your creatures (for I could not but think of you as God, the creator) was not that all should triumph in your service, nor even that all should strive, but that each and all, wittingly or unwittingly, bravely or faint-heartedly, should contribute to your cosmos. I saw that your concern with them was as the poet's concern with his words and images. For indeed, there in the pit of my shame, I began at last to hear, to feel, the tenour of your cosmical poetry. And strangely the poetry was itself you.

Within its pattern I seemed to see myself and all other selves, all the hosts of loved and hated creatures, even from Jesus to Hitler. And each fulfilled his part, whether as the spirit's champion or deserter or enemy. For it was now clear to me that you, whom I had conceived only as the light, embattled against darkness, were also the battle; and so, even the dark itself was you.

Again in my mind you speak. 'Incorrigibly, you attribute to me, whom you know only as the star of your own mind and the heart of your own heart, almighty power. And further, how soothing is your philosophy! Since bright and dark are both needed for my poetry, the struggle against darkness begins to seem to you unnecessary, and even impious. And you, if you are nothing but a helpless word that I use, need not elect, must not and cannot elect, to be a word of light rather than of darkness. It is indeed a soothing philosophy, for those who seek excuse for their futility.'

It is not so, it is not so at all. You are laying a snare for me. The one thing certain is that it is required of us to strive with all our strength to express the spirit. Yet, whether we succeed or fail, we fatally contribute to your poetry. It is a dread and self-contradicting mystery. I cannot solve it. But I have seen that it is so.

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6. ‘Protest in the Heart’

And now, suddenly in my heart also, you hotly reproach me. Or is it that you are testing me? 'See now where you have landed yourself, through perversely conceiving me as God! Of course you can easily, in your own mild and well-endurable desolation, persuade yourself that I am both the bright and the dark. But if your nails were being tom back, or the nerves of your teeth drilled for sheer malice; or if you were compelled to watch this happen to your dearest, would you then imagine that such devilry was all part of cosmical poetry? Would you sit back in your royal box applauding the aesthetic rightness of her agony? Were the masters of Buchenwald my ministers? Did I, for my poetry's perfection, hunt down negroes for slaves, and pack them in the slave-ships? Did I send children into the mines, congest the slums, create the atom bomb? Is all the frustration and agony of all the worlds in all the aeons mere imagery for my poetry?'

I am put to shame, I am struck dumb. There is no answer. The heaped agony of all the worlds is an intolerable outrage to mercy. To watch the dearest one in pain is indeed insufferable. And my whole life, I know, is poisoned by tacit acquiescence in the cruelty of tyrants. I even profit by their cruelty. And this acquiescence is loathsome, is contemptible sin.

And yet, and yetin moments of terror, and also in moments of agony, when I have been very near my breaking-point, when my limbs have melted in panic fear, or white-hot pain seemed to swallow my whole universe, a strange thing has sometimes happened. I have become two selves, the one a tortured brute, the other exultant. For the deeper the dark, the more radiant the light. If I see only the dark, I am in hell; but if I see only the light, the very light itself is dull. In those desperate moments, when I am so near the breaking-point, I do suffer both the bright and the dark with all the clarity that is possible to me. I do see your face.

But if the agony exceeds my endurance, then indeed my whole being is agony. I am a writhing insect, only. And you, you are as though you had never been.

For me the breaking-point is low, but not so low that I cannot glimpse you.

Well, if it is so, haltingly, for me, it is perhaps so with full clarity for some; and potentially, for all. There is indeed the redeeming vision, if only we have the strength to see it; if only you grant us grace for the seeing of it.

In my heart again you speak. 'And so, for you at least, the door to salvation stands ajar. But if your dearest were in agony, and shared not the vision, could you still have peace? And what of the many who are tortured beyond their breaking-point, and those from whom the vision is always withheld?'

You perplex me beyond the limit of my intelligence. All that is certain is that I must take their suffering into my heart without reserve, and make compassion issue in selfless service. Yet, serving faithfully, I must still salute the vision.

It is the dread mystery that no man can make clear.

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7. ‘Prayer is Answered’

In my heart again I hear you. Gently you prompt me. 'You have not said all that should be said. There is something else that has happened to you, and you must make it clear to yourself.'

Yes! There is something else, not easy for me to tell myself. In the desolation of my shame and my loneliness, I longed to pray. And I prayed.

I am not a praying man, and I have no experience of prayer. Very long ago, when I believed in God, I would ask him for things, but that was not prayer. Later, it seemed base to ask God for anything. But later still, there were times when, though I carefully and perhaps proudly disbelieved in God, I was already so downcast about myself and my failures that I did vaguely yearn for some commanding presence to direct me. But there was nothing.

And then, in the very pit of my shame and loneliness, I earnestly longed to pray. And I prayed.

I had friends and beloveds, and one dearest of all, and yet I was alone. For there was no one to receive the confession of my sin. I knew very well that I had sinned, though I had no understanding of that which my sin had wronged. It was not simply that I desired mercy or comfort, or even forgiveness. All I craved was meeting and confession; and then, not bliss eternal but peace in annihilation.

And so, blindly and without hope I cried, 'Oh Thou!' And this was all my prayer.

But how could a creature truly pray, knowing no God? If there is no God, my heart's cry must spread searchingly throughout the universe in vain. It meets God nowhere among the stars. Nor can it escape to importune him in some separate, alien heaven. It completes the circuit of the cosmos, and is focussed back to me along the re-entrant ways of space, unanswered.

Yet, miracle of miracles, my prayer does find its answer. For you, you in my heart, have spoken to me. You, who will not let me call you God, you have said in my heart, 'I am, and you are mine. Even your sin is mine.'

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8. ‘A Friend who Passed through Fire’

Again I hear you in my heart. 'You had a friend who died. The fire of her suffering could not burn you as it burnt her, but you came near enough to be a little scorched in sympathy. Tell yourself how her life helped you to see me, and how, faced by her suffering, you learned more of prayer.'

Yes! She had wings, and they were burnt. She did not pray, yet her whole life was prayer.

And now she is gone, and her quiet voice no longer clothes despair in playfulness. I shall not any more, responding to her mood, laugh with her about her wished-for dying. She had no death-wish, for she loved life; but her body's mounting pain, and her spirit's shortening tether, foreboded a living death.

Early in her life she had flown from the well-appointed cage of her home, leaving her moors and country-folk for the city., She craved the full intensity of the bright and the dark, the piercing brightness and the blacker darkness that the old gracious life could never give.

She was winged, one might say, equally for joy and for martyrdom; and equally for love and for song.

Many loved her. But because no dearest one of all ever loved her best of all for always, she learned .love's darkest secret, that one must never own the beloved, or never against the beloved's will. Winged for love, she never found her mate. Perhaps she soared too high for all the drones.

The song-bird blinded, they say, pours out its heart in song. So she, in poetry. Imagery, a brilliant but amorphous flood, welled in her mind, crystallizing here and there in gleaming phrases. These she would cut to gems, whose many facets would catch and refract in rainbow colours the dark-brightness of the world. And these flashing jewels she would set in the patterned filigree of her poems. Into those crystals one might gaze and gaze, discovering depth beyond depth of meaning. Or else, lacking the wit or heart, one gazed in vain, enthralled merely by the surface brightness.

Sometimes she would read me a poem, and by her flexible voice reveal what the mere script had hidden from my un-skilled perception. Or patiently she would unpack each phrase or word of its close-folded meaning. Then indeed the crystal would come to life, revealing in its heart a universe.

But to call her poetic creatures crystalline and gemlike is to belie them. For they are never hard and dead but always vital with tenderness and speed and power. Her poetry is her ever-living child. Long after her death it may live. Eternally young, like a Greek god, its promise can never be fulfilled.

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9. ‘More of the Friend’

Your voice within me interrupts my thought. You are saying, 'Do not involve yourself in the play of imagery, for you are no poet, and fantasy seduces you from your task, Tell yourself in plain words the truth about your friend.'

Silently I conjure in my mind the presence of my dear friend, the better to speak of her.

Well, though her verse was her child, she would not nourish it in ivory seclusion from the world. Nor could she, gifted for love, restrict her love to her few personal beloveds. Her heart reached out to those who needed love most, those lonely and unfortunate whom impersonal society neglects.

When war came to the city, shattering the congested homes and lives of the poor, she chose to live among them, to share their danger and their suffering, to comfort the bereaved and find shelter for the homeless; to befriend this young widow and that old man.

And because she was already ill, and would not spare herself, her body failed her. Crippled, she was carried away to sickroom after sickroom, hoping first for full recovery, and then, less surely, for at least a limited freedom. But successive mutilations, hopefully performed, did not restore her.

She who loved the long sweep of the moors, she, the winged creature that had flown from the cage, was caged again, and far more closely.

As pain's grip tightened, the hours of her full awakeness grew briefer and rarer. The disease that was eating so deeply into her body ate also into her lucidity. Her strength and hope, but not her courage, were waning. And her talent was wasting. Poetry still lavishly put forth in her mind a wealth of buds; but like rosebuds in September, most failed to open. Some few of these vivid but abortive creatures she did with anxious care complete. And these were her loveliest, most ardent offspring. They spoke with a new urgency. They broke through into a new range of awareness, into a world more tortured but more pregnant. They spoke of the trapped animal, in terror and in anguish. For her concern was now pre-eminently the flesh, but the flesh as the vehicle of the spirit, the flesh with its access to the world's dark-bright, and its resonance of pain and joy. For without the flesh the spirit is barren, or simply nothing. But by the alchemy of her verse the flesh itself, in its percipient and creative contact with the world, was turned to spirit.

Thus, triumphing, she wrung beauty even from her body's torment and piecemeal dying; even from her mind's impending night. Thus the world that she had lost still vicariously lived in her imagination, and stung her to speak its heart in symbols.

But as her sickness increasingly possessed her, the bright buds of her verse increasingly were cankered or abortive. She would brood over them, still craving inspiration for their fulfilling. But it was now evident to her that her talent, week by week, was dying.

It was as though the white-hot bars of her cage were closing in upon her. The wings still fluttered, then caught fire.

She, who loved life, accepted death.

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10. ‘Dialogue with the Friend’

In my mind you speak. 'You have praised your friend, but you are evading the challenge of her disaster. Remind yourself of a conversation a few weeks before her death. Though you posed as her teacher, you did but reflect back to her the light lit by her suffering.'

We had been talking of her recent poems, in which, I declared, she was on the threshold of a new world.

Suddenly (was it at your prompting?) I was moved to say 'Look! I know nothing of God; but the God whom I do not know is going to speak to you through me. I, the little healthy, fortunate, self-loving individual, have nothing to give you but my love and admiration. You have been so gallant. But now, not I but God will speak to you; or so I shall impiously pretend.'

Smiling, she said, 'Speak, God, through your new prophet, my friend!'

Then I, 'God says through me, "I gave you a rare talent. You have used it well. But now, so that you may serve me .' still more truly, I am tempering you with great suffering. This new and grievous experience that I am giving you is a window opened for you. What you see through it, your poetry must tell."’

She answered, wanly smiling, 'I know, God, that I must use your gift to the utmost. But my friend, your prophet, believes that I have more talent than I can find in myself. And anyhow, God, you are not only hurting me beyond what I have strength to bear; you are crushing out my little talent. I look through your terrible window, but I am too tired to see anything but darkness.'

Rashly I continued, 'Again God speaks through me. He says, "Every pang of suffering that I give you is meat and wine for your genius. I command you to perform a miracle for my sake. If you earnestly will this miracle, I shall give you strength to achieve it. In spite of your pain and your weariness, and the desolation that is closing in on you, you must not, must not, wish for death. You must keep alive and alert and very sensitive. For much is still required of you. Death will come to you at the right moment, but do not yearn for it. Think only to complete my will of you."’

Sighing, but smiling still, she shook her head, not in negation but in utter tiredness. 'Yes, God,' she said, 'But there is a limit to what a creature can bear, and I feel that I am very near that limit. I feel that I have no more strength at all. You really have given me rather a beating, haven't you, God! Still, if you say that I can bear more without breaking, I suppose ..I can; if you give me the strength for it. I promise to try very hard to do as you tell me.'

Then I, 'God says, "I have given you, and shall give you, just what is necessary for the fulfilling of my purpose."’

Suddenly fighting back tears, she said, 'Oh, God, you are too great and terrible for me. Your cruel music is breaking your poor little instrument. And I am so very lonely. The whole world is slipping away from me. Everything is going except pain, and that keeps growing, growing. No one can know what it is like to be as I am. Your prophet, here, does not really know. And you, God, if you know, why do you not come to me and help me, when I cry out for you in the night? Why do you not come to me and hold my hand and comfort me?'

I stammered out my impotent sympathy; but quickly she dried her eyes, and smiled again and said, 'I'm sorry, God. 1 must behave myself. It's all right, really. And I know, yes something in me knows, that whatever you do with me, it's all right, really. That something in me doesn't want to be spared; but it does want to be helped.'

Desperately I asked myself how I could help my friend with- out saying more than I believed to be true.

Presently I heard myself declaring, 'God says, "My child! Human speech can never compass me. Whatever my poor prophet says will be mainly false or meaningless. But he is t permitted to say that In a dark sense you are indeed my child, and in a dark sense I do love and pity you; and if you turn a faithful ear to me I will help you. But in another dark, and sterner, sense you are not my child at all but my instrument; and I shall use you relentlessly even to the breaking point, and then lightly discard you. And there is still another dark sense in which you are neither my child nor my instrument but my very self, though self-limited to fit the little niche of your circumstance and your person. Insofar as you are myself, 1 neither love nor pity you; for your suffering is mine, is an infinitesimal part of the very me. I suffer it in full awareness of the rest of me. You, my dear, even while you are longing for death, are still fearing it. Do not fear it. When death seems too formidable, remember that your mortal self, which will indeed be destroyed, will at least have peace. Conceive also that for any part of you that is deathless, death is but the opening of every window, every door." ,

She sighed, and said, 'It is all very perplexing, God, to your poor broken instrument; and all rather frightening. I know it's true in some way; but at my level and in my plight it's not very helpful. Please, God, tell me which of the three truths about me is really the truest and most important for me to believe.'

And I, 'God says, "They are all equally true, all equally false. Sometimes it is right for you to think of me as a strong and loving father, or a tender mother. And sometimes, my dear, you may think of me as an equal lover too. But sometimes I am indeed a stern task-master; and sometimes I am your own underlying self, that will presently wake to be once more wholly the divine self. According to your need, your earnestly considered need, not your passing whim, you may think of me in any of these ways, not quite falsely. For you are indeed my; child, and my unique beloved, and also my unconsidered little broken instrument, and yet also my very self. But remember always that, in whatever way you think of me, I transcend the thought so hugely that all human thinking about me is ineffectual as a ladder balanced on end to reach the stars."

She said, 'By day, with the sunlight in my room, and your friendly prophet talking, it seems tolerable that things should be so. But at night, when I am alone with pain, and the whole world is a fading memory, and I long to pray, and don't know how to pray, and cannot reach out to anyone to pray to, then, God, I sometimes cry to you inarticulately like a trapped hare; and you do not answer.'

At this point I dared in my obtuseness to say, 'God, who is loving, is also just. He says, "Be your true human self, and I will answer you. But if you cry to me as a wounded animal only, you will become a wounded animal merely, and unable to hear me; and I shall not answer. To hold my love, you must deserve it. You must unfailingly will to support my music in all your experience and all your acts, and most of all in your poetry, which is my creature that I create through you. Therefore, support my difficult music lovingly, even to the last tortured note. If you fall short, I must withdraw myself from you utterly. I must throwaway my worthless instrument, my broken reed. I must even spurn my darling."’

Indignation brought a glow to her face and a gleam to her eyes as she replied, not without a teasing smile, 'Oh God, you are no God for me. You are for the strong and healthy and fortunate, not for the weak and defeated. Surely, God, if you really love me, you will not spurn me, even if I fail you. Love is not like that. I know, for it has happened to me that the beloved has failed me and yet I found that I still loved.'

To this deserved rebuke there was no answer. For a while we were silent. Then I ventured, 'God speaks again in me. He says, "My fool prophet has misconstrued my prompting. He was concerned with his own need, not with yours. I am all things to all souls according to their need. To those who have not greatly suffered I am the stern discarder of unfit instruments; but to those who have passed through fire I am the crucified Christ who knows what suffering is and finds comfort for each sufferer. Though I am indeed the just God and the God of wrath, I am also the loving father and the tender mother. I am the young Love God also, seeking and saving and delighting in his darling; and I am the divinely fair and : gentle Goddess whom all men seek. Yes, and I am at once the passionate and holy Spirit, struggling against great odds for fulfilment within the universe; and yet also the ultimate and absolute Mystery, untouched by the Spirit's triumph and failure."’

She protested, 'But if you are all these contrary things, God, you are not one God at all, but just a crowd of figments in our minds. And if you are for me a God of Love, you are equally for Hitler a God of ruthless power, scorning tenderness. And if you are both of these, surely you are neither.'

I answered, 'God says, "I am indeed all things for all men, but for no man am I simply what he in his blindness would \ have me be. I am just so much of his vision as is positively true, not the extravagance and perversion that springs from his blindness!' To you, my dear, my suffering dear, I say, Yes, you are my child, you are my unique beloved, and I love you in eternity. For what you have already done, for your unfulfilled promise, for your shortcomings, for what you indeed are, I love you in eternity. And in this instant of your misery, which seems to you everlasting, I am indeed answering i your prayer. If you listen rightly, you will hear me."’

She quickly said, 'But .you do not tell me how, how, I must listen rightly. When I most need you, you seem furthest from me.'

Anxiously once more I sought inspiration. Then I dared to say, 'God seems to speak again through me. "Listen both inwardly and outwardly; to the birth and death of innumerable worlds, and to the voice in your own heart's inmost heart; to the long growth and far off death of my cosmos, and to the instant pulse of time in your own room at night. Recall, too, those keenest moments of beauty or of love or insight, through which from time to time you have seen me; so that in their light you may confront unflinchingly the present grip of the trap, the shrieking disintegration of your own body and your own reeling mind. Do this, and you shall feel my arms round you, and hear me whispering, 'All's well, my dear, though beyond your comprehension. I am, and you are mine.' Thus 'love shall make you one with me. Wrapped in me, you shall look down on the little worn-out self that was you, and smile. And then you will see that your suffering, and the suffering of all creatures, is not an engulfing horror but the dark obverse of my glory."’

She looked long at me before she said, 'Your prophet has not done so badly after all. But, God, in the dead of night I cannot find the strength to hold on to all that. There is nothing left of me but the trapped creature.

Then I, inwardly desperate, heard myself confidently answer, 'God says, "Even so, I shall be with you always. Even if you cannot see me, cannot feel my presence, I am with you always. Even in the night, even when you are on the brink of stupor, cling to the memory that I am with you always”’

My friend smiled, and reached out a friendly hand toward me. Then she said, whether strictly for herself or out of kindness to me, 'Thank you, God. You have helped me, through your prophet. I will remember, so long as memory is possible. And I will be brave. The little instrument shall not break till it must.'

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11. ‘After Vision, Dark Night’

In my mind again you challenge me, you who are so much more than myself, though I must not call you God. You say, 'Compassion for your friend drove you to the very brink of insincerity. And yet, such comfort as you could give her was but cold comfort. She saw that the pittance offered to her was not wholly yours to give; for you yourself did not wholly believe in it. She is dead. Now that you are relieved of compassion, be strictly honest with yourself. Assess the meaning of her suffering, without any thought of comfort.'

Yes! I was on the brink of insincerity. And yet, speaking to her, I strangely felt both that I was acting a part for her, and yet also that I was possessed, and saying what must indeed be deeply true, though incoherent, and superficially almost meaningless.

But now, but now, I cannot recover the insight that then seemed mine, the insight which, seemingly, compassion wrung from my heart. I can remember only that I was in the presence of a fellow mortal tortured and doomed to torture, and to the final loss of all loved things. And the memory dismays me. My brave, my cunning words of comfort were cold indeed, for now I sadly see that they were mere meaningless noises. For all the words ever spoken by men about post-mortal being are now exposed as mere meaningless noises. All the words! The brave, the significant, the misused words, that men have spoken and written about the unseen reality, the ineffable, the eternal, the beatific! And all of them so manacled together in chain-gangs for forced labour, that the upshot is mere high-sounding, meaningless noise!

Strange that man should use his treasured gift of reason for the ultimate self-deception, persuading himself so easily that somehow he matters to an unseen divine Person, and is eternally cherished!

Never again, may I never again slip into that falsity, not even for a dear friend. Loyal to you, you personified reflection of my own intelligence, I will henceforth be passionately dispassionate. I will assess objectively the dread cosmical Object that confronts me, and includes me as a sentient mote among the insentient galaxies.

The cosmos is great, and man minute. The cosmos has endured for aeons; and man for a moment. For aeons the cosmos will drag on; and man will have left no trace. The cosmos is uncaring; and mankind a tortured and self-pitying dust of living motes, spawned on a dying world. To the cosmos, good and evil are indifferent; and to man himself, when he is clear-sighted, what are they but baseless whims of his own mind, queer perversions of his own biological urges. To the cosmos there is no virtue in love; and to man himself, when he is not bemused, what more is it than a refined and respected greed. To the cosmos all is physical, a meaningless pattern of electric charges; and to man, when he does not deceive himself, all is vanity.

But strange! Can it be that in my mind I hear you again? Can it be that I hear you laughing?

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12. ‘Light strives against Darkness, in vain’

Yes, in my mind you are ridiculing me. I hear you saying, 'See how, when you shudderingly withdraw from one error, you fall backwards into its contrary! Think! How should man, with his scarcely more than simian intelligence, penetrate the mystery? You assured your suffering friend that it was a mystery of love and beauty; and now in revulsion you declare that it is a mystery of insignificance and desolation. It remains a mystery. But think! If it is naive to say, "At the heart of things, God is," it is no less naive and far more arrogant to say, "There is no heart but man's." Remember always, little monkey-wit, that the heart of things is no more to be reached by man than the ocean-bottom by a cork.'

Silenced, but not comforted, I hear you now in my own heart saying, 'Nor can you plumb to the rock-bottom of reality even in your own heart's deepest soundings. But what matter? There, in your heart's depth, you do find—me. I promise you neither bliss eternal, nor triumph on earth, nor even the assurance of my own ultimate triumph in the cosmos. I offer you nothing whatever, save my beauty for your contemplation; and its claim upon your service. If you love me, if you wholly worship me, that claim is absolute. And by so much as you fall short of absolute service, by that much you fall short also in love of me. And by that much you are blind to me. For whoever clearly sees my face, gladly gives all to me. And only in the full giving is there fulness of seeing.'

And I, alas, have given less, far less, than all to you.

And so—my vision of you remains unclear, inconstant. And my doom is futility.

Yet what I seemed to see of you was lovely beyond words. And earnestly I promised, though I never gave, my all. But now the vision is past. Memory can but wanly picture it. The intoxication is over.

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13. ‘Yearning for the Lost Light’

Give back to me, oh give me back my conviction of your reality, my perception of your beauty! Without you, nothing is beautiful, nothing is admirable. The world is dust.

The moors and mountains, no longer signifying you, are piled rubbish. The sunrise is trivial. And the beloved, whose eyes, whose laughter, whose tender ways, so manifested you, is reduced to a gross animal. Even love itself is barren lust.

The deeds of saints and heroes, whose breath of life was you, are now the mere automatisms of cranks and madmen.

All the monuments that men have raised to you, the domes and spires, the minarets, pagodas, totem-poles, commemorate a delusion.

But oh restore, restore to me my delusion of your reality, my drunken vision of your beauty! What care I for truth, with beauty lost!

Speak to me again, I implore you! Speak in my heart! Save me from this hell!

I strain to hear, to see you; to deceive myself.

But in my mind and heart, the only voice is silence; the only presence, nothingness.

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14. ‘Darkness is Absolute’

The vacuum is complete in the bell-jar of my soul. The little bird that breathed the air of your presence lies dead.

Well? So what? The decomposing body, as it were, breeds anaerobic vermin, that thrive, though airless, upon the juices and vapours of corruption.

What matter? I will have done with my phantom divinity. It's no use crying over a spilt illusion, or a decomposing bird.

So what? Even now, the mountains can still invite ascent. The sunrise is an amusing entertainment. Alcohol can still conjure up its brief paradise. Women's breasts are soft to the venturing hand, the self-pitying head. The orgasm is still what it was.

Yes, and praise is still sweet, power intoxicating. Further, now that the divine illusion no longer restrains, what glittering ladders invite one!

If Satan should offer world-dictatorship, or at least control of some parish pump, how foolish, how cowardly to refuse! It is pleasanter to be top-dog than bottom-dog, however petty the brawl.

Even if there is no God, there is, for a while at least, I. And so, let me carefully relish one by one the over-ripe grapes of my individuality, till all are gone, or rotten.

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15. ‘Hell’

The vacuum remains. The remembered presence of the r, illusion spoils all. Could I but forget you, or never have glimpsed you, pleasures might still be sweet; praise be no mockery; power no anodyne.

But you haunt me still, my mind's fallen star, my heart's phantom heart; like the memory of a dead friend, or a lost leader; or a lost or outworn cause.

And so, the grapes of individuality prove sour; all pleasure is bitter; all praise, back-handed; all power, barren masturbation.

Power, in your service, might be the fulness of giving, the fulness of seeing, the fulness of worship.

Is this perhaps hell’s most exquisite refinement, that one should be haunted by the ever-present ghost of a disbelieved-in God?

No! For there is a blacker hell, not of privation but of present horror. The vacuum itself is hell, the dumb and frightful presence of sheer nothingness. It is all around. It creeps into the soul. It licks and loosens and dissolves the firmest tissues of the soul.

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16. ‘A Choice is made’

I have made a little choice. And in the act of choosing I have brought forth a deed, a small, but a real deed. I have committed myself. And now that the die is cast, I am relieved of a burden. My little deed has gone out into the world. There is no recalling it. There is only to stand up to the consequences.

I chose after much heart-searching, vain heart-searching; for you, my divine hallucination, have fallen silent in my heart. And so at last I chose with a shrug of the shoulders, without conviction. Whether I chose wisely or foolishly is unknowable, perhaps meaningless. But according to my light, my dimly remembered vision, I acted.

Later, no doubt, I shall regret my choice. I shall ridicule myself for my folly and rashness. For I acted without adequate knowledge of the facts, knowing only that to have refrained from acting would have been too easy, and might perhaps in the end turn out to be a grave betrayal. So I chose action. Addressing you in my mind, I said, 'Illusion though you are, I prefer to act in the pretence of your reality, rather than from stark nothingness. Without the fiction of your existence I am no more than a reflex animal, and the world is dust.’

The consequences of my little act will be inconvenient, will be quite hard for me to bear. But I shall stand up to them. Or will my resolution break? It shall not. To go back on my choice now would be a violation of my pretence that you exist. Strange that I cling so stubbornly to my pretence that you exist!

Yet how should I not? My little act has awakened in my heart a phantom echo of your phantom voice, that once seemed so authentic. Obey it I must.

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17. ‘Further Choices and their Effects’

My little choice has already driven me to the necessity of once more choosing. Either I ride forward on the fiction of your existence, and attempt a deed more formidable, with consequences more far-reaching and more painful; or I choose freedom, discard my illusion of you, and slink back into my lair of safety, but of desolation.

To go forward is to ride upon a phantom; and to confront innumerable fatiguing choices, without the relevant information, the relevant vision, the appropriate passion. I shall be ambushed from all sides by the unknown. The issue that I intend will almost certainly not be achieved, but only some false and perhaps pernicious imitation of it. The very cause that I have espoused may well turn out to be quite other than its champions affirm, and perhaps hostile to all that I am pretending is sacred.

And to go back is to betray only an illusion.

Yet I choose to go forward.

There may well come a time, and soon, when to go forward is to go backward; when to cling to a cause exposed as false, or to a high-sounding venture subtly false to the true cause, would itself be the supreme betrayal of you, my divine illusion. Then, oh phantom God, give me strength to face the most formidable choice of all! Strengthen me to follow your dim tremulous light even though the comrades, and I myself also, call me coward.

Meanwhile, I have chosen. I launch another deed, still small but real, upon the ocean of the future.

Of my own free will I launch it. Yet how could I otherwise? My choices, one by one, create me, toughen me, temper me and enlighten me with your illusory beauty. I pledge my life to you, illusion though you be.

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18. ‘Vision is Restored’

Again, again I have seen you!

My mind's star, my heart's heart!

All the while you were with me, but darkness welled in my very eyes, in my mind, my heart. Your silence within me was my own deafness.

How could it be that having seen you I could lose you? How can it be that having lost you I am once more confronted by you? How could I have dismissed you as an illusion, you who are so brilliantly the light of the world, radiant through all things?

Again in my heart I am hearing you, saying, 'The answer has already been given you. Your glimpse of me was a call to action, but you did not act. And so your eyes filled with darkness, your heart with emptiness. You lost me. But, having seen me and lost me, you could no longer live without me. You were forlornly loyal to your seeming illusion of me. And so, through unacknowledged faith in me, in the end you acted. And the tangle of your little deeds gave me the purchase to attack the darkness in you, and restore your sight, and turn your faith once more to confrontation with my presence.

I have heard you, I have heard you again. As the wind scours out the mist from a mountain gully, you have cleansed me.

Let me never again lose you! Strengthen me to give my all to you, and gladly!

But if through frailty I still hold back, so that once more darkness brews within me, may I at least never again forget that the murk is of my own making, and that indeed, indeed I have seen you, that you are real.

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