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Locality of God and the Divine Moment — Personal Experience.

At a certain time, in the course of my inward personal history, I found myself in a state of inward desolation, such as I had seldom and perhaps never experienced before. God seemed to be hidden from my view. Christ as a distinct object of conception was withdrawn. I found nothing of that familiar and delightful access to the great Source of Life, whether denominated God or Christ, to which I had been accustomed. The beautiful ministry, or what seemed to be such, of angelic and spiritual presences had departed. And in addition to this, there seemed to be a weakening and disruption of the ties which bound me to many of my earthly friends. Both inwardly and outwardly my condition was one of vacuity and deprivation, which apparently wanted nothing to its completeness. It reminded me of what I had once known in the deserts of Sinai, where, standing on the tops of the highest mountains, I beheld around me nothing but the rugged cliffs; no tree, no flower, no running brook, no singing bird.

Finding myself in this arid and painful condition of things, which perhaps for the sake of convenience may be denominated, in the language of the old mystics, the “spiritual wilderness,” I remained for a time in a sort of amazement: unable to understand its nature or its meaning. At last arousing from the inactivity and confusion of spirit which naturally attended it, I ventured in my supplications to ask the Lord, what was the cause of these unlooked-for experiences, and what the instruction which He wished me to derive from them; for I knew, although He was hidden in great and unprecedented mystery, He must be somewhere, where He could listen to the sound of my voice. For a time no responsive utterance came; neither to the outward ear where I did not look for it; nor to the interior of the soul, where I had often heard it, in suggestions and inspirations which left no doubt of the divinity of their origin.

After such a time as seemed to be necessary to impress me fully with the fact of this great desolation, and also to train my heart to the unwavering acceptance of it, as a condition of things which had its significancy and its results, and to dwell quietly like a child at home amid its clouds and darkness, I received from time to time, and through those interior sources which the Holy Spirit knows how to open and employ, such intimations and teachings as became afterwards of great spiritual value to myself, and perhaps also to others, although I am aware that inward experiences are very various, and that it is best to let God do with us just what He pleases.

In the first place, it was vividly recalled to mind, as a part of the inward teaching of those trying but instructive days, that, in consequence of the finite nature of the human mind, all things and all events are and must be made known, not by one broad and all-embracing perceptivity, but in successive moments of time. God knows all things simultaneously; but it requires I think not much argument to show, inasmuch as the statement carries with it its own evidence, that the finite mind, bounded by the limit of its own finiteness, can know only by a gradual uplifting of the veil of the future, and in these successive moments. And it was made clear also, in the course of these inward teachings, that this view, in consequence of the relations existing among them, had reference to place as well as to time; and that neither successions in place, nor successions in events, nor changes of any kind, could take place and be made the subjects of knowledge in any other way. And hence came an additional teaching, based upon these general views, that we are to find the true locality of God, not in any imagined distant heavens where I had been in the habit of looking for Him, and thus localizing Him by my own will or choice, but that we must rather recognize Him, as already present by the very necessities of his nature, in everything which exists or takes place within the sphere of our knowledge; and that knowledge comes to us under the successive revelations of successive moments. In other words, the present moment, more than all others and above all others, is the divine moment; and that the state of things, which is then made present to us, whether it be in the form of places or objects, or persons or events, constitutes to us the only true and available locality of the Divine Nature. We must meet God there, or meet Him nowhere. It is therefore a great and glorious truth, that the principle of the Universe, which we sometimes call the Divine Life of the Universe, is HERE and NOW; that in the moment which now is, and nowhere else, the great Life and Spirit of all things, always the same and yet always changing, meets us face to face, in every man that we meet; in every flower; in every tree and plant and insect and animal; in every joy and sorrow; in all good and all evil; in all clouds and all sunshine; in all blessings and all curses; in all angels and all devils; in all virtues and all crimes. So that it will always be found, if we are out of position with the present moment, either in the posture of our feelings or the error of our acts, we lose something of God, by losing something of that knowledge which the present moment brings.

And again, there was this additional and most important teaching: The recognition of God in the divine moment is, in the first instance and necessarily, the recognition of Him as an objective or outward God. But this outward manifestation of God, or better, perhaps, this recognition of Him as having a fixed and present relation to the thing or event of the moment, calls forth the God subjective or the God in our own souls. The God sincerely recognized without, and the God actually existing within,—using expressions which are adapted to man’s imperfect methods of thought,—may be regarded as always correlative and correspondent to each other. And accordingly, if the event or fact which the present moment reveals to us is one of kindness, it calls forth in our own souls the divine element of gratitude; if the event be one of sorrow, it calls forth, in correspondence with the outward occasion, the spiritual graces of submission and patience; if the thing or event be of the nature of a persecution, it is corresponded to by feelings of forbearance and forgiveness. The result of this complex occasion, characterized by the objective on the one side and by the subjective on the other, is, that God outward is revealed through outward facts, and that God in the soul is revealed through inward feelings.

Meeting together under a providential arrangement, which has respect equally to both, they furnish reciprocally the conditions and incitements of development and action. So that the instruction revealed during the period of this singular and trying experience, when compared and adjusted in all its parts, seems to have been this — with a heart devoted to God and full of God, no longer seek Him in the heavens above or the earth beneath, or in the things under the earth, nor in any locality which has the effect to restrict his name and limit his existence, but recognize Him as the great fact of the universe, separate from no place or part, but revealed in all places and in all things and events,
moment by moment. And as eternity alone will exhaust this momentary revelation, which has sometimes been called the ETERNAL NOW, thou shalt thus find God ever present and ever new; and thy soul shall adore Him and feed upon Him in the things and events which each new moment brings; and thou shalt never be absent from Him and He shall never be absent from thee.

Let us take an illustration: It happens as we are walking the streets, that we unexpectedly meet with a man who approaches us with words and deeds of violence. He meets us in the present moment and at no other. It is a necessity that God comes with him; because God, by the necessities of existence, resides in him physically, inasmuch as He made him and sustains him. And if, in consequence of the moral freedom which divine goodness has made his inalienable birthright, it is not possible for God to be in him as the originator of his violence and injustice, He is, nevertheless, present in his providences. In other words, He is present in the arrangement and issue of events, which at that particular moment, in distinction from any other moment and any other circumstances, presents the man before us. He practically brings him into our presence with all the evidences of his rebellion and wickedness; the man is where he is because God directs him to be there; and He does it, in all probability, in order that this wicked man may HERE and NOW, under the overshadowings of the divine moment, be judged and condemned; and that, if it be possible, he may be made anew and saved. And this last is done, and possibly it is the special and great object which God had in view in his providences, first, by the manifestation of God in our own consciousness in feelings of which He is the author, and also by outward signs and words expressive of the inward feelings, given forth by the divine power within us in the divine moment. So that we stand up in the presence of this or any other form of wickedness, and we stand there in a great divine purpose, in the outward manifestation of the inward Christ, or if any one prefers it, of the inward Christ spirit, in patience and forbearance, in meekness and pity, with kind words for words of violence, and with love for hatred. And thus looking for God, finding Him, not thousands of miles off in place and thousands of years hence in time, but as He is revealed in the correlated and correspondent facts and incidents of each successive moment, we shall know experimentally that He becomes now, and that, in the continuous application and issue of this great principle, He becomes always, a presence and a power, a source of goodness to ourselves and of goodness to others, and with a recognized dwelling-place, which has its center in our own hearts and its circumference in the objects and events, including their necessary relations, which the present moment reveals. Such to finite beings is the true locality of God. Previously to this time and the instructions of this experience, I had intellectually learned and known this great principle and law of the divine presence. But in consequence of the unfavorable influence of early habits of thought and feeling, it became necessary to restore both the vividness of the inward conviction, and to readjust and intensify it as a rule of life. And it was for this, so far as I was led to understand it, that I was led into the desert. And it was thus, that losing God in one direction, I found Him in another; and have learned, that, if I am faithful to these instructions, and will not get out of His way as He confronts me in the mighty march of time and events, I can nevermore lose Him.

In connection with what has been said, we stop at this point to make a remark in relation to interior solitude, and what is known in experimental writers of the earliest ages as inward aridness or vastation. Such a state is not without its benefits. In ancient Egypt, amid its wealth and intellectual advancement, the Hebrews learned much; they became masters, like the people among whom they dwelt, of arts and letters, of which their own recorded history is a proof; but the arts they learned and the knowledge they acquired, were worldly arts and worldly knowledge. In the terrible desert, through which they were led when they came out of Egypt, they obtained knowledge of a different kind, knowledge of a higher aspect and character, and far more valuable. Accordingly in reading their travels through the desert, we feel that we are reading, if we are interiorly enlightened, the travels of the human heart; that we are becoming acquainted with the mighty pilgrimage of the soul; its liability to error, its temptations, its sorrows, its progress in knowledge and goodness; and also the divine relations which exist between the lawgiver and those under the law, and the difference between the life moulded by obedience to law and the disordered and ruined life which is the result of its violation. The Hebrews learned as much and probably much more, certainly much more that was valuable, during their pilgrimage of forty years in the desert, than during their four hundred years of residence among the most enlightened people which the world had ever seen. Can we not say then that the voice of wisdom found an utterance in the wilderness? And so in the solitudes and deserts of the spirit, when interiorly we are led away from the land of flowers to the rude habitations of the sands and rocks, the land where smiles are exotics and joy is a stranger, there remains to us, nevertheless, much of inward compensation. It is not without a great purpose, that our bruised and bleeding feet are smitten upon the rocks. The voice of wisdom is heard in the desolate wilderness of the soul. Such is the teaching of national history. Such is the testimony, also, of the deeply interior men of all ages; of Moses and Elijah; of Christ, when led into the wilderness to be tempted of satan; of John the Baptist, whose rugged nature found a congeniality with desolation within and desolation without; of St. Jerome, and of Augustine, as recorded in his confessions; of Tauler, the philosopher, mystic, and revivalist of the middle ages; of St. John of the Cross, one of the great explorers of the spiritual wilderness; of John Bunyan, the outward and inward sufferer and great traveller in interior lands; of George Fox and William Penn; of many of the leaders and followers in the Protestant Reformation; of the early Methodists and Puritans; of all in all nations and of all names, who have neither the power nor the inclination to go to heaven on “flowery beds of ease.”

But returning from the method of learning to the things which have been taught, we proceed further to say, that one of the marked things of this form of experience, which we will characterize now as LIVING BY THE MOMENT, is, that it is infinitely varied. Change, which is evidently incidental to the great fact of growth or progression, is one of the great necessities of existence. It is moreover one of those things, which in any true philosophy of the universe, will be found to lie at the foundation of the great problem of what constitutes the highest amount of human happiness, and in what way such happiness shall be realized. Meeting God in the moment of God, which is necessarily the present moment, we shall meet Him always the same but always new; always unchanged in his essence, but changing always in his incidents. The divine moment, lifting as it emerges into being the veil that rests upon forms and places and actions and events, opens that little eyelid of eternity, and reveals God, not in a perpetual identity of manifestation which would tire our perception and annul our growth, but in all possible varieties. He stands before us sometimes in the storm and sometimes in the sunshine; sometimes in the waste howling wilderness, and sometimes in the field of flowers; in the palace and the prison, in friendship and enmity; in joy and sorrow. And thus He is always revealing, step by step, in harmony with the nature and extent of our own capacities, the infinitudes of existence; and always affording new elements of knowledge, new tests of strength, and new foundations and appliances of growth and happiness.

And it may further be remarked as something worthy of notice, and as closely connected with what has just been said, that those who live in the divine moment are relieved in a great degree from the perplexity of conjectures and calculations, and cannot be said, in the usual sense of the terms, to have plans of action. It is certain that they do not have any, in the unconditioned or absolute sense. Being in harmony inwardly and outwardly with the facts of the present moment, it is the law of their condition, that they shall do the work which it is given them to do. Under the mastery of the present, they see the objects that are now before them; they obey the orders which are now given; and accomplish what now is, and nothing else.

It is impossible that the man who lives thus should have any plans which are exclusively his own; any plans which are separate from the purpose and the will of God. He cannot be in harmony with the present moment without being in harmony with the will of God, as manifested in the present moment; and the divine will, thus manifested, necessarily constitutes the condition to which all his actions and plans of action are subordinated. So that it can justly be said in this view of things, that the mind of the Infinite is substituted for his own, and that God plans for him. Submitting his own wisdom to the higher wisdom which is from above, he can say in the spirit of Christ, whose plan of action was established in eternity and was unchangeable, that he “comes to do the will of the Father who sent him.”

And hence it is that one great sign of the practical recognition of the “divine moment” and of our finding God’s habitation in it, is constant calmness and peace of mind. Events and things come with the moment; but God comes with them too. And He comes, written all over with the divinity of wisdom and the glory of the promises. So that if He comes in the sunshine, we find rest and joy; and if He comes in the storm, we know He is King of the storms, and our hearts are not troubled. God himself, though possessing a heart filled with the tenderest feelings, is, nevertheless, an everlasting tranquillity; and when we enter into His holy tabernacle, his great movable tent, which is traveling here and there under the shifting footsteps of moment added to moment, our souls necessarily enter into the tabernacle of rest.

And let it be added here, that the doctrine of living by the moment suggests one of the preparatory conditions, and furnishes in part, a philosophical explanation of the great doctrine of inward inspiration. Inspiration, looking at the fact of the thing as well as the etymology of the term, is the in-breathing or the in-flowing of the Infinite into the finite. And if we stand in the openings of the present moment, with all the length and breadth of our faculties unselfishly adjusted to what it reveals, we are in the best condition to receive what God is always ready to communicate. So that there is not merely a dogmatical affirmation, which is to be believed solely because it is affirmed, but an interior and divine philosophy in those suggestive and spiritual words of Jesus: “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer or what ye shall say; for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.”

Each moment of time is one of the successive and separate letters of the alphabet, which go to make up the great book of eternity. And eternity being the sum of all moments, and therefore the residence or locality of God in the higher sense, we are thus learning the letters of that book in which will be written out all truths of the Infinite, and all truths and destinies for ourselves. To lose a moment by being out of harmony with the facts and requisitions of the moment, is to lose a letter out of the great book, and thus to lose something of its infinite and eternal meanings. It was thus that God taught me while I was in the spiritual wilderness. I was thus enabled to see, and perhaps more clearly than others will be likely to do, who have not passed through the same inward history, why He shut the old gateways and vistas of spiritual knowledge, which were suited to the beginnings of inward experience, and required me to meet with Him and to dwell with Him in the ETERNAL NOW. It was one of the lessons of the desert; but the desert, I mean the spiritual desert, is one of the school-houses of the soul. And as soon as I had learned the lesson, which it seems to have been the object of the school of the desert to teach, the cloud was gradually lifted; the sunshine came down upon the rocks; the sands and pebbles grew up into flowers; I found the shepherd sitting beside the still waters; and I came up out of the entanglements of the wilderness into a firmer position and a clearer light than I had ever known before.