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Full Online Book HomeEssaysThe Silent Isle - Chapter 7
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The Silent Isle - Chapter 7 Post by :eggibiz Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :784

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

It is an error either to glorify or degrade the body. If we worship it or pamper it, when it fails us, we are engulfed and buried in its ruins; if we misuse it, and we can misuse it alike by obeying it and disregarding it, it becomes our master and tyrant, or it fails us as an instrument. We must regard it rather as our prison, serving us for shelter and security, to be kept as fair and wholesome and cleanly as may be. When we are children, we are hardly conscious of it--or rather we are hardly conscious of anything else; in youth and maturity we are perhaps conscious of its joy and strength; but even so we must also at times be sadly aware that it is indeed the body of our humiliation; we must be aware of its dishonour, its uncleanly processes, its ugliness and feebleness, its slothfulness and perversity. There are times when the soul sighs to think of itself as chained to a sort of brute; it tugs at its chain, it snaps and growls, it tears and rends us; at another time it is content and serviceable; at another it grows spent and faint, and keeps the soul loitering, heart-sick and reluctant, on its pilgrimage.

But when once we have perceived the truth, that the body is not ourselves, but the habitation of the soul, we can make it into an instrument of our development. We can curb it when it is headstrong, we can goad it when it is indolent, and when it fails and thwarts us, as sooner or later it must do to all of us, the soul can sit beside it, neither heeding it nor compassionating it, but just triumphing over it in hope and patience.

There are seasons in the lives of most of us when the soul is full of zeal and insight, when it would like to work joyfully, to cheer and console and help others, to utter its song of praise, to make a happy stir in the world, when the body is morose and feeble and ill at ease, checks our work and utterance, makes us timid when we should be bold, and mournful when we wish to be amiable and genial; but these are the very hours when the soul grows most speedily and surely, if we do not allow the body to check and restrain us; we must perhaps husband its resources, but we can stifle our complaints, we can be brave and cheerful and kind.

And even if the disasters of the body have been in a sense our own fault; if we have lived prodigally and carelessly, either yielding to base desires or recklessly overworking and overstraining the mortal frame, for however high a motive, we can still triumph if we never yield for a moment to regret or remorse, but accept the conditions humbly and quietly, using such strength as we have to the uttermost. For here lies one of our strongest delusions, our belief in our own effectiveness. God's concern with each of us is direct and individual; the influences and personalities he brings us into contact with are all of his designing; and we may be sure of this, that God will make us just as effective as he intends, and that we are often more effective in silence and dejection than we are in activity and courage. We mourn faithlessly over lives cut short, activity suspended, promise unfulfilled; but we may be sure that in every case God is dealing faithfully with each soul, and using it as an instrument as far as it is fitted to be used; and thus for an active man disabled by illness to mourn over his wasted power is a grievous mistake, and no less a mistake to mourn over the unprofitableness of our lives, for they have been as profitable as God willed them to be. We can only be profitable to those for contact with whom God has prepared both them and us; and thus our duty in the matter is not to indulge in any anticipations of what our body may be able to do or unable to do, but simply to undertake what seems our plain duty; and then we shall find that the body can often do more than we could have imagined, and especially if it be directed by a tranquil mind; and if it fails us, that very failure is but the pressure of God's hand upon our shoulder, saying, "Continue in weakness and be not dismayed." If it is an error to increase our own limitations, it is equally an error not to give heed to them and to profit by them; and, after all, the body is more apt to rebel in carrying out the duties we dislike than in enjoying the pleasures on which we have set our mind. The real reason of our faithlessness is that we are so apt to look upon the one life in which we find ourselves as our only chance of expression and effectuation. If it were so, it would matter little what we did or said, if the soul is to be extinguished as a blown-out flame when the body is mingled with the dust.

I stood once upon the deck of a ship watching a shoal of porpoises following us and racing round us: every now and then the brown, sleek, shining bodies of the great creatures rose from the blue waves and entered them again with a soft plunge. Our life is like that: we rise for an instant into the light of life, we fall again beneath the waves; but all the while the soul pursues her real track unseen and unsuspected, as the gliding sea-beast cuts the green ocean twilight, or wanders among rocks and hidden slopes fringed with the branching ribbons, the delicate tangles of brine-fed groves.

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