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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 41. Nature And Supernature
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There & Back - Chapter 41. Nature And Supernature Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2763

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There & Back - Chapter 41. Nature And Supernature

CHAPTER XLI. NATURE AND SUPERNATURE

But Richard soon began to recover both from the separation and from his disappointment in regard to his letter. He was satisfied that whatever might be the cause of her silence, it came from no fault in Barbara. Nothing ever shook his faith in her.

And soon he found that he looked now upon the world with eyes from which a veil had been withdrawn. Barbara gone, mother Earth came nigh to comfort her child. He had always delighted in the beauty of the world--in what shows of earth and air were to be seen in London. The sunset that filled as with a glowing curtain the end of some street where he walked, would go on glowing in his heart when it left the street. Even in winter he would now and then go out to see the sunrise, and see it; and from the street might now and then, at rare times, be beheld a dappling and streaking, a mottling and massing of clouds on the blue. The fog of the London valley, and the smoke of the London chimneys, did not _always_, any more than the cares and sorrows and sins of its souls, blot out its heaven as if it had never looked on the earth. But he had learned much since he went to the country; he had gone nearer to Nature, and seen that in her lap she carried many more things than he knew of; and now that Barbara was gone, the memories of Nature came nearer to him: he remembered her and was glad. Soon he began to find that, both as regards Nature and those whom we love, absence is, for very nearness, often better than presence itself. He had been used to think and talk of Nature either as an abstraction, or as the personification of a force that knew nothing, and cared for nothing, was nobody, was nothing; now it gradually came to him, and gained upon him ere he knew, first that the things about him wore meanings, and held them up to him, then that something was thinking, something was meaning the things themselves, and so moving thoughts in him, that came and went unforeseen, unbidden. Thoughts clothed in things were everywhere about him, over his head, under his feet, and in his heart; and as often as anything brought him pleasure, either through memory or in present vision, it brought Barbara too; and she seemed their maker, when she was but one of the fair company, the lady of the land. Everything beautiful turned his face to the more beautiful, more precious, diviner Barbara. With each new sense of loveliness, she floated up from where she lay, ever ready to rise, in the ocean of his heart. She was the dweller of his everywhere!

He knew that Barbara did not make these things; it only seemed as if she made them because she was the better joy of them: did not the fact show how the fiction of a God might have sprung up in the minds that had no Barbara to look like the maker of the loveliness? But Barbara was there already, known and loved. The mind did not invent Barbara. And again, why should the mind want anyone to look like a maker, an indweller, an _ingeniuer_--to use a word of Shakespeare's invention? Yet again, why should the thought of Barbara _suggest a soul, that is, a causing, informing presence, to these things? Was there a meaning in them? How did they come to have that meaning? Could it be that, having come out of nothing--the mind of man, and all the things, out of the same nothing, they responded enough to each other for the man to find his own reflex wherever he pleased to look for it? Only, if man and Nature came both out of nothing, why should they not be nothing to each other? why should not man be nothing to himself? As it was, one nothing, having no thought, meant the same the other nothing meant, having thought!--and hence came all the beauty of the world! And once again, if these things meant nothing but what the mind put into them--its own thought, namely, of them--they did not really mean anything, they were only imagined to mean it; and why should he, if but for a moment, imagine Barbara at the root of nothing? And why should he not, seeing she was herself nothing? Or was he to consent to be fooled, and act as if there was something where he knew there was nothing?

The truth of Richard's love appeared in this that he was more able now to see the other side of a thing, to start objection to his own idea from the side of one who thought differently.

"If I feel," he would say to himself, "as if these things meant something, and conclude that they only mean _me, being the body to me, who am the soul of them; and still more if I conclude that the sum of them is the blind cause of me; then, when I grow sick of myself, finding no comfort, no stay in myself for myself, and know that I need another, say _another self, then the seeming sympathy that Nature offers me, is the merest mockery! It is only my own self--myself gone behind and peeping round a corner, grinning back sympathy at me from its sickening death-mask! Why should man need another if he came from nothing? But he came from a father and mother: man needed the woman: will not that explain the thing? No; for even the relation itself needs to be comforted and sustained and defended!"

Why was there so much, and most of all in himself, for which, as Richard was beginning to understand, even a Barbara could not suffice? Why also did her sufficiency depend so much on her faith in an all-sufficient? And why was there so often such a gulf betwixt the two that seemed made for each other? Ah! they were made for each other only in the general! For the individual, Nature did not care; she had no time! Then how was it that he cared for Nature? If Nature meant anything, was an intelligence, a sort of God, why should he, the individual, who loved as an individual, was a blessing or curse to himself as an individual--why should he care anything for one who loved only in the general? Could a man love in general? Yes; he himself loved his kind and sought to deliver them from superstition. But that was because he could think of them as a multitude of individuals. If he had never loved father, mother, or friend, would he have loved in the general? Would crowds of men and women have _awaked love in him? If so, then the bigger crowd must always move the greater love! No; it is from the individual we go to the many. Love that was only in the general, that cared for the nation, the race, and let the individual perish, could not be love. He would be no God who cared only for a world or a race. The live conscious individual man could not love or worship him! And if no individual worshipped, where would be the worship of the crowd? Still less could a vague creator of masses, that knew nothing of individuals, being himself not individual, be worthy to be called God! Demon be might be--never God! But if God were a person, an individual, and so loved the individual!--ah, then indeed!--Barbara believed that such a God lived all about and in us! Mr. Wingfold said he was too great to prove, too near to see, but the greater and the nearer, the more fit to be loved! There were things against it! Nature herself seemed against it, for, lovely us she was, she did awful things! Could Nature have come from one source, and God be another source from which came man? He was too near Nature, too much at home with her, to believe it. Could it be one Nature that made all the lovely things, and another Nature that decreed their fate? That also he could not believe: they and their fate must be from one hand, or heart, or will! He could but hope there might be some way of reconciling the terrible dissonance between Nature and Barbara's God! If there was such a way, if their contradiction was only in seeming, then the very depth of their unity might be the cause of their seeming discord!

Something in this way the mind of Richard felt and thought and saw and doubted and speculated. Then he would turn to the ancient story--still because "Barbara said."

The God Barbara believed in was like Jesus Christ!--not at all like the God his mother believed in! Jesus was one that could be loved: he could not have come to reveal such a God as his mother's, for he was no revelation of that kind of a God! He was gentle, and cared for the individual! And he said he loved the Father! But he was his son, and a good son might love a bad father. Yes, but could a bad God have a good son? No; the son of God must be the revelation of his father; such as the Son is, just such and no other must the Father be; there cannot but be harmony between the beings of the two!

In very truth there must appear schism in Nature, yea schism in God himself, until we see that the ruling Father and the suffering Son are of one mind, one love, one purpose; that in the Father the Son rules, in the Son the Father suffers; that with the Son the other children must suffer and rise to rule. To Richard's eyes there was schism everywhere; no harmony, no right, no concord, no peace! And yet all science pointed to harmony, all imagination thirsted for it, all conscience commanded it! all music asserted and prophesied it! all progress was built on the notion of it! all love, the only thing yielding worth to existence, was a partial realization of it! So that the schism came even to this, that harmony itself was divided against itself, asserting that the thing that was not, and could not be, yet ought to be! Nothing but harmony has a real, a true, an essential being; yet here were thousands of undeniable things which seemed to exist in very virtue of their lack of harmony! There were shocks and recoils in every part of every thinking soul, in every part of the object-world! And yet in certain blissful pauses, unlooked for, uncaused by man, certain sudden silences of the world, an eternal harmony would for one moment manifest itself behind the seething conflicting discords that fill the atmosphere of the soul--straightway to vanish again, it is true, but into the heart of Hope that saves men. If harmony was not at one with itself in its harmony, neither was discord at one with itself in its discordancy! Now and then all nature seemed on the point of breaking into a smile, and saying, "Ah, children! if you but knew what I know!" Why did she not say what she knew? Why should she hide the thing that would make her children blessed?

The thought, half way to an answer, did not come to Richard then: What if we are not yet able to understand her secret--therefore not able to see it although it lies open before us? What if the difficulty lies in us! What if Nature is doing her best to reveal! What if God is working to make us know--if we would but let him--as fast as ever he can! There is one thing that will not be pictured, cannot be made notionally present to the mind by any effort of the imagination--one thing that requires the purest faith: a man's own ignorance and incapacity. It is impossible to think of the object of our ignorance, how then realize the ignorance whose very centre is a blank, a negation! When a man knows, then first he gets a glimpse of his ignorance as it vanishes. Ignorance, I say, cannot be the object of knowledge. We must _believe ourselves ignorant. And for that we must be humble of heart. When our world seems clear to the horizon, when the constellations beyond look plainest, when we seem to be understanding all within our scope, then have we yet to believe that, unseen, formally unsuspected, beyond, lies that which may wither up many forms of our belief, and must modify every true form in which we hold the truth. For God is infinite, and we are his little ones, and his truth is eternally better than the best shape in which we see it. Jesus is perfect, but is our idea of him perfect? One thing only is changeless truth in us, and that is--obedient faith in him and his father. Even that has to grow--but with a growth which is not change. That there is a greater life than that we feel--yea, a life that causes us, and is absolutely and primarily essential to us--of this truth we have a glimpse; but no man will arrive at the peace of it by struggling with the roots of his nature to understand them, for those roots go down and out, out and down infinitely into the infinite. It is by acting upon what he sees and knows, hearkening to every whisper, obeying every hint of the good, following whatever seems light, that the man will at length arrive. Thus obedient, instead of burying himself in the darkness about its roots, he climbs to the tree-top of his being; and looking out thence on the eternal world in which its roots vanish and from which it draws its nourishment, he will behold and understand at least enough to give him rest--and how much more, let his Hope of the glory of God stand at its window and tell him. For in his climbing, the man will, somewhere in his progress upward, the progress of obedience, of accordance to the law of things, awake to know that the same spirit is in him that is in the things he beholds; and that his will, his individuality, his consciousness, as it infolds, so it must find the spirit, that root of himself, which is infinitely more than himself, that "one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." When He is known, then all is well. Then is being, and in it the growth of being, laid open to him. God is the world, the atmosphere, the element, the substance, the essence of his life. In him he lives and moves and has his being. Now he lives indeed; for his Origin is his, and this rounds his being to eternity. God himself is his, as nothing else could be his. The serpent of doubt is gagged with his own tail, and becomes the symbol of the eternal.

Dissatisfaction is but the reverse of the medal of life. So long as a man is satisfied, he seeks nothing; when a fresh gulf is opened in his being, he must rise and find wherewithal to fill it. Our history is the opening of such gulfs, and the search for what will fill them.

But Richard was far yet from having his head above the cloudy region of moods and in the blue air of the unchangeable. As the days went by and brought him no word from Barbara, the darkness again began to gather around him. There are as many changes in a lover's weather as in that of England. The sad consolations of nature by degrees forsook him; they grew all sadness and no consolation. The winter of his soul wept steadily upon him, laden with frost and death. He went back to his stern denial of a God. He thought he had no need of any God, because he had no hope in any.

Strangely, but in accordance with his nature, while he denied God, he denied him resentfully. "If there were a God," he said, "why should I pray to him? He has taken from me the one good his world held for me!" Not an hour would he postpone judgment of him; not one century would he give the God of patience to justify himself to his impatient child! He lost his love of reading. A book was to him like a grinning death's-head. He ministered to it no longer with his mind, but only with his hands. He hated the very look of poetry. The straggling lines of it were loathsome to his eyes. Where, in such a world as he now lived in, could live a God worth being? Where indeed? Richard made his own weather, and it was bad enough. Happily, there is no law compelling a man to keep up the weather or the world he has made. Never will any man devise or develop mood or world fit to dwell in. He must inhabit a world that inhabits him, a world that envelops and informs every thought and imagination of his heart.

In Richard's world, the one true, the one divine thing was its misery, for its misery was its need of God.

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