THE WAY OF THE SOUL
By L. S. P.
There is a homely proverb which tells us that "the
longest way round is the shortest way home." Whether
the mathematical demonstration of so paradoxical an
assertion would be easy or difficult I shall not undertake
to decide. My concern is with its application to
the spiritual; and with such a reference, are there not
many in these hurrying days who would be benefited
by a serious attention to it?
Do you doubt its truth? Reflect, and you will be
convinced. Have you never groped darkly after a
principle, of which you had some dim revelation, and
which you strove with mightiest working to make your
own? Still as you seemed about to seize it, it eluded
your grasp; you were sure that it was there; but to
lay hold of it was beyond your strength. You gave up
the effort, turned your thoughts to a new channel,
and busied yourself with other investigations—when lo!
a revelation; and the truth you sought, burst upon
you as a ray from the eternal splendor.
Or, perchance, you have been all the day perplexed
and wearied with doubts, relating, it may be, to some
point of practical moment to you, and seeming to demand
a solution, which yet you are unable to give.
You would fain come to an end, but you cannot even
see an opening; only here and there an uncertain
glimmer, which vanishes when you approach it more
nearly. Your soul is faint and harassed; you go forth
at sunset to commune with nature, and in her communion
to forget your perplexities. You gaze on the calm
glories of the departing sun, and the calm enters into
your soul; the cooling breath of heaven comes to you,
and you listen to the many voices, "the melodies of
woods and winds and waters," that go up in one harmony
to heaven. You behold, and listen, and love;—and
with love comes light. Yes, a light, so pure, so
soft, so mild, that it seems not of earth rests upon your
soul, and your darkness, and doubts, and perplexity
Oh, never let it be forgotten that the road to truth is
a winding road; it lies through the heart as well as
through the intellect; for, says the wise man, "Into a
malicious soul, wisdom shall not enter." Thou must
learn to love, before thou canst learn to know; and
never shalt thou behold the serene and beautiful countenance
of Truth, until thy aim be honest, and thy soul
in harmony with nature.
And are not Nature's paths circuitous? It is man
who has constructed the broad high road, and made
for himself a straight way through forests and streams,
levelling the mountains, and filling up the valleys—but
it is not thus in nature. Her paths are wild, and
devious, and rambling; following "the river's course,
the valley's playful windings," and ever and anon
turning aside to some sunny nook, or steep ravine. The
rain which falls upon the earth travels not by a plain
high road to the springs and fountains whither it is
bound; but gently, slowly wins its way, drop by drop,
till a little stream is formed, and the stream winds its
noiseless and hidden track to the fountain.
In her processes too, Nature is patient and long-waiting.
She doth not say to the seed just planted in the
earth, spring up and bear fruit forthwith, or you shall
be cast out, but she waiteth for the unfolding of the
tender germ, and the striking of the new-shooting roots;
and hath long patience, and with slowliest care, and a
mother's enduring love, she bringeth forth to light the
first green leaf. Then she calleth for the sun to shine,
and the dews to descend upon the young plant, and
many days doth she wait for the ripe fruit.
But man, impatient man would be wise in a day.
He waits not for the holy and mysterious processes of nature,
he leaves not the wonderful powers within him to
unfold in silence and secrecy, but must ever disturb
them with his foolish meddling and impertinent haste,
like some silly child, who digs up the seed he has planted
an hour ago, to see if it have yet sprouted. And
are there not some who deal in like fashion with other
minds than their own? Educators let them not be
called, for never do they bring out what is within. The
young mind is not to them a germ to be unfolded, an
infant to be nursed into manhood, but rather a receptacle
to be filled, and stuffed, and crammed as expeditiously
as possible; and this, thanks to the numerous
machines lately invented for the purpose, is very quick
There have been times when you seemed to make
no progress in your favorite pursuit. You struggled
without advancing as we sometimes do in dreams, or
though you stepped up and down, it was as in a treadmill.
So it seemed to you. But was it so? Nay,
the process was going on within, though its visible
manifestations may have ceased. If no addition was
made to the superstructure, yet the foundations were
deepening and widening; if the branches and leaves
did not grow, yet the root strengthened itself in the
But not only so—you seemed to be going backward.
Even the ground slipped from under your feet, and
where you had heretofore a firm standing-place, you
found but a swamp. And have you never considered
that Nature too sometimes works backwards? See
that withered leaf which flutters in the breeze, maintaining
yet an uncertain hold upon the branch which
nurtured its younger growth. A fresh gust of wind
loosens its hold, and it is blown in circling eddies to the
earth. There it rests till the elements of decay in its
bosom have finished their work, and it mixes with the
dust. "What is this? Can a mother forget her child?
Does Nature destroy her own productions?" Ah, look
again. In that fresh-blooming flower, dyed with tints
of infinite softness, behold the withered leaf. Nature
was as really working to the production of that flower
when she decomposed the elements of the leaf, as
when she unfolded the germ, and elaborated the juices,
and blended the tints of the flower itself. It was but a
glorified resurrection. And your spiritual growth is
going on as truly and steadily, if not as visibly and
delightfully, when you cast aside the slough of some
old prejudice, or painfully tear yourself from a cherished
delusion as when the dawning of a new truth
flashes light and joy upon your soul.
For what Coleridge has said of nations, is equally
true of individuals. "The progress of the species
neither is nor can be, like that of a Roman road, in a
right line. It may be more justly compared to that of
a river, which, both in its smaller reaches and larger
turnings, is frequently forced back towards its fountains,
by objects which cannot otherwise be eluded or
overcome; yet with an accompanying impulse that
will ensure its advancement hereafter, it is either gaining
strength every hour or conquering in secret some
difficulty, by a labor that contributes as effectually to
further its course, as when it moves forward in an
I might go on to illustrate the application of this
truth to self-knowledge, but it is one easily made, by
each for himself. Its bearing upon our moral growth
must not be so lightly passed over.
You have learned that you have a spirit which may
be, must be trained for immortality and heaven. You
have found too that there are difficulties in the way of
this training. There is a constant under-current of selfishness
ready to insinuate itself into all you do; there
is contempt for your inferiors in birth or cultivation,
ever offering to start up, and there is a spirit of resentment
against those who have injured you ready to take
fire on the least provocation. What is to be done with
these? You do not forget that to Him, whose "still,
small voice" can speak with authority to the spirits He
has made, must be your first appeal; but neither do
you forget that his help is vouchsafed to those only
who help themselves. And how will you help yourself?
Will you in the plenitude of your might, and the resoluteness
of kindled energy, will the extinction of those
unruly passions? Try it; exert the volition; will to
stop the flowing tide of revenge in your breast, and to
cause love and forgiveness to spring up in its place.
Well, have you done it? But what means that glowing
cheek—that flashing eye—that compressed brow? Is
such the expression of love? Nay brother, you have
mistaken the way. Not the straight path of direct
volition will ever lead you to your object.
But come forth with me into the field. Here are
"sweet, strange flowers," to glad thy heart with their
innocent beauty, and delight thee with their fragrance;
here is the broad and blessed "sky bending over" thee,
and the quiet lake at thy feet.
"The air is spread with beauty; and the sky
Is musical with sounds that rise and die,
Till scarce the ear can catch them; then they swell,
Then send from far a low, sweet, sad farewell."
And who art thou that bringest discord and rough,
angry passions into a scene like this? Ah, thou bringest
not discord, it has stolen from thy heart; thou art
at peace. For it is not a poetic fiction when we are
told that a wayward spirit, is subdued by nature's
loveliness and lovingness.
"Till he can no more endure
To be a jarring and a dissonant thing,
Amidst this general dance and minstrelsy;
But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,
His angry spirit healed and harmonized,
By the benignant touch of love and beauty."
We asked, perchance, that our hearts might be lifted
above the earth, and taught to repose with a surer love,
and a more child-like trustfulness on the Father of
Spirits. And did we know that our prayer was answered
when the light of our eyes was torn from us;
when our souls were rent with bitter agony, and lay
crushed and bowed beneath the stroke of His hand?
Yes, it was answered; we know it now, though we
knew it not then. The weary bird never reposes so
sweetly in its nest, as when it hath been battered by
the tempest and chased by the vulture; never doth the
little child rest so lovingly and rejoicingly on its mother's
breast, as when it hath there found a shelter from
the injuries and taunts of its rude play-fellows; and
the christian never knows the full sweetness of the
words, "My Father in Heaven," till he can also add,
"there is none that I desire beside Thee."