OUR daily life creates our symbol of God. No two ever cover quite the same conception.
It is so with that symbolism which we know as language. The simple daily needs of mankind, seem, the world over, to be one. We look, therefore, for words that correspond in every land.
Yet we know how the tongue of each people expresses some one group of ideas with especial clearness, and ignores others altogether. Never do we find an identical strength and weakness repeated: and always if we go deep enough, we can discover in the circumstances and habits of a country, a cause for its specific difference of thought or of expression.
In the North we speak of a certain hour as "twilight," implying a space of time between the day and night. In India, the sane moments receive the name of "time of union," since there is no period of half-light,--the hours of sun and darkness seeming to touch each other in a point.
The illustration can be carried further. In the word gloaming lies for us a wealth of associations,--the throbbing of the falling dusk, the tenderness of home-coming, the last sleepy laughter of children. The same emotional note is struck in Indian languages by the expression at the hour of cowdust.
How graphic is the difference! Yonder, beyond the grass, the cow-girl leads her cattle home to the village for the night. Their feet as they go strike the dust from the sun-baked path into a cloud behind them. The herd-girl herself looms large across the pasture--all things grow quickly dim, as if the air were filled with rising dust.
That word cowdust, indeed, strikes a whole vein of expression peculiar to this Eastern land. Everything about the cow has been observed and loved and named. As much water as will lie in the hole once made by its hoof is a well known measure amongst the Aryan folk!
It is unnecessary to argue further
that while the facts of nature determine the main developments of speech, yet every language and group of languages differs from every other as the characters of individuals and of nations.
Something of the same sort is true of religious symbols. Short of perfect realization, we must see the Eternal Light through a mask imposed by our own thought. To no two of us, probably, is the mask quite in the same place, and some reach, by their own growth, diverging points so distant from the common centre that they mark the extreme limits hitherto achieved of those great areas known as the Christian, or the Buddhist, or the this-that-or-the-other consciousness.
To do this, or even to carry a whole race to a new rallying-place round a standard planted on the old frontier is the peculiar mission of religious genius.
So Jesus swept down in His might on the old Jewish entrenchments of justice--righteousness
and carried the banner off bodily to that outpost of love and mercy which struggling souls had reached, indeed, before Him, but which none had yet been strong enough to make the very heart and focus of vitality.
And so every one of us, simply by thinking his own thought, and living his own life to the full, may be answering his brother's cry for God in ways beyond the dreaming of the world. Are Catholic possibilities not richer for the life of Manning, or Protestant for Frances Ridley Havergal?
These things being true, the imagery of all men has its significance for us. The mask is created by our own thought directly, and indirectly through the reaction of custom upon thought. Like all veils, it brings at once vision and
the limiting of vision. Only by realising the full sense of every symbol can we know the whole thought of Humanity about God.
But down with all masks!
The Uncreated Flame itself we
long for, without symbol or veil or barrier. If we cannot see God and live,--let us then die--what is there to fear? Consume us in primal fire, dissolve us into living ocean, but interpose nothing, no, nor the shadow of anything, between the soul and the divine draught for which it thirsts!
True. Yet for each of us there is a chosen way. We ourselves may still be seeking it, where and when still hidden from our eyes. But deep in our hearts is rooted the assurance that the moment will yet come, the secret signal be exchanged, the mystic name will fall upon our ears, and somewhere, somewhen, somehow, our feet shall pass within the gates of Peace, we shall enter on the road that ends only with the Beatific Vision.
Till then, well says the old Hindu poet of the folk-song to himself:--
Seek thou to live with all
For who knows where or in what guise,
The Lord Himself may come to thee?"
Our daily life creates our symbol of God.
To the Arab of the desert, with his patriarchal customs, the father of the family,--just and calm in his judgments, protector of his kindred, loving to those who played about his knees as babes,--may well stand as the type of all in which men feel security.
Naturally, then, it was the Semitic mind that flashed across the dim communing of the soul with the Eternal, the rapturous illumination of the great word "Father."
God our father,--bound even to the most erring of His children by a kinship that misdoing cannot break (for if the human tie be indissoluble, shall the divine be less so?); father,--by a tie so intimate that to this day the stalwart Afghan, prostrating in the mosque, says "Thee" and "Thou" to the God of Hosts, as might an infant on its father's knee!
In the Aryan home, woman stands supreme. As wife in the West,--lady and queen of her husband--as mother in the East,--a goddess
throned in her son's worship,--she is the bringer of sanctity and peace.
Profound depths stir within us, in presence of the intensely Christian conception of God--a child in His mother's arms. This ideal of the heart of a woman--pierced by its seven sorrows, on fire with love, mother beside the cradle, worshipper beneath the cross, and glorified in great humility,--has been one of the richest gifts of the Catholic Church to humanity.
Peerless in its own way is the womanhood of Rossetti's sonnet:--
God's Virgin. Gone is a great while, and she
Dwelt young in Nazareth of Galilee . .
Unto God's will she brought devout respect,--
Profound simplicity of intellect,
And supreme patience . . . . . .
Thus held she through her girlhood,
As it were an angel-watered lily,
That near God grows, and is quiet."
Jesus Himself--to those who kneel before no Madonna in the Vatican--sounds this note of the
eternal feminine. "Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Is it not a woman's cry?
Nay, He is conscious of this element in His own nature. Once at least He speaks of it. In that sublime moment when He, the young Leader of the armies of the future, stands on the sunlit mountains, and looking down upon the city of His race sees the dark shadow of destiny wrapping it about, in that moment when the Patriot forgets, in a sob of human anguish, that He is Master and Redeemer, in that moment He becomes all motherhood. "O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee,--how often would I have gathered thy children together, like as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
The soul that worships becomes always a little child: the soul that becomes a child finds God oftenest as mother. In a meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, some pen has written the exquisite assurance: "My child, you need not know much in order to please Me. Only love Me dearly. Speak to me, as you would talk to your mother, if she had taken you in her arms."
But it is in India that this thought of the mother has been realised in its completeness. In that country where the image of Kali is one of the most popular symbols of deity, it is quite customary to speak of God, as "She," and the direct address then offered is simply "Mother."
But under what strange guise! In the West, art and poetry have been exhausted to associate all that is tender and precious with this thought of woman-worship. The mother plays with the little One, or caresses or nurses Him. Sometimes she even makes her arm a throne, whereon He sits to bless the world.
In the East, the accepted symbol is of a woman nude, with flowing hair, so dark a blue that she seems in colour to be black, four-handed---two hands in the act of blessing, and two holding a knife and bleeding head respectively,--garlanded with skulls, and dancing, with protruding tongue, on the prostrate figure of a man all white with ashes.
A terrible, an extraordinary figure! Those who call it horrible may well be forgiven. They pass only through the outer court of the temple. They are not arrived where the Mother's voice can reach them. This, in its own way is well.
Vet, this image, so fearful to the Western mind, is perhaps dearer than any other to the heart of India. It is not, indeed, the only form in which the Divine Energy presents Herself to Her worshippers. To the Sikh, She is absorbed, embodied in his sword; all women, especially as children, are Her incarnations; glorious Sita carries the great reality to many.
But Kali comes closer to us than these. Others we admire; others we love; to Her we belong. Whether we know it or not, we are Her children, playing round Her knees. Life is but a game of hide-and-seek with Her, and if, in its course, we chance to touch Her feet, who can measure the shock of the divine energy that enters into us? Who can utter the rapture of our cry of "Mother?"
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.