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CHAPTER TWO - The First Initiation . . . The Birth at Bethlehem - Part 3

The extent of this mission slowly dawned upon His young mind and He began, as all truly initiate sons of God must perforce do, to function as God's messenger as soon as the Vision was recognised, and in the place where He was. Having thus indicated His grasp of the future work, we read that "He went down with them (His parents), and came to Nazareth (the place of renewed consecration), and was subject unto them.... And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." [xcii] 64


Frequently in the Gospel story, we find the word "down" occurring. Christ went with His mother "down into Egypt"; He went "down to Nazareth"; and again and again He comes down from the mountain-top or from the place of solitude to do His duty among men. After the hidden experience in Egypt (for no account of this is given to us in the Bible), and after the revelation in the Temple and the acceptance of the task to be accomplished, Christ returns to the place of duty. In this case, and after the Birth initiation, for a period of thirty years, we are told, He functioned as a man in the daily life of the carpenter's shop and in the home with His parents. This home life constituted the test to which He was subjected, and its importance cannot be overrated. Does it sound blasphemous to say that had He failed in this immediate duty, the rest of His work would have been abortive? If He had not succeeded in demonstrating divinity in the home circle and in the little town where His lot was cast, is it not possible that He would never have functioned as the world Saviour? He came to reveal to us our humanity as it could be, and will be, when we have finished with the long journey to Bethlehem. This constituted the uniqueness of His mission.

Christ lived quietly in His home with His parents, undergoing that most difficult experience of home life, with its monotony, with its unvarying usualness, with its needed subordination to the group will and need, with its lessons of sacrifice, of understanding and of service. This is ever the first lesson which every disciple must learn. Until he has learnt it, he can make no further progress. Until divinity has been expressed in the home, and among those who know us well and are our familiar friends, it cannot be expected to express itself elsewhere. We must live as sons of God in the setting—uninteresting, drab and sometimes sordid—in which destiny places us; there is nowhere else at this stage that is possible. The place where we are is the place from which our journey begins, and not the place from which we escape. If we cannot make good as disciples where we are, [78] and in the place where we discover ourselves, no other opportunity will be offered us until we do. Here lies our test, and here lies our field of service. Many true and earnest aspirants feel that they could indeed make an impression on their surroundings and manifest divinely, if they had a different kind of home, a different environment or setting. Had they married differently, or had they more money or more leisure, could they meet with more sympathy from their friends, or had they better physical health, there is no saying what they might not accomplish. A test is something which tries our strength to see of what sort it is; it calls forth the utmost that is in us, and reveals to us where we are weak and where we fail. The need today is for dependable disciples and for those who have been so tested that they will not break or crack when difficulties come and dark places in life are encountered. We have, if we could but realise it, exactly those circumstances and that environment in which this lesson of obedience to the highest which is in us can be learnt. We have exactly the type of body and physical conditions through which the divinity in us can be expressed. We have those contacts in the world and the kind of work which are required in order to enable us to take the next step forward upon the path of discipleship, the next step to God. Until aspirants grasp this essential fact and happily settle down to a life of service and of giving lovingly in their own homes, they can make no progress. Until the path of life is trodden, happily, silently and with no self-pity in the home circle, no other lesson or opportunity will be given. Many very well-meaning aspirants need also to understand that they themselves are responsible for many of the difficulties which they encounter. Puzzled as to why they seem to evoke so much antagonism from those around them, they complain of meeting with no sympathetic response as they attempt to lead the spiritual life, to study, read and think. The reason can usually be found in the fact of their spiritual selfishness. They talk too much about their aspirations, and about themselves. Because they fail in their first responsibility, they find no [79] understanding reaction to their demand for time to meditate. It must be recognised that they are meditating. The house must be quiet; they must not be disturbed; no one must break in on them. None of these difficulties would arise if aspirants would remember two things: First, that meditation is a process carried on secretly, silently and regularly in the secret temple of a man's own mind. Secondly, that much can be done if people would not talk so much about what they are doing. We need to walk silently with God, to keep ourselves, as personalities, in the background; to organise our lives in such a way that we can live as souls, giving due time to the culture of our souls, yet at the same time preserving a sense of proportion, retaining the affection of those around us, and fulfilling perfectly our responsibilities and obligations. Self-pity and too much talk are the rocks on which many an aspirant temporarily founders.

Through love and loving practice we prove ourselves initiate in the mysteries. Born into the world of love at Bethlehem, the keynote of our lives from then on must be obedience to the highest that is in us, love to all beings, and complete confidence in the power of the indwelling Christ to demonstrate (through the outer form of our personalities) the life of love. The life of Christ is a life to be lived today, eventually by all. It is a life of joy and happiness, of test and of problems, but its essence is love and its method is love. It leaves us an example that we should follow His steps, and carry on the work which He initiated.

As we have travelled with Christ from Bethlehem towards the time when the second initiation draws near, what is the lesson we have learnt? How can we sum up the significance of that episode in terms of practical individual application? Has this episode any personal significance? What are the requirements and the possibilities which confront us? If a study of these five developments in the life of Christ are of no profit to us, and if they concern an unfoldment which can have no possible human interpretation, then all that has been written and taught, down the centuries, proves futile and [80] unavailing. The ordinary theological applications no longer make an appeal to the developed intelligence of man. Christ Himself is ever powerful to attract human interest, and to draw to Himself those who have the vision to see truth as it is and to hear the Gospel message in terms which each new age demands. It is a waste of time to go on elaborating this ancient story of the living Christ if it contains for us no specific message, if all that is required of us is the attitude of the onlooker and of the man who simply says: "This is so." This believing yet negative attitude has been held too long. Looking on at Christ from too great a distance, we have been so preoccupied with a realisation of His achievement that our own individual part to be played eventually and inevitably has been forgotten. We have allowed Him to do all the work. We have tried to copy Him, and He does not want to be copied. He seeks to have us prove to Him, to ourselves, and to the world, that the divinity which is in Him is in us also. We need to discover that we can be as He is, because we have seen Him. He has had boundless faith in us and in the fact that "we are all the children of God," because "one is our Father," and His call goes out for us to tread the Path of holiness, and to achieve that perfection to which His life challenges us and for which He Himself tells us to work.

One wonders sometimes how right it has been for men to have accepted the ideas of St. Paul as given through translation down the centuries. The thought of sin is very little dwelt upon by Christ. It was emphasised by St. Paul, and the slant which he gave to Christianity is perhaps largely responsible for the dominant inferiority complex of the average Christian—an inferiority which Christ in no way taught. He calls us to holiness of life and admonishes us to follow in His steps, and not to follow in the steps, or to accept the interpretation of His words, which any disciple of His may advocate, no matter how highly esteemed or valuable.

What is this holiness to which He calls us, when we take the first step toward the new birth? What is a holy man?

Wholeness, unity, at-one-ment, completeness—this is the [81] hall mark of a perfect man. Having once seen and with open eyes beheld the vision of divinity, what can we do? In this question our problem is voiced. What is the next step, the immediate duty of the man who knows that, in himself, the new birth has not yet taken place, but who feels in himself a readiness to go up to Bethlehem, from Galilee, via Nazareth?

It entails, in the first place, effort. It means initiative, the expenditure of energy, the overcoming of inertia, and the will to exert oneself so that the initial journey can be taken. It means listening for and obeying the insistent demand of the soul for a nearer approach to God and a fuller expression of divinity; and yet "every individual is at some point torn between the splendid urge to go on towards understanding, and the craving to go back to safety." [xciii]65

For there is difficulty and danger in the outlined way to the centre. Much is to be overcome and faced. The lower nature (the Mary aspect) draws back from the issue, and prefers inertia and stability to the needed activity and to consequent relative and temporary uncertainty.

This new birth is no mystical dream; neither is it a lovely vision of something that is possible but not probable; it is not simply a symbolic expression of some ultimate goal—lying ahead of us in some dim future, or in some other form of existence and some eventual heaven which we can attain if we fall back upon unthinking faith and blind acceptance of all that theology can tell us. Relatively easy to believe, this is the line of least resistance to the majority. It is difficult to fight one's way to that stage of experience where the divine programme for man becomes clear, and the possibilities which Christ dramatised for us become something permitting us no rest until we have transmuted it into personal experience, through the experiment of initiation. The new birth is as much a natural event and as much a result of the evolutionary process as is the birth of a child into the world of physical life. Eternally, down the ages, men have made and will continue to make the great transition, proving the fact [82] of this experience. It is something which all must face at some time or other.

Two recognitions must emerge into the thought-world of the aspirant of today. First, the presence of the soul, a living entity which can and must be known through the process of bringing it to the birth upon the plane of daily living; and, secondly, the determination to achieve the re-orientation of the entire nature so that a closer identification with that soul may become possible, until a complete unity has been achieved. We begin to see what must be done, we begin to assume the right attitude which will make it possible. The halves of our essential duality—soul and body, Christ and Mary, over-shadowed by the Holy Ghost, the material and the spiritual—face each other and approach nearer and nearer until complete union is achieved and the Christ is born through the instrumentality of the Mother. But the acceptance of this divine idea and the orientation of the life in order to make the idea a fact are the first and immediate steps.

This, Christ taught, and for this He prayed the Father.

"Neither pray I for these alone (His disciples), but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they all may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.... I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." [xciv] 66

This is the doctrine of the At-one-ment; God, immanent in the universe—the cosmic Christ. God, immanent in humanity, revealed through the historical Christ. God, immanent in the individual, the indwelling Christ, the soul.

How can this truth of the soul and the new birth be experienced, so simply and so practically that its meaning can appear, thus enabling us to do that which is needed? Perhaps from the following statements:

1. Hidden in every human being is the "Word incarnate," [83] the Son of God made flesh. This is "Christ in us, the hope of Glory," but as yet only a hope for the mass of men. Christ is not yet made manifest. He is hidden and veiled by the form. Mary is seen, not the Christ.

2. As the wheel of life (the Galilee experience) carries us from one lesson to another, we approach nearer and nearer to the indwelling reality and the hidden deity. But the Christ Child is still hidden in the womb of the form.

3. In due time, the personality—physical, emotional and mental—is fused into one living whole. The Virgin Mary is ready to give birth to her Son.

4. The long journey draws to a close, and the hidden Christ Child is born at the first initiation.

This truth Dr. Inge touches upon in these words:

"Macarius, following Methodius, teaches that the very idea of the Incarnation includes the union of the Logos with pious souls, in whom He is well-pleased. In each of them a Christ is born. Thus besides the ideas of Ransom and Sacrifice of Christ for us, these theologians placed the ideas of sanctification and inner transformation of Christ in us, and they considered the latter as real and as integral a part of our redemption as the former. But the doctrine of Divine Immanence in the human heart never became quite the central truth of theology till the time of the medieval mystics. It is Eckhart who says: `The Father speaks the Word into the soul, and when the Son is born, every soul becomes Mary.'" [xcv] 67

We are summoned to the new birth. Our personalities are now alive with potentiality. The hour is upon us.

The human soul must hear the challenge of the Christ soul, and realise that "Mary is blessed, not because she bore Christ bodily, but because she bore Him spiritually, and in this everyone can become like her." (Eckhart.)