John Lovejoy ElliottFrom John Lovejoy Elliott, SPIRITUAL DISCOVERIES, The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Ethical Movement 1876-1926
My ultimate faith in the Ethical Movement and my hope for the future of religion in this world are founded on my associations with living men and women. Profound as the respect and reverence of any man must be for the religions of the past, I cannot stand in awe before them. But I am filled with the sense of wonder and awe in the presence of the spiritual nature as it manifests itself in the daily lives of men and women.
This sense was present for weeks and months in the chamber of a man who was dying. He had been an active and successful physician. When the diagnosis of his malady pronounced the sentence of death upon him, there was no sign of fear and no word of repining escaped him. He used the few months of life that remained to epitomize the best of his own experience and much of the best experience that is possible for any human being. He reread his favorite books and looked into the future through the pages of the most recent science. He talked with his old friends about the years that had gone and made plans for the future, mapping out as far as he might the lives and work of his children. He filled the room in which he was dying full of peace and the sense of love and kindness. He said, "You know, it is much easier to die than to wait at the bedside," and his only solicitude was for his wife. A steady light such as never was on land or sea shone in that chamber, and it did not pass with death. Even when speech and thought are ended and the last human message, that of the hand, is made, through memory, through influence and communion with those who are not living, we can experience a sense of spiritual reality.
Youth, too, has its great meaning. I have never sensed a deeper hope for better things on this earth than when I have seen some fine youth squaring his shoulders to accept his share of the burden of the world, neither striving for martyrdom nor for ease, hut simply eager that the good of the world should be advanced and its work well done.
Nor are these experiences by any means confined to the educated and cultured and advantaged. There is no proof of the native quality in men greater than that which is to be found in the house and word and ways of the poor. When I have seen a woman, a widow, or a mother, with nothing in the world to help her but her two arms, stand up and do battle in the world for her children and her home and go through years and a lifetime of drudgery, it has seemed to me that complete dedication to an unselfish end could go no further. Indeed, I have seen it so often that the bedraggled clothes and calloused hands have come to be a kind of symbol of certain fine things. Of course, it is not always present among working people, but many a time I have seen a workingman make his labor square with justice and fair dealing, and St. Christopher has seemed to me the patron saint and symbol of working people.
I have seen the burdens of adversity, and sometimes the even heavier burdens of financial prosperity borne by men who despite them had achieved great spiritual worth.
Strangest and most wonderful of all, however, have been those times when I have known that a man had had his faith betrayed, had been hurt by those he trusted most, had been hurt more deeply through a wound to his honor than any suffering that could come to his body, betrayed where he had most completely given his faith, and have seen the divine power of forgiveness take possession of him, seen him show a quality so wonderful that in its presence one could believe in that which is divine manifesting itself here and now in a living man.
Those who belong to the orthodox faiths claim that the authority of their faith rests on revelation, and that revelation is given in the pages of books and accounts of miracles and wonders whose nature is supernatural. But those of who have long discarded the belief in the supernatural still are in the presence of revelations which are the foundation of faith. We, too, have our revealed religion. We have looked upon the faces of men and women that can be to us the symbols of that which is holy. We have heard words of sacred wisdom and truth spoken in the human voice. Out of the universe there have come to us these experiences which, when accepted, give to us revelations, not of supernatural religion, but of a natural and inevitable faith in the spiritual powers that animate and dwell at the center of man's being.
This document is part of a larger document, Understanding Ethical Religion, edited by Howard B. Radest.
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