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The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-day   By: (1875-1941)

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Copyright, 1922.


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This book owes its origin to the fact that in the autumn of 1921 the authorities of Manchester College, Oxford invited me to deliver the inaugural course of a lectureship in religion newly established under the will of the late Professor Upton. No conditions being attached to this appointment, it seemed a suitable opportunity to discuss, so far as possible in the language of the moment, some of the implicits which I believe to underlie human effort and achievement in the domain of the spiritual life. The material gathered for this purpose has now been added to, revised, and to some extent re written, in order to make it appropriate to the purposes of the reader rather than the hearer. As the object of the book is strictly practical, a special attempt has been made to bring the classic experiences of the spiritual life into line with the conclusions of modern psychology, and in particular, to suggest some of the directions in which recent psychological research may cast light on the standard problems of the religious consciousness. This subject is still in its infancy; but it is destined, I am sure, in the near future to exercise a transforming influence on the study of spiritual experience, and may even prove to be the starting point of a new apologetic. Those who are inclined either to fear or to resent the application to this experience of those laws which as we are now gradually discovering govern the rest of our psychic life, or who are offended by the resulting demonstrations of continuity between our most homely and most lofty reactions to the universe, might take to themselves the plain words of Thomas à Kempis: "Thou art a man and not God, thou art flesh and no angel."

Since my subject is not the splendor of historic sanctity but the normal life of the Spirit, as it may be and is lived in the here and now, I have done my best to describe the character and meaning of this life in the ordinary terms of present day thought, and with little or no use of the technical language of mysticism. For the same reason, no attention has been given to those abnormal experiences and states of consciousness, which, too often regarded as specially "mystical," are now recognized by all competent students as representing the unfortunate accidents rather than the abiding substance of spirituality. Readers of these pages will find nothing about trances, Ecstasies and other rare psychic phenomena; which sometimes indicate holiness, and sometimes only disease. For information on these matters they must go to larger and more technical works. My aim here is the more general one, of indicating first the characteristic experiences discoverable within all great religions which justify or are fundamental to the spiritual life, and the way in which these experiences may be accommodated to the world view of the modern man: and next, the nature of that spiritual life as it appears in human history. The succeeding sections of the book treat in some detail the light cast on spiritual problems by mental analysis a process which need not necessarily be conducted from the standpoint of a degraded materialism and by recent work on the psychology of autistic thought and of suggestion. These investigations have a practical interest for every man who desires to be the "captain of his soul." The relation in which institutional religion does or should stand to the spiritual life is also in part a matter for psychology; which is here called upon to deal with the religious aspect of the social instincts, and the problems surrounding symbols and cults. These chapters lead up to a discussion of the personal aspect of the spiritual life, its curve of growth, characters and activities; and a further section suggests some ways in which educationists might promote the up springing of this life in the young... Continue reading book >>

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