(To be read at the Service of Universal Worship)
Religious Gatheka Number 31
God and the God-Ideal may be explained as the sun and the light. And as there come times when the sun becomes covered by clouds so there come times when the God-Ideal becomes covered by materialism. But if the cloud for a moment covers the sun, that does not mean that the sun is lost to you; and so if in the reign of materialism the God-Ideal seems to have disappeared yet God is there all the same. The condition of the world is just like the ever-rising and falling waves. Sometimes it seems to rise and sometimes to fall, but with every rising and falling wave the sea is the same; and so with all its changes life is the same.
We find that, during the past few years all over the world, there has come a phase when the God-Ideal seems entirely forgotten. It does not mean that churches have disappeared, it does not mean that God does not exist, but that a light that once was there has been covered, has ceased to light us. But at the same time, as there is night after the day so these changes of condition come in life, light and darkness.
In the age of science on the one side and materialism on the other, and commercialism on the top man seems to have blinded himself in acquiring wealth and power, and sees nothing else. It is not that there is not the search for light, (it is the nature of every soul to search for light) – but the great question is, how can the light come when nation is against nation, race against race, the followers of one religion against the followers of another: how can there be Peace and how can there come Light? The sign of the day is that all things are clear, and the sign of the night is that nothing can be found or seen, there are clouds.
The most dreadful nightmare the world has ever seen has just passed away; and although that wave, that nightmare, seems to gone its effect is still here, and the effect that is left is worse than the cause, for prejudice is worse than bloodshed. And when man thirsts for the blood of his fellow man how can we say that there is light? If a man can eat joyfully at his table when his neighbor is dying of hunger, where is the light? That is the condition of humanity today. And what is the cause? It is because the Light, the God-Ideal, is not there, I was once amused by a very simple answer from a maid, when somebody came to the door and knocked, and the maid was not free to go at once but took her time; and when at last she came the man was very cross and said: 'Why did you not open the door quickly?' And then I asked the maid: What do you think was the reason for the person's being cross?' and she said with her innocent expression, 'Because there is no God with him.'
Friends, the word of Christ is that God is Love and if God is Love then we, every one of us, can prove God in us by expressing God in our life. Yes, according to the external customs of the different religions, one goes to church, one to the mosque, one to the synagogue, one to the temple of Buddha; but the inner church is neither in the mosque, nor in the synagogue, but in the heart of man, where God abides and which is the habitation of Christ. With this divine element lighted in man's heart he will go to the house of prayer and then his prayer will be heard.
There is a well-known story in India that girl was crossing a place where a Muslim was performing his prayers; and the law is that one should not cross where a person is praying. When the girl returned, the man said to her: 'How insolent! Do you know what sin you have done?' 'What did I do?' said the girl. And the man said that no one was allowed to cross.' 'I did not mean any harm,' said the girl,' but tell me, what do you mean by praying?' 'For me, prayer is thinking of God', said the man. 'Oh! she said, but I was going to see my young man, and I was thinking of him and I did not see you; and if you were thinking of God, how did you see me?'
The idea, therefore, friends, is that prayer becomes living if it is offered from a living heart; from a dead heart, prayer has no meaning, and is dead. There is a story of an Arab, that he was running to the mosque where the prayer of God was being offered, but before he could arrive the prayers were finished. On his way he met a man coming from the mosque and asked him: 'Are the prayers finished?' The man replied that they were finished, and the other signed deeply and said 'Alas!' Then the man asked: 'Will you give me the virtue of your sigh in exchange for the virtue of my prayers?' And the other agreed. Next day the simple man saw the Prophet in a dream, who told him that he had made a bad bargain, for that one sigh, was worth all the prayers of a lifetime, for it was from the heart.
There are different human beings in different stages of evolution, and it is natural that every human being according to his particular stage of evolution, imagines God before him when he prays. And is it a question for anyone else to judge the one who prays, and to say, 'God is not this or that?' Persons who force their beliefs on others often put them against that belief even if that were the true belief. It requires a great deal of tact, thought, and consideration to explain the belief, or to correct the belief, of another.
In the first place, it is insolent on the part of man to want to explain God, although man today, would like not only to explain, but even to examine whether the spirit of God exists! The other day I was so much amused to hear that there are people who not only want to take photographs of the spirits, but even to weigh the soul! It was a good thing in ancient times when the State had respect for the God-Ideal and religion, and taught that respect to humanity. Today man wishes to use what he calls 'freedom' in religion, even in the foundation of all religions, the God-Ideal! But then it must be remembered that it is not the path of freedom that leads to the goal of freedom, but the path of the God-Ideal that leads to the goal of Truth.