THERE has been a great deal of talk since the war began of "the Church's opportunity." It is one of those vague phrases which are the delight of the man who has no responsibility in the matter, and the despair of those who have. It suggests that "somebody ought to do something," and in this case the "somebody" darkly hinted at is obviously the unfortunate chaplain. I have seen letters from chaplains complaining bitterly of the phrase. What did it mean? Did it mean that there was an opportunity of providing soldiers with free notepaper and cheap suppers? If so, they agreed. There was an opportunity, and the Church had risen to the occasion. But if it meant that there was an opportunity of bringing the erring back to the fold, they wished someone would come and show them how it ought to be done. They had tried their hardest, and it seemed to them that men were as inaccessible as ever. They admitted that they had hoped that the war would make men more serious, and that when confronted daily by the mysteries of death and pain they would naturally turn to the Church of their baptism for comfort and ghostly strength. But this had not happened to any marked extent. The men still appeared to be the same careless, indifferent heathen that they had always been.
To sit at a typewriter and tell a man how to do his job is a despicable proceeding, and yet I suppose that it is more or less what I am attempting in writing this article. To avoid being offensive, it seems best to begin by explaining how I came to think that I ought to be able to shed some light on the subject.
It all began with a Quest. It is quite legitimate to call it a quest. It was the Romance of the Unknown that enticed us, just as it enticed necromancers and alchemists and explorers in former days. Only our Unknown was quite close to our hand. It looked up at us from. the faces that we passed in the street. As we stood on the Embankment it frowned at us from across the river, from that black mass of factories and tenements and narrow, dismal streets that crowns the Thames' southern bank. The very air that we breathed was pungent with it. It was simply humanity that was our Unknown---the part of humanity which earns its daily bread hardly, which knows what it is to be cold and hungry and ill, and to have to go on working in spite of it. Just as the Buddha left the sheltered life of his father's palace to become a vagabond in the quest of truth, so we, who had been guarded from hardship, and who were confused by the endless argument "about it and about," thought that we might gain a truer perspective by mingling with men whose minds had not been confused by artificial complications, and whose philosophy must have grown naturally from their naked struggle with the elemental realities. We thought that we could learn from them what were the truths which really mattered, what really was the relative value of the material, the mental, and the spiritual.
To cut a long story short, we went and lived in a mean street, opened clubs where we could meet the working man or boy, enticed him to our rooms and regaled him with buns and Egyptian cigarettes, and did our level best to understand his point of view. The venture was not a complete success. We did get some value out of our experiences. We did sometimes see our vague ideals reappear as consummated heroism, while what had been termed pardonable weakness in a milder atmosphere was seen to be but an early stage of sheer bestiality. This was certainly stimulating. But all the time we had an uncomfortable feeling that we only knew a very small part of the lives and characters of the men whom we were studying. They came to our clubs and played games with us, until suddenly the more vital matter of sex took them elsewhere, and they were lost to us. They came to our rooms and talked football, but when we got on to philosophy they merely listened. I think that we mystified them a little, and ultimately bored them. We did not seem to get any real grip of them. We were always starting afresh with a new generation, and losing touch with the older one.
Then came the war, and for a moment it seemed as if the quest would have to be abandoned. The men enlisted and our clubs became empty. Several of the followers of the quest felt the imperious summons of a stronger call, and applied for their commissions. Suddenly to one or two of us came an inspiration. The war was not the end, but the beginning. We had failed because we had not gone deep enough. We had only touched the surface. To understand the workingman one must know him through and through ---live, work, drink, sleep with him. And the war gave us a unique opportunity of doing this. We knew that we could never become workingmen; but no power on earth could prevent us from enlisting if we were sound of wind and limb. And enlisting meant living on terms of absolute equality with the very men whom we wanted to understand. Filled anew with the glamour of our quest, we sought the nearest recruiting office.
In the barrack-room we certainly achieved intimacy; but the elemental realities were distinctly disappointing. We were disappointed to find that being cold and rather hungry did not conduce to sound philosophizing. It was merely uncomfortable. Cleaning greasy cooking-pots, scrubbing floors, and drilling produced no thrills. They simply bored us. Life was dull and prosaic, and, as we have said, uncomfortable. No one ever said anything interesting. We never got a chance to sit down and think things out. Praying was almost an impossibility. It is extraordinarily hard to pray in a crowd, especially when you are tired out at night, and have to be up and dressed in the morning before you are properly awake.
These were first impressions; but as time went on, and life became easier through habit, we were able to realize that we had actually been experiencing the very conditions which prevent the workingman from being a philosopher. We grasped the fundamental fact that he is inarticulate, and that he has no real chance of being anything else. We perceived that if you wanted to find out what he believed in you must not look to his words, but to his actions and the objects of his admiration. And, after all, it did not necessarily follow that because a man was inarticulate he therefore had no religion. St. James compares those who state their faith apart from their works with those who declare it by their works, and his comparison is by no means favorable to the former. Actions and objects of admiration, these were the things that we must watch if we would discover the true religion of the inarticulate.
I have said that the life of the barrack-room is dull and rather petty. In point of fact, it bears somewhat the same relation to ordinary working-class life as salt-water baths do to the sea. We used to read that Brill's Baths were "salt as the sea but safer." Well, barrack life is narrow and rather sordid, like the life of all workingmen, and it lacks the spice of risk. There is no risk of losing your job and starving. Your bread-and-margarine are safe whatever happens. As a result the more heroic qualities are not called into action. The virtues of the barrack-room are unselfishness in small things, and its vices are meanness and selfishness in small things. A few of the men were frankly bestial, obsessed by two ideas---beer and women. But for the most part they were good fellows. They were intensely loyal to their comrades, very ready to share whatever they had with a chum, extraordinarily generous and chivalrous if anyone was in trouble, and that quite apart from his deserts. At any rate, it was easy to see that they believed whole-heartedly in unselfishness and in charity to the unfortunate, even if they did not always live up to their beliefs. It was the same sort of quality, too, that they admired in other people. They liked an officer who was free with his money, took trouble to understand them if they were in difficulties, and considered their welfare. They were extremely quick to see through anyone who pretended to be better than he was. This they disliked more than anything else. The man they admired most was the man who, though obviously a gentleman, did not trade on it. That, surely, is the trait which in the Gospel is called humility. They certainly did believe in unselfishness, generosity, charity, and humility. But it was doubtful whether they ever connected these qualities with the profession and practice of Christianity.
It was when we had got out to Flanders, and were on the eve of our first visit to the trenches, that I heard the first definite attempt to discuss religion, and then it was only two or three who took part. The remainder just listened. It was bedtime, and we were all lying close together on the floor of a hut. We were to go into the trenches for the first time, the next day. I think that everyone was feeling a little awed. Unfortunately we had just been to an open-air service, where the chaplain had made desperate efforts to frighten us. The result was just what might have been expected. We were all rather indignant. We might be a little bit frightened inside; but we were not going to admit it. Above all, we were not going to turn religious at the last minute because we were afraid. So one man began to scoff at the Old Testament, David and Bathsheba, Jonah and the whale, and so forth. Another capped him by laughing at the feeding of the five thousand. A third said that in his opinion anyone who pretended to be a Christian in the Army must be a humbug. The sergeant-major was fatuously apologetic and shocked, and applied the closure by putting out the light and ordering silence.
It was not much, but enough to convince me that the soldier, and in this case the soldier means the workingman, does not in the least connect the things that he really believes in with Christianity. He thinks that Christianity consists in believing the Bible and setting up to be better than your neighbors. By believing the Bible he means believing that Jonah was swallowed by the whale. By setting up to be better than your neighbors he means not drinking, not swearing, and preferably not smoking, being close-fisted with your money., avoiding the companionship of doubtful characters, and refusing to acknowledge that such have any claim upon you.
This is surely nothing short of tragedy. Here were men who believed absolutely in the Christian virtues of unselfishness, generosity, charity, and humility, without ever connecting them in their minds with Christ; and at the same time what they did associate with Christianity was just on a par with the formalism and smug self-righteousness which Christ spent His whole life in trying to destroy.
The chaplains as a rule failed to realize this. They saw the inarticulateness, and assumed a lack of any religion. They remonstrated with their hearers for not saying their prayers, and not coming to Communion, and not being afraid to die without making their peace with God. They did not grasp that the men really had deep-seated beliefs in goodness, and that the only reason why they did not pray and go to Communion was that they never connected the goodness in which they believed with the God in Whom the chaplains said they ought to believe. If they had connected Christianity with unselfishness and the rest, they would have been prepared to look at Christ as their Master and their Saviour. As a matter of fact, I believe that in a vague way lots of men do regard Christ as on their side. They have a dim sort of idea that He is misrepresented by Christianity, and that when it comes to the test He will not judge them so hardly as the chaplains do. They have heard that He was the Friend of sinners, and severe on those who set up to be religious. But however that may be, I am certain that if the chaplain wants to be understood and to win their sympathy he must begin by showing them that Christianity is the explanation and the justification and the triumph of all that they do now really believe in. He must start by making their religion articulate in a way which they will recognize. He must make them see that his creeds and prayers and worship are the symbols of all that they admire most, and most want to be.
In doing this perhaps he will find a stronger faith his own. It is certainly arguable that we educated Christians are in our way almost as inarticulate as the uneducated whom we always want to instruct. If we apply this test of actions and objects of admiration to our own beliefs, we shall often find that our professed creeds have very little bearing on them. In the hour of danger and wounds and death many a man has realized with a shock that the articles of his creed about which he was most contentious mattered very, very little, and that he had somewhat overlooked the articles that proved to be vital. If the workingman's religion is often wholly inarticulate, the real religion of the educated man is often quite wrongly articulated.
I SOMETIMES wonder whether our Lord is altogether pleased at the sense in which we use that phrase of His---"lost sheep." Disciples who have "found salvation" so often say "lost" when they mean "damned," and "sheep" when they mean "goats." Ask the average Christian to differentiate between "damnation" and "perdition," and ten to one he will tell you that the words are synonymous; and yet if derivations count for anything "damnation" means a state of being condemned, and "perdition" means a state of being lost. Are these words synonymous? Personally I doubt it. For myself I am unable to believe that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ condemns anyone simply because he has lost his way. After all, so often it is not his fault if he has.
One can't help being sorry for people who have lost themselves. I am sure that the Good Shepherd is sorry for the lost sheep. Did He not go and seek them with much pain and labor? But if there are any damned souls I doubt if one could pity them. I fancy that they would prove to be so loathsome, so poisonous, so unclean, so utterly corrupt, that even the great Physician of souls diseased Himself could do nothing for them, and that one could only feel relief at seeing them burnt up in the unquenchable fire. And by the way, surely they are destroyed. The idea of imperishable beastliness writhing for ever in unquenchable fire were enough to disturb the serenity of an archangel. Surely it is more biblical (not to mention common sense) to suppose that fire is an instrument of purification and destruction rather than of torture. Gehenna in the neighborhood of Jerusalem was, if I mistake not, a place where garbage was destroyed by fire, and surely if there is a Gehenna for the New Jerusalem we may conclude that its function is similar. But all this is a digression. In this article we would speak of some who were lost, and afterward were found.
They were lost; but not necessarily damned. They were lost; but they were not poisonous. That was the trouble. They were so lovable. We could not help loving them, however little we felt that they deserved it. They gave us endless trouble. They would not fit into any respectable niche in our social edifice. They were incurably disreputable, always in scrapes, always impecunious, always improvident. When they were out of sight we hardened our hearts and said that we had done with them; but all the time we knew that when it came to the point we should forgive them. They were such good fellows, the rascals! If they did fly in the face of the conventions, well, we sometimes felt that the conventions deserved it. It is not good for anybody or anything to be always taken seriously, whether an archbishop or a convention. If they offended us one day, we forgave them the next for the way in which they shocked uncle Adolphus. They were extravagant and ran up debts. It was most reprehensible. Yet somehow even their creditors could never impute intention to defraud. And their very recklessness in spending what they had not got seemed in a way but the balance against our careful reluctance to spend what we had got. They were drunken and loose in morals) so we heard. Yet we could never believe that they deliberately harmed anyone. Even in their amours there was always a touch of romance, and never the taint of sheer bestiality. They had their code, and though God forbid that it should ever be ours, it did somehow seem to be a natural set-off to the somewhat sordidly prudent morality of the marriage market.
They were perplexing. We could not but condemn them. Indeed they condemned themselves with the utmost good humor. Yet we could never altogether feel that we should like them to be exactly as we were. Their humility disarmed our self-satisfied judgments. They had the elusive charm of youth, irresponsibility, and vagabondage. We could not fit them in, and somehow we felt that this inability of ours was a slur on society. We felt that there ought to be a place for them in the scheme of things. It made us angry when they cast their pearls before swine; yet somehow there didn't seem to be anywhere else for them to throw them. We had a feeling that they ought to have been able to lay their pearls at the feet of the great Pearl Merchant, and yet His Church seemed to have no use for them, and that we felt was a slur on the Church. As we read the Gospel story we thought that there must have been men very like them among the "lost sheep" whom the Lord Jesus came to seek. Some of those Publicans and sinners with whom the Lord feasted, to the great scandal of the worthy Pharisees, must have been very like these wayward vagabonds of ours. That woman taken in adultery, and that other harlot, they had their pearls and alabaster cruse of ointment very precious. They had not known what to do with them. Society in those days had found no legitimate use for their gifts. They were lost, sure enough. And then came the Lord, and they were found. The swine no longer got their pearls. They were bought by the great Pearl Merchant, and full value given. And be sure that those women had their male counterparts in the crowd of sinners who followed the Lord, and resolved to sin no more.
Once more the Lord has walked our streets. Once more He has called to the lost sheep to follow the Good Shepherd along the thorny path of suffering and death. As of old He has demanded of them their all. And as of old He has not called in vain. Whatever their faults these beloved lost sheep do not lack courage. When they give they give recklessly, not staying to count the cost. They never bargain, estimate the odds, calculate profit and loss. With them it is a plunge, a blind headlong plunge. They venture "neck or nothing; Heaven's success found, or earth's failure." When the call came to face hardship and risk life itself in the cause of freedom, we stolid respectable, folk paused . We waited to be convinced of the necessity. We calculated the loss and gain. We sounded our employers about the keeping open of our job. Not so they. They plunged headlong. It was their chance. For this, they. felt, they had been born. Their hearts were afire. They had a craving to give their lives for the great cause. They had a hunger for danger. And what a nuisance they were in that first weary year of training!
They plunged headlong down the stony path of glory; but in their haste they stumbled over every stone! And when they did that they put us all out of our stride, so crowded was the path. Were they promoted?. They promptly celebrated the fact in a fashion that secured their immediate reduction. Were they reduced to the ranks? Then they were in hot water from early morn to dewy eve, and such was their irrepressible charm that hot water lost its terrors. To be a defaulter in such merry company was a privilege rather than a disgrace. So in despair we promoted them again, hoping that by giving them a little responsibility we should enlist them on the side of good order and discipline. Vain hope! There are things that cannot be overlooked, even in a Kitchener battalion.
Then at last we "got out." We were confronted with dearth, danger, and death. And then they came to their own. We could no longer compete with them. We stolid respectable folk were not in our element. We knew it. We felt it. We were determined to go through with it. We succeeded; but it was not without much internal wrestling, much self-conscious effort. Yet they, who had formerly been our despair, were now our glory. Their spirits effervesced. Their wit sparkled. Hunger and thirst could not depress them. Rain could not damp them. Cold could not chill them. Every hardship became a joke. They did not endure hardship, they derided it. And somehow it seemed at the moment as if derision was all that hardship existed for. Never was such a triumph of spirit over matter. As for death, it was, in a way, the greatest joke of all. In a way, for if it was another fellow that was hit it was an occasion for tenderness and grief. But if one of them was hit., O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? Portentous, solemn Death, you looked a fool when you tackled one of them! Life? They did not value life! They had never been able to make much of a fist of it. But if they lived amiss they died gloriously, with a smile for the pain and the dread of it. What else had they been born for? It was their chance. With a gay heart they gave their greatest gift, and with a smile to think that after all they had anything to give which was of value. One by one Death challenged them. One by one they smiled in his grim visage, and refused to be dismayed. They had been lost, but they had found the path that led them home; and when at last they laid their lives at the feet of the Good Shepherd, what could they do but smile?
OF course one cannot mention his name. He always disliked publicity. It was a source of pride with him that his name had never appeared in the papers. Unless it appears in the "Roll of Honor," it probably never will. Let us call him "the Average Englishman." It is what he used to aim at being, and if such a being can be said to exist, surely he was it.
As regards philosophizing---well, he simply didn't. He had not read philosophy at a University, and he never would think things out. He disapproved of men in his position attempting anything of the sort. He considered it a waste of time and rather unwholesome. To talk about one's innermost convictions he regarded as indecent. The young curate from Oxford, who talks best about God after a bottle of champagne, shocked him badly. He said that it was blasphemous. His own point of view was a modest one. Where the learned differed so widely, he argued, it was hardly likely that his inadequate mental equipment would help him to a sound conclusion. The nearest approach to a philosophy that he possessed was wholly practical, empirical, even opportunist. It was not a philosophy at all, but a code of honor and morals, based partly on tradition and partly on his own shrewd observation of the law of cause and effect as illustrated in the lives of his neighbors. As a philosophy it remained unformulated. He refused even to discuss its philosophical and theological implications. In fact, his was "the religion of all sensible men," and "sensible men don't tell" what that is.
It suited him to be outwardly orthodox. His mother liked him to take her to church on Sunday. To see him doing so increased the confidence of his professional clientèle. Also, the vicar was a friend of his, and played a capital game of golf. So he was orthodox; but abstract truth was not his job. He left that to the parsons and professors.
That this was the standpoint which he adopted is not altogether surprising. It worked. It enabled him to meet quite adequately all the mild exigencies of his uneventful life and unexciting personality. For his life was dull and his personality far too habitually restrained to offer any sensations. If hidden fires had ever burned beneath his somewhat conventional exterior, they had received no encouragement, and had soon died out for want of air.
Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, he found himself lifted out of his office chair, and after a short interval deposited "somewhere in France." Here he found himself leading a ridiculously uncivilized and uncomfortable life, and standing in constant danger of being blown to pieces. Naturally the transition was a little bewildering. Outwardly he remained calm; but below the surface strange things were happening ---nothing less than a complete readjustment of his mental perspective. Somehow his code, hitherto so satisfactory, failed to suffice for the new situation in which he found himself. The vaguely good-natured selfishness which had earned for him the title of "good fellow" in the quiet days of peace did not quite fit in with the new demands made on his personality. Much against his will, he had to try to think things out.
It was an unmitigated nuisance. His equipment was so poor. He had read so little that was of any use to him. All that he could remember were some phrases from the Bible, some verses from Omar Khayyám, and a sentence or two from the Latin Syntax. And then his brain was so unaccustomed to this sort of effort. It made him quite tired; but it had to be done. A man couldn't sit in a trench hour after hour and day after day with shells whizzing through the air over his head, or bursting thunderously ten yards from him, without trying to get some grip of his mental attitude towards them. He could not see his comrades killed and maimed and mutilated without in some way defining his views on life and death and duty and fate. He could not shoot and bayonet his fellow men without trying to formulate some justification for such an unprecedented course of action. His mind was compelled to react to the new and extraordinary situations with which it was confronted. And, oddly enough, in the course of these successive reactions he passed, without knowing it, very close to the path trodden before him by some of the greatest teachers of the world.
To begin with, it came as something of a shock to discover that the Rubáiyát, hitherto his most fruitful source of quotations., was quite useless to him. It was futile to talk about the cup when one had nothing to put in it, and as for refusing to take life seriously---well, Omar lived before the days of high explosives. The Latin Syntax was a little better. It at any rate provided him with Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, but even that seemed to be framed more for the comfort of his sorrowing relatives in the event of his "stopping a bullet" than for himself. As for the Bible---well, there were some jolly things in that, but he was rather shy about the Bible. It didn't seem quite playing the game to go to it now when he had neglected it so long; besides, these higher critics---well, he hadn't gone into the matter, but he had a pretty shrewd idea that the Bible was a bit discredited. No, he would just go by facts and their effect on himself, and do his best out of his own head.
One afternoon he was in a support trench, and the Germans had got the direction pretty right, and were enfilading it at a long range with their heavy guns. The shells began by dropping at the far end of the trench, which they blew to pieces most successfully. They then began to creep up in his direction, the range lengthening about twenty-five yards after each half-dozen shells. Would they reach him? Would he be at the end or in the middle of this beastly interval of twenty-five yards? In short, would the shells drop on top of him or about ten yards short or ten yards over? It was an agonizing half-hour, and in the course of it he very nearly became a Mohammedan. He didn't call it that. But he tried to read a comic paper, and told himself that it was simply a question of fate. "I can't do anything about it, " he said to himself. "If the damned thing drops, it drops; I can't stop it by worrying." Fate, that was the solution. "Kismet!" he repeated to himself, thinking, in a moment of inspiration, of Oscar Asche. As a matter of fact, the enfilade was not perfect, and as the shells crept up the exact direction was lost, and they burst harmlessly about fifteen yards behind the trench instead of in it. The Average Englishman murmured. "Praise be to Allah!" and relit his pipe, which had gone out.
Then a day or two later his company was moved up to the firing trench. Somehow the "Kismet" formula did not seem so effective there. The Germans were only about twenty-five yards away, the barbed wire had been badly knocked about, and the beasts had an unpleasant habit of creeping up at night through the long grass and throwing bombs into the trench. It was no longer a question of sitting tight and waiting; one had to watch very carefully, and the element of retaliation came in, too. He found himself sitting up half the night with a pile of bombs on the sandbags in front of him, watching the grass with straining eyes. It was nervous work. He had never thrown a bomb. Of course it was quite simple. You just pulled a pin out, counted four, and let fly. But supposing you dropped the beastly thing! Though it was a cold night, he sweated at the thought. Self-confidence was what he wanted now---self-confidence and the will to conquer. Where that last phrase came from he was not sure. He luckily did not realize how near he was to becoming a disciple of the Hunnish Nietzsche! "The will to prevail," that was the phrase which pleased him; and he thought to himself that it would suit a charge, too, if one came his way.
But the next morning it rained. The trench being a brand-new one, there were no dug-outs, and he had to stand in water and get wet. It was horrible. "Kismet" irritated him; "the will to prevail" did not help. Yet it was no use grousing. It only made matters worse for himself and the other fellows. Then he remembered a phrase from a boys' club in poorer London; "Keep smiling" was the legend written over the door, and he remembered that the motto on the club button was "Fratres." By God, those kids had a pretty thin time of it! But yet, somehow, when all the "Fratres" had made a determined effort to keep smiling, the result was rather wonderful. Yes, "Keep smiling" was the best motto he could find for a wet day, and he tried hard to live up to it.
At last the battalion went into reserve, and was unutterably bored for a week. By night they acted as ration carriers, and improved communication trenches. By day they endured endless inspections, slept a little, and grumbled much. Our Average Englishman tried hard to keep smiling, but failed miserably. This made him wonder whether, on his return to the trenches, his other formulæ would also fail him. But on the day before they went back into support one of the corporals fell sick, and much to his surprise he was hurriedly given one stripe and put in command of a section.
This promotion pleased him. He took the responsibility with extreme seriousness, and became quite fatherly in his attitude towards his "command." This was all the easier because that particular section had lost heavily during the preceding spell in the trenches, and its ranks had been largely made up from the members of a draft fresh from home.
We do not propose to describe his experiences minutely. Much the same thing happened as happened before. They were shelled while in support, and he walked up and down his section encouraging them and calming them down. In the firing trench the same bombs were in readiness, and he spent most of the night with the sentry to give him confidence. A bomb from a trench mortar actually fell into his part of the trench, killing one lad and wounding two more, and for the moment his hands were full steadying the others, applying field dressings to the wounded, and seeing to their removal from the trench.
At length the battalion was relieved, and marched back to a rest camp, where it spent three weeks of comparative peace. In the intervals of presenting arms and acting as orderly corporal the Average Englishman thought over his experiences, and it suddenly struck him that during his fortnight as a section commander he had actually forgotten to be afraid, or even nervous! It was really astounding.
Moreover, his mind rose to the occasion, and pointed out the reason. He had been so anxious for his section that he had never once thought of himself! With a feeling of utter astonishment, he realized that he had stumbled upon the very roots of courage ---unselfishness. He, the Average Englishman, had made an epoch-making philosophical discovery!
Of course he did not know that the Buddha had discovered this great truth some thousands of years before him. Still less did he guess that the solution of all these problems with which war had confronted him was contained in the religion in which he was supposed to have been educated: that trust in the all-knowing Father was Christ's loftier substitute for submission to fate; that faith was the higher form of self-confidence; and that the love that Christ taught was the Buddha's selflessness without the incubus of his artificial philosophy. Nevertheless, he had made great strides, and war has still fresh experiences in store for him, and no doubt experience will continue to instruct. And after all, how seldom does a "Christian education" teach one anything worth knowing about Christianity!
IN civil life he had always said his prayers. They had done him good, too, in a way. They had been a sort of squaring of his accounts morally. He had tried to see where he had failed, made resolutions to amend, and acknowledged to himself at any rate, that he had failed. He had remembered his relations and friends before God, and it had helped him to do his duty by them. At the same time, he was not in the least degree a mystic. Even in his prayers he had never felt the reality of God. "God" to him was rather the name for the principle of goodness than a Being of infinite power and intimate importance. His greatest religious "experience" had been a spasmodic loyalty to the Christ-man, stimulating him at rare intervals to sudden acts of quixotism.
When he first enlisted he continued the habit of saying his prayers, more because it was inconvenient than for any other reason, perhaps. The other fellows in the barrack-room did not say their prayers, and he was too English not to feel the more resolved to say his. He was not going to be afraid. So he said them, deliberately and very self-consciously, half expecting to be laughed at. It was very difficult. He could not concentrate his mind. He whispered the words mechanically, his head full of other thoughts. The other fellows paused in their talk the first night, and then went on as if nothing had happened. After that no notice was taken at all. No one followed his example. No one commented, or interfered with him. A little persecution would have hardened his resolve. Being ignored weakened it. He could not bring his mind to bear on his words, and there seemed to be no point in going on. He tried saying them in bed, in the privacy of his blanket. Then one day he forgot; and after that he just omitted to say them ever.
After all it made very little difference. And yet at times he felt that there was a difference. It was a little like a man sitting in a room with a frosted window that only opened at the top. He understood that it gave on to a garden, but he had never seen the garden. He used to sit with the top of the window pulled open, and then somehow one day he forgot to open it, and after that he never bothered. It made so little difference. At times he did notice that the air was a little less fresh, but he was too lazy, or too busy about other matters to bother.
This Englishman's religion had always been a bit like that, like a window opening on to the unknown and unexplored. He liked to think that his window gave on to a garden, and to think that he sometimes caught the scent of the flowers. But he had never had the energy or the faith to test his belief. Suppose he were to find that after all his garden was only a paved yard! Anyhow he had left the window shut now. At times he regretted it; but a kind of inertia possessed him, and he did not do anything about it.
When he first got to the front he prayed, half ashamed. He was not quite sure of himself, and he prayed that he might not be found wanting. But when it came to the point everything was very prosaic. It was boring, and uncomfortable, and at times terrifying. Yet he felt no inclination to shirk. He just drifted on, doing his bit like the others, and with not too good a grace. He was asked to take the stripe, and refused. It meant more trouble and responsibility. His conscience told him that he was shirking. He grew angry with it. "Well," he demanded of it, "why have I responsibilities more than anyone else? Haven't I failed?" He put the question defiantly, ostensibly to his conscience, but with an eye to the "Christ-man" in Whom he had almost ceased to believe. To his astonishment he got an answer. It was a contingency with which he had not reckoned. Like a flash this sentence wrote itself across his mind---" Strengthen My brethren." It staggered him. He felt that he knew what it meant. "Don't whine about failure. If you are willing to serve, here is your job, and the sign of your forgiveness---Strengthen My brethren." He took the stripe after all, and fathered the boys of his section.
The final stage came later. There had been a charge, a hopeless affair from the start, undertaken in broad daylight. He had fallen between the lines, and had seen the battered remnant of his company retire past him to their own trench before a hail of bullets. He lay in the long grass between the lines, unable to move, and with an unceasing throbbing pain in his left leg and arm. A whizz-bang had caught him in both places. All the afternoon he lay still, his mind obsessed by one thought---Would anyone find him when it was dark, or would he be left to die? He kept on wondering the same thing, with the same maddening persistence. At last he must have lost consciousness, for he woke to find that the sun had set, and all was still but for an occasional flare or a random shot. He had lost a lot of blood; but the throbbing had ceased, and if he kept still he felt no pain. He just lay there, feeling strangely peaceful. Above him he could see the stars, and the moon, though low in the heavens, gave a clear light.
He found himself vaguely wondering about the meaning of everything. The stars seemed to make it all seem so small and petty. All this bloodshed---what was the good of it? It was all so ephemeral, so trivial, so meaningless in the presence of eternity and infinity. It was just a strife of pygmies. He suddenly felt terribly small and lonely, and he was so very, very weak. He was cut off from his fellow men as surely as if he had been on a desert island, and he felt somehow as if he had got out of his element, and was launched, a tiny pygmy soul, on the sea of immensity, where he could find no bearings. Eternity and infinity were so pitiless and uncomprehending. The stars gazed at him imperturbably. There was no sympathy there but only cold, unseeing tolerance. Yet after all., he had the advantage of them. For all his pygmy ineffectiveness he was of finer stuff than they. At least he could feel---suffer. He had only to try to move to verify that. At least he was aware of his own existence, and could even gaugehis own insignificance. There was that in him which was not in them, unless---unless it was in everything. "God!" he whispered softly. "God everywhere!" Then into his tired brain came a new phrase---"Underneath are the everlasting arms." He sighed contentedly, as a tired child, and the phrase went on repeating itself in his brain in a kind of chant---" Underneath are the everlasting arms."
The moon went down behind the horizon, and it was dark. They fetched him in at last. He will never again be sound of limb; but there is in his memory and in his heart that which may make him a staunch fighter in other fields. He has learnt a new way of prayer, and the courage that is born of faith well-founded.
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