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Progressive Stages of the Quest (The Working of Grace)

Excerpts from essay found in Volume 3, Practices for the Quest, chap. 9, para 67

If a man has conscientiously followed this fourfold path, if he has practiced mystical-meditation and metaphysical reflection, purification of character and unselfish service, and yet seems to be remote from the goal, what is he to do? He has then to follow the admonition of Jesus: “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” We are all poor. He is indeed discerning who realizes this and becomes a beggar, imploring of God for Grace.

He must pray first to be liberated from the heavy thralldom of the senses, the desires, and the thoughts. He must pray next for the conscious presence of the Overself. He should pray silently and deeply in the solitude of his own heart. He should pray with concentrated emotion and tight-held mind. His yearning for such liberation and such presence must be unquestionably sincere and unquestionably strong. He should begin and close – and even fill if he wishes – his hour of meditation with such noble prayers. He must do this day after day, week after week. For the Overself is not merely a concept, but a living reality, the power behind all his other and lesser powers.

No aspirant who is sincere and sensitive will be left entirely without help. It may appear during temptation when the lower nature may find itself unexpectedly curbed by a powerful idea working strongly against it. He may find in a book just that for which he has been waiting and which at this particular time will definitely help him on his way. The particular help he needs at a particular stage will come naturally. It may take the form of a change in outward circumstances or a meeting with a more developed person, of a printed book, or a written letter, of a sudden unexpected emotional inspiration or an illuminating intellectual intuition. Nor is it necessary to travel to the farthest point before being able to gather the fruits. Long before this, he will begin to enjoy the flavor of peace, hope, knowledge, and divine transcendence (p. 217, hardcover edition).

The value of repentance is that it is the first step to set us free from a regrettable past; of amendment, that it is the last step to do so. There must be a contrite consciousness that to live in ego is to live in ignorance and sin. This sin is not the breaking of social conventions. There must be penitent understanding that we are born in sin because we are born in ego and hence need redemption and salvation. It is useless to seek forgiveness without first being thoroughly repentant. There must also be an opening up of the mind to the truth about one’s sinfulness, besides repentance, an understanding of the lesson behind this particular experience of its result.

This primary attribute is extolled in the world’s religio-mystical literature. “Despair not of Allah’s mercy,” says the Koran. “What are my sins compared with Thy mercy? They are but as a cobweb before the wind,” wrote an early Russian mystic, Dmitri of Rostov. “Those who surrender to me, even be they of sinful nature, shall understand the highest path,” says the Bhagavad Gita (p. 219).

We do not get at the Real by our own efforts alone nor does it come to us by its own volition alone. Effort that springs from the self and Grace that springs from beyond it are two things essential to success in this quest. The first we can all provide, but the second only the Overself can provide. Man was once told by someone who knew, “The Spirit bloweth where it listeth.” Thus it is neither contradictory nor antithetic to say that human effort and human dependence upon Divine Grace are both needed. For there is a kind of reciprocal action between them. This reciprocal working of Grace is a beautiful fact. The subconscious invitation from the Overself begets the conscious invocation of it as an automatic response. When the ego feels attracted towards its sacred source, there is an equivalent attraction on the Overself’s part towards the ego itself. Never doubt that the Divine always reciprocates this attraction to it of the human self. Neither the latter’s past history nor present character can alter that blessed hope-bringing fact. Grace is the final, glorious, and authentic proof that it is not only man that is seeking God, but also God that is ever waiting for man (p.220).