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Mornings In The College Chapel by Francis Greenwood Peabody

VII THE RHYTHM OF LIFE

Matthew xiv.23.

One of the most striking passages in modern literature is the paragraph in Mr. Spencer's First Principles, in which he describes the rhythm of motion. Motion, he says, though it seems to be continuous and steady, is in fact pulsating, undulatory, rhythmic. There is everywhere intermittent action and rest. The flag blown by the breeze floats out in undulations; then the branches oscillate; then the trees begin to sway; everywhere there is action and pause, the rhythm of motion.

The same law holds good of the conduct of life. Its natural method is rhythmic, intermittent, work alternating with rest, activity and receptivity succeeding one another, the rhythm of life. The steady strain, the continuous uniformity of life, is what kills. Work unrelieved by play, and play unrefreshed by work, grow equally stale and dull. Activity without reflection loses its grasp; meditation {19} without action sinks into a dream. Jesus in this passage had been absorbed in the most active and outward-going ministry; and then, as the evening comes, he turns away and goes up into the mountain and is there alone in prayer.

We need to take account of this law of the rhythm of life. Most of the time we are very much absorbed in busy, outward-looking activity, overwhelmed with engagements and hurry and worry; and then in the midst of this active life there stands the chapel with its summons to us to pause and give the reflective life its chance. That is one of the chief offices of religion in this preposterously busy age. Religion gives one at least a chance to stop and let God speak to him. It sends the multitudes away and takes one up into the solitude of the soul's communication with God. One of our Cambridge naturalists told me once of an experiment he had made with a pigeon. The bird had been born in a cage and had never been free; and one day his owner took him out on the porch of the house and flung the bird into the air. To the naturalist's surprise the bird's capacity for flight was perfect. Round and round he flew {20} as if born in the air; but soon his flight grew excited, panting, and his circles grew smaller, until at last he dashed full against his master's breast and fell on the ground. What did it mean? It meant that, though the bird had inherited the instinct for flight, he had not inherited the capacity to stop, and if he had not risked the shock of a sudden halt, he would have panted his little life out in the air. Is not that a parable of many a modern life, -- completely endowed with the instinct of action, but without the capacity to stop? Round and round life goes, in its weary circle, until it is almost dying at full speed. Any shock, even some severe experience, is a mercy if it checks this whirl. Sometimes God stops such a soul abruptly by some sharp blow of trouble, and the soul falls in despair at his feet, and then He bends over it and says: |Be still my child; be still, and know that I am God!| until by degrees the despair of trouble is changed into submission and obedience, and the poor, weary, fluttering life is made strong to fly again.

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