"A Tent in which to Pass a Summer Night"

By Virginia V. George

Here is a thoughtful and loving collection that expresses the spiritual and intuitive qualities that poets and writers bestow upon us by their works. A wealth of quotations from both poetry and prose leads one to try to understand the focus and goals of life, how prevalent is the universal search for truth, and how similar are its expressions.

The poem from which the book takes its title is by Arthur James, first Earl of Balfour:

Our highest truths are but half-truths;
Think not to settle down for ever in any truth.
Make use of it as a tent in which to pass a summer's night,
But build no house of it, or it will be your tomb.
When you first have an inkling of its insufficiency
And begin to descry a dim counter-truth looming up beyond,
Then weep not, but give thanks:
It is the Lord's voice whispering,
"Take up thy bed and walk."

The first five chapters were written by the late Belle Valerie Gaunt, an Englishwoman who lectured in Britain and Europe on the meaning of life and man's part in it. (By George Trevelyan and Belle Valerie Gaunt; Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, New Hampshire, 1985; 130 pages, $9.95.) Comparing our times to the Italian Renaissance she names several men of vision, fearless and questioning. Among them: Paracelsus who believed in the oneness of man and the universe and that every human being had access to "inspiration and direct knowledge"; Galileo who, for his affirmation that the earth circled the sun, was threatened by the church and made to recant; and Giordano Bruno, the Dominican monk who was burned at the stake in 1600 for heresy, his belief in many worlds, in the heliocentric system, and in one intelligence in the universe.

In Renaissance times the church was the keeper of truth and the final authority. Today science has to a certain extent supplanted the church. Still, we are in a time of "breakthrough" and scientists are looking inward, recognizing that there is more to the universe and man than their visible and physical appearance. In The Mysterious Universe Sir James Jeans wrote: "If the universe is a universe of thought, then its creation must have been an act of thought" (p. 154).

Author Gaunt understands how difficult it is for the Western mind to see why there are such inequities in life, and that this difficulty will persist as long as one believes in only one life. Karma and reincarnation are "the two great central pillars" of Eastern thought, and a realization of their truth brings about an immediate understanding that explains why events transpire as they do. They lead us to a perception that there is an infinite plan of which we are a part, within which we "choose the circumstances" of our lives, "yet free will as to how we act within those circumstances is always retained." And with this realization we accept the karma sent us as "an opportunity for practising the law of Love."

To achieve understanding of oneself Gaunt says it is necessary to accept life, good and bad, as occasions for the soul to learn and progress. She quotes William Blake:

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.

**One finds a bit disappointing the lack of adequate references. It is understandable that these were not at hand nor perhaps needed for Gaunt's lectures. However, with such a multitude of quotations it would have been more satisfying had a bibliography been provided.

When we accept life as it is, we also accept birth and death as "simply events in one continuous process of life." Knowledge and wisdom acquired over several lifetimes are carried forward and retained for future use: the law of cause and effect. She reminds us that "as we think now, so shall we be when we discard the body." She employs the metaphor of music, imagining us as part of an immense orchestra, all trying from separate and diverse instruments - sometimes succeeding, sometimes not -- to create oneness, unity, harmony.

Gaunt believes we should take more note of our dreams; they can assist us and solve problems during sleep. She advises us to contemplate the inner realms of prospects so evoked. Quoting Alan McGlashan in The Savage and Beautiful Country:

. . . dreams happen to us in the same way that experiences in everyday life happen to us. The African Bushman, still cocooned in his Stone Age wisdom, goes farther. Of human life as a whole he says surprisingly -"There is a dreamer dreaming us."

Her portion of the book ends with this, from Ralph Waldo Trine's book, In Tune with the Infinite:

. . . Tune your ear
To all the wordless music of the stars
And to the voice of nature, and your heart
Shall turn to truth and goodness as the plant
Turns to the sun. A thousand unseen hands
Reach down to help you to their peace-crowned heights,
And all the forces of the firmament
Shall fortify your strength.

And finally, Pythagoras' words: "But take courage; the race of man is divine."

The preface and Chapter 6 were written by Sir George Trevelyan, author, and pioneer in the teaching of spiritual knowledge as adult education. He lives in Gloucestershire, England. Sir George has included quotations, both poetry and prose, given in his courses, conferences, and lectures. He speaks of inner awakening, sure knowledge of the existence of truth, and the "oneness of being that the poetic consciousness apprehends." Poets and writers are forerunners

of perceptive vision; they help us to see what the goal should be and how we can attain it. Wordsworth is quoted to tell us:

. . . And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

Here too is recognized the necessity of receiving a newborn child as the pure soul it is, a challenge to parents and teachers. "We should indeed never think of the new-born child as a tiny soul," says Sir George, "but as a mature soul beginning the drastic descent into a tiny frame." So also in our mature years we should revive the earlier vision and nearness to spirit -- explore, move, commune, as T. S. Eliot said in "East Coker," with "the wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters/ Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning."

The earth as an evolving being and its relationship to us who are intrinsic components of it is illustrated by these lines from Evelyn Nolt's "The Glory Which is Earth":

Man, tread softly on the Earth
What looks like dust
Is also stuff of which galaxies are made.


If we cannot see that dust looks back at us
If we do not see Mind in the flower's scent
If we will not see thought in the animal
It is because we bind our eyes . . .

This little book, as well as leading us through a charming garden where we may tarry a pleasant while, might provide a new encounter for some who are discovering only now that there is a path upwards and inwards. All of us need to renew our enthusiasm, our joy, and our resolve to follow that path, and by their song those special people who are poets and writers help to guide us.

 (From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1987; copyright © 1987 Theosophical University Press)

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