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What follows is a brief excerpt from the first chapter of Philip Leon’s The Philosophy of Courage or the Oxford Group Way. This bit gives a nice sense of Leon’s prose and philosophical approach to Oxford Group practices. It also offers his description of what it was like to encounter and participate in the Oxford Group. We hope to make much more of this valuable book available soon.
GOD AS POWER
From the most primitive times men have thought of God as power. In the New Testament also “the Power,” Dynamis, is a synonym for God,* while the chief proofs of Jesus’ special connection with God are considered there to be his “powers,” as his miracles are called in the Greek. It is significant that they consist chiefly in the healing of mental diseases (cases of possession) and of physical ills, and that they are most striking and disturbing as evidences of the divine precisely to those people who do not believe in Jesus and have no love for him. In all ages, primitive or late, unless men already love God, they must be faced with the notion of Him as power. For then the only reason they can accept for concerning themselves with God is, to put a crude fact crudely, that they have got themselves into a mess (mental and physical ills) and that they need some extraordinary power to get them out of it. In our age there is a particular need to recall men to this idea of God as power, because, while the mess is greater than it has ever been, in proportion as the world of men is a vaster and more complex thing than ever before, at the same time, even when men believe in God, they have practically ceased to think of Him as power and, instead, associate with the name only the ideas, of duty, idealism, mild benevolence or sentimental kindness. So much is this the case that in speaking about God to most believers it is necessary, if we would make an impression, almost to avoid the word “God,” certainly to get away from familiar language about Him and to borrow one’s terms from medicine, or the science of electricity, or anything rather than religion. If this produces a shock, the shock is no greater, and no less beneficial, than the one we get when we pass from the language of the English Bible, excellent but made comfortable by the mere force of custom, to the original Hebrew or Greek.
When I speak of God as power, I mean positive or constructive power or efficiency and not negative or destructive and obstructive power, I can judge best of the power of God from that of the men who are inspired by Him: just as inefficiency, impotence, destruction and obstruction are more evident in many men thrown together but failing to cooperate than they are in one man, so this constructive power is best seen in many men together, in the smooth running of life between them or in the perfection of relationships. I will try and give a picture of what happens when two or three or more are gathered together under the control of that Power. If the reader cannot recognise it as a description of anything that he knows from experience, he can treat it as my idea of what is possible or at any rate desirable, or simply as an attempt to make graphic my definition of constructive power.
There is produced by such a gathering an electric atmosphere—an atmosphere magnetised, purified, sensitised to the utmost, dynamic,** charged with the nth power. It combines the maximum of concentration with the maximum of ease. In it you are always doing something, always giving the whole of yourself to something or some person, but always ready for some thing new, always busy, always at leisure, always hastening, always unhurried; you feel as though you were walking on air. In this atmosphere you see far and you see through. Everyone is transparent. All pretences, masks and pomps have been stripped off. All eyes are wide open, seeing what is in front of them and showing what is behind them. Everyone is like a modern building—all window, Everyone is brand new, young, uninhibited, fearless and carefree. All go about like very happy and very wise children, They are listening to an invisible leader and, in listening, sense and meet each other’s needs. Complexities are simplified, conflicts harmonised, knots untied, tangles unravelled. Without any arguing, persuading or scheming, everything fits into a plan, a plan preconceived by none.
Quietness, special insight or wisdom, mutual interpenetration, freedom—these and other features I would single out in analysing the power. But at one’s first meeting with it, one does not analyse it at all. It impinges upon one as a unitary atmosphere. One breathes it in as one breathes the air. Once it has entered one it begins to work. It works like a ferment.
The operation of that ferment is by no means some thing with which one falls in love at first sight. It causes in one unease, dissatisfaction, inferiority feeling in short self-consciousness. Right at the start we have an illustration of the statement made above. Consciousness of God brings up consciousness of self. One becomes uncomfortably aware of all sorts of things in oneself that one generally tries to cover up—inadequacy and falsity, fear, everything that one has ever had on one’s conscience and has sloughed off. In proportion as one desires to preserve one’s comfort, to rest undisturbed in one’s present condition and to choke down that resurgent awareness, one rebels more or less violently against the dynamic atmosphere. The people from whom it emanates arouse in one the strangest and richest variety of suspicions and dislikes with their slightest word or deed. Instead of acknowledging as one’s own the faults in one which are struggling up to the surface of one’s consciousness, one projects them and fixes them or others on these people individually or collectively, while the atmosphere as a whole begins to irritate one as crude and violent, glaring and overbearing. “It makes me, sick!” is the eloquent phrase, far deeper than he suspects, with which many a man sums up his rebellion against that atmosphere and with which he ends, for a time at least, his contact with the power which is God or from God.
That phrase is eloquent because it sums up the real crisis which each man has to face. To be or not to be sick, that is the question—the question of life or death, the question whether we shall choose God or self.
* Matt. xxvi, 64; Mark xiv, 62 ; Luke xxii, 69.
** Cf. the use of “dynamis,” just alluded to, in the New
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