“It is a definite datum of observation that life tends to conserve itself, to reproduce itself and to spiritualize itself. The laws of conservation and reproduction are as old as life itself. Their existence is evident in the most rudimentary animal forms. This is not true of the law of spiritual development. This fundamental tendency may have been latent in unicellular living creatures but it did not manifest itself in the race and in the individual until a much later stage of evolution; at the moment of the appearance of the mammals, the primates and above all of man. The law of spiritual development constitutes in truth our specific character, for man, alone of all the animals, is able to contribute to the development of the personality by voluntary effort.
The three fundamentals laws of our life constitute different aspects of one and the same thing. Similarly, man’s multiple activities are only facets of his unity. Heart, lungs, brain and endocrine glands have no autonomous existence: these organs are inseparable from each other and inseparable from the whole organism. No single one of our natural tendencies can be considered in isolation; each is essential just as each organ is essential. It is impossible to do without the kidneys, the thyroid gland, the heart or the pancreas: it is equally impossible to disobey any one of the capital obligations of living beings. Undoubtedly we are free to obey only one or two of these laws or even to reject all three but only lunatics take this last course. Yet many normal and even eminently intelligent individuals consider it clever or meritorious to obey only such natural tendencies as they find agreeable. Some concentrate all their efforts on self-preservation; these constitute the dregs of humanity; others both preserve and propagate life; they themselves remain submen but the spirit may spring up at any moment among their descendants. Others sacrifice the reproduction and even the preservation of life to follow exclusively their spiritual or imaginative impulses. This group is composed at once of egoists and heroes, of sages and madmen. But life takes no account of the intentions of those who disobey her. She punishes the sage and the hero just as much as the self-centered, the ignorant and the mad. She strikes them or their nation with decadence. The only virtue which exists for her is obedience to her threefold law. This virtue she royally rewards by granting happiness to those who acquire it.
Modern society has committed the fundamental error of disobeying the law of spiritual development. It has arbitrarily reduced spirit to mere intellect. It has cultivated the intellect because, thanks to science, the intellect gives it mastery of the physical world. But it has ignored those other activities of the spirit which can never be more than partially represented in scientific language and which are only expressed in action, art and prayer. Our schools do not teach self-discipline, order, good manners or courage. The school curriculum does not give children sufficient contact either with the beauty of things or the beauty of art. Finally, our schools have forgotten that all ancient civilizations at the height of their greatness had a strong sense of religion. They have forgotten that the soul of Western civilization was steeped in Christianity from its infancy and that nothing has replaced the beauty and purity of the evangelical morality in men’s hearts. This ignorance provokes a slow and smothered protest from life, particularly marked in villages and small towns. There is a rising tide of ugliness, dirt, grossness and drunkenness. Along with a passion for comfort and security we find envy, calumny and mutual hate; we find, too, the vices which Dante considered the most abject of all: hypocrisy, lying and treachery. Life has responded automatically to the refusal to conform to the law of spiritual development by becoming degraded and degenerate. Intellectual and moral development are both equally necessary but moral atrophy brings on us more irremediable disasters.
Though the laws of life are inseparable, they form a natural hierarchy. The principles of conservation and reproduction are the oldest and determine our most irresistible impulses. The law of spiritual development is of far more recent origin and is indeed a very new tendency of life. In many people it is still so weak and hesitating as to be hardly perceptible. Conflicts between the primordial needs often arise in the depths of consciousness. Sometimes we have to choose between preserving our existence and propagating the race: sometimes between serving the spirit or serving life. The choice is always difficult and often impossible. Up to what point should a woman risk her life in order to propagate the race? Do tuberculosis of the lungs, heart disease or other disabilities dispense her from the duty of motherhood? Far more conflicts arise between the law of spiritual ascent and the laws of self-preservation and reproduction. Today, as in all ages, men and women still renounce parenthood to devote themselves to the care of others or to a religious ideal. Many, too, sacrifice their lives for what they believe. Each one of these suffers an inner conflict of varying degrees of violence between commandments which all, generally speaking, demand to be obeyed. In the noblest, the struggle always ends in submission to that law of life which is peculiar to man. Socrates drank the hemlock; St. Paul was beheaded; Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. Each time the whole level of humanity was raised. Today it is the heroes and the martyrs who advance life further along that mysterious way on which it set out from its beginning in the abyss of time.”
Prayer is the practice of the Presence of God – Dr. Alexis Carrel