“Yes,” said Mrs. Graves, “it is like that in a way; it is the one thing worth doing and being. But it isn’t a conscious using of minutes and opportunities—it isn’t a plan; it is just a fulness of life, rejoicing to live, to see, to interpret, to understand. It doesn’t matter what life you live—it is how you live it. Life is only the cup for the liquor which must else be spilled. I can only use an old phrase—it is being ‘in the spirit’: when you ask whether it is a special gift, of course some people have it more strongly and consciously than others. But it is the thing to which we are all tending sooner or later; and the mysterious thing about it is that so many people do not seem to know they have it. Yet it is always just the becoming aware of what is there.”
“How do you account for that?” said Howard.
“Why,” said Mrs. Graves, “to a great extent because religion is in such an odd state. It is as if the people who knew or suspected the secret, did all they could to conceal it—just as parents try to keep their children ignorant of the ideas of sex. Religion has got so horribly mixed up with other things, with respectability, social order, conventions, doctrines, metaphysics, ceremony, music—it has become so specialised in the hands of priests who have a great institution to support, that dust is thrown in people’s eyes—and just as they begin to think they perceive the secret, they are surrounded by tiresome dogmatists saying, ’It is this and that—it is this doctrine, that tradition.’ Well, that sort of religion is a very special accomplishment—ecclesiastical religion. I don’t deny that it has artistic qualities, but it is a poor narrow product; and then the technically religious make such a fuss if they see the shoal of fish escaping the net, and beat the water so vehemently that the fish think it safer to stay where they are, and so you get sardines in tins!” said Mrs. Graves with a smile—“by which I mean the churches.”
“Yes,” said Howard, “that is perfectly true! Christianity was at first the most new, radical, original, anarchical force in the world—it was the purest individualism; it was meant to over-ride all human combinations by simply disregarding them; it was not a social reform, and still less a political reform; it was a new spirit, and it was meant to create a new kind of fellowship, the mere existence of which would do away with the need for organisation; it broke meekly, like water, through all human partitions, and I suppose it has been tamed.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Graves, “it is not now the world against religion. It is organised religion against real religion, because religion is above and apart from all institutions. Christ said, ’When they persecute you in one city, flee into another’; and the result of that is the Monroe doctrine!”
“But are you not a Christian?” said Howard.