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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Parable of the Prodigal
By Henry Mills Alden (1836–1919)
 
From ‘A Study of Death’

I
STANDING at the gate of Birth, it would seem as if it were the vital destination of all things to fly from their source, as if it were the dominant desire of life to enter into limitations. We might mentally represent to ourselves an essence simple and indivisible that denies itself in diversified manifold existence. To us, this side the veil, nay, immeshed in innumerable veils that hide from us the Father’s face, this insistence appears to have the stress of urgency, as if the effort of all being, its unceasing travail, were like the beating of the infinite ocean upon the shores of Time; and as if, within the continent of Time, all existence were forever knocking at new gates, seeking, through some as yet untried path of progression, greater complexity, a deeper involvement. All the children seem to be beseeching the Father to divide unto them His living, none willingly abiding in that Father’s house. But in reality their will is His will—they fly, and they are driven, like fledglings from the mother-nest.
  1
 
II
  The story of a solar system, or of any synthesis in time, repeats the parable of the Prodigal Son, in its essential features. It is a cosmic parable.
  2
  The planet is a wanderer (planes), and the individual planetary destiny can be accomplished only through flight from its source. After all its prodigality it shall sicken and return.  3
  Attributing to the Earth, thus apparently separated from the Sun, some macrocosmic sentience, what must have been her wondering dream, finding herself at once thrust away and securely held, poised between her flight and her bond, and so swinging into a regular orbit about the Sun, while at the same time, in her rotation, turning to him and away from him—into the light, and into the darkness, forever denying and confessing her lord! Her emotion must have been one of delight, however mingled with a feeling of timorous awe, since her desire could not have been other than one with her destination. Despite the distance and the growing coolness she could feel the kinship still; her pulse, though modulated, was still in rhythm with that of the solar heart, and in her bosom were hidden consubstantial fires. But it was the sense of otherness, of her own distinct individuation, that was mainly being nourished, this sense, moreover, being proper to her destiny; therefore, the signs of her likeness to the Sun were more and more being buried from her view; her fires were veiled by a hardening crust, and her opaqueness stood out against his light. She had no regret for all she was surrendering, thinking only of her gain, of being clothed upon with a garment showing ever some new fold of surprising beauty and wonder. If she had remained in the Father’s house—like the elder brother in the Parable—then would all that He had have been hers, in nebulous simplicity. But now, holding her revels apart, she seems to sing her own song, and to dream her own beautiful dream, wandering, with a motion wholly her own, among the gardens of cosmic order and loveliness. She glories in her many veils, which, though they hide from her both her source and her very self, are the media through which the invisible light is broken into multiform illusions that enrich her dream. She beholds the Sun as a far-off, insphered being existing for her, her ministrant bridegroom; and when her face is turned away from him into the night, she beholds innumerable suns, a myriad of archangels, all witnesses of some infinitely remote and central flame—the Spirit of all life. Yet, in the midst of these visible images, she is absorbed in her individual dream, wherein she appears to herself to be the mother of all living. It is proper to her destiny that she should be thus enwrapped in her own distinct action and passion, and refer to herself the appearances of a universe. While all that is not she is what she really is,—necessary, that is, to her full definition,—she, on the other hand, from herself interprets all else. This is the inevitable terrestrial idealism, peculiar to every individuation in time—the individual thus balancing the universe.  4
 
III
  In reality, the Earth has never left the Sun; apart from him she has no life, any more than has the branch severed from the vine. More truly it may be said that the Sun has never left the Earth.
  5
  No prodigal can really leave the Father’s house, any more than he can leave himself; coming to himself, he feels the Father’s arms about him—they have always been there—he is newly appareled, and wears the signet ring of native prestige; he hears the sound of familiar music and dancing, and it may be that the young and beautiful forms mingling with him in this festival are the riotous youths and maidens of his far-country revels, also come to themselves and home, of whom also the Father saith: These were dead and are alive again, they were lost and are found. The starvation and sense of exile had been parts of a troubled dream—a dream which had also had its ecstasy, but had come into a consuming fever, with delirious imaginings of fresh fountains, of shapes drawn from the memory of childhood, and of the cool touch of kindred hands upon the brow. So near is exile to home, misery to divine commiseration—so near are pain and death, desolation and divestiture, to “a new creature,” and to the kinship involved in all creation and re-creation.  6
  Distance in the cosmic order is a standing-apart, which is only another expression of the expansion and abundance of creative life; but at every remove its reflex is nearness, a bond of attraction, insphering and curving, making orb and orbit. While in space this attraction is diminished—being inversely as the square of the distance—and so there is maintained and emphasized the appearance of suspension and isolation, yet in time it gains preponderance, contracting sphere and orbit, aging planets and suns, and accumulating destruction, which at the point of annihilation becomes a new creation. This Grand Cycle, which is but a pulsation or breath of the Eternal life, illustrates a truth which is repeated in its least and most minutely divided moment—that birth lies next to death, as water crystallizes at the freezing-point, and the plant blossoms at points most remote from the source of nutrition.  7
 
 
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