Everything is Possible to Will
Chapter XVI. Wounded Self-Love
Chapter XVI. Wounded Self-Love.
It will surprise no one to hear that Zee, independent in thought as she undoubtedly was, should have run foul of Church dignitaries. A thinking man is bad enough, but where can pains and penalties be found for that monstrosity, a thinking woman? Wounded self-love, and it alone, is responsible for the bitter persecutions that have disgraced the Church in all ages. Church dignitaries are nearly all of one type—small and narrow—and clearly prove how little faith they have in their own faith the instant an attack is made upon it.
Zee would fain be painted blacker than she is by nature rather than her faults should be glossed over. And those who noted the fire-flash of her eye at wrongs endured or threatened by anyone might have deemed her eager to quarrel, but she was not; estrangement pained her deeply. She could hold her own against any number of such men as she met with in those days, which is really saying very little; and despite her heretical proclivities she had thus far glided along with her few Church friends very pleasantly, often making the room and the hour full of music as she played, in a bantering way, with men, women, and ghosts; amusing, not wounding.
She, however, richly deserved what follows for having allowed herself to be betrayed, unwittingly it is true, into Church membership; all overtures thereto, many and pressing, she had persistently resisted until, caught again in a trap, she became “one of us;” she resisted the oft-repeated solicitation to membership because, chiefly, she could not bear to seem to sever herself from Wrax, and, farther, because she believed page 195 the flock (whose religion consisted in singing and praying merely, being not one whit better than the outside world) looked best at a distance, where the ravages of the roaring lion were less visible. All went well, nevertheless, until the powers above her tried to make black look white, then they found Zee one too many for them. There was a scheme afloat of converting three exceedingly “lean-kine” churches into one decent congregation, and minister and deacons soon became as unscrupulous as determined to carry their point.
And ministers and deacons brought butter in a lordly dish to their somewhat refractory lambs at the various mild dissipations got up for the amalgamation occasion in the form of united prayer-meetings and united tea-fights (not so bad the latter). As “one of us” light was soon let in on Zee's darkness, and she found that the “roaring lion” had been so busy among the lambs that each separate congregation looked askance at the other, notwithstanding that in the customary gold-leaf plausibility an attempt was made, with tiresome iteration, to prove that each church possessed precisely the virtues the other lacked, and united could not fail to make a glorious whole, a happy family.
But the saints didn't see it; the butter was wasted; there were those unsatisfied grudges in the bosom of each church (wounded self-love again), and flummery wouldn't heal them. Besides, in the union of three bankrupt churches at almost their last gasp, the saints could see only deeper debt, notwithstanding that the interested heads of the firm talked against time in their desire to make the saints see that the sores, whatever they were, belonged to the old boards of the old meeting-houses, not to the people at all; the boards, and the boards alone perpetuated the said jealousies, but in the proposed fine new building smiling peace would reign around.
But Zee drew a line at the boards; she could not swallow the boards, the wickedness of those old boards! No doubt rivers of tears ran down the face of those old boards in damp weather under all they had to bear. She had a tender feeling for the boards, and objected page 196 to their being “put upon;” possibly her Christian regard was as strong for them as for those whose sins they had to bear. The pretty by-play within the sacred walls being over, the naughty lambs after the meeting, knowing there was not one spark of religion in the whole affair—that it was considered a “good spec,”and nothing more—would form themselves into laughing knots without the building, and ask of each other: “Do those men really think they have gulled us?” Zee suggested that since the new chapel had such a prodigious work of regeneration to perform (the need of regeneration was incidentally admitted) it should be christened Bleeding Heart Bethel, that its windows should be frosted with love's silvery light, that love's incense should overshadow it like a cloud, enfolding at once the aged sinner and the youthful saint in its magnetic embrace.
Apt to express herself roundly on crooked designs in general, she was no worse than her neighbors in her discussion of the amalgamation question; but she had the misfortune to be quoted, and misquoted possibly; and presently found herself, to her intense disgust, closeted by his request with the senior deacon, who had been deputed by the lords in council, i.e., minister and deacons, to obtain from her, and transmit in writing, a confession of “what she had said on the amalgamation question.” Zee asked to confess! her pride was aflame in an instant, and, Topsy-like, she would have “’fessed” too much, had time been given her to think by “Miss Phely” in the form of the senior deacon, the king of the little chapel by reason of the cabalistic letters, £ s. d., attaching to his name in a longer measure than to any other member. Zee did not plead guilty, rest assured; she had not uttered one word more than the case warranted, and if truth proves unpalatable it is not truth's fault. “Miss Phely” found, to his chagrin, that he could make no impression on Zee—in fact, she defied him.
And the reader will guess what followed. Minister and deacons, in awful conclave, agreed that Zee had “hurt their feelings,” poor dears! and forwarded to her a resolution to that effect, couched in the orthodox page 197 “Christian regards” and “Christian spirit,” etc. Deeming it an unprovoked insult, Zee tore up the resolution, enclosed it in an envelope, and returned it to them through their secretary—defied them all. Worse and worse!
Ye lords in council, think of it! The throne of infallibility defied by a woman—take breath! It is impossible to paint her black enough. May the grass speedily grow on her grave, when once the “steel collar” of blessed memory has wrung her neck! The savage order of Philistines detest the innate strength of mind which, refusing to compromise with conscience, defies power, scorns fear, and rises superior to petty self-interest.
It is enough to say, that Zee was finally blackballed with the usual floss and gloss of “Christian regard”and “Christian spirit”by her persecutors, a few men possessing irresponsible power, who lorded it over the consciences of others.
How could they throw a stone at Zee? They knew how quietly and well she had trod her thorny road, how heavy was the cross she had to bear, made so much the heavier by the then recent death of her beloved brother-in-law. But what was all that set over against wounded self-love? Self-love in action is the devil of devils this world has to fight.
There was not one particle of superstition in Zee—she knew what those men and their opinions were worth; but alive in every inch of her body as she was, the very prominence the affair occasioned was in itself painful. It caused a disruption in the Church, after several members had been dragged on to the boards of the Star-chamber. Indeed, it was a stupid farce. Zee did well to resist such tyranny, and religion gains, not loses, by its exposure; but its “beggarly elements”—lying and hypocrisy, all too common in the professing world—receive, and rightly, a severe blow from exposure.
Bad as was Wrax's own conduct, he had not fallen low enough to stand by and allow other men to browbeat his wife. The whole proceedings roused his fiercest indignation, and brought his better nature into page 198 being, as, taking the disgraceful matter up earnestly, he had it published in pamphlet form and widely circulated, thus of course giving great offence to Zee's persecutors, who could not utter one word in self-defence, though challenged to do so.
Once admitted into any little sect, one is in danger of becoming hopelessly fossilised. Forging fetters for the intellect by deferring too much to tradition, men tremble before fresh thought, fearing a soul-destroying tendency in everything that does not dovetail with popular orthodoxy—orthodoxy that has sadly caricatured the Christ-Savior, by pandering to the depraved tastes of the hour, instead of giving a lofty moral tone to society—pandering until many men are found, as coolly as complacently, biting the dust of self-abasement so long as it is gold-dust, and crawling very like worms so long as they fancy they have God upon the boards. Drawing saintly lines about their faces, on state occasions they beseech God to come before the curtain to receive their plaudits, and listen to their mock lamentations over sins but too successful on' change. Yes, thinking to get behind God's back to do their dirty work, they have gone up to the Temple for purification, i.e., a dispensation to do as they like; then returned to their sins with double relish. Is this fact, or is it not?
The Church row was a good thing for Zee: all good gravitates towards the true-hearted, though it come by a zig-zag road. It was the goodness of God, not the wrath of man, that drove her out of that little sect; a better home had been prepared for her, and grateful to any and every means by which good lessons are learnt, Zee thenceforth began slowly—all good things are slow of growth—to live in a truer sense than she had done before.
From then till now she has listened to the teaching of Samuel Edger,89 B.A., of London University, from whom she has received almost every thought that has made life precious, and well worth the living; to whom she would lovingly dedicate this book if certain that he would esteem it a compliment. No one may know what Zee would have become had she such a teacher in page 199 early life, and those whose minds have been formed by him ought to be in every respect immeasurably superior to those who have had such teachers as Zee has had.
The being denounced by name from the pulpit of York Cathedral for proving, beyond the possibility of contradiction, that other things being equal, sense has no sex, was perhaps the highest honor ever conferred upon the womanly, unconventional “Mary Somerville.”90 The beings whose names are reverenced to this hour were troublesome characters to orthodoxy, rest assured. Orthodoxy believes only what it sees; for instance, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry91 was by no means a cream-cheese, pat-o'-butter sort of woman. No, in all probability she would have been turned out of every sect-church save that of the Friends; and by making room for mind, regardless of sex, the Friends help to rub off the angularities of character, masculine and feminine. With such noble women Zee presumes to claim no relationship beyond the faithful, daily offering up self as soil in which virtues are fated to grow, because she patiently cultivates them.
The religion of the future must be the antipodes of such cant as the above Church squabble represents; it must command the heart as well as the head, a head, too, worth calling a head, if it is to have any hold on the affections of the people. It must be a religion of personal goodness, strong to rebuke, to love, to save—to save from sin not to sin. Love is the only lever which can make the pearls of individual and national character shine resplendently in contrast with the insipidity of inanity prevailing. Love makes God's thoughts and ways the candle in the window inviting the wanderer's return. Love is the laughing-eyed heartsease and mignonette that gladden the desolate heart.
89 Reverend Samuel Edger (1822-1882) was a liberal non-denominational pastor who emigrated from England in 1861 to a settlement at Albertland, north of Auckland. However, in 1866 when the Edgers’ house burnt to the ground, Edger moved to Parnell after a fund was opened to help the family. Edger began preaching nonconformist services in Parnell Hall, and gave Sunday night lectures on popular subjects at Choral Hall and Lorne Street. In the 1870s he distinguished himself through his promotion of liberal causes, including those Ellen Ellis fought for: the women’s franchise; abolition of the Contagious Diseases Act; prohibition, and the abolition of capital punishment. He supported a large number of Protestant causes, including the Good Templars, for which he edited a weekly newspaper. He returned to England for surgery in 1882, but died on the 30th September before his operation. He is mostly remembered today for his daughter, Kate Edger, who was the first woman to gain a university degree from a New Zealand university, and the first woman in the British Empire to earn a Bachelor of Arts. See: Kate Edger: Te Ara Biography and Samuel Edger: Te Ara Biography
90 Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780-1872) was a Scottish mathematician and scientist, and was jointly the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society alongisde Caroline Herschel. When she died in 1872 she was hailed as “The Queen of Nineteenth-Century Science.” She was personally denounced from the pulpit of York Minster for her radical views.
91 Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was an English social reformer and Christian philanthropist who was a major force behind new legislation for humane treatment of prisoners. Horrified by the poor living conditions of women and children in Newgate prison, she created the “British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners”, widely considered to be the first ‘nationwide’ women’s organisation in Britain.