THE GREATEST DISTANCE
I was gathering material for a series of articles on London Street Life and had been watching the sidewalk artists --- many of them magnificent draftsmen, with amazing ability to reproduce famous pictures in chalk on the pavements.
Near the Church St. Martins-in-the-field appeared daily a series of pictures so perfect and true to their originals in the National Gallery (just a step away) as to be incredible. One day I stopped and talked with the artist.
He was a mature man of breeding and culture, and told me he had exhibited several pictures in the "Academy." That was recommendation enough to know where he stood in the art world of the day. How then, did he find himself drawing his pictures on the pavement? Something had happened to his affairs and health and this was the only way out, pro tern at least.
Then he told me:
"I remember well the day I knew something had to be done to keep things going at home. Picture sales were few and far between --- commissions almost at a standstill. I had watched the sidewalk artists many times, but as I stood and looked down upon them I never dreamed that one day I would be seeking a pitch among them, but I finally did. I walked by the spot on the pavement I had rented and looked at it --- and then left it and walked many times around the block, hesitating at the place each time. Finally I stood on the spot and gazed down upon it, my box of chalks and bit of carpet under my arm.
Eventually I dropped the carpet and put down the box. Still I stood gazing down at the pavement. It seemed farther away than ever. For a long time I struggled against a veritable army of overpowering thoughts. The pavement was so far away. Then by sheer physical force I began to kneel. Eventually, after what seemed an age, my knees began to bend --- and at last I touched the pavement. That distance between my knees and the pavement was the greatest distance I had ever traveled."
Yes, it was the farthest he had ever traveled, because it passed through legions of beliefs, and meant a complete surrender of self. The same distance must be traveled before any one can kneel in prayer, true prayer. He, too, must cover the distance which is so vast and awful. He, too, must surrender all former ideas, thoughts and opinions --- and be ready and willing to take off at a new level.
When Jesus prayed, He first, mentally or physically, bent His knees. He surrendered His own ideas and beliefs---then raised His eyes (vision) to Heaven (the finished concept) and gave thanks, and then bowed His head to receive the blessing. All this wonderful symbology you will experience when you pray --- really pray.
Sometimes in our concept of prayer, we get far away from the importance of the real technique and dispense with the reverence of the act. I know, and you know, that the posture of the body has nothing to do with prayer; at the same time, it might have much to do with you. It was the obedience of Naaman the leper, that healed him---and not the waters of the Jordan which were virtually the same as those of the Pharpar.
I heard of a man who fell in a hole head-first; he immediately prayed, and his prayers were apparently answered with as much speed and power as if he had been kneeling in a great cathedral. When you have eyes to SEE, you will understand what the Scriptures say unto the churches, and will know that the mental surrender that takes place when true prayer is made, sometimes has its symbolic physical accompaniment. He who clings to ritual alone is devoted to ignorance. He still does not know that until he travels the distance mentally, which is so far and yet so near physically, he cannot enter in --- and the words of his prayers will be no more efficacious to help and heal than the tones from a phonograph record. Where there is no consciousness, there is no manifestation. Where there is no surrender--- (no bending of the knees) symbolically-- there is no entering in. Where there is no lighting of a candle and burning of incense literally --- (it could be figuratively) there is no recognition. The time taken to make the physical gesture might have something to do with it all. What think ye? Some day when you go to pray--- why don't you bend the knees? Maybe a little reverence will enter your heart again.
Walter C. Lanyon