In significant measure, we depend upon the ability to draw upon and make use of, at the right moment, our latent inner resources. The ability to draw upon moral and mental capital in crisis depends upon the existence of a reservoir. And, one of the chief problems of moderns is how to create, discover, expand, and put to use whatever spiritual forces that may be hidden deep inside us.
I first stumbled upon this idea years ago in a dark, moldy, basement filled with stacks of books no one seemed to want. I picked up an old one--Pro Vita Monastica: An Essay in Defence of the Contemplative Virtues by Henry Dwight Sedgwick. It is not a great book but it contains nuggets of gold hidden within its pages. In a chapter on "The World and the Recluse," Sedgwick says: "Society depends for its well-being upon an ability to make use of its latent energy." He goes on to conclude that society's ability to draw upon moral and mental resources in crisis depends upon the existence of a reservoir. The book then discusses how an inner reservoir is created, and it is from this book that I first began to think of the necessity of two disciplines in life: the discipline of a flower garden, and the discipline of a library.
Sedgwick says, and I believe it to be true, that "[a] solitary in quest of values that shall rest upon the ultimate satisfactions of the soul must go by way of a flower garden." I have since sought to establish and cultivate first a flower garden wherever I have lived. The second discipline of a retreat is a well developed library.
All this reminded me recently of something Wendell Berry said in his The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. He said, in an essay titled "The Unsettling of America": "We see the likelihood that our surroundings, from our clothes to our countryside, are the products of our inward life--our spirit, our vision--as much as they are products of nature and work."
If our inward lives are disordered, then it is likely that our surroundings will be as well. And, if our inward lives are disordered, it is likely that we will not have a sufficient mental and moral reservoir upon which to draw when crisis visits us.