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Autobiography of Alice A. Bailey - Chapter II
I shall never forget the first Gospel meeting I took. I had been accustomed to a small Bible class of my own and to expressing myself at prayer meeting and I had no qualms at all. I was sure I could do it. It was much easier than introducing myself to some soldier, finding out his name, sitting down to play games with him, asking him about his home and gradually leading up to the serious matter of his soul. I, therefore, was quite ready to take the meeting.

I found myself one Sunday afternoon on a platform in a large room, facing a couple of hundred soldiers and some members of the Royal Irish Constabulary. I started off fluently, slowed down, got stage fright, gave those men one look, burst into tears and bolted off the platform. I swore that wild horses could not take me back but in due time and in answer to my perennial question, "What would Jesus have me do?" I crawled back. But the ridiculous thing was that, having come to that decisive conclusion, the next night I went to the meeting room to get ready and proceeded to light the gas. I nearly blew myself across the room and singed my hair and could not take the meeting that night. The explosion was like a full stop.

Several weeks later I returned. This time I had memorized my talk and my effort worked well until half way through there came a point where I had determined to quote some poetry, to give lightness and variety to my theme. I had rehearsed that poetry with telling effect before my mirror. The first two lines went well and then I stuck; I could not remember what came next. I had to come to a dead stop, red to the roots of my hair and feeling shaky. Then a voice came from the back of the room: "Cheer up, Miss. I'll finish it for you and that will give you time to think what you want to say next." But I had already vanished [56] off the platform and was dissolved in tears in my room. I had failed, both Jesus and myself, and I had better give it all up. I lay awake weeping all that night, refusing to open the door to one of my fellow workers who wanted to come in and comfort me. But I stuck it out; my pride would not permit me to refuse to speak on the platform and gradually I became accustomed to expounding the Bible to a crowd of men.

The process was painful, however. I would lie awake all the night preceding the talk, wondering what on earth to say and then I would lie awake all the night afterwards, in horror at the terrible way in which I had said it. This ridiculous rhythm went on until one night I faced up to myself and stuck at it until I found out what was wrong with me. I decided that I was suffering from pure selfishness and self-centeredness; I was caring too much what people thought of me. My early training was receiving its first hard blow. I came to the conclusion that if I was truly interested in my topic, if I really loved my audience and not Alice La Trobe-Bateman and if I could reach the point where I did not care a d...(I did not use that word then) I might get away with it and be really useful.

Curiously enough I have never had any trouble from that night on. I got accustomed to going into a packed room in India, with perhaps four or five hundred soldiers in it, and climbing on a table, get their attention and, what is more, hold it. I became a good speaker and learnt to like speaking, so that now I am really happier on a platform than anywhere else. Belfast saw me break free in that connection.

I remember once being sincerely flattered over the tremendous success of my Sunday night Bible class held at Lucknow, India, several years later. A whole crowd of army schoolmasters got into the habit of coming every Sunday to listen to me (always with several hundred other [57] men) and I began to get a touch of swelled head. I decided that I must be really good if intelligent men like that came Sunday after Sunday to hear me. I really let myself go. At the close of the series they made me a presentation. The senior man came forward at the end of my peroration and handed me a parchment scroll nearly a yard in length, tied with broad blue ribbon, and made me a pretty speech. I was too shy even then to unroll the scroll right there in front of them but when I got back to my quarters that night I untied the ribbon and there - in wonderful script - was every single grammatical error and every mixed metaphor I had perpetrated during the entire series. I considered myself cured and released permanently when I discovered that the effect upon me was to make me laugh till tears ran down my face.

Like many good speakers who use only brief notes and who speak largely extemporaneously and as their audience draws out of them the needed thoughts, I do not take down well stenographically. I look at the reports and say: "Could I have said it like this?" I am sure that the secret of good speaking, provided you have a flair for words, is to like your audience, and then to put them at their ease by being just human. I have never attempted to lecture. I just talk to an audience as I would to one human being. I take them into my confidence. I never pose as a know-it-all. I say: "This is how I see it now; when I see it differently I'll tell you." I never present truth (as I see it) in such a way that it is dogmatic. I often tell people: "Five thousand years hence this so-called advanced teaching will appear to be the ABC for little children, which shows how infantile we are now." At question time at the close of a lecture - a time I always enjoy - I don't mind admitting I don't know when I don't and that is quite often. These lecturers who think it lowers their prestige to admit lack of knowledge and [58] hence are evasive or pompous have much to learn. An audience loves a lecturer who can look at them and say: "Goodness, I haven't the least idea."

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