Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Manifold Unity

My church is within a short walk of a beautiful preserved space (http://www.thetrustees.org/) on the North River (near where William Phillips Tilden worked as a shipbuilder-see post Sept. 29th). It is a joy to pull the boots out from under the desk and walk along beautiful paths, especially now as the leaves begin to change. It is deeply green today after a couple of days of rain and the orange and red flashes of the changing leaves against the dark green background all reflected in the waters of the North River make it easy to believe in the interconnected web of all existence (the UU Seventh Principle)
My morning Sermon reading (The Manifold Unity by Thomas Treadwell Stone-see Sept 27th post) spoke of this connection.

from "The Manifold Unity"
"Our observations, beginning thus in the manifold aspects of nature through its ascending gradations, and seeming, it may be, to lose themselves in the boundless multiplicity, come at length to the sight of unity. The unity dwells, however, in the spiritual sphere, not in the natural world, and reveals itself with a clearness proportioned, not to our sensuous or scientifuc or philosophical knowledge, so much as to our spiritual consciousness. Nature becomes now symbol of Spirit. Spirit, and its outflowing spheres of benignity and of power, encircle and penetrate the world, and make it transparent. Nothing perishes, all is quickened...The manifold works of the Lord beome one in the unity of the wisdom by which they are formed; the earth, filled with riches of God, gives back the whole to its source; one order, one law, one life, shines through the great transparency."
Such moments of the Spirit, I am convinced, are much more common than we know. Seeing "through the great transparency" requires such a small shift in our angle of vision, yet a shift we seem almost conditioned not to make. A walk on the North River in early fall makes it easier. Blessings.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Truer and Nobler Life

William Phillips Tilden (b. 1811) is now little remembered. But as a well loved minister for many years in a variety of pulpits, he was known affectionatly as Father Tilden. A shipbuilder on the North River on the South Shore, Tilden would receive his theological training serving as Samuel J. May's Sunday School Superintendent and friend at what is now First Parish Church, Unitarian, in Norwell MA. Tilden would go on to serve several congregations, most famously at the New South Free Church in Boston. He had a deep passion for the ministry which was reflected in a series of lectures given at Meadville Theological School when he was in his 70's. These lectures, later published as The Work of the Ministry, can be found at Google Book Search http://books.google.com/books?ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html as can his privatly published Autobiography. An exerpt from The Work of the Ministry:

Personal character! Unitarianism has always stood squarely for character. Disagreeing in almost everything else, it has been a unit in putting character first. Character has been the Unitarian ideal, not to say idol. The value we have set on truth, the church, worship, religion itself, has been mainly on account of their influence in forming a true and noble character. The supreme thing with us has been, and is, character. We all know what we mean by it, though to define it may not be easy. Like truth, it is too large and many-sided for definition. But when we say of one, " His character is above reproach, he is a pure, true, and noble man," no one doubts what we mean. We mean that the one of whom we say this has real intrinsic worth. He may be brilliant or dull, a genius or a plodder ; but, independent of that, he has a distinct personality, which is trustworthy and reliable, which shines, like the sun, by its own light.

Talk of character can seem a trite excercise in our time. Tilden reminds us of the joy and passion that comes from seeking to live a "truer and nobler life".

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Unitarian's Sunday

Ezra Stiles Gannett (May 4, 1801-August 26, 1871) had the unenviable task of being William Ellery Channing's colleague and successor at Federal Street Church in Boston. He was a founder of the American Unitarian Assoiation and was tireless in its promotion. Much more can be found at the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography at http://www25-temp.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/ezrastilesgannett.html.
Following is an account of a typical Sunday at the Gannett home taken from the wonderful memoir of Ezra Stiles by his son William C. Gannett.

"And all days looked towards Sunday, the father's work-day. It began on Saturday evening. For the children, no party-going then, no noisy game, no novel after nine o'clock; even sewig after nine was mild sacrilege, against which the feeling brought from childhood made a protest. He usually took tea that evening with one dear friend close by. On returning, the week's accounts were puzzled and squared. And then, the world's work over, the children, as they came in to kiss good-night, would see perhaps the first sheet of the sermon started, theme and text at top. The thinking for it had been done before upon the streets. On and on through the small hours the lamp kept bright. Downstairs the tea-pot simmered on the range, and a little waiter held the slice of Graham bread and crackers for the midnight freshening. The study-couch was usually bed, and the morning found the sermon on page fourteenth or fifteenth. Seven or eight pages yet to be despatched; but they were sure to come, the last as the bells rang church-time.
Twice always the children went to church, besides the Sunday school. No household task that could be spared was done, that all the family might share the Sabbath rest. Year in, year out, the cold corned beef and Indian pudding, prepared the day before, appeared at dinner,-until at last a revolution happened, and a plum-pudding dynasty succeeded. Grave books were read,-Paradise Lost, Butler's Analogy, or smaller reading to match. In the twilight, as the father rested on the couch or in the great arm-chair, the children had their best hour with him: in younger days reciting Dr. Channing's little catechism; when older, giving memories of the sermons, or telling what they had read, and saying favorite hymns...Sunday evening the table must be more plentiful, to honor the likely guest; and after tea, if no engagement called him forth, the circle was apt to be enlarged by parish callers...."

Finishing the "world's work" and consecrating a time for higher thoughts and for rest. Though the forms and practices of a Gannett Sunday are long gone, we would be the better for finding ways to so live the Sabbath (even without having to write a 20+page sermon to focus our thoughts!)

Saturday, September 27, 2008


My morning devotions usually include part of a 19th Century Sermon and I am currently reading "Sermons" (1854) by Thomas Treadwell Stone, a "minor"(what an unfortunate term) transcendentalist and pastor at Salem and Bolton, MA, and in Brooklyn Connecticut. Prominant in the fight against slavery, Treadwell contributed to the Dial and was one the the young Unitarian ministers associated with the Transcendental Club. This from his sermon:

"The Psalm of Thanksgiving"
Looking abroad into the majestic universe, and entering into communion with its spirit, let us put aside whatever is discordant and jarring, all selfishness and pride, all envy and jealousy, all unkindness and impurity, everything evil and felse, every prejudice and narrowness; and opening our souls to selectest influences, flow they whence and through what channels they may, let us prepare ourselves to enter and dwell in the house of the Lord, raising to him the Psalm, consecrting to him every power and service, through the whole of our existence. Not with our lips only, but with heart and hand and living deed, let the soul ascend."

Friday, September 26, 2008


Welcome to the Boston Unitarian, dedicated to a way of living a religious life promoted by the 19th Century New England Uniarians. Here you will find excerpts from sermons, theological reflection, literature, poetry and more from this oft ignored (or downright disparaged) group. Together, they illuminate a high view of humankind and an optimism that is sorely lacking these days. As a religious path, it is both deeply practical and calmly yet powerfully enriching. It is a path that nourishes me. May it be so for you as well.