Thursday, September 30, 2010

thy multiplied anxieties...

William Henry Channing, today most remembered for "My Symphony" and, perhaps, his memoir of his Uncle William Ellery Channing, had a fascinating career which included, for a time, founding and editing a journal called "The Present." Undertaken while Channing was preaching in New York, "The Present" lived from 1843-1844.  Of his qualifications for this work Channing said,

"This little Monthly, then, has quite liberal aims ; and it may justly be asked what are its editor's qualifications. With unaffected sincerity he confesses that he has none, other than the craving after a temper and spirit more in harmony with our privileges, a willingness to admit and abandon error and folly when exposed, independence, to some degree, from sectarian and party bonds, faith in the present inspiration and providence of God, hope growing ever stronger in the tendencies of the Age to universal good..."

This morning, part one of an article from the first number of "The Present" called,


Keen blew a northwest wind over the brown hills and through the valleys, where a line boat lay on the Erie canal, shut in by ice, one morning in November. A sleety rain had closed in snow on the previous day, followed by gusty breezes from the plains of Canada, and when the sun had set mid rolled up clouds of purple and gold with an orange green sky glittering behind, and stars flashing bright overhead, the boatmen had muffled themselves in their warmest coats, while the shivering boy whipped up his horses, anxious passengers clustered on deck, and the captain as he saw the ice fibres shoot over still spots of water, muttered, " 'tis our last trip this season." Midnight had settled calm over the leafless woods and white capped summits, and plains where the dry grass rustled ; ice had formed fast on the narrow line of the canal, and the crowded inmates of the boat had heard a crackling and hissing as she broke her way. An hour or two after there had been a call from the shore, the helmsman had summoned the captain, the half waked sleepers looking out of the doors and windows had seen the lamps gleam in long lines over the frozen surface, and all hands had turned in for a quiet nap ; the boat was fast.

And now it was morning. Welcome day, may be to the crew, who through the summer months had smothered in narrow bunks under their low roofed boat, sluggishly journeying to and fro over the same monotonous way, and who could now find change of labor in familiar places. Welcome day may be to the captain, sleeping late in dreams over his summer's gains and his winter speculations. But a most unwelcome day to the poor emigrants, who friendless, moneyless, houseless, without place in society or work before them, with no intelligible speech to make known their wants or ask their way, found themselves on the verge of winter about to be turned on shore amid the woods some half day's journey from . The hearts of those strangers were chill as they heard the summons of men made hard by familiarity with similar scenes of distress to leave the boat, which, uncomfortable as it was, still seemed to have some warmth of home. But leave the boat they plainly must. And a few hours saw them, men and boys on foot, women and children on trunks and bundles in country wagons, making their way to the next inland city. What lessons of a true order of society might this tendency of the poor to cluster in crowds teach us. Among them was Ulric, of Norway, with his wife, an infant born some three weeks before, and five older children. Poor Ulric! It needed a heart as brave and patient as thine, to be kind and gentle and thoughtful, that day, amidst thy multiplied anxieties..."

More on WHC in the next few days, and more of the story of Ulric...

(illustration:  Norwegian immigrants in New York)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

all is one and one is all...

Why Emerson will always be difficult to get one's head around, and why the (for me nearly life-long) effort will always be so rewarding. This from William James in his notebooks in 1905 (quoted in Buell's "Emerson")

"Emerson's metaphysics consisted in the platonic belief that the foundation of all things is an overarching Reason.  Sometimes he calls this divine principle the Intellect, sometimes "the Soul," sometimes the One.  Whate'er we call it, we are at one with it so far as our moments of insight go.  But no one moment can go very far, and no one man can lay down the law for others, for their angles of vision may be as sacred as his own.  Hence two tendencies in Emerson, one towards absolute Monism; the other towards radical individualism.  The sound contradictory enough; but he held to each of them in its extremist form."


Monday, September 27, 2010

the uses of history...

Robert Richardson said of Henry David Thoreau,

"...reading Virgil...Thoreau was struck by passages about the buds swelling on the vines and fruit scattered about under the trees. The point, he told himself, was that 'It was the same world.' His second observation followed naturally enough. If Virgil's was the same world as ours, then 'the same men inhabited it.' Neither nature nor human nature has changed, in essence, from Virgil's time to ours..."

And this from the Thoreau's Journal:

Sept. 27, 1857. How out of all proportion to the value of an idea, when you come to one, in Hindoo literature for instance, is the historical fact about it, the when, where, etc., it was actually expressed, and what precisely it might signify to a sect of worshipers! Anything that is called history of India or of the world is impertinent beside any real poetry or inspired thought which is dateless."

(Illustration:  "Virgil and the Muses of History and Tragedy")

Saturday, September 25, 2010

capable of humility...

One more from "The Tao of Emerson"...

Tao (v. 22)
"The partial becomes complete; the crooked straight;
The empty, full; the worn-put, new:
He whose desires are few gets them;
He whose desires are many goes astray/

Therefore the sage holds in his embrace
the one thing, humility, and manifests it to all the world.
He is free from self-display, and therefore he shines;
From self-assertion, and therefore he is distinguished;
From self-boasting, and therefore his merit is acknowledged;
From self-complacency, and therefore he acquires superiority.
It is because he is thus free from striving
that therefore no one in the world is able to strive with him.

That saying of the ancients
that "the partial becomes complete" was not vainly spoken-
All real completion is comprehended under it.

Those who are capable of humility,
of justice, of love, of aspiration,
Stand already on a platform that commands
action and grace.
This energy did not descend into individual life
on any other condition
than entire possession.

It comes to the lowly and the simple;
It comes to whomsoever will put off
what is foreign and proud.
It comes as insight, it comes as
serenity and grandeur.


Friday, September 24, 2010

life is sturdy...

Verse 45 of the Tao first translated by James Legge and then in words by Emerson arranged by Richard Grossman (from his "The Tao of Emerson:"

"Who thinks his great achievements poor
Shall find his vigor long endure.
Of greatest fullness, deemed  void,
Exhaustion ne'er shall stem the tide.
Do thou what's straight still crooked deem;
Thy greatest art still stupid seem,
And eloquence a stammering scream.

Constant action overcomes cold;
Being still overcomes heat.
Purity and stillness give the correct law
to all under heaven.

The men we call greatest are least
in this kingdom.
He that despiseth small things
will perish little by little
Let him esteem nature a perpetual counselor
and her perfections the exact
measure of our deviations.

Do no craze yourself with thinking,
But go about your business anywhere.
Life is not intellectual or critical,
but sturdy."


Thursday, September 23, 2010

the originator of heaven and earth...

The well know opening verses of the "Tao Te Ching" (translated by James Legge) followed by the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson as arranged by Richard Grossman in his "The Tao of Emerson."

"The Tao that can be trodden is not the
enduring and unchanging Tao
The name that can be named is not the
enduring and unchanging name

Conceived as having no name
it is the Originator of heaven and earth
Having a name, it is the Mother of all things

Always without desire we must be found
If its deep mystery we would sound
But if desire within us be
Its outer fringe is all we shall see

Under these two aspects
it is really the same
But as development takes place
it receives the different names

Together we call them the Mystery
Where the Mystery is the deepest
is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful"

"That great nature in which we rest
that Unity, that Oversoul
Is an immensity not possessed
and that cannot be possessed

The animal eye sees with wonderful
sharp outlines and colored surfaces
To a more earnest vision
outlines and surfaces
become transparent:
Causes and spirits
are seen through them

The wise silence,
the universal beauty
to which every part and particle
is equally related
Is the tide of being which floats us
into the secret of nature;
And we stand before
the secret of the world."


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

mysterious but remarkable...

"The Tao of Emerson" by Richard Grossman arranges the words of "the sage of Concord" alongside the words of the Tao Te Ching in the belief that Emerson's writings, "in a mysterious but remarkable way...contain the essence"  of the Tao.  Controversial and yet appealing are efforts to seek similarities in religious vision (witness the current interest in Stephen Prothero's "God is Not One." (a particularly good review by Dan Harper in the UU World here)  I share the reservations yet think the effort is usually for the good.  Grossman's effort is fascinating.  This from the introduction:

"These two men, separated in history by nearly 2500 years, one a citizen of the worlds oldest empire and the other of one of its youngest republics, were sages whose messages were remarkably alike:  live the simple, tranquil life, trust your intuition; find and revere the spiritual grace in the natural world; act without self-assertion; commit no violence against living things or persons; try to harmonize with the ebb and flow of nature and circumstance-and above all, assure that there is a place in the world for humility, yeilding, gentleness, and serenity."

Over the next few days, some excerpts...


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the sweet tone of the Spirit...

Cyrus Bartol was not a fan of ritual and form in worship as made clear in this continuation of "The Word of the Spirit..."

"The Spirit, then, is our only authority. If I were going to name a church, it would not be Church of the Trinity or Unity, of the Disciples or the Episcopate, of Saints or Souls, nor even of the Messiah or Saviour, dear unspeakably as these titles may be; but of the Spirit whence Messiah and Saviour drew. Be we apart or together, let us mind the Spirit. Let us look and listen for it. Let us meditate and pray till it arrive, and unveil itself to cheer us. The reason we do not hear and receive it more is the tumult we are in of other things. Late at night, some time ago, six miles off, I stood waiting near the tower of a village-church. The clock struck. The mellow vibration continued after the hammer stopped, till I was amazed at its long duration. If other earthly noises are not allowed to encroach too much, the Spirit, with sweeter tone than of any instrument, will continue sounding in our souls.

" He that hath an ear," —that is, everybody,— " let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." We all have an ear, deeper than of the flesh, hearkening to something beneath all bells and breezes, tongues or outward motions. It is the dearest desire of my heart, if I know what it is, that we Congregationalists should be a church of the Spirit, in this finer hearing. Our service is called bare and meagre. We must bear the reproach. Doubtless the sonorous, priestly intoning and responding from sabbath to sabbath of the same idolized words (is not the idolatry of words as bad a violation of the command as that of graven images ?) would, in the weakness of human nature, win greater crowds, filling the seats, and stir them to a more vivid superficial delight. But would it be spiritual and profitable to the soul ? I think not; and I thank God, as a Congregationalist, for our joint success, and our hope still to prosper, without such alluring accessories, not in the gospel, which might convert people to us, and not to him. Let us trust his Spirit. With combined and separate entreaty, let us beseech it. In our life, let us obey it. For the building of our character, unseen and mysterious as it is, let us rely on it. The stout and aged woods grow from invisible gases of earth and air. Breathing what we never saw fashions and sustains our own fearful and wonderful frame. To this city and Jerusalem of our abode, wide acres yonder, pushing out the tide, are added by a puff of transparent steam, turning the iron wheels that roll hills, interior and out of sight, into sea-side, solid plains to hold up streets and dwellings and courts of the Lord. Could we open ourselves to the working of that marvellous force, which exceeds all the elements of nature and applications of art, there would be a moral result transcending material growth and human structures, as eternal glories shame the triumphs of sense and of time."


Monday, September 20, 2010

beams of the resplendent orb...

This on Cyrus Bartol from Octavius Brooks Frothingham.  "His Transcendentalism had a cast of its own; it was not made after any pattern; it took its color from an original genius illuminated by various reading of books, and by deep meditation in the privacy of the closet, and the companionship of nature of which he is a child-like worshipper."

Bartol's "Word of the Spirit" continued: 

"I beg you, my reader, to consider, then, that there is something in you beside yourself. There is something in the air around you, not of the atmosphere, which the chemist cannot solve. There is a light, not of the sun, lighting every man that cometh into the world. There is a voice beyond that of man or nature, gentler than the softest whisper in counsel to us, and louder than the rending thunder in our remorse. There is a feeling of present divinity, of which we are never quite rid. There is a being we are conscious of above our own, ordaining, supporting, commanding, awing, consoling, teaching, blessing it. In our solitude there is another with us; and, in our society, One, invited or uninvited, not counted in the list or written on the cards. It is the Spirit. The flash of truth in you, the path of honor pointed before you, the impulse of justice to walk therein, your act of goodness, your abstinent purity, — these are all from it. Your thought of perfect kindness, may God give it! — your flame of holy love, may God kindle it! — your swifter than arrow's flight of ascending prayer, — did you make these with your cunning contrivance, your curious fingers, and of your own potent will ? No: the Spirit breathed them into you. Part and parcel of the Spirit they are. They alone are intrinsic evidence, that all your ideas of a great Father's yearning, of a higher state for your departed ones, as being dearer to him than to yourself, are not vanity. I did not make my love: then a higher Love made it, and will justify it for ever. You did not create your own apprehensions of Eternal Purity and Goodness: you, then, may trust and hope in them, spite of sorrow and death, to enliven and save and keep you world without end. They are beams which, followed, must bring you to the resplendent orb. They are the essential stuff of which the universe is formed, without which there would be no universe ; and in them you are immortal and everlasting."


Sunday, September 19, 2010

independent dependents...

Cyrus Bartol, a member of the Transcendental Club speaks for the simple and final authority of the Spirit in his "The Word of the Spirit to the Church" (part one):

"Let us heed only such teachers as refer us, not to their creed, their assembly, their style or book of worship, as final or sufficient; but to the Spirit of truth, beauty, goodness,— the universal, infinite, pure, and loving Spirit of God...

The Spirit itself has necessary external channels, — temples, rites, and appointed days, — as well as a secret apparition. All Christians practically own the need and value of some sensible method and concerted order of praise, prayer, and teaching, for united and affectionate devotion. Nevertheless, we may consistently disown, and discard from our practice, and resist, that imposition of the pomp and excess of ritual which eclipses the hidden Deity, and drowns his whisper in the heart. Indeed, my aim in this essay is, against all lower judgments, to affirm the existence of a great and growing number in the community, for whom the plainest style of adoration is the best. We, Independents, in our dependency on God, deny that any more of mechanism and repetition and symbolic display than we already possess and use is needful or would be profitable for ourselves or our children. Men are, indeed, still too gregarious...

Undoubtedly there are ways and means, as well as a direct illumination, of the Spirit; but the Spirit is not to be limited to ways and means of any name or kind or number. What the procession of that Spirit is, when it began, how far it goes, how many minds or ages it includes, or where it shall end, who shall tell? Jesus did not commence it; historical Christianity did not create it; it is uncreated. All its prophets have never been mentioned to us. To make us more sensible of it is the office of our faith. I can only, in a few poor words, indicate its presence or describe its work."

Some of those "few poor words" tomorrow...  Have a blessed Sabbath.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

the like-minded...

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the first meeting of what has come to be known as the Transcendental Club.  Begun in 1836, the Club (know by many names and consisting of shifting participants) was a breeding ground for the transcendental movement.  Boston Unitarians, of course, were its primary participants and its most vehement critics.  Frederick Henry Hedge was a founder but later felt that many of the "transcendentalists" went too far.  Here is Hedge on the Club:

"In September, 1836, George Ripley, Waldo Emerson, and myself called the first meeting of what was named in derision 'The Transcendental Club.' There was no club in any strict sense, — only occasional meetings of likeminded men and women. No line was drawn between those who were members and those who were not, except that as a matter of course certain persons were always notified. Emerson, Alcott, Thoreau, Stetson, George Ripley and his wife, Mrs. Samuel Ripley, Margaret Fuller, John S. Dwight, Elizabeth Peabody, Theodore Parker, Jones Very, Robert Bartlett, John Weiss, Dr. Francis, Dr. Bartol, and myself, were expected. Orestes Brownson met with us once or twice, but became unbearable, and was not afterward invited. George Bradford, Samuel Osgood, and Ephraim Peabody were sometimes present . Dr. George Putnam came to one of these meetings, — in fact, was one with Ripley, Emerson, and myself, to start them; but they took a turn unexpected to him, and after the first meeting at Emerson's he ceased to come. My coming from Bangor, where I then resided, was always the signal for a meeting." (love the bit about Orestes...)

Of course regular participant James Freeman Clarke would later say that the group called themselves " the club of the likeminded, I suppose, because no two of them thought alike."


Thursday, September 16, 2010

the doubter and the doubt...

Ralph Waldo's "Brahma"...


If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near,
Shadow and sunlight are the same,
The vanished gods to me appear,
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven. "


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

soberly, righteously, and godly...

In his memoir it is written of Abiel Abbot that "It was his constant aim to keep alive in his parish a temperate tone of serious piety, equally removed from indifference and fanaticism. " His "The Grace of God Bringing Salvation" continued:

2. "For what excellent purpose this grace was given. "

There are many, who are much inclined to put a period at the end of the first verse of the text, where the apostle intended only a comma.(see yesterday's post) They would consider the sense complete in that verse; but the apostle considers what follows as necessary to complete the meaning. They conclude, that, because the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath shined forth unto all men, all men must be saved. This is pleasing doctrine to men., determined to continue in sin. But it is doctrine, supported only by fragments of scripture wrested from their connexion. We learn, by the following words of the apostle, that the excellent design of the grace of God is to form the sinner into a holy character, as previously necessary to his enjoyment of salvation. " For the grace of God teacheth us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world."— What God hath joined together, never let man put asunder.—It is the grace of God, which bringeth salvation to men, yet it is by means of subduing their corruptions, and making them holy; it is by rescuing them from their sins, not saving them in them. And the apostle does not speak in general terms; he mentions particularly that ungodliness must be denied or renounced. By " ungodliness," we may understand the denial of the existence of God, or of his perfections, or of his government of the world, or of his righteous retribution in the world to come. This degree of ungodliness savours of atheism, and is impiety of the highest order. But there is ungodliness also in neglecting to worship God; in disregarding the manifestation of his will in divine revelation ; in profaning his name, and in speaking irreverently of his providence. These all are sins peculiarly against God, having direct respect to his person. They must be wholly renounced, before there can be the least hope of the salvation, which the grace of God bringeth.

Worldly lusts, also, must be denied. Under these terms are comprehended intemperance, anger, malice, revenge, which are so shockingly common in the world. They imply, also, the immoderate love of those three great idols of the world, riches, power, and fame, to which such multitudes are daily bowing down, in a manner, which makes it very manifest, that there is nothing which they regard in an equal degree. These, too, must be renounced, as productive of misery, and tending to ruin, and as inconsistent with the enjoyment of that salvation, which the grace of God bringeth.

The apostle proceeds to mention, more particularly, that this grace of God teaches us to live soberly. By sobriety, we understand the habit of self-government; the uniform restraint of the appetites, within such limits as reason and the Gospel prescribe ; as also the passions and affections, carefully avoiding all sinful irregularities and excess. The grace of God also teaches —to live righteously. By righteousness, we understand the habit of conducting equitably in all our relations to men ; that we abstain from injuries to them, in their persons, reputation, and fortunes ; that we fulfil the various duties we owe to them, in all our relations and stations in society ; sacredly performing our covenants and promises, in secular and spiritual concerns, and doing, in one word, unto all men, whatsoever we could reasonably desire, in exchange of circumstances, that they should do unto us. The Hebrews considered charity a branch of righteousness;—for saith the psalmist, " He hath dispersed; he hath given to the poor, his righteousness endureth for ever."

There is a third branch of christian duty, which the apostle proceeds to mention, as taught by the grace of God, which bringeth salvation.—We must live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world. Godliness, or piety, is the duty, which we owe to God; and " consists in that high veneration, and those just conceptions, which we should entertain of the Supreme Being, and these expressed by prayer and thanksgiving ; by loving and fearing him ; by putting our trust in him, and submitting ourselves to his blessed will, in all events." Now when we seriously consider the doctrine which the grace of God teaches; the excellency of that character, which it is intended to form, subduing the corruptions of the human heart, reforming the vices and errors of human conduct, and teaching to fulfil the duties of those three grand relations, in which we stand, to ourselves, to our fellow men, and to God ; how precious, and worthy of all gratitude and praise, is that grace in this single point of view ! It tends to render us healthful in body, and at ease in mind, a blessing to our fellow-men, at peace with God, and exalted into a holy communion and friendship with him. If there be a happy man on earth, it is he who is the subject of that grace; who submits himself to this divine teaching; who renounces ungodliness and worldly lusts, and lives soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. " Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them." But the comforts, which immediately flow from sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, are but the beginning of the salvation, mentioned in the text; comforts often interrupted by the afflictions of life, often by a bad frame, and the great imperfection of the graces even of the best."


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

to shine forth as the sun...

Abiel Abbot was never a very well man.  His body sometimes did not support the deep dedication of his heart and mind to his congregation.  But "The mode of [his] preaching," it is recorded in his memoirs, "was eminently practical. Religion was with him a deep personal feeling, founded on a delicate and tender sense of the divine mercies. It was this feeling, that he laboured to inspire in others. Hence his preaching was characterized by the closeness of its application to the heart and conduct, and its topics often suggested by passing events in his parish. An intimate acquaintance with the situation and wants of his hearers was the source of his successful appeals from the pulpit."  His sermon, "The Grace of God Bringing Salvation" continued:

"For the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men..."  Titus

"1. This weighty passage declares the wonderful grace of God in the Gospel, and the universality of it. "The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men." 'We perceive, that the grace of God is the original cause of . salvation ; there was none to move him to his purpose of mercy ; he was self moved. He so loved the world, as to provide for its salvation. The motive, the scheme, the whole was of God ; the party offended was the first to seek reconciliation. How benign and paternal appears his character. Has it not been without due respect to the text, and similar passages, which are innumerable, that God has been represented as wrathful and vengeful towards sinners, till pacified by the more merciful son ? It is quite observable, that in all the passages of scripture, where reconciliation is mentioned, the reconciling of men to God is uniformly intended, and not of God to men. Men are the estranged, and alienated party ; God is kindly disposed, desires not the death of sinners; but their salvation and happiness.—" You," saith the apostle, " that were sometime alienated, and enemies by wicked works, now hath he reconciled;" and again—" all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing to them their trespasses; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you, by us; we pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." Such is the affecting language of the New Testament. It is God, who desires our reconciliation to himself. He has sent his own Son to accomplish this blessed end ; and he again employs ministers as his ambassadors, and all to reconcile us to God. We find, among men, that the offending party is the most difficult to be reconciled, and that it is usually harder for the injurious to accept of forgiveness, than for the injured to grant it. And is it not so with our gracious and offended Heavenly Father? Such is " the grace of God which bringeth salvation."

This grace hath appeared unto all men.—The Greek verb here used signifies, to shine forth as the sun. The grace of God in the gospel," hath shone forth like the sun, and giveth light to all." Hence Christ, the author of the gospel, is called " the day spring from on high," " the sun of righteousness," " the light of the world." The blessings of the gospel were not intended for one nation alone, as the Jews hoped, nor for a few selected and favored persons, of different nations, while others were passed by. No, this grace of God hath shone forth unto all men, as universal as the beams of the natural sun, as impartial as the rain of heaven, as free as the blessing of water, " for whosoever will may take the water of life freely." I come now to observe"...(that observation tomorrow.)


Monday, September 13, 2010

a comprhensive passage...

Abiel Abbot (August 17, 1770 – June 7, 1828) was a Unitarian minister at Haverhill, MA and, until his death, Beverly, MA. More on Rev. Abbot throughout this week. This the beginning of his sermon: on the "comprehensive passage" Titus 2: 11-14:


(Titus 2. II-14 )For the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

It was on this comprehensive passage, that one of the greatest of men, who had accurately surveyed almost every department of science and literature, held in the highest estimation among men, and whose name was venerated throughout Europe, amidst all the learning, and all the wisdom he had collected from ancient and modern languages, is said to have reposed with the greatest satisfaction, and to have found in it, the only effectual solace of a dying hour. There are few things of substantial importance in the christian dispensation, which may not be said to be included in it. It declares—

I. The wonderful grace of God in the Gospel, and the universality of it;
II. The excellent purpose for which it is given ;
III. The coming of Christ to judgment;
IV. The end for which he died; and,
V. The character of his peculiar people.

I shall attempt a brief discussion of these five particulars"

And we shall hear his "brief discussion" of each as the week goes on.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Shed thou Thy Grace...

Many churches, including ours, begin their regular program year  (including Church school) this morning.  This hymn, for "THE SUNDAY SCHOOL"  from Longfellow and Johnson's "Hymns of the Spirit" 1889 ed. 

"O Thou, who sendest sun and rain
On wilderness and peopled plain !
Shed Thou Thy grace on heart and tongue,
And bless our teaching of the young.

We ask for no reward of praise,
No mere success in outward ways,
But may we, Lord, successful be
In leading these young souls to Thee.

Grant Thou our hands the seed to sow
Which to eternal life shall grow;
Without Thine aid our toil must fail,
But with it, Lord, we shall prevail."

Blessings to all for a wonderful church year!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

establish our hearts...

It is, of course, a day of profound remembrance.  And, hopefully, of the continued healing of wounds personal, national, cultural, political and religious.  I was struck during my devotions this morning by this from the Book of James:

"Be ye also patient, and establish your hearts."

And then from the 19th Century Unitarian Daily Devotional, "The Altar at Home" this prayer for "Fidelity in Daily Duties"

OUR Heavenly Father, we come with the light of thy morning about us, and with the dawn of hope and aspiration within us, to praise and glorify thee, from whom are all light and strength. We come, O Father, trusting in thy tender mercy and loving-kindness that thou wilt forgive all our transgressions, wilt strengthen the better purposes of our hearts, and wilt shine upon our souls with continually brighter radiance, until thou shalt bring us unto the endless day in which they dwell who perfectly do thy will.

We thank thee that we are permitted again to take our place among the great company of thy servants who wait, on earth and in heaven, to perform thy bidding ; and we, too, would wait with humble, trustful hearts, looking to thee alone for the power to do the work which this day shall put into our hands. Grant, we beseech thee, that these hours may be marked by faithfulness in all the duties that thou layest upon us, in the spirit, not of fear, but of love. Teach us that there is nothing small and nothing great before thee, but that thou art as well pleased with the scanty service which we can offer thee in the common occupations of our daily lives, as with the greatest deeds of saints and martyrs, being satisfied if we have done what we could. Strengthen us against temptation, and confirm us in the feeling of our constant dependence upon thee. Help us to overcome the tumultuous strife within, and the enticements from without us, which would distract our thoughts from thee, and to recognize, in everything which thou givest us to do, thy hand in wisdom leading us on and disciplining us, by the small requirements and petty cares of this earthly life, for the grander opportunities of service which, in thy eternal world, shall be given to those who here have listened to the voice of duty and have not been disobedient to the heavenly vision. Hear and accept our petitions, we pray thee, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. "

A motto of James Freeman Clarke was "Do the nearest duty." and a cornerstone of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous is "Do the next right thing."  It is the wisdom of the healing power of daily fidelity to the right and good. May we patiently "establish our hearts" and, thus bring a new "dawn of hope."


Friday, September 10, 2010

the centres of life...

This report to the Unitarian Sunday School Society given by Rev. George Batchelor in 1901:


"If all the men and women of any congregation, be it large or small, should accept as a fact that which has been abundantly shown in experience, that the whole public and private life of the next generation will be determined by the influence exerted upon the boys and girls in their homes, their week-day schools, and their Sunday-schools before they are eighteen years of age, this feeble impulse which now lends itself to the moral and religious education of the young, will become a swelling flood, lifting every institution of society to a higher level.

We cannot make Abraham Lincolns six feet four inches high, with other features to match; but men of that type of character we might produce in abundance if we loved and honored and reverenced and rewarded men of that type. That which appears written all over the surface of the national life, whether good or evil, indicates exactly that which in their secret hearts millions of men and women have really honored and cherished. When evil appears on the surface, and for very shame we rise up to criticise and condemn, we shape in a moderate degree public opinion and the events which make history, without, however, greatly changing the deeper impulses of the national life. But the influence for which I am pleading, which may be exerted upon the young in our Sunday schools and churches, shapes the national life and all its institutions from the roots upward. If every boy and girl in every one of our congregations knew that, going out into the world, there was an organization at home that expected great things of its children, that it would note their successes and rejoice in their moral achievement, what an impulse of moral good health would be felt in all the ranks of society! Music, art, a knowledge of sacred literature, are accomplishments graceful and beautiful. But their full work is not done until they have reached the centres of life and stirred the impulses which create character."


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

learn to do well...

The focus of this year's Bible Study at our church will be the Prophets.  For me, one of the most powerful moments in the Bible is the calling of Isaiah.  This account from the Sept. 1886 issue of "The Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine" by Rev. S.R. Calthrop.

"In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah "saw the Lord sitting upon a throne. Above it stood the seraphim; and one cried to another, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send? Then, said I, Here am I; send me." Of necessity, in so early an age, Jehovah still appears to the prophet in the form of a man. The vision, as in the case of so many other prophets, consecrates him to the prophetic office. Henceforth, Isaiah feels the call and the dedication. And "what a message is his! "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith Jehovah. Who hath required this at our hand? When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean ; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment; relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." As soon as such words are uttered and written down in the world, the knell of the old thought of propitiation for sin by sacrifice of bulls and goats is sounded. The new thought of acceptance through right-doing and sacrifice of selfishness is ushered in.

But there is more than this. Isaiah already looks forward to a mighty amelioration in human affairs; to an incalculable uplifting, which will instantly begin to appear when man at last shall be reconciled to his brother, shall put away all wrong, and love all right; shall resolve that law of Maker shall be law of man. " Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." This is true prophecy,— the prophecy that uplifts, inspires to an ever renewed struggle. For does not God intend the right to win just as soon as those who love the right are brave and true? Yes. That better day is fast coming when "an highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness. No ravenous beast shall be there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and Jehovah's ransomed ones shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

For the true spirit of worship...

A Sample service from the book "Sunday School Liturgy"

The Lesson:


Superintendent:. The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and all they that dwell therein.
Pupils:. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
S. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place ?
P. He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
S. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord; and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
P. This is the generation of them that seek him; that seek thy face, O God of Jacob.
S. O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation.
P. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
S. For the Lord is a great God; and a great King above all gods!
P. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; the strength of the hills is his also.
S. The sea is his, and he made it;
P. And his hands formed the dry land.
S. O come, let us worship, and bow down; and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
P. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
S. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised.
P. Honor and majesty are before him ; strength and beauty are in bis sanctuary.
S. Give unto the Lord, O ye kindred of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.

The Prayer (said together)


Almighty God ! Father of all spirits!
Thou needest nothing of men's hands,
Seeing thou givest life and breath to all.
We rejoice that, as we need so much from thee,
From a lowly heart thou wilt not turn away.
While, at this holy hour, we bow before thee,
 May thy presence be felt by our souls.
May our hearts say, God is in this place.
Open the eyes of our minds, that we may see thee.
Open our hearts, that thy love may enter.
Come and make thy dwelling within us;
Nourish us with rich and heavenly thoughts;
Fill us with gentle and sweet affections:
May our worship be in spirit and in truth.
O Thou, who art the Giver of all good,
In thanks beyond what words can utter
Would we pour out our souls before thee.
The homes sheltered by thy wings,
The ties that bind us to dear friends,
The fair world thy hand hath made,
A soul of more value than the whole world,
Jesus, the Helper and Saviour of souls, —
Father, these are thy gifts.
Take what thy children now bring to thee, —
The offering of gratitude, and love, and trust.
Nor let our worship cease with words:
May our whole life be a thank-offering;
May our cheerful duty be to thee as sacrifice;
May submission and trust rise to thee as praise •
And when the service of life is ended,
May we give thee diviner worship in heaven.

A Hymn
1 Feeble, helpless, how shall I
Learn to live and learn to die ?
 Who, O God, my guide shall be ?
Who shall lead thy child to thee ?
2 Blessed Father, gracious One!
Thou hast sent thy holy Son ;
He will give the light I need,
He my trembling steps will lead.
3 Through this world, uncertain, dim,
Let me ever lean on him;
From his precepts wisdom draw,
Make his life my solemn law.
4 Thus in deed, and thought, and word,
Led by Jesus Christ the Lord,
In my weakness, — thus shall I
Learn to live and learn to die.
Concluding Hymn
1 What thanks, O God, to thee are due,
That thou didst plant our fathers here,
 And watch and guard them as they grew,
A vineyard to the planter dear!

2 Thy kindness to our fathers shown,
In weal or woe, through all the past,
Their grateful sons, O God, shall own
While here their name and race shall last."


Monday, September 6, 2010

order, dignity, and impressiveness...

In less than one week, our regular program year begins. I am thinking today about Children's worship.  What is the practice of your church?  We have "Children's Worship' one each month and it consists of various degrees of formality.  One of the things I am focusing on this year is to try to impart both the joy and the dignity of worship. In the 1859 Edition (the 3rd) of "The Sunday School Liturgy" published by the Sunday School Society and the American Unitarian Association, a suggested form of worship goes thus:

(from the Preface)

"This Liturgy is designed to be used in the following manner.

At the opening of the school, the Superintendent will say: —
We will begin this service by reading Lesson numbered [name the number, and, after a moment's pause, the Superintendent will read the sentences marked " S.," and the Pupils the sentences marked " P.," alternately].

When this is read, the Superintendent will say: —
We will pray in the words of the Prayer numbered [name the number, and, after a moment's pause, the Superintendent will repeat each line, which will be repeated after him by the Pupils.

After this, the Superintendent will say: —
We will sing Hymn numbered [name the number, and read the Hymn, which will then be sung by the school].

At the close, he will say: —
We will -close this session of the school by singing Hymn numbered [name the number].

The liturgical exercises are short, and, by changing the succession, a great variety may be secured. It is hoped that an observance of the method above named may give order, dignity, and impressiveness to the devotional services of the schools in which this book may be used.

Though giving less space than other similar publications to Natural Religion, and bringing into more prominence the great truths of the Gospel, and especially the need of a Redeemer, yet the book has no sectarian or dogmatic bias. It was prepared by a pastor who for years has consecrated scholarly and devout gifts to this interesting department of religious instruction. His manuscripts were examined by several gentlemen, who were requested to add, suppress, or recast portions, or entire parts, according to their judgment and taste. They gave time and care to this revision."

The book goes on to provide lessons, prayers and hymns.  Tomorrow, a sample service...


Sunday, September 5, 2010

the importance of being earnest...

Perhaps in some kind of rebellion against my Midwestern small town upbringing I was long attracted to extremes.  In college and in my brief "career" in politics, I was just to the right of Jerry Falwell.  By graduate school, I considered myself a "liberation theologian.' (Who I was going to liberate is any-one's guess.)  I have since dived into many traditions full on.
   Readers of this blog know that I have long settled into a love of the moderate. My favorite political book is Eliot Richardson's "Reflections of a Radical Moderate." And in religion, though my position is considered heretical by my conservative Christian friends, it is considered quite conservative by some of my fellow Unitarians.
   Far from regretting my more "earnest" days, I feel I learned much about the spirit of the religious impulse and am grateful for it...
   As usual James Freeman Clarke speaks my mind better than I do.  This his "Message of Faith, Hope and Love" for Sept. the 5th.

"PEOPLE who are in earnest are apt to be a little one-sided, narrow, and fanatical. But the Lord uses such agents to move the world. Do not oppose them, but endeavor to moderate them, and, like Paul, to show, if you can, a more excellent way."


Saturday, September 4, 2010

lead my steps aright...

My steps were not led aright by the Internet this morning when it told me that William Cullen Bryant's birthday was Sept. the 3rd. To be fair, the Internet also told me the truth which is that his birthday is Nov. the 3rd.  The poem, "To a Waterfowl" remains a beautiful production no matter the birthday of the poet.  And, presumably, God will prove a better guide than the Internet...

"To a Waterfowl

Whither, 'midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.

Seek'st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean side?

There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,--
The desert and illimitable air,--
Lone wandering, but not lost.

All day thy wings have fann'd
At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere:
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.

And soon that toil shall end,
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reed shall bend
Soon o'er thy sheltered nest.

Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.

He, who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.


Friday, September 3, 2010

sleeping mariners...

"I just don't feel like going to church today" won't cut it with Bernard Whitman.  His "Excuses for Neglecting Public Worship Examined" continued...

"4. The fourth and last excuse which I shall examine is this; the want of an inclination. Some persons are heard to express themselves in the following terms. We pay our proportion for the support of public worship. We molest none in the enjoyment of their religious sentiments. We attend church when we feel disposed. And if we absent ourselves most' of the time, it is no one's business. If you were at sea, and observed a vessel fast approaching the fatal rocks, with the captain and crew sound asleep, should you not feel it your duty to awaken the slumberers, and warn them of their danger ? Certainly, responds every feeling heart. But, exclaims the awakened seamen, the vessel is our own, the cargo is our own, our lives are our own, and what business had you to disturb our repose ? If we please to trust ourselves to the mercy of the winds and waves and rocks, it is no one's business. But, say the benevolent, we performed this act of kindness from the best of motives; solely for your  good. And when you realize your danger as sensibly as we do, you will feel truly grateful for your deliverance.

 Now this is precisely the answer which obedient Christians should give to those who offer this excuse of indisposition for religious exercises. We give you, my friends, this advice and exhortation solely for your happiness. We know as surely as experience and observation can teach us, that by absenting yourselves from christian worship, you deprive yourselves of one of the purest sources of earthly felicity You set an example which you would lament to see followed by your families and friends and neighbors. You are forming habits which give you no satisfaction, even at the present moment, but which will yield you the most bitter fruits in seasons of trouble and affliction. This we profess to know as certainly as you know that the sleeping mariners were in danger of shipwreck; for these effects have almost invariably followed these causes...


Thursday, September 2, 2010

absent to all eternity...

Don't agree with your minister on everything? No excuse, says Bernard Whitman, for not going to church.  His "Excuses for Neglecting Public Worship Examined" continued...

"3. The third excuse which I shall mention is this ; a dislike of the preacher. If a minister is uncharitable, and condemns those who conscientiously embrace different religious sentiments, no one can be blamed for leaving his ministrations. Neither can any one be justly censured for changing his place of worship, when he can attend upon religious instructions more congenial to his views and feelings. But it seems altogether unreasonable to forsake the church on account of some slight difference in religious sentiments, or something disagreeable in the style or manner of the preacher. It is perfectly absurd to expect one person so to think on all subjects, and so to appear on all occasion, as to please the differing tastes of a whole congregation. Neither is this at all necessary, could it be done, for spiritual improvement. Our Saviour has no where required a unity of sentiment among his followers. Religious instructions should be dispensed with charity and examined with candor. You are to prove all things by reason and scripture, and to hold fast what you believe to be good. Receive and improve the truth; discover and reject the error. With these rights freely granted, no one can justly complain. And if you would absent yourself from church until you can find a preacher who speculates on all subjects as you do, you will remain absent to all eternity. No two persons, who thought at all, ever thought alike on all subjects, and no two ever will. So that this excuse is both unreasonable and absurd."


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

benumb and stupify the faculties...

Bernard Whitman continues his "Excuses for Neglecting Public Worship Examined"

"2. The second excuse which I shall consider is this; fatigue caused by the labors of the preceding week. I well know there are times and seasons when extra exertions seem necessary. And they doubtless unfit a person for a profitable religious observance of the sabbath. But such periods seldom occur. And if a person is able to be about, I believe he would suffer no inconvenience from attending church. Nay, I think he would feel much better so to do, than he would to benumb and stupify his faculties by a whole day's idleness and sleep. To prepare himself for the sanctuary; to breathe the pure atmosphere; to meet the joyful countenances of his acquaintances ; to unite in the soothing voice of devotion; to have his feelings enlivened by animating music; to have his mind stored with useful reflections, would have a most salutary effect on his spirits. In no other way could he obtain so much real relaxation, receive so much pure enjoyment, and become so well prepared for the labors of the ensuing week. This excuse therefore will seldom apply. to perform the duties, encounter the temptations, submit to the trials, and enjoy the pleasures of life, but to enjoy the felicity and perform the duties of a heavenly inheritance; and in this way we may make the sabbath answer the end for which it was designed.

But why should any one wish to disqualify himself by excessive labor for the public worship of God ? The sabbath was made for man; for his best interests; for his highest improvements; for his richest happiness. We have rational and immortal souls. These we are to educate for a spiritual world, where our labors, enjoyments, society will be pure and intellectual. And that all might have an opportunity of acquiring these qualifications for felicity, our merciful Father has set apart one seventh part of our time for this most important purpose...

But if we neglect to improve this day religiously ; if we spend it in sleep, or idleness, or unnecessary business, or improper reading, or unlawful amusements, or sinful dissipation, we become more worldly minded and depraved. We lose our relish for the purer joys of religion. We contract hurtful and dangerous habits. Our influence and respectability are diminished. In times of sickness and bereavement we are deprived of the consolations of the gospel. In some instances we become thoroughly abandoned. And in the hour of death, our past neglect will fill our mind with anguish, and darken our prospect of a blessed immortality.. Let this not be the case with any of you. Amidst the follies and trials and vices of the world, do have one day in seven in which you can forget these perishing vanities, and look forward to that everlasting rest which remains for the children of God. You can labor enough for the support of these frail decaying bodies, without encroaching on the season of sacred meditation and worship. Let there never be occasion for you to say that you are too much fatigued to attend on the public worship of your Maker. For such an excuse will not be satisfactory in the court of conscience or heaven."