Wednesday, November 30, 2011

to triumph over old age

Yesterday was the birthday of Amos Bronson Alcott, most infuriating of the Transcendentalists, who wrote...

"To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent that is to triumph over old age."


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the most dependent creature on earth...

Ephraim Peabody tells us that the more "advanced" a civilization becomes, the more dependent we humans become. Yesterday's Advent Sermon continued...

"1. I call attention to the general fact that every increase of faculty, though it increases power, involves also an increase of needs. The stone in the quarry has no needs whatsoever. The air folds it round about, the rains fall on it, the sunbeams glow and flame on its surface, but the rock remains impassive, needing none of them. The tree adds to dead matter the element of organizing life, and air, rain and sunshine are essential to its existence. With the added faculties of animal life come added and corresponding needs. In man there is a sudden and vast enlargement of faculty, but with it an equal multiplication of the points of dependence on what is external to himself. Man, the most powerful, is also the most dependent creature on earth. The general law follows him into the spiritual life. The brute has neither hope nor fear for the morrow; but man is tortured by remorseful memories, is racked by anxieties, is at the mercy of hope and fear, lives a needy mendicant on human affections, his soul is awed by conscious relations with God, he recoils from the mysteries of the grave, and treads with trembling the borders of the eternal world. He is in the midst of the vast agencies of Nature and of God, and by the very intelligence which raises him above the animal, is made conscious of his weakness and dependence. And now, going one step farther, I add, that the higher the culture, the greater the needs... One might almost describe civilization as a condition of multiplied needs—physically, mentally, morally, a condition of multiplied needs. It is no accident, but the merciful law of God, that the same civilization which develops individual power shall create the restraints of dependence and the humanizing influences of mutual needs. Thus culture invariably increases need. It awakens the sensibilities, it gives them a keener edge, it multiplies their demands, it carries a man out of himself, and connects his wellbeing with a constantly enlarging circle of influences external to himself—making him at the same time more self-subsistent and more dependent."

More tomorrow...


Monday, November 28, 2011

the culture of our higher faculties...

I have read a fair number of 19th Century Unitarian Sermons in my time and a recurring theme, I think it safe to say, is the desire to square the Christian revelation with the increasing secularism and perceived rise in "the general activity of the intellect" of the time. 
   This an Advent collect and part one of a sermon from the more conservative end of the "squaring." It is by a Boston Unitarian staple, Ephraim Peabody...

ADVENT. Collect.

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty, to judge both the living and dead, we may rise to the life immortal. And this we beg in the name of our Mediator; though whom we ascribe unto Thee all honour and glory, now and ever. Amen.



"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Rom. xiii. 14.

In entering upon that period of the year which calls our attention to the advent of Christ and the beneficent influence of his religion in past ages, it becomes us to consider it in its relation to the wants of our own time. The fundamental characteristic of the age, the source of many other characteristics, and fostered by what itself creates, is the immense and general activity of the intellect, and the direction of this activity to secular affairs. By the education of schools and the severer education of practical life, by individual freedom, by the multiplied and multiplying careers open to the enterprising and aspiring, by the poverty which rebels against its restrictions, by the luxury which would make the world tributary to its pleasures, by the prizes held out on every side to the clear mind and the energetic will, the general intellect is stimulated to an activity in secular pursuits such as the world never saw before. One of the results of this intellectual and secular activity is seen in the theory, that, in some inexplicable way, the advance of knowledge supersedes the necessity of revelation; that, in the growing light of civilization, Christianity is less needed, that it is becoming obsolete, that it has been a good religion for rude ages, that it is good now for the ignorant, but that the intelligent and the cultivated may find, in the study of nature and the human heart, what answers their purposes quite as well and is more satisfactory.

The text, taken from the lesson of the day, implies that, in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, we are laying aside what is low and sensual, and making provision for the higher faculties of our nature. The inference from this is, that in proportion to the culture of our higher faculties will be our need of His religion and the extent of its influence over us.

The precise point, however, which I would urge, is this ;—that the increased intellectual activity of the age, instead of diminishing, increases the need of an authoritative religious revelation, both in regard to the faith and practice of men."


Sunday, November 27, 2011

renew thyself...

This from "Walden."

  "Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of King Tching Thang to this effect: "Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." I can understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages"

Amen and blessings

Friday, November 25, 2011

eulogy of courtesy...

This on Emerson's "gentility" excerpted from Christy's "The Orient in American Transcendentalism." To be a gentleman...

"For a Philosopher," wrote Walt Whitman, "Emerson possesses a singularly dandified theory of Manners"...Emerson consistently kept insisting that the outward man was an expression of the inward, nevertheles. He was perfectly aware that he went furthuer than his countrymen in his insistence on courtesy and manners...

Emerson defended his own emphasis stoutly:

"We may easily seem ridiculous in our eulogy of courtesy, whenever we insist on benevolence as its foundation. The painted phantasm Fashion rises to cast a species of derision on what we say. But I will neither be driven from some allowance to Fashion as a symbolic insititution, nor from the belief that love is the basis of courtesy. We must obtain that, if we can; but by all means we must affirm this."

The reason for Emerson's eulogy of courtesy...was the belief that man can only become inwardly perfect by expressing himself perfectly in outward manner."


Thursday, November 24, 2011

This from Henry David...

"My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contended one can be with nothing definite - only a sense of existence."

Amen and blessings to all

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cool, cool water...

Though I almost never post anything from later than the last century and a half, I offer this under the category of family pride. It is a video done by our 5th and 6th grade class of which son Henry is a member and spouse Carrie is a teacher. The video was filmed, compiled and edited by daughter Molly. It was "premiered" at our Guest at Your Table kickoff...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the whole of our lives...

This "Thanksgiving Song" by Henry Ware Jr...


November, 1840. Tune, Sandy And Jenny.

Come, uncles and cousins; come, nieces and aunts;
Come, nephews and brothers, — no wonts and no cants:
Put business, and shopping, and school-books away;
The year has rolled round; — it is Thanksgiving-day.

Come home from the college, ye ringlet-haired youth,
Come home from your factories, Ann, Kate, and Ruth;
From the anvil, the counter, the farm come away;
Home, home, with you, home; — it is Thanksgiving-day.

The table is spread, and the dinner is dressed;
The cooks and the mothers have all done their best:
No caliph of Bagdad e'er saw such display,
Or dreamed of a treat like our Thanksgiving-day.

Pies, puddings, and custards, pigs, oysters, and nuts, —
Come forward and seize them, without ifs or buts;
Bring none of your slim, little appetites here; —
Thanksgiving-day comes only once in a year.

Thrice welcome the day in its annual round!
What treasures of love in its bosom are found!
New England's high holiday, ancient and dear!
Twould be twice as welcome, if twice in a year.

Now children revisit the darling old place,
And brother and sister, long parted, embrace;
The family ring is united once more,
And the same voices shout at the old cottage door.

The grandfather smiles on the innocent mirth,
 And blesses the Power that has guarded his hearth;
He remembers no trouble, he feels no decay,
But thinks his whole life has been Thanksgiving-day.

Then praise for the past and the present we sing,
And trustful await what the future may bring:
Let doubt and repining be banished away,
And the whole of our lives be a Thanksgiving-day."


Monday, November 21, 2011

let your feet run...

"My entire Philosophy," wrote Ralph Waldo to Carlyle, "teaches acquiescence and optimism." It has become my foundational quote and is here fleshed out in RWE's famous, "Oversoul."

"Ineffable is the union of man and God in every act of the soul. The simplest person, who in his integrity worships God, becomes God; yet for ever and ever the influx of this better and universal self is new and unsearchable. It inspires awe and astonishment. How dear, how soothing to man, arises the idea of God, peopling the lonely place, effacing the scars of our mistakes and disappointments! When we have broken our god of tradition, and ceased from our god of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence. It is the doubling of the heart itself, nay, the infinite enlargement of the heart with a power of growth to a new infinity on every side. It inspires in man an infallible trust. He has not the conviction, but the sight, that the best is the true, and may in that thought easily dismiss all particular uncertainties and fears, and adjourn to the sure revelation of time, the solution of his private riddles. He is sure that his welfare is dear to the heart of being. In the presence of law to his mind, he is overflowed with a reliance so universal, that it sweeps away all cherished hopes and the most stable projects of mortal condition in its flood. He believes that he cannot escape from his good. The things that are really for thee gravitate to thee. You are running to seek your friend. Let your feet run, but your mind need not. If you do not find him, will you not acquiesce that it is best you should not find him? for there is a power, which, as it is in you, is in him also, and could therefore very well bring you together, if it were for the best. You are preparing with eagerness to go and render a service to which your talent and your taste invite you, the love of men and the hope of fame. Has it not occurred to you, that you have no right to go, unless you are equally willing to be prevented from going? O, believe, as thou livest, that every sound that is spoken over the round world, which thou oughtest to hear, will vibrate on thine ear! Every proverb, every book, every byword that belongs to thee for aid or comfort, shall surely come home through open or winding passages. Every friend whom not thy fantastic will, but the great and tender heart in thee craveth, shall lock thee in his embrace. And this, because the heart in thee is the heart of all; not a valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in nature, but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation through all men, as the water of the globe is all one sea, and, truly seen, its tide is one."


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Arabian within...

This on how the Concord Transcendentalists read books found in Arthur Christy's "The Orient in American Transcendentalism" first published in 1932...

"How carefully did the Concordians read books? As a boy barely in his majority, Emerson confessed that his 'cardinal vice of intellectual dissipation' was 'sinful strolling from book to book, from care to idleness.' He added that with this malady he belonged to the incurables. Over two decades later, in 1843, he was still uncured. Some one must have taunted his with the remark, 'Your reading is irrelevant.' Emerson's answer was defiant. 'Yes, for you, but not for me. It makes no difference what I read. If it is irrelevant, I read it deeper. I read it until it is pertinent to me and mine...A good scholar will find Aristophanes and Hafiz and Rabelais full of American history.' Elsewhere he explained his meaning in other terms. 'Only so much of Arabian history can I read as I am Arabian within."


Friday, November 11, 2011

the gentleman and scholar...

Ephraim Emerton  (18 February 1851 – 3 March 1935), scholar, devout Unitarian, teacher and writer on the kind of education that nourished the "Gentleman and Scholar"...

"If we try to analyze this somewhat vague conception, we find that the essential quality of this earlier education was that it was in no sense professional. That is what men tried to express by the word "liberal," a word one hesitates now to use, because one fears to be understood as thereby describing all other education as "illiberal." No such opposition was ever intended, nor was it felt by the generations which came and went under those conditions. They rejoiced in the privilege of spending a certain period of youth in studies and in a mental attitude which had in view no direct practical use of what they were acquiring; in other words, no professional or technical aim. At the conclusion of that period they were not, and knew they were not, fitted to carry on any given work of life. They did believe, however, that they had made the best preparation for living, no matter what specific line of work they might follow. If, at that moment, they were to enter the world of scholarship, they were without technical training in any field. That was all to come, and they were as ready to begin the necessary professional discipline in their way as were the lawyer, the physician, and the engineer in theirs.

What they had had was a chance to fix solidly in their mental character the largeness and the beauty of the intellectual life. They had had time to think and to ripen without concern as to just whither their thinking and their unconscious development were leading them. No matter into what direction they might now turn their activity, they were bound to carry with them that essential thing which, for lack of a better name, we agreed to call the liberal spirit. If they had made a proper use of their chance they could never be mere specialists in their field. Their special and technical skill must always be infused with that higher and larger spirit of culture to which the professional spirit is always and necessarily more or less antagonistic. Expressed in terms of the inner life, such a scholar was, and was felt to be, a gentleman. No one cared what his origin might be. There was no fixed type to which he was forced to correspond. There might be endless diversity in his outward expression of himself; only, through all diversity and with every allowance made for original advantage or disadvantage, there was the inevitable stamp of the gentleman and the scholar."


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

the unity of all nature...

Ralph Waldo in "Emerson's Plutarch" by Edmund G. Berry.

"Emerson's earlier Stoicism is orthodox Roman in its doctrine of God within man and it is also pantheism, since God is in all nature and nature includes man. Some of the Stoics used in defending themselves against the charge of pantheism an argument which Emerson later could have used when the same charge was made against him, but he would have regarded the argument as quibbling and evasion; the Stoics said that God is in the universe and hence in man but He is not evenly distributed throughtout the universe. There is deity in all things but, said the Stoics, "as a man is called wise, being wise in mind, though he consists of mind and body; so the world is called God from its soul, though it consists of soul and body. Only at a later stage in his thinking, after he had achieved a state of mind something like Stoic equanimity, or to put it in another way, after his religion had been toned down so that it consisted of not much more that Stoic ethics, did Emerson cautiously approach the Stoic solution to the problem of the relation of man, nature, and God. In the essay "Worship" in "The Conduct of Life," Emerson speaks of "God's delegating his divinity to every particle." This certainly sounds Stoic but the term delegating is perhaps carefully chosen; the particle is not itself God as the Stoics would have it. Emerson still shies away from a full acceptance of Stoicism; rather ihis solution is Platonic and Christian-and it is surprising that h3e has not adopted it before: "Man is the image of God." Still, he adds, "there is no flaw in either Epicurianism or Stoicism."
This Plutarchan blend of Platonism and Stoicism lies not far below the surface of much of Emerson's thought about man and God. It appears in his doctrine of face, for to Emerson and the Stoics, the unity of all nature provides, or itself is, a natural necessity."