Saturday, October 25, 2008

Be Ware

I get up most every morning at 5:00 and I love this time of quiet before my family wakes, and the dog announces his demands. It is cold these days in the morning-the night before last was the first frost of the season, so that first cup of coffee is all the more welcome as I burrow into my chair with lapdesk and moleskin notebook.

The most consistent spiritual practice in my life has been my morning devotions. Through good times and bad, times of spiritual connectedness, and through long dry deserts, I have started most days with reading and prayer. My practice is (of course) an old one and very similar to that practiced by the Boston Unitarians. I begin with Scripture, move to a devotional work (almost always, a 19th century sermon), pray with the days reading present in my my mind, and finish with a few minutes of reading in history or a memoir.

This morning...

Scripture: in I Corinthians 4

The Apostle Paul is writing to a church that he established yet seems to be in an early stage of revolt against him. They are becoming arrogant, breaking into factions and much else. Paul needs to establish authority yet his core message of servanthood makes it difficult.

He writes:

To this very hour we (Apostles) go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.
We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;
when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children.
Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

This is not the only place in Paul's writing where his readers are urged to imitate him. It may seem an arrogant thing telling people to "be like me" but, of course, it must be remembered that Paul is urging people to be like Christ who has crucified the old Paul and made him anew.

And speaking of imitation: I am beginning yet again, "Formation of the Christian Character" by Henry Ware Jr. (1794-1843 ). This classic Unitarian devotional manual is a deeply important book for me. Over the past five years or so I have pondered my way through it many times. It is the essence of Boston Unitarian spirituality in its deep piety wedded to practical, daily life practice.

From the Introduction:

I AM anxious to bespeak the reader's right attention before he enters on the following pages. They have been written only for those who are sincerely desirous of knowing themselves, and are bent upon forming a religious character. They can be of little interest or value to any other person, or if read with any other view than that of self-improvement. I venture, therefore, to entreat every one, into whose hands the book may fall, to peruse it, as it has been written, not for entertainment, but for moral edification ; to read it at those seasons when he is seriously disposed, and can reflect upon the important topics presented to his view. I am solicitous to aid him in the formation of his Christian character, and about every other result I am indifferent.

The Boston Unitarians were often criticized for what James Freeman Clark summarized as "salvation by character" and yet, when it gets right down to it, what they were talking about was mindfulness, living an elevated life day by day. Doing the next right thing. The spirituality of that kind of life is profound and within the reach of all.

It is why I love the Boston Unitarians and why I seek to "imitate" them. If you, too, are "bent upon forming a Christian Character," you could do worse than to imitate them as well.
BeWare and be well.

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