Saturday, November 1, 2008

Arduous and Delightful

It may sometimes seem that the earnestness and the pervasiveness of the religious life as described by Henry Ware thus far (see all posts labeled Ware Jr) sounds unreasonable or even dreary. This is deeply unfortunate because, in reality, Ware is in love with his God (so to speak) and wants his reader to be so as well. It is not a short or easy path, but the rewards of even walking it are great. Ware concludes Chapter One thus:
"It is plain, then, that the work to which you address yourself is arduous as well as delightful. It is not to be done in a short time, nor by a few indolent or violent efforts...but only by a surrender of the whole man and the entire life to the will of God, in faith, affection, and action: by a thorough imitation of Jesus in the devout and humble temper of his mind, in the spirtuality of his affections and in the purity and loveliness of his conduct...Be on your guard, therefore, from the first, against setting your mark too low. Do not allow yourself to be persuaded that anything less is Religion, or will answer for you, than its complete and highest measure...Remember always, that you are capable of being more devout, more charitable, more humble, more devoted and earnest in doing good, better acquainted with religious truth...Happy they who are so filled with longings after spiritual good, that they go on improving to the end of their days."
The great Zen teacher Dogen said that when we sit in meditation, for that moment we are already enlightened. For Ware, and many of the Boston Unitarians, the moment by moment practice of doing the next right thing (no matter how small) and doing it intentionally, is living a religious life. It may not be, in itself, poetic or dramatic, but it is a higher and nobler life, and it is available to everyone. Blessings


PeaceBang said...

BU, what do you make of "charitable" and "humble" for those of us who seem designed to be more fiery and, well, fiercely loving rather than gently loving? Is "niceness" part of what Ware is talking about, here? Can I be a decent Christian without being a nice person? Or is the virtue in the effort?

The Eclectic Cleric said...

With all the work I've done on the Wares, I feel like I ought to contribute something meaningful to this conversation...but unfortunately, the more I've learned about this remarkable family, the less comfortable I feel making broad generalizations about either their beliefs or their overall significance to our movement. Between them (father and son) they educated an entire generation of Unitarian clergy -- arguable, the "best and brightest" our movement has ever known then or since. And I would also say that they were very practical in their theology, without compromising one small bit in their intellectual/academic rigor.

The overarching end of religion was 'to be of use" -- so there was a strong social/communitarian component to their faith, in contrast to the individualism of the subsequent Transcendental Philosophy of so many of their students. They believed in self-culture, and thus in some degree to Salvation by Character -- but the principal metaphor around which they organized their ideas was that of the family -- God Our Father, Christ Our Brother -- the former who sometimes was forced to chastise us in order to correct our errors and prepare us for a greater destiny; the later an inspiration and role model, who we might well imitate to our own benefit. But I guess in answer to your original question PB, no -- you really can't be a decent Christian without being a nice person. Although in fairness, I think they probably would have qualified that by saying that the REAL criterion is WANTING to be a NICER person.