Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Ray of Spiritual Brightness

The Boston Unitarians were (and are) often derided as cold, rationalistic figures, narrow and provincial in view. Emerson, of course, famously called some of them "corpse cold"
There is no question that they were often understated and they certainly emphasized character as the chief religious expression and virtue which can make them sound moralistic and dull. For me, however, this very emphasis has become deeply and spiritually enriching. It elevates and promotes the sacredness of the everyday, and gives spiritual import to each and every action.
The nature and the position of Jesus was often at the center of these criticisms, Ephraim Peabody (see post Nov. 17th), in his sermon, "Christ our Life" seeks to navigate these waters with a pasionate appeal for the centrality of Jesus. Some exerpts:

"Christ our Life"

"The constant teaching of the Gospels is, that Almighty God sent the saviour into the world to be the centre and source of a higher spiritual life; and that the degree in which any one of us recieves this life depends very much on the nearness which, through faith and reverence and love, we maintain to him...We confess that in Christ we have disclosed to us a perfect example of the character which God most approves and requires...In him were combined in their perfection those qualities which make the perfection of all moral beings;-the gentleness that won the heart of the child, a courage that was tranquil when confronted by a condemning world and by the terrors of a lingering death, a magnanimity that rose above outrage, a benevolence that forgot wrong and thought only of the salvation of the wrong-doer, a tenderness that wept at the grave of Lazarus and over the forseen sorrows of Jerusalem, and a rectitude by which he was the fitting judge of the world...Now, however we may describe it, that is the character around which gather all immortal hopes. Compared with the attainment of this in the least degree, all other attainments are cheap and poor. We wear out life in collecting some handfuls of golden dust. And yet one ray of that spiritual brightness in our souls is worth more than all human treasures."

This morning was my near weekly trip to Boston and to the Athenaeum, and a very cold and windy morning it was. On my walk back to the ferry boat, I was able to stop in at King's Chapel (where Peabody served) for their midweek communion service. On my way out, I said hello to Ephraim Peabody (see photo) and a thank you, and found myself a little warmer than when I went in. Blessings


PeaceBang said...

How about sense of humor? I'm only partly kidding. I have read that Emerson was very disapproving of loud laughter, but I certainly see a wonderfully wry humor in much of his writings, and certainly in those of Thoreau. Did the Boston Unitarians ignore what I'm calling a sense of humor (and, did they see Jesus as an entirely sober personality, which I do not), or did they call it be another name?

slt said...

Hey Peacebang,
Humor was not high on the list of virtues for many of the BU's I am afraid, especially in their writing. A few demonstrate some spirit and humor in other forms of writing (letters, memoirs etc...)
I think of Emerson (who indeed disapproved of the lack of restraint that laughter demonstrated) speaking of his friend Caleb Stetson (who served for a time at your church.) It seems Stetson was the humorous transcendentalist who often livened otherwise tedious discussions with his asides and general wit.
Jesus is sometimes given credit by BU's for a brightness and joyfulness and I will try to include a few more examples of this side. Meanwhile, if anyone else has an example or two of the more humorous side of BUism, send them along. Thanks Peacebang and

PeaceBang said...

Thanks, BU! I think I would have liked Caleb Stetson. Anyone who can crack up Ralph Waldo Emerson in the middle of an installation service is okay in my book.