Saturday, November 15, 2008

Torrents of bitter Water

This is a great and essential means of improvement. It is essential to self-examination and self-knowledge, without which the hope of progress and of virtue is vain. Henry Ware, Jr. is speaking of Meditation, the second of his Means of Religious Improvement (see all posts Ware Jr.) No one, he continues, can know his own character, or be aware of the dispositions, feelings and motives by which he is actuated, except by means of deep and searching reflection...Meditation, too, is necessary in order to the digesting of religious truth, making familiar what we have learned, and incorporating it with our own minds...In attempting, therefore, the acquisition of a religious character, it is important that you maintain an habitual thoughtfulness of mind. Specific times for meditation are also necessary and: The proper season for this is the season of your daily devotion ; when, having shut out the world, and sought the nearer presence of God, your mind is prepared to work fervently. Then, contemplation, aided by prayer, ascends to heights which it could never reach alone : and sometimes, whether in the body or out of the body it can hardly tell, soars, as it were to the third heaven, and enjoys a revelation to which, at other hours, it is a stranger. This, however, is an excitement of mind which is rarely to be expected. Those seasons are ' few as angel's visits,' which lift the spirit to any thing like ecstasy. They are glimpses of heaven, which the soul, in its present tabernacle, can seldom catch, only frequently enough to afford a brief foretaste of that bliss to which it shall hereafter arrive. Its ordinary musings are less ethereal ; happy, undoubtedly, though oftentimes clouded by feelings of sadness, arid doubt, and by a sense of umvorthiness and sin. But however mixed they may be, they are always salutary... Ware goes on to give comfort to those suffering from "arid doubt" and feelings of distance from God. These times are shared by everyone, even the greatest of saints...But, Ware warns, Do not let this apology, which is designed only for the comfort of the humble and watchful, be used by you as a cover for negligence and "sinful self-confidence. Remember that your unsatisfactory state of religious sensibility may be possibly your fault ; and you are not to presume that it is otherwise, until you have faithfully searched and tried. Have you not, for a time, been unreasonably devoted to amusement, or engrossed by unnecessary cares, so as to have neglected the watching of your heart ?
Ware concludes,... after all, remember that you are to judge of the real worth of these seasons, not by your enjoyment of them as they pass, not by the luxury or rapture of your contemplation, but by their effect upon your character and principles, by the religious power you gain from them toward meeting the duties and sufferings, the joys and sorrows, the temptations, trials and conflicts of actual life. Meditation is a means of religion ; not to be rested in as a final good, nor allowed to satisfy us, except so far as it imparts to the character a permanent impress of seriousness and duty, and strengthens the principles of faith and self-government...It is easy to see, therefore, that there are three purposes which you have in view ; the cultivation of a religious spirit, the scrutiny of your life and character, the renewing of your good purposes...A renewal of your resolutions is to follow this inquiry. Knowing where you are and whal you need, you are to arrange your purposes accordingly. It is a sad error of some to fancy that seeing and acknowledging their faults is all which is required of them. They sit down and bewail them, and in weeping and sorrow waste that energy of mind which should have been exerted in amendment. But it is surely far better, with manly readiness, to rise and act without a tear, than to shed torrents of bitter water, and still go on as before. Regret and remorse naturally express themselves in weeping ; but repentance shows itself in action. It may begin in sorrow, but it ends in reformation. And you have little reason to be satisfied with your reflections and your penitence, if they do not issue in prompt and resolute action.

One of the great virtues of the Boston Unitarians was their striving after balance. They sought to achieve and promote a theology and way of living that carved out a middle way. Times of great, almost ecstatic illumination are balanced by long arid stretches. It is a practical truth. Shed your torrents of bitter water, but then repent(a wonderful word not often enough used) and resolve in your next action to do a little better. Blessings

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