Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rooted Resolve

No matter our religious belief, practice etc...we all suffer (I think) from the ebbing and flowing of the spirit. Often within the same day, what seems alive and luminous one moment is far from our vision the next. Especially in our culture of instant gratification and comfort at all costs is this true. I have gone through very long and very dry spells of the spirit. Spells of vain grasping after a feeling that I think I may have felt once and am trying to get back.
Rufus Ellis has some wise words for this condition in his sermon, "The Tides of the Spirit"

"THERE are times and tides of the Spirit. It is given sometimes by measure and sometimes not by measure... Sometimes we are in the Spirit, — not always. Sometimes we can recognize the presence and the help of God,— not always. Sometimes the Spirit witnesses unto our spirits, — not always. And we find that what is true of ourselves is true of others, true of the best; that they also are not always in the Spirit. Sometimes we are left to our native capacities, and to the light and love that are garnered in holy oracles and blessed traditions of the past; and the struggle of life goes on in no nearness to God, and under closed heavens; the Sundays are Whitsundays only in name; the great and deep sea still lies out before us, but there comes no divine breath to send us beyond our soundings and our shallows...And I think that we must accept this as the law of our spiritual life, even in Christendom. God means that it shall be so...

Strengthen the things which are always yours; make the most of what God has already given you, in what you call your higher nature, — in your reason, your conscience, your moral sense, your free-will, your Bible, the example of your Master. God asks us to obey Him, and gives us light and strength for that, — some beams from heaven always, but not necessarily a halo about the head, or fervors of heart and spirit...God asks of us a great deal of routine work. He would learn whether we will keep His commandments or no. That Voice to us is always steady and plain, to-day and to-morrow and the day following; we must not always be listening for other and more exhilarating voices. Our religious life cannot be a continual renewal of the deepest faiths, the most intense feelings, the deliciousness of prayer, the overflowings of joy, the delicacies of piety. It is not safe for us to expect such things, because, as I suppose, it is not safe for us to have them... rather must we give ourselves in all soberness to such plain exercises as self-control in all its forms, the best use of time and talents and wealth, the better ordering of our household, the application of moral truths which are known and acknowledged, — a self-denying charity, a truth-telling sobriety. It is easy to exhaust the soul in the endeavor to stimulate its emotions, but there is a limit to religious sensibility; and we shall do well to regard the duty and conscience of piety rather than the exhilaration we are to find in it...If we do not cease from plain duties for lack of ardent faiths and strong emotions and sensible helps, if we keep on working and asking, the Day of Pentecost will surely come, and our religion shall be as joyous and tender as it has been honest and practical...

The Spirit will come; the Spirit is whispering in our hearts now... learn to trust utterly and always in Him who seems sometimes to hide Himself very strangely; come into a rooted resolve of a larger obedience; commit yourself to a nobler life; let the Bread of God nourish you for a continual service; and let your covenant with the Unseen and Eternal be an everlasting covenant."


Friday, January 30, 2009

Our Eversasting Portion

Today is the anniversary of the death of William Henry Furness (1802-1896) Jesus scholar, abolitionist, FOE (Friend of Emerson) and pastor. His book of prayers, Domestic Worship, has long been a favorite of mine. A representative Morning Prayer:

"God of our lives! Maker of heaven and of earth, who dost every morning command the light to shine out of darkness, shine into our hearts now, and give us the light of the knowledge of thy glory. Let an everlasting day dawn within us. As we have risen refreshed by repose, we would go forth this morning with heart and hand ready for every good work. We would return to the active duties of life with a fresh sense of the great value of life, and more deeply impressed than ever by the thought of the momentous consequences involved in all that we do. But without Thee all our strength is naught, and we labour in vain. Grant us thy blessing. God be with us this day to guard and guide!
Feeble are we, O our Father, and life is a scene of constant danger. The foes of our inward peace assail us in the most deceitful forms, and our own hearts are treacherous. Without unsleeping vigilance and earnest prayer, we may go far astray from the path of life, and miss the only true fountains of life, and find all our labour vanity, vexation and anguish of spirit. We would flee to the shadow of thine all protecting wings. Thou art our refuge, and what are we without thine ever present care!
How deep and hearty should be our gratitude ! How should we call upon our souls and all that is within us to rejoice in Thee, almighty to protect and to save, the God of our salvation, whose bounty the multitude of our wants cannot weary, whose mercy all our sins, though they are many and great, cannot exhaust! Be thou ever present, in thy pure glory, to our hearts. Having Thee ever before our eyes, how shall we bear ever again to yield to evil solicitations or do any thing offensive in thy sight! How can we ever disregard thy will so clearly expressed or violate thy perfect law written on our hearts, announced by all thy works, vindicated by the whole course of thy providence, and revealed in a living form in the person of thy Son, our Saviour! Be Thou thus within us a preserving presence. Give us the most exalted conceptions of thy being, a practical conviction of thy nearness. At home and abroad, in our public walks, in our deepest retirement, let the fear of God restrain and the love of God animate us.
Father in heaven, may no corrupting inclinations be fostered in our bosoms this day. May we be pure hearted and single minded, and possess a perfect command over our passions, lest they alienate us from thee and put us at enmity with thy perfect purity, and cut us off from the light and blessedness of thy presence. Let not our imaginations give a false value to the fleeting gratifications of time and sense. Let us not look too fondly at the things which are seen and temporal, and mistake the shadow for the reality, the glare of the world for the eternal light of truth. May our hearts be set upon the attainment of inward, thorough, personal holiness. And until this be secured, may we feel that we have done nothing and gained nothing, however otherwise the labour of our hands may, in thy providence, be prospered. Save us from the tyranny of ungoverned passions, from those evil practices and habits which despoil the soul of all power and peace and cast it into outer darkness!
We sustain numerous and interesting relations to one another and to the world. Help us this day faithfully to discharge every social duty. May we be governed in all the transactions of this day by the strictest principles of honourable dealing. Let no pride or vanity blind us to the sacred rights of others and induce us to take unfair advantage of their ignorance, or to exult in their infirmities. Be that divine charity our governing principle, that charity which is the bond of Christian perfection, the brightest ornament of the Christian life, that charity which hopeth all things and endureth all things, rejoicing not in iniquity but in the truth. In this spirit may we never deny the claim which all men of every name and denomination have upon our sympathy and respect. May we forgive the injurious as we hope to be forgiven of God, and do unto others as we would they should do unto us.
Make this day, Almighty God, a day of steady improvement. Sanctify all its enjoyments. Disarm all its temptations. May every hour be spent in thy service. Should any calamity befall us, should sickness and death enter this dwelling, may we receive them as sent from God upon an errand of mercy. Whatever may be the course of thy providence, let our souls rejoice in thy goodness, and then we shall not fear though the earth be removed out of its place and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea. Give us this trust in life and in death, and be Thou, O God, our everlasting portion; and unto thee will we ascribe the glory and the praise for ever. Amen."


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blessed Unrest...

Sin is a word profoundly out of fashion in Unitarian Universalist circles. In fact, I would argue that a personal sense of sin is out of fashion even in evangelical circles where it seems to largely be used to identify the practices of others. There are some good reasons for this circumstance: the word sin can and often has been used as a psychological battering ram and its demise in this context is welcome. And yet the loss of a personal sense of sin has its negative side as well. Here is Rev. Rufus Ellis in his sermon, "To Him it is Sin"

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. — James, iv. 17.

IT is sin not to live up to our light. Young and old, wise and simple, we are sinners so long as we fail to live up to our light. It may be twilight, or it may be noontide; the light may be very dim or very bright; the good that we know to do may be little or much ; our moral growth may have just begun, or we may have made much progress in goodness, — but it is true, all the same, that if we are not living up to our light it is sin. The revelation of truth and right is a disclosure of obligation, a call to obedience...

'Therefore to him who knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.' The good may be something unexpected, unusual, not a mere conventional good, — like a paltry dole to the poor, a pittance from your hoard, a crumb from your luxurious table, an hour in your week, a word which costs you nothing. The good may be a nobler style of living, simplicity perhaps amidst surrounding luxuries, a consecration of your leisure to work for which the world pays no wages and will scarce give you thanks. The good may be very hard, because very good and very beautiful and very blessed... Christianity is a revelation of good things to be done on earth, — of human purity, simplicity, justice, brotherhood, service; and to him who knows these things and doeth them not, to him it is sin, and Christianity is preached to him in vain unless he has a consciousness of sin.
The hope of every human soul and of human society is bound up with blessed and fruitful sorrow, — this living sense of sin. Let this fail, and moral progress is at an end. Come to look upon your shortcomings as misfortunes, cease to deplore and strive against them as sins, and you have ceased to live, or at least have fallen asleep; and if there is to be no change you will sleep on forever, and might as well die to-day as any time. Life is not mere continuance,— it is progress; it is the receiving of larger and larger measures of truth and love; it is movement upward and onward. It is not well for us to be content with ourselves so long as we know any good which we are not doing, trying with all our might and with all the help we can get from God to do. It is a blessed unrest which moves us to toil and prayer; we can do without it no more than the sick man can do without the pain, or even agony, which sends him to the physician, and engages him in self-control and the struggle for health and life.
It is one of the crowning excellences of Christianity that it awakens and strengthens and keeps alive this consciousness of sin by its appeals for an exceeding righteousness and its display of a grand example of holy living, while at the same time it directs and tempers the feeling by its revelation of inexhaustible love and help."

A crowning excellence indeed. Blessings

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saints of Everyday Life

Rufus Ellis (1819-1885) was the minister of First Church in Boston from 1853 until his death. Edward Everett Hale said this of Rev. Ellis in his Memorial Address:
"This man held to Jesus Christ as the real leader of life, — as the leader of this modern life of to-day. Christianity was not for him any bit of medieval imagery, any prehistoric fossil. To him true Christianity was to be the real life of the nineteenth century, In his heart, he believed and knew that men might walk in the Way of Jesus Christ, and believe his truth, and live his life. This was his hope and prayer and his expectation"
This from Ellis' sermon, "Everyday Religion"
"Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. — Matthew, vi. 10.

I WISH to speak to you of the religion of common life, — every-day religion; of the faith out of which it springs; of the acts in which it is exercised; of the blessedness to which it leads.
1. The faith out of which it springs is a deep religious conviction that there is a divine Will to be done here on earth, a divine Hand waiting here to guide us, a message from heaven for every hour of our lives...there is this sublime confidence in the absolute sacredness of our life; and it is the spring of a most practical religion.

2. For observe, next, that with those who are in this faith every duty, no matter how common, is God's call for instantaneous obedience; literally His voice to them out of the Holy of holies ; unquestionably so, because the duty is so plain...And the point is, that this is just as true of the least things as of the greatest, of the nearest things as of the most remote; that in truth when little and great and near and far are seen in God, these distinctions vanish...The religion of every-day life does not merely record in diaries the alternations of the heart's temperature, or write out vows of self-consecration, or breathe out longings for a more entire self-surrender; it yields up to God the person, the thing, that God asks for, submitting to Him in each moment of struggle, when the child cleaves to this and that, and would walk aside from the path into which the strong and gentle Hand would lead; it worships, it may be, in tears and bitterness of spirit, and yet in that sweet submission which saith, "Not my will but Thine be done!"
3. And now let me say, that all the beatitudes of the Gospel are fulfilled according as this religion of common life is duly observed. In its pure and holy light, as it shines down upon ever-brightening paths, we see that every human life has a meaning and is accomplishing an end which is altogether divine. This meaning we are ever unfolding, this end we are ever fulfilling...But the blessedness of this religion can only be seen when those who profess it follow it...upon the instant, — not to-morrow, which is a moral dislocation, but to-day...
Well do we keep a day of All Saints: all, not only those whose names are in the Calendar, and who can be accepted, some of them, only with certain grains of allowance,—all those also whose names are written only upon the palms of God's hands and upon the hearts of many who in that great Day shall rise up and call them blessed! Tell the stories of this and the other saint to any who care to hear them; but none the less the heart of humanity should keep its sweetest incense and its abundance of most joyful praise for the saints of every-day life, — unknown because they were lost in their work, and in Him who gave it to them to do."
Have a blessed day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike RIP

John Updike RIP

Sunday, January 25, 2009

To be overruled...

Some warm words on the Lord's Prayer from Henry Wilder Foote on a bitter cold New England morning...

" As he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."

"...the first condition of prayer is, that it shall be really offered to God, — that is, to the highest and purest will of which he who prays has any conception. It must mean desire not to overrule, but to be overruled by Him." A selfish wish, even if thrown out in that form, is still selfishness praying to itself. He who gave us the Lord's Prayer, with its trustful voicing of our great human needs, has shown us the spirit which should underlie all our prayer, when in his own hour of trial he cried, " Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as thou wilt! "
" In Christ's sense, Christian prayer addresses primarily not God's omnipotence at all, but his spiritual nature. . . . Prayer is ... the chief method by which the eager and short-sighted and imperfect mind gradually learns to purify itself in the flame of Divine love. People talk and think as if prayer only meant bringing pressure to bear for private purposes on the Power which touches the secret springs of life. But in Christ's teaching it means bringing Divine influences to bear on these private purposes, so as to extinguish or transform them."
The highest view of life is the truest. Only when we regard it as God's gift to us, and its privileges as ways of serving Him, do we know how to use them aright... Our deepest wants are those which touch no other human spirit, — which no outward possession can satisfy. The soul meets problems of duty, and our unaided wisdom is not able to solve them. We need an absolute standard of right to regulate our conduct. How shall we obtain it, unless by turning our thoughts to the Highest ?
We need, too, to pray in order to deepen our thankfulness to God. We go on from day to day, often almost without thought of Him to whom we owe the gift of our happiness and the blessing which He has hidden even in our pain. Prayer gives us time to think, and brings a light above the earth into our thought.
Who would not desire to bring the Divine Life, the Divine Presence, into our daily consciousness, to transfigure the common things about us by that light?"

Have a blessed Sabbath

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This Mighty Prayer

Yesterday, I began a series on the Lord's Prayer which continues today. Look for new installments each Sunday (Rev. Foote preached these sermons at King's Chapel)
Sermon 1 "Lord Teach Us To Pray" continued:

"I want to ask you to try with me, in some of our Sunday mornings together, to enter really into the heart of the meaning of this mighty prayer of our Christian faith as we only can do by pondering it deeply, sentence by sentence. I said it was at once the simplest and the most profound form of human words. Yet the fact that all of us have learned to say it, that the youngest child is not thought too young to be taught it, that every word in it is a simple word, may easily hide from us the infinite depth and height that is in it. Each sentence in it is transparently clear as the purest water — even the water of life; and as the clearness of a stream hides its depth, so I think we may easily fancy that we can sound this which is far beyond the reach of any merely earthly plummet. It would be possible for a person to imagine that he had got beyond the use of anything so familiar, so commonplace, as the Lord's Prayer, who never had really learned to say it at all. And the Lord's Prayer is not only infinitely deeper than the shallowness of any merely superficial thoughts about it, it is also far larger than to be only the expression of the gentle, pleading side of the character of Christ, — the breathing of the religious sentiment of Christianity. As a drop of water contains forces which, set loose, are akin to the thunderbolt and the earthquake, so the secrets of uttermost human need, of intensest human passion, and of the powers of Divine omnipotence, are all locked up in this mighty prayer which we have from our Master, Christ, — which we have from him because it was first in his own heart, with all its depths and heights and powers. If only we can be empowered to unlock these divine forces of strength and peace so as to bring them to bear prevailingly on our own spirits, filling them with the spirit of Jesus Christ."


Friday, January 23, 2009

The Living Way...

The reciting of the Lord's Prayer by Pastor Warren at the inauguration caused a slight controversy among Unitarians who felt it was an exclusivist moment. Whether or not this is true, the prayer itself, taught by Jesus, is a powerful one. In a series of Sermons given at King's Chapel and published after his death, Henry Wilder Foote (1838-1889) spoke of the depths of the Lords Prayer. "Preached after a time of deep experience in his own life, they spoke to those who heard them of the spiritual realities in which he himself had been living; and it is hoped that any who, in quietness, seek to enter into near companionship with this little book, will find in it a like help and blessing."(from the Preface)

From Sermon 1 "Lord Teach Us To Pray"

"What else, indeed, is the life of Jesus Christ, if it be not, supremely, the visible expression of the duty which calls us to prayer, the renewal which is in prayer, the answer which is bestowed upon prayer ? Whether it be in the consecration of the deep moments in his ministry when, at each point of crisis, he withdrew into the mountain alone and passed the night alone in prayer to his Father, or when he girded his spirit anew for great works of healing or mercy by lifting it from the heaven in which it always was to the heaven above it, or when he met the supreme hour in his life-work by bending in Gethsemane to take the cup whose bitter portion his Father gave him to drink of, — in all, his divinest moments manifest themselves to us through this act of prayer, as it were a window. The moments when he seems to come closest to us, yet seems most above us, are those when his soul blends in light and love with his Father's spirit, and we say, " Behold ! he prayeth !"
So, then, that question asked by the disciples as by children coming to a wiser friend and helper, "Lord, teach us to pray," is brought home to us in the most affecting way by the persuasion of our Lord's example upon our loving obedience, and in the most convincing way by the clear shining in him of the truth of that spiritual law which lies at the heart of his religion, — that prayer is the living way open between our human spirits and the Divine Spirit."

More in the next few days from this series. Blessings

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bible Forests

I live very near reservation areas full of White Pine trees such as those that were so valued by shipbuilders in the 19th Century. William Phillips Tilden was such a shipbuilder and the trees he used occupied the same place as the trees I regularly walk among. So too do I try to walk in the path of love to God and devotion to the work of the church that he practiced.
Some continuing excerpts from his sermon (begun yesterday) "The Word of God" on reading the Bible:

"We must read with discrimination; not as if every thing were alike valuable for us, but exercising our reason and common sense, as in other matters...What should we think of the shipbuilder who should go into the old forests for timber, and, instead of taking his moulds with him, and selecting such trees as suited his purpose,-this straight tall trunk for a keel, that curved one for a stem, those branches and roots for knees,-should sweep everything clean as he went, and have it all transported to his ship-yard without regard to fitness of construction? We have the ship of character to build; the old Bible forests are full of the trees of divine truth, the growth of ages, for our use. What though there be here and there a decayed tree, and some living ones not adapted to our use? If we know the sort of character we want to build, if we have any true model, or ideal of the life God would have us live, and the character he would have us form, then let us take our moulds with us into the Bible forests, and select the very best timber we can find there, working it into a ship of character, fashioned after the pattern shown us in the mount of our highest and clearest vision,-a ship that will breast the fiercest storms of life, unharmed, and bear us safely across the sea."

Amen and blessings

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Weigh Anchor

I have been an almost daily Bible reader for years (with some significant "breaks" in between.) I read with joy, frustration, gratitude, anger, boredom and excitement...but I keep reading. This from William Phillips Tilden on reading he Bible. Its a fair view of a Boston Unitarian reading scripture:

"Paul who had learned from his own experience that God had not spoken his last word, could say with the unction of personal conviction, 'The word of god is not bound.'...This scriptural view of the word of God is important for many reasons.

It liberates the Scriptures from the necessity of infallibility, which the old views of plenary inspiration imposed upon them and which has proved a stumbling-block to so many, honest and earnest seekers after divine truth; and so enables us to read and study them with entire freedom, and with the full and rightful excercise of the reason which God has given us...But it will be asked, "What is the Bible worth, it it be not infallible?...This objection, perfectly natural and most sincerely made, overlooks the fact that the divine method of educating the race, in every other department of knowledge, is not by infallible books, or infallible teachers, but by books and teachers which reflect the best light of the past, and stimulate to fresh study and research for the new light yet to be revealed."

Tilden the shipbuilder turned minister then uses a nautical illustration:

"Indeed, to be anchored in any other branch of knowledge, except religion is no thought at all desirable. Anchored ships can only hold on where they are, and swing lazily with wind and tide; to do their legitimate work,-the work for which they were built, and launched and rigged, and provided with a costly outfit,-they must weigh anchor, set sail, and head for the open sea, trusting to such knowledge as they are able to gain from charts not infallible, and compass not free from variations; and reckonings not above mistakes; all needing to be rectified by daily observations of the log, the chronometer, and the heavenly bodies too, it they would make the voyage in safety. Why should we not expect it to be so in religion? Why should we look for infallibility here, when we find it nowhere else?"

Saturday, January 17, 2009


This from Martin Luther King's 1966 Ware Lecture:

"Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution"

I think it is necessary to see the meaning of love in higher terms. The Greek language has three words for love – one is the eros, another is the word filio, and another is the word agape. I'm thinking not of eros, or of friendship as expressed in filio, but of agape, which is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. When one rises to love on this level, he loves a person who does the evil deed while hating the deed. I believe that in our best moments in this struggle we have tried to adhere to this. In some strange way we have been able to stand up in the face of our most violent opponents and say, in substance, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with our soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children, bomb our homes, send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half dead; and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the nation and make it appear we are not fit morally, culturally or otherwise for integration and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. This is our message in the non-violent movement when we are true to it."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Lord's Supper

Monkey Mind has a great post today on Communion. Here is Henry Ware Jr. on the Lord's Supper (excerpted):

"Settle it distinctly in your mind, that this ordinance, so far as relates to your concern in it, has a twofold purpose; first, t,o express and manifest your faith in Christ, and your allegiance and attachment to him; secondly, to aid and strengthen you in a faithful adherence to his religion... These are the two objects which the ordinance is intended to accomplish, and which you are to have constantly in view...As soon, therefore, as your attention to religious things has sufficiently prepared and settled your mind, you will solemnly acknowledge it by this outward testimonial of faith. So far the ordinance looks to the past. It also looks to the future ; and you will, secondly, as I said, use it-as a salutary means of religious growth, appointed to this end, and singularly suited to accomplish it. You will regard it, and attend it, as one of the appropriate instruments by which you are to keep alive, and carry on to perfection, that principle of spiritual life, which has had birth within you, and which has made a certain progress toward maturity...Is it not, then, evident, that you have here a means of singular power, to keep the attention awake and the heart right; and that your spirit can hardly slumber, if you faithfully open it to the influences of this observance. Remember, however, that its value will depend on yourself, and the manner in which you engage in it. It has no mystical charm, no secret and magic power, to bless you against your will. Every thing depends on your own sincerity and devotion. Earnestly desire, and pray, and endeavor that it may do you good, and it will do you good. Go to it heedless, thoughtless, and unprepared, and it will prove to you an idle and inefficient ceremony. The great cause why so many derive no improvement from the repeated performance of the duty, is, that they attend it with inconsideration and coldness, and with little purpose or desire of being affected by it. Let your attendance be in a different state of mind. Engage resolutely in the suitable meditations; examine yourself before and after; come to the celebration with a temper prepared for worship, and leave it with one prepared for duty..."

Thanks for the post James. Blessings

True religion a single thing...

Probably the most difficult part of following the path of the religious life is carrying the practices that we may have into daily living. The quiet calm of the meditative moment is soon forgotten in the car on the way to work (or even earlier) and the resolution to "love our neighbors" dissolves in the coffee line...
Henry Ware addresses this in his concluding section on Prayer.

"If, therefore, after having made some effort after a spirit of devotion, in pursuance of the course recommended, you find, as men sometimes do, that you derive from it neither improvement nor satisfaction, I recommend to you to examine whether you are really in earnest; whether you do, actually in your heart, desire religious improvement; whether, in short, there is not in you a lurking preference for your present state of mind, and an attachment to some passion, taste, or pursuit, incompatible with a zealous devotedness to Christian truth, and a suitable attention to the discipline which it demands.
Secondly, take heed that you do not allow yourself to fancy, that an observance of these or similar rules constitutes all your duty under this head. Do not forget, that the devotion which Christianity teaches is nothing less than perpetually thinking, feeling, and acting, as becomes a child of God,—a perpetual worship. This is the end at which you are to aim;—an end, however, which is not to be attained without the use of means; and the directions in the preceding pages are designed simply to point out some of the means. Some persons do not need such directions. For them they are not designed. But there are others to whom they must be welcome and wholesome. Let such use them, but without forgetting that they are means only. Let them guard, from the first and always, against the idea, that the practice of these will secure the great object, without any further exertion or sacrifice ; that to be devout men, they have only to observe stated seasons, and perform stated acts. There cannot be a more pernicious error. It is at variance with the whole nature and spirit of Christianity. God is to be served by the entire life; by its actions as well as its thought, its duties as well as its desires, its deeds as well as its feelings. is easier to be religiously disposed for an hour a day, when reading the Bible or kneeling at the altar, than it is to be so during the many other hours which are full of the world's temptations, and when all the irregular passions are liable to be excited. Remember, then, to try your prayers by your life; you may know how sincere they are, by their agreement or disagreement with your habitual sentiments and conduct. Regulate your life by your prayers; in vain do you think yourself religious, if you go with holy words and humble confessions to the Divine presence, but at other times live in thoughtlessness and sin. True religion is a single thing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Henry Ware has had a good rest on these pages (see all posts: Ware Jr.) and it is well that it should be so. His health was never that strong and he needed a good rest now and again. And yet he persevered. We left him speaking of the "means of religious improvement," and today I take up his section on prayer urging perseverance.

" In the next place, do not allow yourself to grow weary. Persevere; however ill satisfied, however discouraged, persevere. Open the New Testament, and you will see how this is insisted upon, again and again, and by various illustrations. ' That men should always pray, and never faint,' was the great moral of more than one of our Lord's parables; and to ' pray without ceasing' was the corresponding direction of his Apostles. Situated as we are in this world, there is danger that, perceiving little immediate fruit from our devotions, we should relax our diligence in them; first doubting their value, then losing our interest in them, and then ceasing to perform them. But we should recollect, that, in this case, as in all the most important and admirable provisions of Divine Wisdom, it is the order of Heaven to give, not to a single exertion, nor to a few acts, nor even to some continuance of effort, but only to a long, unremitted, persevering effort. We read this lesson every where. Look at that glorious operation of God, by which the sun cherishes and matures the fruits of the earth for the sustenance of its creatures. It is not accomplished by one act, nor by several acts, nor yet by sudden, violent exertions of power. He sends out his beams steadily, day by day, month after month; yet the fruit is still green, the harvest immature; and if, weary with the work, he should abandon it, famine might devastate the globe, when but six days' longer perseverance would see it successful. The whole toil of the season might thus be lost, when a trifling addition only was necessary to render it all-effective. In how many other cases is the same truth illustrated ! Will you, then, abandon your prayers, because you do not witness the effect from them which you desire ? Will you be discouraged, when, by a little longer continuance, you may receive the full blessing at once ? Shall the husbandman ' wait patiently,' and will you, looking for an immortal harvest, lose it for want of patience ? No. This is the eternal, immutable rule in regard to all great acquisitions. Piety and virtue, character and immortality, depend upon a long succession of actions, neither of them, taken singly, of essential moment, yet all, in the aggregate, essential to effect the great end in view. Apply this consideration to your prayers, and resolutely persevere.
Thus it is the humble prayer of confident faith, fervent and persevering, from which you are to hope benefit and acceptance."

Very little in our current lives encourage perseverance. Our throw-away culture of instant gratification makes the idea of the long haul almost quaint. And yet...while waiting for dramatic changes and instant remedies, it is, and always will be, the "humble, persevering prayer" that will wrought the change we hope for. Blessings

Monday, January 12, 2009

Psalm of Life

A couple of years ago, I did a book review presentation for our Alliance on the life and poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Just three weeks ago, a long-time member of our church (and the Alliance) gave me an old illustrated copy of Longfellow's Psalm of Life that had belonged to her mother. It is a true treasure and I cherish it. Finally, this morning, we held a Memorial Service and collation for a much loved member of our congregation, and one of the chosen readings was Longfellow's Psalm of Life.
I am blessed to be part of a congregation that shows me daily, in ways large and small, what it means to be a church in the truest and deepest sense of the word. I print Longfellow's Psalm of Life today for them:

A Psalm of Life
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!--
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Amen and blessings

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Perfectionism is an idea and a doctrine at once noble and fraught with danger. Taken to various extremes theological and personal, it can be nearly debilitating. I, myself, have struggled with a very high view of church work wedded to a deep sense of my unworthiness and inability to live up to that work. One of the reasons that the "Boston Unitarians" are my "teachers" is their view of doctrines such as "perfectionism." Beginning with respect for human nature, they emphasized our capacity (and our duty) to do that which before was placed entirely in the hands of God. And what's more, they spoke of the joy of living such a life. It is a view of the religious life that is at once practical and "divine." As a colleague said of James Walker (see all posts Walker) 'He had the rare faculty of making his hearers feel as if these eternal verities were a fresh revelation. " Some excerpts from Walker on "Perfection the Christian's Aim:"

" Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." — Hebrews vi. 1.

"HOWEVER unlikely or impossible it is that we shall ever meet with a perfect man on this earth, still, if we were to meet with one, we should see, that, instead of being a monster, he would be of all men the most entirely natural, the most truly human...
We set aside... all expectation of actually meeting with perfection among men; we confidently believe that under Christianity, as under Judaism, " there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not."- Still there is nothing to hinder us from maintaining, as the Scriptures seem to do, the doctrine of human perfectibility. Perfectibility, as here used, differs from perfection in this, — that a man may be pronounced perfectible though he never attains to perfection in fact, provided only that there is nothing in his nature itself to exclude the possibility of his perfection, and nothing in his circumstances to exclude the possibility of his continually going on towards perfection.
While, therefore, we give up human perfection, we stand fast for human perfectibility...This is all which I understand the Scriptures to mean in the text, and in other passages where they enjoin it upon us to be perfect, to go on unto perfection, and to become perfect men in Christ Jesus. They do not hold up this perfection as something of which any Christian can as yet be personally conscious, or on which he can look back as already attained; but as the goal in the distance after which all can and should continually aspire...Let me add, that I express the doctrine too tamely when I say that a man is capable of unlimited progress. There burns within him an instinctive desire of growth, of ceaseless progress.
The idea of perfection is held up before us, not to be the object of vain longings and sighings, but to cheer and sustain us in the many weary steps we must take in its pursuit. We are still to reflect that we must actually traverse, with our own feet, the almost measureless distance that separates us from the far-off goal; and also, that, if a man is to go round the globe, he cannot take any longer strides than if he were going to the next village. Besides, perfection after all is our ultimate object; not our next and immediate object. Our next and immediate object, both as men and as Christians, is always the faithful discharge of the common and obvious and present duties which press upon us in that particular sphere of activity, be it high or low, in which Divine Providence has placed us."

May you be cheered and sustained. Blessings

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Walking in the light...

The First Letter of John contains one of those summaries of the faith often seen in Paul's letters and the Gospels as well, that serves to focus or to concentrate the eye and heart of the reader. 1 John: 1: 5-7 "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and are cleansed from all sin." The walk is the important thing, practicing the truth. James Walker makes this point in his sermon, "Means of Strengthening an Infirm Faith"

"Dismiss from your minds every vestige of the conceit of scepticism. Do not allow your minds to dwell exclusively or unduly on the difficulties of the subject; or be willing, at any rate, to consider that, if there are difficulties in the way of believing, there are greater ones in the way of not believing. Above all, begin, begin today, to live up to the measure of light and faith to which you have already attained... If still he does not believe enough, and is anxious to believe more, his next step should be to make the most of what he does believe...Religion, I hardly need say, is not so much a matter of speculation as of practice... Let him begin by reducing to practice what he does believe, be it little or much. If as yet he believes but little, let him begin by bringing his life into faithful and strict accordance with that little, as a condition of believing more. And here let me remind you again, that a faithful and strict conformity to this little, to one or two doctrines of natural religion, will not turn out to be a small matter...
But this is not all. I do not count on the power of the sceptic to persevere in a righteous course on the strength of his doubts, supposing his doubts to continue. My argument is, that he should make the most of the measure of faith he already has, as the appointed and necessary condition of his having more. The habit of obedience, the habit of piety, the habit of prayer, generates a conviction of the reality of moral and spiritual things, which nothing else can give. Who has not found that, in his best moods,— when, for example, he is in the midst of a good work, or when his heart is full of generous affections and purposes, or when he is under the influence of good and holy men, —he finds no difficulty in believing what religion teaches ? We have, therefore, but to make our best moods our constant moods, and our doubts would never return."

There is much to be said for the adage that it is better to act your way into thinking than to think your way into acting...Walk in the light.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dead Rationalism

I was honored to preach from our pulpit last Sunday and spoke on elements of living a religious life, one of which was to embrace a vigorous uncertainty or doubt out of which comes the "work" of religion. This morning, reading James Walker's sermon "Spiritual Death" (see all posts: Walker) I came across much the same idea, better said. Some excerpts:

"What, then, is spiritual death? It consists in the absence of that sensibility of soul by which men are made capable of feeling and appreciating spiritual things. Sometimes this arises from the fact that the spiritual element in our nature has never been excited and developed; the man has never been spiritually born. But it is more frequently owing to a torpor or palsy which, from some cause, comes over the spiritual faculties after their partial development, to such a degree as, in some instances, entirely to destroy and suspend their vital and legitimate functions.
Let us now advert briefly to some of the causes conspiring to induce that indifference and insensibility to spiritual things, which constitutes, as we have seen, spiritual death...And first, I would say, that less is to be feared, in this connection, from erroneous than from lifeless training. A writer, of whom our country and the age may justly boast (William Ellery Channing), has said: "I do not think that so much harm is done by giving error to a child, as by giving truth in a lifeless form. What is the misery of the multitudes in Christian countries ? Not that they disbelieve Christianity, or that they hold great errors, but that truth lies dead within them.
Give us the living truth ; but, if we cannot have that, give us, in God's name, living error. As liberal Christians we are, beyond question, over- critical and fastidious in this matter. It may not be so with other denominations, but our chief danger grows out of an under current that is continually setting towards a dead rationalism. Give us, I repeat it, living error, rather than dead truth ; for the same maxim holds good in regard to our higher as well as our lower nature: " so long as there is life, there is hope." Besides, do we not know that a ship under sail, though a little off from its course, can get into it again in half the time it will take another vessel at anchor under a headland, or waterlogged in a calm, to get under way?
Again, so far as religious indifference and insensibility are concerned, there is less to fear, as it seems to me, from the influence of an avowed and active scepticism than from the influence of a scepticism which is unacknowledged and merely passive. Well and truly was it said by Archbishop Leighton : " Where there is a great deal of smoke, and no clear flame, it argues much moisture in the matter, yet it witnesseth certainly that there is fire there...Men that know nothing in sciences have no doubts. He never truly believes who was not made first sensible, and convinced of his unbelief. Never be afraid to doubt, if only you have the disposition to believe, and doubt in order that you may end in believing the truth." l If we must have an active or a passive scepticism, give us the first. An active scepticism will often cure itself, work itself clear of its difficulties; but there is no hope whatever for a man who will neither believe nor inquire. An active scepticism, moreover, does not imply an indifference to truth, nor prevent men from discriminating; so that, while it leads them to deny this thing and doubt that, it leaves their confidence in other things unimpaired, and perhaps strengthened and quickened. "
It's time to pull our anchors out of the seas of dead rationalism and set sail...Blessings

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Shalom (Balance pt. 2)

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (and elsewhere) promises to those who will walk in steadfastness and unity, the peace of God which transcends all understanding. In the commentary I am using, the author places this statement in the context of God's perfect shalom, his "wholeness and well being"
Shalom, or 'wholeness" is a guiding motivation of many Boston Unitarians and is one of the reasons I love them.
James Walker (see all posts: Walker) speaks of balance and wholeness in continuing excerpts from "The Daily Cross":

"But, when we speak of the worth of a man, we always make it to depend on what he is in himself; that is to say, on the habits he has formed ; not on the amount of discipline which he has undergone, simply and abstractly considered, but on the effect this discipline has had on his character; on the degree of harmony, purity, and elevation of soul which he has actually gained; in one word, to adopt the language in which the Scriptures express the change, on his having been " born again," on his having become " a new creature."...we see at once that self-denial is not the Christian character, nor an essential part of it, but only one of the instrumentalist's by which the Christian character is formed. Self-denial does not belong to us as Christians; that is to say, as perfect Christians : for, in the perfect Christian, duty and pleasure become one; no place is therefore left for self-denial: it belongs to us as persons who aspire to be Christians, who are learning to be Christians...In saying this, however, I do but say that, in point of fact, it belongs to us all; for what can be truly said of the best of us, except that we are learning or aspiring to be Christians ? — some in the midst of the process, some just beginning, others only thinking about beginning, if indeed so much as that. In respect to all such persons without exception, the gospel teaches that it is only by self-denial, — that is, by crossing, restraining, and subduing the lower tendencies of our nature whenever they interfere with the higher tendencies of our nature, — that each one can bring his character into harmony with itself, and subject the whole to the law of Christ..."

Shalom. And Blessings

Monday, January 5, 2009


The historian Daniel Walker Howe identifies "balance" as a dominant characteristic of the Harvard Unitarians of the 19th century (his book "The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861" is required reading for understanding the Boston Unitarians,)
One of my favorite BU Sermons is James Walker's (see posts Walker) "The Daily Cross" which is an admirable application of the idea of balance to the Christian requirement of self-denial. Some excerpts:

"And he said unto them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" Luke 9:23

"Never was the earnest inculcation of this precept more needed than at the present day. Surrounded, as many Christians now are, by ease, security, and abundance, they are tempted not only to neglect the self-denying virtues, but almost to forget their obligations and the important place they hold in the Christian life..that we are frequently called upon to submit to self-denial not from necessity but from choice, or, in other words, to take up our cross voluntarily, and to take it up daily, is not so generally conceded...What, then, is meant by that self-denial which is so frequently enjoined upon all men, in the New Testament ? Everyone is required to take up his cross daily; but what to crucify ?
Every one must be conscious of being under the influence of two orders of propensities and desires: the higher, or those which belong to him as a rational and moral being; and the lower, or those which belong to him as a sensual and selfish being. Even the lower tendencies of our nature are not bad in themselves ; they are bad only when they interfere with the proper development, or with the proper gratification, of the higher. Here then it is, that Christian self-denial begins and ends ; we are to deny the solicitations of our lower nature, whenever they interfere with the aspirations of our higher nature. Christian self-denial does not require us to deny our nature as a whole, but only to be true to our nature as a whole ; that is, to take care that the rightful subordination amongst its various springs of action shall be maintained. Christian self-denial does not require us to deny our happiness; that is to say, our highest happiness ; but only to be true to that happiness, by repressing every appetite or passion which puts itself in opposition to it, or which tends to frustrate or endanger it.
...the moral value of self-denial consists in its tendency to bring about this discipline : to teach every part of our nature to know its place, and keep its place, and thus to co-operate harmoniously and spontaneously in promoting the highest good of the individual. The moral value of self-denial does not consist in the pain it costs, but in its tendency to induce a habit of virtue, under the influence of which the practice of virtue will become agreeable and easy; so as, in the end, that is to say in heaven, to dispense with the necessity of self-denial altogether.
Self-denial, therefore, is not an end but a means; the end being to convert, through the power of habit, a painful and constrained obedience into a joyful and free obedience. The highest form of virtue is not the virtue of self-denial, but of earnest and irrepressible love; when duty has ceased to be a task and become a pleasure, a kind of necessity. Hence that sublime doctrine of the New Testament. " Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

Amen. Blessings

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Saturday Evening Sabbath Preparation

This hymn by William Cullen Bryant from the 1865 Hymns of the Spirit (see all posts Hymns)

"Peace Be Within Thy Walls"

O Thou, whose own vast temple stands
Built over earth and sea,
Accept the walls that human hands
Have raised to worship Thee!

Lord, from Thine inmost glory send,
Within these courts to bide,
The peace that dwelleth, without end,
Serenely by Thy side.

May erring minds that worship here
Be taught the better way;
And they who mourn, and they who fear,
Be strengthened as they pray

May faith grow firm, and love grow warm,
And pure devotion rise,
While round these hallowed walls the storm
Of earth-born passion dies.

Amen. And have a peaceful Sabbath

Friday, January 2, 2009

On Keeping the Promises We Make to Ourselves

So how is the New Year's Resolution going? I have firmly come to believe that making resolutions is a religious act-religion is a framework for putting our deepest and highest impulses "to work" and what else are resolutions?
The Apostle Paul (in his letter to the Philippians) puts it thus: "Not that already perfect, but I press on to make it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal..."
This morning's devotions also included a sermon by the Unitarian minister, theologian, and Harvard President, James Walker (1794-1874)
Walker was a founder of the AUA and editor of the Christian Examiner. Minister of the Harvard Church in Charlestown, MA for many years, he became President of Harvard in 1853. Andrew Preston Peabody said of him,
"Dr. Walker’s great work in college, both as Professor and as President, was his preaching. His sermons were unsurpassed in directness and impressiveness. They were, for the most part, on those great truths and laws of religion, Christianity and moral right, which are generally admitted to be undeniable, and therefore as generally ignored. He had the rare faculty of making his hearers feel as if these eternal verities were a fresh revelation. "
True enough! This morning's sermon was, appropriately for the season, On Keeping the Promises We Make to Ourselves Some exerpts:

"a large portion of the most solemn promises which we make consists of those which we make to ourselves ; and my object in the present discourse will be to set forth our duty in respect to this class of promises, — the promises which we make to ourselves...Nobody will deny that they are made, for the most part, in good faith, and with a serious purpose of fulfilling them ; that they are entered into in our best moods, that they are the dictates of our best judgment, and that it would be best for us on every account to keep them. Yet the readiness and frequency with which they are broken has become a proverb.
When... in a moral and religious view of our responsibilities, we promise ourselves to fulfil a particular duty, it appears to me that this promise is of the nature of a bond on the soul. It is an engagement voluntarily entered into, in a fair and full view of the circumstances ; and there is also a witness, or rather there are witnesses, to the engagement, — God and our own consciences,—to whom we are pledged for its fulfilment, and often under all the solemnities of a religious vow. Habit or custom may make it seem a light thing to trifle with such engagements ; but in morals it is not a light thing; in the sight of God it is not a light thing...if I solemnly promise myself that on a certain occasion, or at a certain time, I will do a particular thing, and fail to do it, I know and feel that I have broken my word. I know and feel that I cannot be relied on ; and, what is more and worse, that I cannot rely on myself.
Religion itself is not more exacting of us than we often are of ourselves. Were we to listen now to all the good resolutions we have at any time formed, all the clear, distinct, and solemn promises we have made to ourselves, we should find that nothing is required of us in the gospel, except to keep our own word. This wonderful consent and harmony between the Bible and the aspirations of the human soul in its best moods is, perhaps, to most minds the strongest, or at least the most convincing, evidence of the heavenly origin of both."

(The full text can be read at:


Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Beginning

On this day in 1817, Henry Ware Jr. was ordained and became minister of Second Church in Boston (see all posts Ware Jr.)