Saturday, December 19, 2009

one harmonious whole...

Unitarians are often accused of constraining religion to ever smaller spheres. William Ellery Channing refutes that notion with this call for the "Universality" of religion acting to develop all aspects of our natures in harmonious balance. "The Perfecting Power of Religion" continued:

"II.—The doctrine that Religion can do us good, only by refining and perfecting our Whole Being, is of such great moment, that I proceed to illustrate it further. For I am satisfied that one cause of the limited sway of religion is the narrow conception formed of its function. That religion is a Universal Principle,—spreading its influence through the whole being, developing every power to a fulness which it could not otherwise attain, diffusing inspiration through the intellect, as well as the Conscience and the Will, taking under its purifying rule the Appetites and Passions as well as the Affections, imparting fresh interest to common existence, exalting and expanding practical energy, refining and adorning social manners, adding cheerfulness as well as purity to friendly intercourse, and blessing us only by this universally enlivening agency,—this is a truth not yet understood as it should be. Hence to many, Religion, instead of being thought of as comprehending whatever is good, wise, energetic, beautiful, great and happy in Human Nature, is a word of doubtful import,—especially suggesting notions of restraint, repression, narrowness of thought, exclusive feeling and habitual gloom.

I could not commend the Religious Life, did I not view it in the broad light in which I am now attempting to place it. For nothing can make us truly happy but our Perfection. And the very idea of Perfection is, that the whole nature of a being is unfolded in due proportion, so that the highest and worthiest powers will hold ascendancy, and all others, by acting in their true spheres, will fulfil the end for which they were given. Such Universal Development constitutes, as we all know, the health and beauty of the body. A man in whom a few organs only would grow, would be a monster. Even if this excess should occur in his noblest organs, as the head or the eye, we should still regard him as deformed. The body is a healthful and beautiful organization only when the principle of life acts generously through all its parts, expanding all in a just degree, so that each contributes to the vigour and symmetry of the whole. Such an organization we call a Perfect Body. And so Perfection of Mind consists in well-proportioned activity and life, through all its faculties, affections, desires, powers, whereby they all grow up into one harmonious whole...

I am conscious that I was made for an endless variety of thoughts, interests, sympathies, and occupations. I have curiosity impelling me to seek the new and explore the mysterious; the reasoning faculty prompting me to infer the unknown from the known, and to rise from particulars to general truths ; imagination for ever surpassing the bounds of the real and the present; the love of beauty enjoying all harmonies; social affections, putting on a thousand forms according to the relations and characters of those around me ; the senses, through which countless images and symbols of the material world rush in and throng my mind ; and finally animal appetites compelling me to put forth energy upon material objects. Now all these principles and tendencies of my nature are various capacities of enjoyment, and all demand their proper forms of good. Nothing can make me truly happy but a Universal Principle, that watches over, protects, calls forth, and gratifies in their due order all these various elements of my being. Such I hold to be the influence of religion ; and it is through this function that it becomes our Supreme Good."


David G. Markham said...

What is WEC saying?

All things in moderation?

All things in balance?

I agree in part, but it seems that bodily mortification and sacrifice also have a transforming effect on the soul yearning for the divine.

I don't know if the soul in balance is a soul seeking, searching, yearning, wanting to become one with the all. When the enightenment occurs, there is ecstacy so I have been told, but getting their sometimes takes sacrifice I have also been told.

So I am not sure I understand what WEC is saying here.

All the best,

David Markham

Anonymous said...

O! I am so glad you posted that painting. It is mesmerizing to me. I've always loved it.

slt said...

Hey David,
You raise an interesting point. WEC himself certainly mortified his body in his early years in his search.
And balance and moderation can certainly seem tame and dry in comparison with other ecstatic experiences.
For me, the goal is to raise to level of all things to the divine thus making balance a true religious state (and one that can be lived in more consistently)
Again, many thanks! and
blessings, BU

slt said...

Hi Tracie!
I must admit I had never paid this painting much mind but when I saw it while looking for an illustration, I couldn't take my eyes from it. It is mesmerizing...
Many thanks for writing and I wish you a blessed last week of Advent. BU