Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the world turned upside down...

   Andrew Preston Peabody is rapidly becoming indispensable to me-more from several of his works as the summer goes on.  Today, another anecdote...

"He (Peabody) was able to read when he was three years old, and he learned his letters from a book which inadvertently was placed before him upside down, so that it was always a matter of indifference to him how a book was put before his eyes. On one occasion, when he was riding in a stage-coach, and was turning the leaves of a volume printed in German characters, one of the passengers remarked that this young man pretended to have a knowledge of German, but he could know nothing about it, for he was holding his book upside down. The ancient languages he could read in the same manner; and when a pupil stood before him with a copy of Homer or Virgil, he could from his seat overlook the top of the page and follow the lesson as readily as if he had the copy in his own hand. For a considerable time he preferred this way of reading; but when he saw that it attracted attention, he discontinued it, although he retained his power of so doing as long as he lived."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

perfectly clear to us...

Looking for something else this morning, I came across this reminiscence of Andrew Preston Peabody and was quite taken with it.  It comes from the book, "Certain American Faces: Sketches From Life", by Lewis Slattery


THERE are faces so familiar to one's memory that it seems impossible to believe that one has never spoken to their owners. When I was an undergraduate at Harvard College I suppose the most revered figure who passed in and out of the college yard was Andrew Preston Peabody. I fancy that the first time we saw him we knew instinctively who he was. The smiling face in which shone rare goodness as well as benevolence, was a stay against freshman pessimism, and I suspect it held many a youth, inclined to be wild, from his sin. He was very old. He had ceased to teach, and a sermon or lecture was an infrequent task. He continued to live in the house near the Library which was one of the perquisites of the Plummer Professor, and so was seldom absent from the college precincts. The merest stroll brought him face to face with the successive generations of students of the University. He was, in a way, to all kinds of men, the embodiment of Harvard College. And yet few of us had ever spoken to him.

Only a year or two before my day, "compulsory chapel" had ceased, and the voluntary system (largely under the inspiration of Phillips Brooks) had begun. All sorts of anecdotes clustered around the head of our ancient hero. It was said that in the old days of compulsory prayers, if the Plummer Professor (who was the Chaplain and who regularly conducted Prayers and preached) was caught preaching beyond a certain fixed time, the Chapel was filled with gentle tappings, which came from hundreds of feet, accidentally touching the wood of the pews in front of them. There was also a rumour that once in a prayer he had said, "Paradoxical as it may seem to thee, O Lord, it is nevertheless perfectly clear to us. . . .

There were lingering tales of the older days of Cambridge. On a very hot day Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes was making his way across the Cambridge Common. With hat in hand he was drying his wet forehead with his handkerchief. And so he met Dr. Peabody, who, in his chronic absent-mindedness, did not recognize his friend; but he saw the hat, and, assuming a beggar, with notions of charity not then outworn, he dropped a few small coins into it, and passed on. At another time, when cows were wont to ramble on Cambridge streets, he one day awoke from his absent-minded dreaming to recognize that he had just passed a lady to whom he had neglected to bow. "I must not be so rude again," he said to himself. In a few minutes some students saw the genial man wave his hat gallantly to a passing cow. Very absurd and trifling tales were these; but they served as pegs on which young men could hang their affection for the venerable saint. I can remember only one time when I heard him preach. The old vigour for which he had been known was gone, but the sweetness was as winning as ever. I cannot remember a word he said that evening in the forlorn old Appleton Chapel, but I can remember the kind eyes looking out through the square gold spectacles. I can even remember that he had added something to his manuscript on a certain page. I felt sure that it was a page preached many times, with many notes, between lines, in margins, and on the back. In any case he was evidently looking for a sentence which viciously eluded his search. Without the least embarrassment he held the leaf up to his dear old eyes, turned the paper first to one side, then to the other, and finally upside down; there he found the straying sentence, and joyfully read it, with slow emphasis, to a waiting congregation. I dare say that, even at ten o'clock that night, we could not have told much about the sermon; but we all knew that it had done us good."


Sunday, June 27, 2010


The state that James Freeman Clarke describes in today's "Message of Faith, Hope and Love" (also posted  at "Wonderful Epoch." is indeed a blessed one.  It also sometimes seems far away...

"AND so, sometimes, Christ becomes transfigured to us, as he once was to Peter and John. Sometimes we see him and understand him far better than at other times. Our hearts burn within us as he talks with us. He opens to us the Scriptures. Technicalities fall away. We do not ask any theological questions about Jesus, whether he was Son of God or of man, natural or supernatural. But we seem to see our Master and Friend as Stephen saw him, a dear human face, a look of compassionate tenderness to us, a pity for our temptations and sins, a divine heart, full of God, yet a human heart, all manhood, too. And the Scriptures grow clear in such moments, grow intensely interesting. Whereas they were before dull, now every word is filled with fresh life. The Bible becomes transfigured: it is like earth in this springtime, every part swelling into leaves and blossoms, every part instinct with life. We study the words of the Bible, always expecting to find something new in them."

Have a Blessed Sabbath

Saturday, June 26, 2010

we are as we pray...

John Emery Abbot and Ralph Waldo Emerson could be said to represent the theological extremes of "Boston Unitarianism."  Yet both knew that we are as we pray... Emerson's Poem, "Prayer"

"When success exalts thy lot
God for thy virtue lays a plot.
And all thy life is for thy own,
Then for mankind's instruction shown;
And though thy knees were never bent,
To Heaven thy hourly prayers are sent,
And whether formed for good or ill
Are registered and answered still."


Friday, June 25, 2010

hearts undisguised...

What do you pray for?  Here is John Emery Abbot's take...

What are the blessings which we may ask from God, with most propriety and with most frequency? In regard to temporal goods, we are evidently permitted to pray for those things which are necessary for our protection, support, and comfort, and to deprecate those evils which would render life wretched. " Give us our daily bread, and deliver us from evil," form part of the prayer which our Saviour himself has taught us. When we go beyond this, it is doubtless best not to pray with particularity for temporal gifts. We know not what earthly circumstances would be best for us. The apparent good we desire, may bring with it a burden of misery, and the seeming evil we would deprecate, may prove to us the greatest of mercies; or we might supplicate for gifts, which it would be inconsistent with the designs of providence and with the wisdom and mercy of God to bestow. We ought then to pray, that God would grant his temporal blessings to us, not according to the measure of our ignorant desires, but according to our necessities, and his own wisdom and goodness. Our usual prayers for the goods of this life ought to be in general language, and to be offered with entire submission and cheerful acquiescence. We should ask them to be granted only so far as God shall see best for us; and then our prayers will surely find acceptance and meet their reward. If what we seek would be injurious, our very petition is that they should be withheld; and if the grant of them would, indeed, be a blessing to us, we may rest in the assurance that they will be bestowed. This evidently should be the usual mode of offering our prayers in respect to the good things of this life.

But there are blessings which we may and ought to pray for, with particularity, with earnestness, with importunity. These are blessings all important for us to receive, proper at all times to be sought, and most consistent with the merciful designs and worthy the perfect character of God to bestow. Spiritual blessings, the forgiveness of our sins, the aid of God's grace, his wisdom to direct, his power to restrain and guard, his assistance to further, his consolations to comfort, and his favor to bless us; we are exhorted constantly to solicit, and he has promised them to our prayers. These should form the great subjects of our supplications. In comparison of t these, all other benefits are too trifling, too transient, to be named before him. Here, no minuteness is improper, no urgency misplaced. We should on these subjects open before him our hearts undisguised and unrestrained. We should acknowledge our unworthiness, not merely in general phrases, but number before him our particular transgressions and neglects, that his forgiveness may blot them out. We should remember not only the temptations which are common to us and to others, but our own peculiar occasions of offending, and pray to be guarded against them. We should dwell not merely on our general want of holy principles and sanctified affections, but on those single principles we need to establish, those peculiar feelings we need to cherish, and those particular dispositions of piety we ought to form; and fervently solicit God's grace to create or confirm them, and to render their influence effectual on our lives. We should remember not only our general duties as men and as Christians, but those private and peculiar duties which arise from our own stations in society, our circumstances in the world, and our own connexions with others; and ask of God that light and strength which shall enable us to perform them with faithfulness and acceptance."

(illustration:  "The Prayer" by van Gogh)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

strive with vigilant earnestness...

The pious Unitarian, John Emery Abbot continues the theme with this excerpt from the sermon:


"Prayer not only gives fervency to devotion, and elevation to the feelings ; it operates on the conscience. It is prayer which, more than anything, makes us realize the constant and immediate inspection of God. When we address ourselves directly to him, we cannot but remember that he ever hears our words, and witnesses our actions; we feel that we are in his presence, and that no darkness nor solitude can conceal us from his view; and we cannot go away and at once feel that we are removed from his observation, or cease to remember that his eye yet watches our steps. Who can be conscious of this without some deep sense of the solemnity of his situation, and of the obligations he is under ever to order his actions as seeing Him who is invisible ?

Besides, in prayer we continually and solemnly acknowledge before God our obligations and our duties. And no human soul can be so fearfully presumptuous as thus habitually to bring to his conscience the deep conviction of his duties, and solemnly acknowledge them to God, profess his unaffected purposes of obedience, and seek from him the strength and mercy which he needs, and then return with indifference to a course of wilful transgression. We must at least strive to relinquish our sins, or the voice of prayer would be to us a tremendous warning we could not hear, and a burden of remorse and misery too heavy for us to endure.

Besides, we cannot in sincerity acknowledge our obligations before God, and not feel some sense of our deficiencies, some need of forgiveness and amendment. When we recount before God the duties we pray to be enabled to practise, shall we not remember wherein we have failed ? When we pray to be made pure, can we forget the disorders of our hearts, and the irregularities of our appetites and passions ? When we supplicate for feelings of charity, can we then forget our unkindnesses, injuries, or cold neglect of others ? When we ask for the gift of a heart grateful for mercy, and filled with pious and obedient affections, can we avoid being conscious of our poor offerings of thankfulness, our weak and wavering devotion, and our ungrateful returns to him who giveth all ? And who can be so presumptuous as solemnly to confess before God his own particular sins, and earnestly to pray for forgiveness, without deep and solemn purposes to avoid the occasions of sin, to resist future temptations with fortitude, and to strive with vigilant earnestness to amend all that has been amiss ? Unaffected prayer thus teaches us to know ourselves, awakens us to watchfulness, is a perpetual exercise of repentance, gives vigor and effectiveness to good resolutions, and furnishes a constant motive to resistance of sin, and to amendment and holiness of life."

(painting is "Young Man at Prayer" by Hans Memling)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

a devotional spirit...

More John Emery Abbot on prayer. this from the sermon:

"Private Prayer A Preparation For. Social Worship."
We need private prayer as a preparation for that which is social. If we desire that God should hear and accept us, our prayers must be offered with fervor and earnestness. A devotional spirit must warm our hearts, and hallow the petitions that rise from our lips. But a devotional spirit can be nourished best, if not only, in private. It must be made habitual too, if we would have it pervade our prayers. It cannot be assumed at will, like the consecrated garments of the priest, but must at all times array us. And this habitual feeling of devotion can only be sustained by the frequent excitement, and often renewed expressions of it, in our solitary prayers. Without this private preparation, we may indeed bow with our families when the day rises or the shadows of night descend, but our prayers will be generally distracted and formal. We may gather at the temple and listen to the voice of others, but our minds will be wandering and our hearts be unaffected. The altar may be spread and the sacrifice may be prepared, but the fire will be wanting, and no accepted offering will rise.

Without this private preparation, we cannot enter into the spirit of social prayer. Public prayer must necessarily be general; and general expressions are unaffecting. But when we go from the solitude in which we have held communion with God, have acknowledged his goodness, and implored his mercy and support particularly to ourselves, then the voice of public prayer will awaken the remembrance of thoughts and feelings we have been indulging in private. When the public confession of sin is made, we shall think of our own deficiencies of character, neglect of duty, and acts of sin. And when all around us are rendering their common praise to God for his universal goodness, our praises will be quickened by the recollection of the private mercies he has bestowed on us. In this way we shall apply to ourselves all the general praises of the public devotion, and join in it with sincerity and with feeling. It is in a great degree the want of this private preparation which renders public prayers so uninteresting, and causes us often to wait on them with so much careless inattention or lifeless formality."


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

strengthened with a holier might...

I very often contemplate a deeper prayer life which in itself explains why my prayer life doesn't seem to get much deeper.  Like just about everything else, its in the doing.  John Emery Abbot says much in this excerpt from his sermon, "PRIVATE PRAYER."

"Prayer is always impressive and affecting in proportion as it is particular, and comes home to our peculiar feelings and wants. Now the petitions which are offered in secret are naturally particular, they are the simple expressions of our own desires, the solitary aspirations of our own hearts. There must then be more circumstantial recollection of wants, and mercies, and weaknesses, and sins; there must be an earnestness which will not often be felt when we join with others to express those general wishes to God in which all have an equal interest. It is in private, too, that our own intimate connexion and entire dependence on God is most deeply felt. It is when we approach him in secret to commend to him our little interests, to acknowledge our gratitude for those minute and unceasing benefits his hand is ever bestowing on ourselves, to implore his support to the frailties we feel, and his guardianship in dangers yet to come, that we most realize how inexpressibly tender and gracious is that providence, which watches for our good, and, amidst the immensity of the dependent universe, overlooks not our little wants, listens to our faintest sighs, provides with more than parental kindness for our protection and enjoyment. It is the views, often repeated, which private prayer thus presents, which form in the heart of the sincere suppliant those habitual feelings of childlike confidence, of affectionate gratitude, and cheerful and tender devotion, which more than any other feelings are acceptable and blest. When in the retirement of our closets we have communed with our own heart, and remembered our past conduct, and have numbered our sins before God, and confessed them in penitence, we cannot then turn away to tread again the same path of unworthiness; we cannot immediately rush into the scene of temptation from which we have implored to be peculiarly delivered, or neglect the duties in which we have particularly sought God's grace to aid us, or repeat the transgressions over which the tears of contrition have just been shed. The particularity of private prayer has thus a powerful effect in giving a greater tenderness to the conscience, and adding strength to the motives and feelings from which a holy obedience springs. And when we have in solitude thus seriously reflected on ourselves and our condition, our duties and our temptations, our present character and our prospects hereafter, and have commended ourselves to God's care and support, we make all the preparation in our power for the services of the christian life, and may go forth again to its trials, strengthened with a holier might."


Sunday, June 20, 2010

the purpose of religious education...

This from "Worship" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Every man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he do not cheat his neighbor. Then all goes well. He has changed his market-cart into a chariot of the sun."

(painting:  "Market Cart" by Gainsborough)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

the throne of grace...

We often tend to divorce social justice from personal sin and infirmity. The prayers, hymns and verses from "Daily Praise and Prayer" are good reminders that if we are to be agents of  peace and justice in the world, we could do worse than to seek the aid of grace.  Today's devotion from "Daily Praise and Prayer"...

 "SEEING then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

They who seek the throne of grace
Find that throne in every place;
If we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere.

In our sickness or our health,
In our want or in our wealth,
If we look to God in prayer,
God is present everywhere.

When our earthly comforts fail,
When the foes of life prevail, '
Tis the time for earnest prayer :
God is present everywhere.

ETERNAL Spirit, whose nearness to man is the beginning of all religion, grant us in all love and obedience to be reckoned thy children ; and through the breathing of thy Holy Spirit may the whole family of mankind be joined into one, and sanctified. Pour on thy servants the increase of faith, hope, and charity, that they may both faithfully serve thee in time 'and enjoy thee in eternity. Grant us so to have our inward sight quickened, and our better mind strengthened, that we may avoid what destroys and lay hold on what works perpetual peace. Grant that a new birth of heart may set free those whom sin would hold as slaves in the old bondage. As we are saved from all evil by partaking of thy thought, so may we ever be preserved by thy power. In the spirit of him who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin, we would come boldly to thy throne of grace : may we obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need, and evermore enjoy the peace of thy kingdom. Amen."


Friday, June 18, 2010

mercy in the morning...

For just about three weeks, my morning devotions have included two 19th century Unitarian daily devotionals (both of which can be found online at Google Books.)  They have been a true aid in my spiritual life and I am grateful for them.  And speaking of gratitude, here is today's entry in "Day Unto Day."

"I will sing aloud of Thy mercy in the morning. Pa. lix. 16.

As a bird in meadows fair
Or in lonely forest sings.
Till it fills the summer air,
And the greenwood sweetly rings;
So my heart to Thee would raise,
O my God! its song of praise,
That the gloom of night is o'er,
And I see the sun once more. 1580.
The Christian's song of gladness is a psalm of gratitude, the echoes of which may be heard from every object around him. lie sympathizes with all the innocent joy on the earth; but he remembers that all this joy has a Source, and he looks beyond earth and earthly things. He regards his happiness as given; and he is grateful, and seeks to impart of his abundance, and make others happy and cheerful and grateful. — Greenwood
1 will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs. — Ps. Ixix. 30, 31."


Thursday, June 17, 2010

haughty and presumptuous reasonings...

In the 19th century Unitarian book of prayers for families and individuals, "The Altar at Home," is included this which is to be prayed...

 "When Oppressed by Difficulties in Theology."

"Infinite and Eternal Being, whose nature and whose ways no finite mind can comprehend, thou seest how my frail reason is hardened, how my thoughts are oppressed, how my words are silenced, in meditating on thy decrees and dispensations, on the prevalence of evil, and on the prospects of human kind. 0 my Lord, these mysteries are too awful and too painful for me. Help me, I pray thee, to repose on the belief of thy divine perfection, who art supremely just and holy, merciful and good, and with whom all things are possible. Let me never forget or doubt that God is love : and great as may be the difficulty of reconciling the state and history of our race with that glorious and delightful truth, 0 give me strength to hold fast the invaluable declaration and supreme manifestation of it, and to believe that it shall at last be developed in all its cloudless and overcoming splendor.

Teach me ever to believe with the heart that fact which is the marvellous and crowning demonstration of thy essential love; that God so loved the world that he spared not his own Son. but delivered him up for us all; that he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world; that Jesus was made lower than the angels in order that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man; that he gave himself a ransom for all; that as the Lamb of God he taketh away the sin of the world; and let me not entangle myself in strifes of words and perplexities of speculation, which would restrict the largeness of this grace. Merciful Father, never may I forget that we know but parts of thy ways ; that man's mind and man's systems are limited and dark, and that human hearts are deceitful and erring. 0 give me to believe that there is something beyond and above their view and mine, in the glory, efficiency and vastness, of thy great salvation. Let me cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of!

Save me and mine, I beseech thee, good Lord, from all fundamental and ruinous error, from all haughty and presumptuous reasonings, but specially from distrustful and despairing thoughts of thee, of thy glorious administration, and thy holy purposes. 0 grant me strength to believe that it is for wise and gracious reasons thou permittest me to be variously tried, perturbed and tempted, and peculiarly so at times, by pondering the high and surprising mysteries of thy procedure and decrees. 0 Lord, be pleased to extricate me from all trials, as they shall successively or together occur; and at present particularly from this arduous trial of faith. Give me, I entreat, that calm and happy confidence in thee which may keep me at ease for fulfilling duty, allowing me to prosecute with renewed strength those endeavors which thy providence and grace alone can encourage and empower me to pursue. I ask all through the all-prevailing mediation of my Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

a present salvation...

An absolutely central tenet of Boston Unitarianism (and one of the things that so drew me to them) was/is the idea that true salvation is not an event but a daily, continuous thing.  James Freeman Clarke's 'Message of Faith, Hope and Love" for today (posted everyday at Wonderful Epoch) puts it well...

" SALVATION, to be of any use to us, must be a present salvation. It is not enough that I passed through some experience, and repented and was converted and born again last year. I must repent to-day, I must be converted to-day, I must be born again to-day. Nor can I hope to be saved in the future except as I am saved now. Immortality must begin here. God is here, Christ is here, his Holy Spirit is here, all good angels are here, all truth is here; and I can be saved now by trusting in God as my Father and my Friend!"


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

bright and happy day...

This fascinating speech from Rev. George Hosmer was spoken at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the American Unitarian Association and printed in "The Boston Observer and Religious Intelligencer" (1835)

"The condition of our religious community is peculiar, and so is our position, as Unitarians, among other denominations. There are many dark spots on the aspect of these times. On the one hand, scepticism, impatience of religious restraint, a spirit of reckless innovation, and on the other, exclusion, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. All these elements are alive — all active — all in motion, and by their discordant action, are thrown into a state like that of the primeval chaos. No wonder, that under such circumstances, men should he discouraged. No wonder that black and portentous clouds should rest upon the horizon of our hopes. Many are almost in despair at this view of the times. The aged despondingly exclaim, that the former days were better than these.

But, said Mr H. is this all ? Is there nothing to encourage ? I firmly believe that there is. There is a strong under current which is at work for the best results. Fifty or sixty years ago, to he sure, old towns were united in one society under one minister. They all went to the house of God in company. But was there not something to deplore in that state of things ? Were not the churches drowsy ? Was there not a prevailing spiritual apathy ? It cannot he denied that there was. The Revolution came and broke up this old form. Since then we have been changing. We are now in a transition state. Where it will terminate, God only knows. We are now called on to discuss great questions; not merely on minor points of faith, hut the momentous question, is Christianity true ? Many deny it. Some make it a laughing stock and a scorn. We should then all unite, in support of our common religion. But alas, we are cut up into fragments. Our community is divided. We are in the same state as our country would have been in had the North and South divided on topics of local interest in our great struggle for Independence. We are called upon by our position to mediate between these extremes. Liberty, Holiness, Love, these are our great principles. By these we must exert a healing influence and unite the conflicting portions of society. Let us then, gird ourselves with the whole armor of God, for this great work. Let us come to it with the spirit of Christ, and we shall behold the dawn of a bright and happy day."


Monday, June 14, 2010

strange persistence...

Part one of  "A LAY VIEW OF SLEEPING IN CHURCH." from the collection "Eutychus and his Relations: Pulpit and Pew Papers", by Brooke Herford.  (This from the preface, "The ' Pulpit and Pew' Papers in this little book were written and published anonymously, during the years 1860 and 1861 by the late Dr. Brooke Herford in the early years of his is stated that the ' Eutychus' papers ' made some little stir and roused considerable curiosity in their day, and will repay perusal still. There is a strange persistence in the minor weaknesses of humanity')

"For my part I pity Eutychus. He has been held up as a warning to sleepy congregations, and his falling down set forth as a judgment, by grave old divines of the precise Puritanical school, who could not appreciate the difficulty of keeping the attention fixed through long sermons, especially such sermons as their own. The clerical mind has a curious faculty of exaggerating small ecclesiastical offences, and while on most subjects entertaining very enlarged views and charitable feelings, has no sympathy with the little difficulties of the laity in these matters. I wish, therefore, to present a lay view of the subject.

It has a strange attraction for me. I have read those few verses in the twentieth chapter of Acts, again and again, and I love to touch and retouch the quaint little picture of the early church which they have left upon my mind. I seem to sit among the eager people grouped together in that little upper-room at Troas. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, and the foreboding is strong upon his spirit that he shall never see them again. We do not know what he said,—Luke had taken ship and gone on before to Assos, so he was not there to tell us—but there are no more touching words in all the Acts than his farewell to the elders of Ephesus, given at the end of the same chapter; and it would be in much the same strain that he would speak to these poor folk at Troas, that last Sabbath-night of his brief stay. Have you never seen a crowded little preaching-room, away in some back street or country place,— a small, low room over a couple of cottages, with many lights stuck here and there against the walls, and homely long-headed weavers and poor women eagerly crowding to hear, and children sleeping heavily in the close hot air, and many faces peering in at the door. I think of such sights which I have seen many a time among the Methodists, when I was a young man, as often as I read of Eutychus. Poor young man, who has not seen him sitting, ' fallen in a deep sleep.' I dare say he was as fond of Paul as any of them, and listened lovingly at first. But ' Paul was long preaching,' and ' continued his speech until midnight' ; and so at last, what with the heat, and the lights, and some of the apostle's longer points about the Judaizing teachers and the dead works of the law, gradually the words began to melt into a pleasant dreamy flow of sound, and his head bowed down in that ' deep sleep.'

What a break in the midst of his touching words, when at last poor Eutychus overbalanced as he sat on the window-ledge, and suddenly his feet flew up and he disappeared with a heavy fall! How the people would rush out with lights and crowd about him, till Paul came down and knelt bending over him, with such a deep, longing prayer that he might be spared, and soon could say, to the great joy of the wondering friends, ' Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him.'

What a lesson for poor Eutychus! I don't think he would go to sleep in chapel again for a long time, and when he did, he would take care not to sit in a window!"


Sunday, June 13, 2010

the open way to God...

This from James Freeman Clarke's "Messages of Faith, Hope and Love" (also posted this morning at Wonderful Epoch

"IN every age and every land it has been the universal and profound conviction of Christians that Jesus has been made to them the open way to God; that through him, somehow, they find forgiveness ; through him, hope; through him, a new life in their heart and soul.

This is the key to the ardent language of Paul. This is why he forever repeats the name of Christ. This is why he says, We are rooted and grounded in love. To Paul there came from Jesus this divine revelation of a great Fatherhood, and it broke the bonds of his Pharisaic literalism, of his routine religion ; took him out of his ritual, ceremonies, texts of Scripture, into a new life of perfect trust and hope and joy. " To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." "The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God." " I live, but not I: Christ lives in me." Christ to him was the manifestation of a divine tenderness of which he had never before dreamed. So that, no matter what happened to him, he was sitting in heavenly places with Jesus; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

And this unspeakable gift was not given to Jesus alone or to Paul alone, but it is given to you and to me. To us the word of this salvation is also sent. Salvation! for what can be more safe than to feel ourselves in the embrace of an infinite love. Salvation ! for we know that our sins will be destroyed and our evil cleansed by coming into this heavenly atmosphere of love. Salvation ! for how can we continue to sin if we are kept in the presence of our Father ?"

Have a blessed Sabbath

Saturday, June 12, 2010

the very watchword...

This from Brooke Herford's sermon, 'PATIENT CONTINUANCE IN WELL-DOING.

 "To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality— eternal life!' (Romans ii. 7.)

I Cannot help thinking that this very phrase, with the position that it holds in Christian thought, is a sign of one of the noblest characteristics of Christianity. Christianity has brought out, as no other system ever did, the beauty and worth of simple, faithful living, apart from any greatness or conspicuousness. That simple kind of life was not of much account in the ancient world. The ancient world's idea of ' glory, honour, and immortality,' was of reward for the conspicuously great. He who should do some striking act of heroism, or some noble service to his country, for him, certainly—immortality! A Hercules, slaying the lion or dragon that had become the terror of a whole tribe ; a Leonidas, dying at the head of the forlorn hope of Greece; a Curtius, leaping into the chasm that superstition whispered could never close till Rome's best treasures were cast into it—no doubt about immortality for these, or such as these,—ancient thought followed them to heaven and fancied them dwelling among the gods or changed into shining stars. But there was no idea of anything of this kind for the rank and file of the common people. The husbandmen of the Campanian fields, who through those old-world centuries had to delve and plough, and take their corn to market, and live busy days about their farms; the merchants, who at Tyre or Corinth had to buy and sell, and try and make a little profit here and there ; the women, who, in the inner chambers of those ancient houses, had to pass their days in the thousandfold little cares of home and children—these—let alone the myriads, humbler yet, of hired labourers or slaves, —well, of course such work had to be done, such classes had to be, but as to their being of any account with the gods, or as to any ' glory, honour, and immortality' being in store for them, that hardly entered men's minds! There, exactly, it was that the elevating power of Christ's religion came in so strikingly and beautifully. It touched human life even in its homeliest levels with a new self-respect. It inaugurated a kind of divine democracy. It gave to the lowliest a new hope, a new encouragement. The Gospel's teaching of the great heavenly Father, as near to the labourer in the sand quarries as to the priest in the temple, and loving every one of these toiling ones,—not merely beneficent to mankind in the mass, but knowing them and loving them soul by soul, as a father knows his children; and the Gospel's great practical illustration of that divine love in a Christ who had especially gathered poor men about him, to teach them and inspire them with his glorious hopes; yes, and the whole tone of Christ's teachings, dwelling so tenderly on the work, and cares, and temptations of the common world, taking his parables from hired men, and vine-dressers, and busy women at their sweeping or their baking—all this was what really took hold of the heart of mankind. It is when I think of all this, that Paul's saying—' patient continuance in well-doing'—looks grandest to me. It stands out not as a mere fragmentary text, but as almost the very watchword for the Christian life, and rich with such a large, appreciative hopefulness for the common race of men."


Friday, June 11, 2010

the Emerson Cult...

Before diving into Brooke Herford's sermons, this bit of background on Boston Unitarianism upon his arrival at Arlington Street Church in 1882. Regular readers will know that I love, yet constantly wrestle with Emerson.  This is why I wrestle...(from a memoir of Rev. Herford by John Cuckson...)

"The religious atmosphere of Boston Unitarianism was eminently prudent and conservative, and charged with pride of the days of Channing and Parker and Gannett, but beginning to show the first symptoms of spiritual numbness and torpid inactivity, from which it has hardly yet recovered...

...Inside the Unitarian churches, the Emersonian gospel of individuality, so lofty and inspiring and helpful in every direction, except in that of organized life in the church, was winning its way, and the zeal of Drs. Bellows and James Freeman Clarke was unable to withstand its somewhat disintegrating tendencies. It was giving new strength to individual faith, but no strength to the organization of that faith, for ecclesiastical purposes. Men felt themselves lifted into a diviner air by the Concord seer, but the expansion was toward higher altitudes, rather than towards close and active fellowship for practical ends, such as those which create churches, and strengthen them. Emerson was deeply religious, but it was the religion of solitude and seclusion, and not of the church and of the congregation, the religion that worships beneath the stars and pines, and not the faith that communes with itself, only that it may the more effectively stand in close and helpful relations with men and women steeped in sin and wretchedness. And so the spirit of Emerson made more transcendentalists than missionaries, more solillaquists, and prophets on their own account, than Christian workers. Under its spell the liberal ministers placed such emphasis on self-development and self-reliance, that they turned a noble truth into a hurtful exaggeration. In his Divinity School Address, which had so powerful an influence upon the religious thought of the time, Emerson broke away from traditions and history, and did scant justice to the instinct of hero-worship, which lies at the root of all religion, and especially of the religion of Jesus. In condemning what he called the noxious exaggeration of the person of Jesus, he unconsciously fell into the opposite exaggeration of asserting that "the soul knows no persons." No better example could surely be found of the falsehood of extremes. It would have been much nearer the truth to have said, the soul knows nothing but persons. Religion in all its aspects and phases is a personal relationship. It is the worship of a person, the federation of persons, and the love and service of persons. The religion that revolves around self, as a centre, even though it be the higher self, is a glorious illusion.

Be this as it may, at the time Mr. Herford settled at Arlington Street Church, what was called the Emerson cult was at its height. It did not openly discourage organized religious fellowship, but made it difficult, if not impossible. The churchly habit and congregational worship were slack, and in some instances every characteristic of well-defined Christian conviction was "disemboweled," and religion was lost in a "cadaverous abstraction." The older churches suffered less than others from this tendency to universalize everything. They still clung to liberal Christianity, and retained the few rites of the primitive faith, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper. The field in which Channing and Gannett had laboured so long and to such purpose was, therefore, eminently congenial to Mr. Herford. He found an atmosphere in which he could gladly preach and labour."

(iluustration is "View from the steeple of Arlington Street Church)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Let us suspend our service for a moment...

Over the next few days, I will excerpt some of the works of Rev. Brooke Herford. Born in England, Herford served churches there before coming to America where he served in Chicago and then at Arlington Street Church (the Church of Channing and Gannett) in Boston (1882-1892 .)  For today, this anecdote from "Heralds of a Liberal Faith."

"...he (Herford) received a call from the Arlington Street Church in Boston. It offered him a somewhat more comfortable life, which he did not want but which would do him no harm, and to enter into the tradition of Channing and Gannett was an invitation he could not refuse. The settlement was fortunate for Boston also. Two blocks from Arlington Street, Phillips Brooks was at the zenith of his power and fame at Trinity Church. Equally nearby was George A. Gordon at the new Old South Church. Brooke Herford was a worthy member of this trio, and they worked intimately and happily together.
   Herford preached twice every Sunday with the large auditorium of the Church often so full that people were sitting on the pulpit stairs. Occasionally, to be sure, some of the people at the Vesper Service would get up to leave as the musical program ended, and just before the sermon began. Once, as this happened, Mr. Herford said from the pulpit, “Let us suspend our Service for a moment, until those children who cannot sit for an hour have left the Church.”


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

complete harmony and perfection...

For the UU Salon's June question, from the Introductory of Thomas Baldwin Thayer's influential "Theology of Universalism" published in 1862. 

"This is essentially the theology of Universalism, the character and action which, following the sacred Scriptures, it ascribes to God as the Supreme Governor of the universe, and the Creator and Father of men. In him are united all possible perfections ; and by the necessity of his nature, he is infinite in all his attributes, and unchangeable—the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. He is the source of all our blessings, the inexhaustible fountain of good to man in this world, and in all worlds, in time, and in eternity.

This doctrine of the complete harmony and perfection of all the divine attributes, of the infinite benevolence of God in the creation and government of the world, inspires the true believer with reverent trust, with devout gratitude, and with an earnest desire to conform to all the requirements of his righteous laws. It imparts courage in the presence of danger, resistance in the time of temptation, patience in tribulation, resignation in suffering, and peace in the hour of death. The experience of these beneficent influences, and the happy consciousness of this spiritual renewal, justify the Universalist Christian in claiming for his faith, that it has all the characteristics of a divinely authenticated religion ; that it is, in a word, identical with the Gospel as taught by the Saviour and his chosen disciples."


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

a living perpetual epistle...

I was very gratified to receive yesterday an email from a minister, not Unitarian, who discovered James Freeman Clarke through this space. Readers of this blog and of Wonderful Epoch, know of the importance of JFC in my own spiritual and religious life.  One of the many reasons this is so was his true ecumenical spirit both within Unitarianism and the larger body of Christ.  He embodied a spirit of Christian unity that is all too sadly lacking. James Freeman Clarke died on this day in 1888.  These words were spoken in a sermon by the great Boston Episcopalian preacher Phillips Brooks shortly after JFC's death...

" He belonged to the whole Church of Christ. Through him his Master spoke to all who had ears to hear. Especially, he was a living perpetual epistle to the Church of God which is in Boston. It is a beautiful, a solemn moment when the city, the Church, the world, gather up the completeness of a finished life like his, and thank God for it, and place it in the shrine of memory, to be a power and a revelation thenceforth so long as city and Church and world shall last. It is not the losing, it is rather the gaining, the assuring, of his life. Whatever he has gone to in the great mystery beyond, he remains a word of God here in the world he loved. Let us thank our Heavenly Father for the life, the work, the inspiration, of his true servant, his true saint, James Freeman Clarke."


Monday, June 7, 2010

Unitarian Affirmations...

This from a review in the "Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine" of a book of sermons called "Unitarian Affirmations" which is a collection of seven sermons delivered by various Unitarian ministers on the basics of the faith in Washington DC in 1879: 

"If we should attempt a still further condensation of these affirmations, we might, omitting some repetitions of the same thoughts, obtain something like the following statement of faith : —

I believe in Christianity; in its basis of universal religion in the soul of man; in the Father it reveals in God; in the Divine Sonship of Christ, the type and •witness of the sonship of humanity ; in the Holy Spirit, the present life of God in the life of the world and in the souls of men.

I believe that the heart of man has everywhere sought after God, if haply it might find him; and that in the Bible we have the record of that seeking in the race to which God's providence vouchsafed the earliest place in the large unfolding of Himself, and of which, according to the flesh, Christ came, for the power of whose life and the comfort of whose gospel as witnessed in the New Testament, God be blessed forever.

I believe in human nature, the capacity of man to overcome the evils of this world and the sins which beset and debase him, and to come to the standard of God's purpose in the fulness of Jesus Christ.

I believe in the Christian Church, the fellowship of faith and hope and love. in the truth and work and spirit of Jesus, to declare the forgiving and renewing love of God; and in the communion of all holy souls in the divine life, the service of humanity, and the faith of the coming kingdom of heaven.

I believe in the everlasting faithfulness of God; the eternity of his recompensing law; the ceaseless woe of sin; the overcoming might of goodness; the one rule of God in all worlds; and the life everlasting."


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Most faithful when most tried...

Today's devotion from "Daily Praise and Prayer"

"WHO shall separate us from the love of Christ ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ?
As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long ; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lord, make us timely wise,
To know thy call of grace,
And with the moment, as it flies,
Run our appointed race; —

Still keep the end in view,
Tarry nor turn aside ;
Perils, allurements, bonds, break through,
Most faithful when most tried !

Thus, till we reach the goal,
All else to count but loss ;
Nor, till we gain the prize, — our soul,—
Grow weary of the cross.

HELP us, O our Father, this day to be perfect as thou art perfect; according to our light and strength, to be true and kind and upright and just. May we do our work cheerfully, accept our joys gratefully, and endure our trials with patience. With alacrity may we serve thee and our fellow-men, welcoming every opportunity to assist those in need, and faithfully keeping our souls in harmony with thy holy law. Guide and govern us through this day by thy good Spirit, and may its close find its work faithfully done, its lessons learned, and its journey straightly travelled on the road that leads to heaven and thee. Amen."

Have a blessed Sabbath everyone

Saturday, June 5, 2010

solemn and grave looks...

I was somewhat surprised by this from "The Christian Teacher's Manuel" 1829.  The article is "OBSERVATIONS ON THE EXPEDIENCY OF PERMITTING CHILDREN TO ATTEND PUBLIC WORSHIP WITH ADULTS," which is explanation enough for the question. What do you think?

"Now to us we confess, the practise of sending children to church, seems not only injudicious but somewhat cruel. Judging from our own childhood we know of no place less congenial to the buoyant spirits and active frame of that period of life, than the church. There the child must sit erect—compose his features into solemn and grave looks, without receiving anything as a reward for his torture. The hymns do not suit the taste of the nursery—the language and the ideas of the prayers, are above his comprehension—and the sermon is all Greek—and very dull Greek to him. This .is no exaggeration, we believe it may be said without fear of contradiction, that not one tenth part of the services of the sanctuary, are at all intelligible to children. This indeed is acknowledged by many parents, who nevertheless urge the propriety of sending their children to church, that they may acquire an habitual regard for the place, and for sacred things. We do not like such reasoning. A habit of attending church, or any other religious observance, is the last habit we would wish a child to form. We fear to run the slightest risk of making religion a thing to be done at a certain time and in a certain way. We fear very much, any practice which has the remotest tendency to overestimate forms and festivals, time and places. And does not the experience of almost every one prove that these fears are far from groundless ? Can we not, do we not refer much of our mere formal attendance upon public worship, to the fact that such an attendance has become a matter of course; a thing done without the feelings being at all interested in it ? Why then entail the same coldness upon our children ? Why educate them in the same outward acknowledgment of, and inward indifference to public worship ? We repeat, we believe it a melancholy truth, that the bodily and mental comfort of children are sacrificed in many instances, to a mere outside display of reverence for the Sabbath. Of this practice of making the holy day a weary and gloomy one to the young, were it consistent with our present design, we could adduce much evidence. We have no doubt of the sincerity of those who rule children with the rod on Sundays—and tax their memories with unintelligible lessons, and torment them into the anxious wish that " the sun would go down" and relieve them from Sabbath thraldom—but it is the sincerity of superstition. But we must remember that it is no more possible and proper to rule the free-born thoughts of the child than of the man; both must be led by the light chain of reason."


Friday, June 4, 2010

on the street where you live...

I grew up in South Dakota in a town of about 400 people named Hecla.  I know not the reason for the name but in this pamphlet by James Freeman Clarke, published in 1880, the naming of towns and streets is given great thought (for the complete work, see here)

To Give a true name to a town or a street is not so easy a matter as it may seem. Mistakes are frequently made, because it is thought a thing of little consequence. I shall suggest, in this paper, the importance of care in selecting the proper designation, not only for a city or village, but even for a street. I shall also contend that such designations should not be selected merely as pretty sounds, but as memorials of the past.

Ought we not to regard these names as historic monuments, and choose such as will commemorate the. events and persons belonging to the history of the place ? This appears to be a matter of no small importance for a country like this. In a nation which grows with such unprecedented rapidity as ours, there is frequent need of giving names to new states, towns, streets, and public buildings. Thus far, these appellations have been bestowed almost by accident. It has been a happy accident when a state or town or a street has received a good name: as, for example, in states, Minnesota and Iowa; in towns, Canandaigua, Chicago, Milwaukee; in streets, Bowdoin Street, Federal Street, Chauncy Street. More commonly, the names given have been chosen at random, without any selection, by some hurried official, who took the first appellations which occurred to him, or which met his eye in a classical dictionary or on a map of Europe.

But we ought to consider that to give a name to a place is a very important act, involving no little responsibility; and should, therefore, be confided to judicious and enlightened persons; and that there are certain rules to be followed and objects to be secured in giving names.

Before naming an infant, we hesitate and consider, and very properly; for the name is one which is to designate him through life, and every time it is uttered will make an impression on the hearers corresponding to the character or association which belongs to it. When a child is called " Praise God Barebones," " Be Thankful Maynard," "Lament Willard," or "Search the Scriptures Moreton," is it not evident that he has been saddled with a burden which will weigh him down through life ? For such phrases were not, as Hume erroneously supposes, assumed by the parties themselves, but have been found by Mr. Lower (as he tells us in his work on English surnames) in the baptismal registers. Every time the man weighted with such a name is spoken to or spoken of, a slight sense of ridicule attaches to him in consequence thereof. But, finally, every man dies, and his name with him; but a city, a town, or a street may live a thousand years. During all its existence, if it have an insignificant appellation, or one suggesting unfavorable contrasts or disagreeable associations, the town or street is injured. It may be no great injury, not much each time; but multiply the slight injury its bad name inflicts on each occasion by the number of times the name is spoken, and you see that an inappropriate name may do a place a good deal of harm. If a little rural town is called Rome, Paris, or London, the word inevitably suggests unfavorable comparisons; whereas, if it were entitled Riverside or Greenfield, it would pleasantly suggest its true characteristics."


Thursday, June 3, 2010

sanctifying, cementing power...

I think that what initially drew me to the "Boston Unitarians" was their good hearted effort to reconcile in a moderate and balanced way, the seemingly contradictory aspects of religious, and of all, life.  This from "The Christian Examiner" 1853.  It comes toward the end of the article, "Christ's Authority and the Soul's Liberty."

 "The great cry of our age and our land is Liberty, liberty for all! There is to this lifted a counter-cry of Law and order ! From our discussion it would appear that, truly understood, there is no contradiction in these cries ; but that they meet in one idea, there being no true liberty but in obedience to just command, and no proper moral law without freedom to act and to obey. Again, there is in one class or another, or from the heart of mankind, a cry for our rights! which the self-renouncing spirit of religion in the soul answers with a lowlier cry to know and do our duties. Here too philosophy and piety unite to teach every creature, man or woman, that the duties are the loftiest and most blessed rights. The poets Coleridge and Herbert, the one appealing to liberty and the other celebrating law, have by Ruskin been contrasted. They should rather be reconciled. For the former addresses the free elements as those that yield homage only to eternal laws ; and the latter but warns against the worst bondage, when he cites the trusty sun and sky for our examples of living by rule, that we may keep company with all God's works.

Lose not thyself, nor give thy humors way ;
God gave them to thee under lock and key."

Accordingly, with what beauty, as by an instinct for truth and impossibility of any exposure to narrowness or extravagance, the great Bible speaks of the law of liberty and of that service which is perfect freedom, joined in one seemingly antagonistic principle, as in nature we so often see opposite elements coalesce from their struggle in one simple product. We know of no topic more wholesome than this, especially for the mind of our own country to ponder. In the conflict among us of false extremes that can never be harmonized, boldness of speculation on one side and subjection to creeds on the other, utter individual independence and social servility, political license in the majority with unjust slavery in a weaker race, there is nothing it so becomes us to strive for as that combination of principle with free-will, which has its rise in religion, the fountain-head of all human thought and action, and thence pervades with sanctifying, cementing power all the departments of human life.

Such a consummation will be promoted if an idea can ever find us which will do away the antithesis, in particular, that has always been supposed between Christ's authority and the soul's liberty, and makes that authority and liberty the same, as verily, in the sight of God, we believe they are. We cannot offer a better prayer to God, we cannot breathe a better wish for man, than that this antithesis may be solved in our hearts, and so we be empowered to solve it in the hearts of all whom we may reach. So we shall move forward a little the chariot-wheels of the great God, who is Father and King. So we shall hasten the blessed day when Christ's universal lordship shall prove the emancipation of mankind."


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

intuition and experience...

I have written before of the importance to my own developing Unitarianism of the book, "Ezra Stiles Gannett: Unitarian Minister in Boston."  I came across it at the first UU Church I ever attended.  On a wall shelf in the hall were 10 or so volumes, one of which was "Gannett." It was the only "old" book on the shelf and I later learned that it had never in any-one's memory been moved from its place.  The man revealed in its pages was immediately fascinating to me.  For more on why, see past blog entries here
   A conservative, Gannett was not an admirer of the Transcendentalist movement.  The Memoir, written by Gannett's son (who was) is fascinating on the rise of Transcendentalism and its impact on Unitarianism.  An excerpt...

"Viewed as a school of philosophy, the Transcendentalists were simply the little New England quota in the great return of thinkers to Idealism, after the long captivity to Sensationalism. Returns almost inevitably have the exaggeration and one-sidedness of reaction. The new king usurps entire allegiance, whereas allegiance seems due to one who rules at once both kingdoms, Intuition and Experience. As a school of critics, they were the earliest here who boldly used the modern historic method in the study of the Bible. As a school of theology, they dispensed with Mediation, in order to claim for the soul access direct to its Father. They have been credited with bringing the doctrine of the Holy Spirit into the Unitarian "common sense in religion." But more than the common doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and more than Orthodoxy compassed by its faith in Incarnation and the Helping Grace, their thought really implied. It implied a universal law of access and communion. It affirmed abiding contact of the finite and the Infinite in virtue of the very nature of the soul and Over-Soul. Inspiration fresh as well as old; Revelation constant; Miracle but the human spirit's pinnacle of action ; God the living God, not a deity then and there announcing himself with evidence of authenticity, but indwelling here and now in every presence, — this was " Transcendentalism."

(for more on the Holy Spirit, see today's post at Wonderful Epoch)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

summer is nigh...

June the first began here with a thunderstorm.  I am going to go with the symbolism of cleansing and not upheaval for the coming summer and towards that end offer today's devotion from "Day Unto Day."

"Now learn a parable of the fig-tree: when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. —Matt. xxiv. 32.

" The summer adds new and inexhaustible sources of instruction. Every leaf teems with life; the air is filled with the sounds of animated and joyous existence ; the earth abounds with proofs of divine beneficence, wisdom, and power."

"'Tis Summer, glorious Summer!
Look to the glad green earth,
How from her grateful bosom
The herb and flower spring forth.
These are her rich thanksgivings,
Their incense floats above.
Father, what may we offer?
Thy chosen flower is love."

"As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.—Isa. lxi. 11."