Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I wrote last Sunday of my desire to live more fully in the church year (which, of course, began on the First Sunday in Advent.)  Part of that effort is to once again dig into the Church Fathers (I have resolved-and failed-to do this before.)  This morning it was "The Epistle to Diogenetus" and this stirring description of these people called Christians... 

"For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers... They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers...
To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake. "


Sunday, November 28, 2010

the main thing...

It is the First Sunday in Advent-a time of anticipation and waiting and the first Sunday of the liturgical year.  For me it is an occasion to determine to live more fully in the Church Year.  "The Internet Monk" summed up the virtues of such a life:

"1. It enables us to live in God’s story.
2. It keeps the main thing the main thing.
3. It recognizes that one’s calendar forms one’s life.
4. It links personal spirituality with worship, family, and community.
5. It provides a basis of unity and common experience for Christians everywhere."

Or, as Stanley Kunitz wrote in one of my favorite poems, "Live in the layers, not on the litter"

Blessings to all

Saturday, November 27, 2010

my deliberate and deepest convictions...

Frederick Dan Huntington was a Unitarian Minister, editor, and Plummer Professor at Harvard from 1855-1860.  Following are excerpts from letters written by Huntington after he had made the decision to become an Episcopalian.  He would later become the first Bishop of Central New York.

"The preaching of my deliberate and deepest convictions is the business of my life. For now I feel an assurance I never felt before, I feel certainty, now, of standing on "the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone." Now I can join in without hesitation, or reserve, with the great multitudes of the Christian ages, and of all Christian lands, in the grand and glowing ascription, " Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen."

How unnatural it would be if I did not wish to impart this joy, and confidence, and peace, and consolation, which I am sure God has given me by the Cross of my Lord, — to all whom I love, — and it seems to me that I never loved so many, nor so much before.

You will not expect me in these narrow limits to give you the reasons by which my mind has been led to its present conclusions. Suffice it to say, the process has been steady, slow and always in one direction. In spite of all the external and friendly inducements to remain where I had a large hearing, position, honors, sympathies, enough to fill the human desires of any reasonable man, my mind has been lifted up and borne irresistibly along to another faith.

Do not suppose, because you have associated this other faith with dogmatism and bigotry, that I am going to be a dogmatist or a bigot. I don't believe I am. The truth is, those are faults of human nature, rather than of religious systems. I find them too prevalent everywhere; certainly they are too rife and bitter among Unitarians. There are most truly liberal and noble and generous Christians in all sects. But we want more of them; and I hope to see them multiplied. Certainly there is nothing inconsistent with such a spirit in an Evangelical theology. You refer to my past instructions very kindly. My dear friend, if you were willing to listen to me, and inquire with me then, listen to me and inquire with me all the more, now. What was positive and affirming in my preaching was true. What was negative and unscriptural, I hope may be forgiven. Pray come on, with me, to these still better and firmer views. These are two good texts for you: "Hold that fast which thou hast," and "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief." Entreat the Holy One to enlighten you; to give you a fair, candid, unprejudiced spirit of investigation; to open your whole understanding and heart to the truth. And he will "lead you into all truth."

You refer to a sermon I once preached, giving seven reasons for disbelieving the Trinity. I remember it perfectly, tho' it is a long time since I have seen the manuscript, and I am not likely to look it up. It was written in good faith, — but not half so good a faith as the Master has been pleased to give me since. And I hope you will credit it, when I tell you that, as I look back upon the real state of my mind, when the discourse was delivered, it seems to me very plain that, after all, I was not satisfied, but only trying to be so; that I was defending what human lips had taught me rather than the Infinite One who is the Light of the world.
You speak — and I thank God you can — of your faith in "the divine Sonship of our blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ." Now, if you carefully examine the real meaning of that language, will you not find it impossible to stop short of the absolute and perfect oneness of nature between the Son and the Father?

Dear Friend: — We will wait a little and see. The Master will show the way. It is not perfectly clear. Having waited on Him very deliberately, at every step so far, I must not anticipate His direction now. Only the independence must not be individualism, nor yet religious democracy. The independence must be in the souls of preacher and people, — but never mere isolation, nor living out-of-doors,—nor forgetting history, nor denying the Past and God's great Providence in His Church. We must take care and build on the Rock this time.

I believe in order, — in a Church Body and Form. Were I to sit down with you and the friends you speak of, I think I could satisfy some of you that the noblest and best way to bring the Gospel to the people — high and low, poor and rich, alike — would be to offer them the service of the Catholic Apostolic Church \ — with her strength and stability, her beautiful "Christian Year," her wonderful variety and impressive adaptations, her fixed order, true liberty, and free conditions of Communion, her gracious ordinances, constant appeal to Scripture, and tasteful worship, her superior culture of the spirit of reverence — the inmost spirit of religion — the constant celebration of Christ, the living Head of the Body, and His cross, her true theory of the training up of the young in relations with the Church, and looking to Confirmation as their own act, and her large, active, zealous spirit of Missions reaching out among the ignorant and poor. But I have no time to enumerate, and less to explain and enforce her claims.

It should be from me, and not from any other that you learn that, this week, on the Eve of Ash Wednesday, I sent in to the Standing Committee of the Diocese my papers making application to be considered a Candidate for Orders. Praise to Father, Son and Holy Ghost! I do not now regret that the process has been so slow, and so painful. It only emphasizes the joy of deliverance, and gives greater assurance. My study of the origin, history, constitution, and practical economy of the Sacred Body of Christ has been protracted enough to give me confidence; and my enthusiasm and loyalty of attachment will match yours. "The King's Daughter" already appears to me "all glorious within " as without. Thro' all this "strife of tongues" the Lord has remembered his promise, and kept me safe and warm in His pavilion. Sometimes averted and altered faces have been colder than the frosty skies; but there has been Spring within, and almost every mail has brought me strong and tender assurances of fellowship and blessing from the wise and good all over the land, — not a few from the Bishops and Clergy of our Church. Of course the Orthodox Congregationalists will be disappointed in me. But many of them are very generous, feeling the Evangelical faith to be greater than the Ecclesiastical difference.

Of course I have six months release from preaching, — a sound and wise provision, and one that I need for calmer thought and rest and study. Preaching never looked so attractive as now, and Church work altogether, for I never had so much to preach.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bright flowers!...

File:Pink Sweet William flowers.jpg
The fascinating Jones Very writes of...


"Bright flowers! November's frosts and cold have
To greet us on this late Thanksgiving morn,
A tender love for you, as us, has cared;
The pansies still our garden plot adorn,
Chrysanthemums, that with the waning year
Round many homes in golden clusters bloom,
And e'en December's stormy month can cheer,
Stealing from many a clouded day its gloom.
While grateful for the harvest we would be
Which with abundance fills our wide domain
In these bright flowers new tokens, too, we see
Of the same Love which gives the fruits and grain,
And makes November's bare and cheerless bowers
Bright with the hues of memory's fadeless flowers."

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the love that crowns our days...

Photo: Dark storm clouds over a green field
And this much loved hymn, written by Anna L. Barbauld, (1743-1825) and taken from "Hymns of the Spirit", "the book of Sams" (Longfellow and Johnson) 1856 edition:

"Praise to God, immortal praise,

For the love that crowns our days !
Bounteous Source of every joy,
Let Thy praise our tongues employ!
All to Thee, our God, we owe,
Source whence all our blessings flow !

All the blessings of the fields,
All the stores the garden yields,
Flocks that whiten all the plain,
Yellow sheaves of ripened grain ; —
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.

All that spring with bounteous hand
Scatters o'er the smiling land,
All the plenty summer pours,
Autumn's rich, o'erflowing stores ; —
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.

Peace, prosperity, and health,
Private bliss and public wealth,
Knowledge, with its gladdening streams,
Pure religion's holier beams; —
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise."


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

this day of our gratitude...

Thanksgiving week continues with this public prayer from Theodore Parker given on:  "NOVEMBER 27, 1856.  THANKSGIVING DAY."

(Feel free to use it as grace at your own Thanksgiving celebration...That will make you popular with the relatives!)

"O THOU Infinite Spirit, who art everywhere that the light of day sheds down its glorious lustre, and in the caverns of the earth where the light of day cometh not, we would draw near to thee and worship thy spirit, which at all times is near to us. O Thou Infinite One, who art amidst all the silences of nature, and forsakest us not with thy spirit where the noisy feet of men are continually heard, we pray thee that the spirit of prayer may be in us while we lift up our hearts unto thee. Thou askest not even our gratitude, but when our cup is filled with blessings to the brim and runneth over with bounties, we would remember thee who fillest it, and givest every good and precious gift.

Father, we thank thee for the special material blessings which we enjoy; for the prosperity which has attended the labors of thy children in the months that are past, for the harvest of corn and of grass which the hand of man, obedient to his toilsome thought, has gathered up from the surface of the ground. We bless thee that when our toil has spoken to the earth, the furrows of the field have answered with sufficient, yea, with abundant returns of harvest to our hand. We thank thee for the blessings of the deep, and treasures hid in the sands, which thy children have gathered. We bless thee for the success which has come to those who go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters. We thank thee for the treasures which our mining hand has gathered from the foldings of the earth, the wealth which we have quarried from the mountain, or digged out from the bosom of the ground. And we bless thee for the other harvests which from these rude things the toilsome hand and the laborious thought of men have created, turning use into beauty also, and so adorning and gladdening the world.

We thank thee for the special blessings that come near to us this day. We bless thee for the health of our bodies, and we thank thee for those who are near and dear to us; and for all the gladsome gatherings together which this day will bring to pass, of parents and their children, long severed, or of the lover and his beloved, who so gladly would become one. We bless thee for all those who this day shall break their bread in common, lifting up their hearts unto thee, and blessing the hand which lengthens out our days and keeps the golden bowl from breaking at the fountain ; and we thank thee for those who in many a distant place are still of us, — severed in the body, but with us yet in soul.

We remember before thee not only our families and our homes, but likewise the great country in which thou hast cast the lines of our lot. We thank thee for its wide extent, for the great riches which the toil of man has here gathered together and stored up. We bless thee for the multitudes of people, an exceeding great company of men and women, who here have sprung into existence under thy care. We bless thee that in this land the exile from so many a clime can find a home, with none to molest nor to make him afraid. We thank thee for every good institution which has here been established, for all the truth that is taught in the church, for what of justice has become the common law of the people, and for all of righteousness and of benevolence which goes forth in the midst of our land.

We bless thee for our fathers who in centuries past, in the name of thy holy spirit, and for the sake of rights dearest to mankind, went from one country to another people, and in their day of small things came here. Yea, we thank thee for those whose only communion was an exile, and we bless thee for the bravery of their spirit which would not hang the harp on the willow, but sung songs of thanksgiving in a strange land, and in the midst of their wilderness builded a new Zion up, full of thanksgiving and song and praise.

We bless thee for our fathers of a nearer kin, who in a day of peril strove valiantly that they might be free, and bequeathed a noble heritage to their sons and daughters who were to come after them. Yea, we thank thee for those whose sacrament was only a revolution, and the cup of blessing was of blood drawn from their own manly veins ; and we bless thee for the hardy valor which drew their sword, and sheathed it not till they had a large place, and their inalienable rights secured to them by their own right hand, toiling and striving under the benediction of thy precious providence. Now, Lord, we thank thee that the few have become a multitude, and the little vine which our fathers planted with their tears and watered with their blood, reaches from sea to sea, great clusters of riches hanging on every bough, and its root strong in the land.

But we remember before thee the great sins which this nation has wrought, and while we thank thee for the noblest heritage which man ever inherited from man, we must mourn also that we have blackened the ground with crimes such as seldom a nation has committed against thee. Yea, Lord, even our thanksgiving prayer must be stained with our tears of mourning, and our psalm of thanksgiving must be mingled with the wail of those who lament that they have no hope left for them in the earth. Father, we remember our brothers of our own kin and complexion whom wickedness has smitten down in another land, whose houses are burned and their wives given up to outrage. We remember those who walk only in chains this day, and are persecuted for their righteousness' sake. And still more in our prayer we remember the millions of our brothers whom our fathers chained, and whose fetters our wicked hands have riveted upon their limbs. O Lord, we pray thee that we may suffer from these our transgressions, till we learn to eschew evil, to break the rod of the oppressor, and to let the oppressed go free; yea, till we make our rulers righteousness, and those chief amongst us whose glory it is to serve mankind by justice, by fidelity, and by truth.

We pray thee, on this day of our gratitude, that we may rouse up everything that is humanest in our heart, pledging ourselves anew to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly before thee, O Thou our Father and our Mother on earth and in the heavens too. Thus, Lord, may our thanksgiving be worthy of the nature thou hast given us and the heritage thou hast bequeathed. Thus may our psalm of gratitude be a hymn of thanksgiving for millions who have broken off their chains, and for a great country full of joy, of blessedness, of freedom and of peace. So may thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Monday, November 22, 2010

everlasting advancement in perfection and joy...

It is, of course, Thanksgiving week.  In the busyness and, for many, stress, of the "Holiday Season" it is, ironically, often the most difficult time to pause to offer thanks.  This week, excerpts from Thanksgiving Sermons beginning with Abiel Abbot. 


"I. Chronicles, xxix. 13. "Now, therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name."

IV. In calling to our minds some of the subjects of grateful thanksgiving this day, let me in the fourth and last place, mention the mercy of the gospel, the greatest blessing of Heaven to man. O that we had a heart in due degree' to estimate it! Other blessings chiefly regard our comfort, our outward welfare through this brief life; and are things, which perish with the using. The design of the gospel is to purify and exalt our nature; to provide, in the renovation of the heart, a durable foundation of happiness and joy. It is a blessing greater than all others to a community ; it promotes the love and practice of righteousness, renders magistrates just men, fearing God and hating covetousness, and the people submissive to wholesome laws, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake. Its higher office is to open to our view a glorious immortality. It is the counsel of God for our salvation from sin and misery, and our everlasting advancement in perfection and joy...

In offering thanksgiving to God this day, let us remember with the deepest emotion his unspeakable gift to the world and to us, and bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. O may each one of this assembly long and strive to praise him with that glowing joy and gratitude, which transport the real subjects of his grace... Continually let us pray, " Our Father who art in heaven ; thy kingdom come. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen,


Sunday, November 21, 2010

the blessing of the sabbath...

File:Frederic Dan Huntington c1903.jpg
This on the Sabbath from the "Monthly Religious Magazine" (1844) a Unitarian journal edited by Frederick Dan Huntington, Unitarian minister, editor, and Harvard Professor.  Huntington would later move to the Episcopal Church and, in fact, become the first Episcopal Bishop of Central New York.


"Hail ! holy day, the Lord's day, set apart for rest and for worship—one day in seven, to commune with our hearts, to look within, to gather knowledge of God, of Jesus and ourselves. Gently does its sweet influence come upon us, and gratefully should we receive this day. The busy hum of labor is hushed, and the deserted streets of business tell of the quiet home and day of rest.

Did it never occur to you, reader, that the sunshine is brighter on the Sabbath than on other days ; or is it, that our hearts respond to the brightness and gladsomeness of the day more fully ? In the country, and among the green fields, it appears as though nature's mantle was more gorgeous and brilliant on the sunny summer Sabbath : the fields more verdant, the flowers of brighter hues, the broad river or lake more tranquil, the birds more joyous in their songs, and the fluttering insects more active. Perhaps it is the repose of man, in contrast with his usual habits, which produces this feeling, and we permit our thoughts to dwell on nature, the works of God, in the place of human inventions. From the distance we catch the sound of the solemn toned bell, while the dark woods and silent glens speak to us of peace ; and toil and anguish are alike forgotten in the calmness of the hour. Unnoticed, almost unknown, these sentiments enter our hearts, until we feel that every leaf has a tongue which would say, " Your Father made all, enjoy it, love and thank Him."

But we may not always dwell in the country, with its sweet and simple yet wondrous pleasures; we must return to the precincts of town and city, and there also seek happiness. And it comes to us, whether among bricks and mortar or on the hill side, for our heart is the chalice which is filled with sweet or bitter waters. On the Sabbath our numerous churches are thrown open to the world, and our streets filled with cheerful, quiet crowds hastening to the house of God.

And who can come up to the place " where prayer is wont to be made," with light and careless feelings, or cross its threshold without recognizing the fact that they are entering a holy temple, set apart for the worship of God ? The very appellation, " the house of God," fills our heart with emotion, and reverently do we pass within its consecrated walls. Here, in an edifice dedicated to the Most High, are our spiritual wants ministered unto, and our resolutions perchance confirmed. Week after week do we hear the voice of prayer and praise ascend from the altar, and are led from earth to heaven. O ! that we could more fully carry with us, in the busy World, the thoughts and feelings suggested here. To those who from illness or untoward circumstances have been long absent from the holy fane, how great the pleasure of again treading its sacred courts. With what impatient joy the day is anticipated, when we may hear from revered and loved lips God's most holy word. Not that " our Father " cannot be as ardently and truly worshipped in our own chamber, in the green fields or the dark woods ; for He made the world and therefore we stand equally in his presence everywhere ; but we wish and require some visible and outward form, which makes us feel more vividly that all the human family are his children and our brethren. The temple of the Lord is a holy place. Does not he who is steeped to the lip in crime, look back with tears of remorse and sorrow upon the time, when an innocent child he knelt by his mother's side in the village church, which now he feels himself too wicked to enter ? Surely that which can thus touch his heart is beautiful and holy.

Can we be sufficiently thankful for this day, which snatches us from the busy cares of the world to give us glimpses of the spiritual and unseen ? Thank God for the Sabbath and its attendant pleasures and improvements ! The laborer,

" On this day, embosom'd in his home,
He shares the frugal meal with those he loves;
With those he loves he shares the heartfelt joy
Of giving thanks to God."

Would that all could feel the blessing of the Sabbath, and improve it as they should! Going to church is not the only pleasure of the day. Books, from which many are debarred by the occupations of the Week, should form a gladsome recreation on the Sabbath. Young men and maidens ! spend not the intervals between service in listless silence, and thus throw away the means of spiritual and moral advancement. Welcome the Sabbath with heartfelt joy, and make it a source of true pleasure, knowledge and happiness."


Friday, November 19, 2010

vehement passions...

Ephraim Peabody has made frequent appearances in these pages.  This the first part of an Advent sermon:


"The theory of virtue which seems to belong to our northern climate, is, that there is but one kind, that of struggle, conflict and conquest of sin through force of will. On the contrary, the forms of virtue, and the methods of reaching a Christian character, are as various as are the trees of the forest, or the features of men. One has vehement passions, an energetic nature, born for struggle, and miserable if it hath not difficulties to overcome. This man stands front to front with a temptation, and resists and conquers it as a foe. He rules his appetites and passions. He says, thus and so God requires, and I will do it. He will be just, he will be true, he will not yield to the temptations that beset him. Life is a conflict, and with a resolute will, as in a battle, he takes his stand on the Lord's side. The virtues which this man attains are the virtues of the will, and they are admirable. But, after all, they constitute only one style of virtue, and it is the style which belongs to such a constituted character. Let no one fancy that it is the only kind. "

(illustration a caricature of Billy Sunday preaching)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

over and under...

A dear teacher friend of mine used to ask me to define "Transcendentalism" and I would give the stock, "I don't know how to define it but I know it when I see it." answer (poor Potter Stewart.)  Here is Caroline Wells Healey Dall describing her transcendentalism...

"For myself, I am a Transcendentalist of the old New England sort. I believe myself to be a child of God; and if a child, then an heir, — a very condensed way of saying that the spirit within me is the breath of the creative spirit, and therefore infinite in its reach, in its possibilities, and its final destiny. The Over Soul is the Under Soul as well. Matter is immortal. No agency, human or divine, has so far been able to destroy one particle of it; and yet, the world over, we see matter not only plastic in the grasp of mind, but subordinate to the uses of the race or the individual solely through the spirit's power. Is the spirit less, then, than the flesh which it masters? If matter cannot be destroyed, it can be transformed. So can spirit."

I get it now...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the soul radiated...

Late in her life,Caroline Wells Healey Dall wrote and delivered an address called, "TRANSCENDENTALISM IN NEW ENGLAND: A LECTURE"  which was  "DELIVERED BEFORE THE SOCIETY FOR PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRY, WASHINGTON, D. C, MAY 7, 1895."  In this excerpt, she describes the continuing influence of Transcendentalism...

"Do you ask, further, what influence the gospel of "exaltation " had upon the homes of those who accepted it ? Some of you will remember the home of Parson Allen, as described by Saxe Holme [Helen Hunt Jackson.] I will quote it as the best answer to your inquiry. It was, I believe, a tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Ripley:

" The Plato that I read I may have forgotten, but the Plato he read became part of my life. While he compelled us unconsciously to assimilate intellectual verities, his wife subjected us to spiritual tests and aroused in us a need of the highest living. We did not know, as the noiseless days slipped by, what immortal treasures of beauty and truth they bore, nor did we fully recognize their charm ; but when we went into the homes of those who lived on a lower plane for smaller ends with less change in the atmosphere, as one does who comes suddenly from the free outer air into the confined atmosphere of a chamber. Into all their traits, and every act springing from these, there entered a deep significance, a spiritual vitality. The smallest thing had its soul as well as its body, and the soul radiated until that body was transfigured."

Sounds just like my house...

Monday, November 15, 2010

a due balance of development

[graphic]I came across this morning, "Emerson: Man and Teacher," a volume by Henry Bellyse Baildon in his "Round Table Series" published by William Brown;  Edinburgh, during the latter years of the 19th Century.  This the mission statement of the series:

"THE aim of this Series is to give expression to the views of a number of writers, who, while representing divers and even antagonistic schools of thought, desire to give temperate and reasoned statements of their beliefs. The earlier numbers will be studies of the teachings of eminent modern authors, and of these the projectors of the scheme hope to be able to issue a fairly comprehensive series.

To Seek the Grail rode forth the knights of old
Of Arthur's Table Round, nor did they fail,
Wholly or all, who went, those champions bold,

To Seek the Grail.

The Grail we seek is Truth—nor bought nor sold
In any mart; nay, Strength may not avail,
But Purity and Faith: and, as they told

Who wrought the olden legend, so we hold—
None wholly here succeed—none wholly fail. '
So through the world's wide kingdoms we are bold

To seek the Grail."

"Emerson:  Man and Teacher" begins with this discussion of Emerson the "trinitarian:"

THE human trinity, like the Divine, has its vicissitudes of prominence, and, as the Puritan worshipped the God of Judgment and Righteousness, the Evangelical the Man-God of Intercession and Forgiveness, and the Mystic the informing and comforting Spirit, so we have ages and classes of men to whom the physical, the intellectual, and emotional sides of our nature have seemed in turn most worthy of attention and culture. And, as in matters theological it is a rare thing to find a true Athanasian to whom no person of the deity " is afore or after other," so it is seldom we find a man whose culture and development are thoroughly well-balanced and rounded. We see the athlete, who amazes us with feats of strength and grace of movement, woefully deficient in brain-power and in force of character; so may we find the man of intellect defective in physical and moral force and activity, and most worthy and even noble persons whose intellectual and bodily powers hardly escape contempt. Or, again, we may find vigour, health, and clear-headedness combined with a nature but ill developed on the moral and emotional sides. Natures thus thrown out of symmetry seem to be parts rather than wholes, and afflict us with a sense of defect and deformity; even as gorgeous hot-house plants miss the grace and charm that greet us in many a wayside weed. When, therefore, we do meet a character in which at least there is a brave striving after due balance of development, we seem at last to have come face to face with true humanity. Such an one, to a large extent, we take Emerson to have been."


Sunday, November 14, 2010

be quiet...

This final from William Mountford:

"So let us study to be quiet, and to do our own business, and to do it, because it is our own, and without coveting more importance for it. Let us be good for the sake of being good, and not for the sake of being examples, or being widely useful. Let us live divinely — live the way, God works.

God colors many a violet in dells and secret places, where it blossoms unseen ; and he plants many a flower in Alpine crevices, into which no one ever looks; and he bends the rainbow between the bright sun and the black clouds, on the sea, and out in waste places, where there is not a beholder to wonder at its beauty: and all over the desert, while the moon moves on, he keeps every grain of sand glistening in the long still night.

And now we will be holy for the sake of being holy, and kind for the sake of being kind.

Oh, this life of ours ! how great, and rich, and wonderful it is ! God is in it all, if only we will feel him. Our homes! they are porches of heaven, if only we will kneel in them and pray with our souls as well as our lips. Our business! it may be an " exercise unto godliness," nnto what is everlasting, what is of the spirit, spiritual, if only we will do it in the right spirit. This life, this little life ! we may grow heavenly great out of it.

And thoughts like these we will study, and so become quiet. And ours will then be that quietness of temper, which easily turns into peace of soul. And peace of soul is what the world neither gives nor takes away, and is what death itself cannot disturb."


Saturday, November 13, 2010

divinely privileged...

  As a lover of the past, I am often tempted to believe that I was born out of my time-that I was meant to live in the 19th century... William Mountford reminds me that such thinking is folly. His sermon, "Quiet Work" continued...

Study to be quiet and to do your own business." Till we can exert ourselves and be quiet, we cannot be nobly minded. It is while we are walking in the way of duty that angel thoughts meet us. Seldom or never do great thoughts come to a fretful or desultory man. There must be order and quiet in the temple of a man's soul before the windows of it will open for light from heaven to come in.

But we think " Oh if we had but been living in any place else, or in any other age than the present, and then we could have done as Paul advises." We think, we could have possessed our souls in peace, in the past, the venerable past. But the past was no more venerable to live in, than our present is. But our differences fret us; our circumstances chafe us ; our enemies make us haters. Poverty now is an odious dread. In the world as it is now, we can not live as we could have lived in Thessalonica: so we think...

...this present is our age, our opportunity in the world; and there will no other be allowed us. Our circumstances are very untoward, as we think ; then it is for us to think also, that they yield us the nobler chance. Our annoyances are so very tantalizing ; our hardships are so very distressing ! well then our calmness with them may be so very heavenly. Let us cease looking away from our own localities and fancying more favorable scenes of life ; and let us understand, that what is wanted from us, is not the quiet of ease, but the quiet that is studied, that comes of prayer, and of doing our business with God looking on. Persecuted, unfortunate, hard-worked ; let us none of us be distracted, but believe that perhaps we are divinely privileged..."

(true enough-but I think I will hold on to some of my love for "the good old days" at the same time...)


Friday, November 12, 2010

be like diamonds...

The English Unitarian minister, William Mountford (May 31, 1816 - April 20, 1885), lived for some time in the United States and died in Boston. More about him over the next couple of days. This from his sermon, "Quiet Work" which was printed in the "Monthly Religious Magazine" in 1850 and argues for the deep spiritual and moral value of doing our own work...

"1 Thessalonians iv. 11. Study to be quiet and to do your own business:

"It is our own business, we have to do ; and we ought not to be coveting another man's opportunities. Something especial, remarkable, some great thing, we should wish to do. But then it is not what God wants from us, if there is no opportunity for it allowed us. That our souls be great is what God wants ; for when they are so, then easily and always our actions will be. They will be great even when they are trifles. For in their littleness, they will be like diamonds. Let me be nobly minded ; and my two mites, if they are all I have to cast into the treasury of God, will show there, and will very likely spend further thence, than some famous achievements of princes...

 Let us believe that we can be quiet; and yet by doing our own business in the right way, be martyrs and philanthropists, and patriots, and even like kings and priests unto God and the Father.

A man is really noble, only when his house is pervaded with the same spirit, as his two or three famous actions. It is the moral strength of a man, when he is quiet, that is his worth. The beauty of his holiness is in his common talk, in his temper when he gets up in the morning, in his reverence for a beggar, as being in the image of God, in his patience with trifles, and in the spirit which he does his daily business."

Time to go clean the garage...Have a great day and


Thursday, November 11, 2010

bisected by the backbone of a broken down mule...

The very young Boston Unitarian minister Charles Humphreys, became a military Chaplain during the Civil War and was captured.  This a part of that experience as related in his memoir,  "Field, camp, hospital and prison in the civil war, 1863-1865."  When we take up the story, Chaplain Humphreys has stayed behind to care for the wounded and bury the dead following an engagement when he is "captured." 

"You're my prisoner." I at once explained to him my mission, and the laws of war that shielded chaplains and surgeons in the discharge of their duties on the field; but he simply presented the shotted and unanswerable argument of his well-aimed pistol, and I yielded as gracefully as I could to the inevitable...

I was locked up in a room in Mosby's headquarters, with only the bare floor to sleep upon. But I was tired enough to sleep standing, and I knew nothing till I was awakened in the early morning by Mosby's adjutant, and lectured upon the sin of invading the South and committing sacrilege upon the sacred soil of Virginia. I did not care to argue with him, but asked if I might not see Colonel Mosby, for whom I had some respect, and who, I believed, would send me back to the care of the wounded on the field of our defeat. But the Adjutant, swollen with his little brief authority, haughtily answered: "No! You're a damned abolitionist preacher, and you've got to suffer for it." This honorable impeachment was not exactly deserved; for though I respected the abolitionists individually I did not approve of their radical methods, and of course had never preached their doctrines. Still I hated slavery and was not unwilling to bear my part in expiating, even vicariously, the offence of my native State in leading towards its overthrow. The Adjutant then sent me out with one of his men into a field to catch a mule, as I must be mounted to overtake the other prisoners who were now several miles ahead on their way to Lynchburg. These mules in the field were the exhausted animals from the service and put out to pasture to recruit. They were mere skeletons, and to mount one was like riding a rail. Still I was compelled to ride bareback; and a fresh guard, mounted on a fresh horse, took my mule's bridle rein and led him forward as fast as he could be induced to go. This ride of fifteen miles was harder—if possible —than the thirty miles' walk of the previous day. Every added mile made the mule more excruciatingly thin. I was almost cut in twain, and as I came into camp where the other prisoners were resting at noon, the spectacle I presented should have drawn tears, but instead they all set up a great shout of laughter and cheers—of laughter at the irresistibly ludicrous sight of their chaplain balancing himself on his hands lest he should be bisected by the backbone of a broken-down mule, and of cheers because they were so glad to have unexpected companionship in their misery. The prisoners numbered fifty-five—Major Forbes, Lieutenant Amory, Lieutenant Burns, and myself, with fifty-one privates. I at once took all their names, so that if we were separated and I should first be released, I might inform their friends of their fate. As it was, our families did not know whether we were killed, wounded, or prisoners."


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Christ in the streets of Boston...

A certain kind of "prophetic expectation," says James Freeman Clarke, misses the point.  This today's "Message of Faith, Hope and Love"

"IF we look for a Christ coming in the sky, sitting on the clouds, surrounded with visible angels, blowing an audible trumpet, we shall not see the real Christ who is here at our side in the streets of Boston. That is my objection to prophetic expectations,— that they dull our souls to the ever-present realities of God and heaven.

The real Christ will come to you to-day if you will. When you go to your work, if you ask of God a right spirit, if you begin the day with the desire to be of use to some one, to be in a spirit of true sympathy with those about you, and go through the day trusting in God's presence and help to enable you to be of use to your fellow-men, you will have Christ with you all the day. You will not see any shining cross in the sky; but you will be able to bear your earthly cross, and will find yourself brought into kindly relations with others, able to help them in simple ways, giving and receiving sympathy. This is the real coming of Christ to us; and then we hear him saying, "Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me."

Amen and Blessings
(painting: Fredrick Childe Hassam: Boston Common at Twilight (1885-86)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unitarian humor...

This (with no comment) from "The Dayspring" a publication of the Unitarian Sunday School Society (1878) in a section called "Humorous:"

"MA," said a thoughtful boy, "I don't think Solomon was so rich as they say he was." — " Why, my dear, what could have put that into your head?" — "Why the Bible says he slept with his fathers, and I think if he had been so very rich he would have had a bed of his own."

' A Little boy entered a fish-market the other day, and, seeing for the first time a pile of lobsters lying on the counter, looked intently at them for some time, when he exclaimed: " By the gracious! them's the biggest grasshoppers I've ever seen ! "

I'd' like you to help me a little," said a tramp, poking his head into a country shop.
".Why don't you help yourself?" returned the proprietor, angrily.
" Thank you, I will," said the tramp, as he picked up a bottle of pickles and two loaves of bread, and disappeared"


Monday, November 8, 2010

a millionaire of love...

ceremonial keyI have read much but, thus far, excerpted little of Robert Collyer.  I will, at some point remedy that.  For now, this anecdote from William Channing Gannett at a celebration of Collyer's 85th birthday.

"It was good to have Dr. W. C. Gannett present at the meeting for he could speak so accurately out of his own high feeling of the feelings of us all. "I have long cherished one dear little reminiscence of Robert Collyer", he said, "which I have all to myself. It goes back to nearly half of the eighty five years, back of his New York life, back of the Chicago fire, back of the building of his first church, which went up in flames. It was Thanksgiving of 1868—Robert Collyer writing his Thanksgiving sermon of forty years ago. He wrote it on his lap in pencil and as he finished each sheet he scattered it upon the floor beside him and his wife picked each one up as he finished it and arranged them carefully together. And that is what he has been doing ever since—scattering the pages over the whole world and men and women have been picking them up and reading them with delight. Robert, you have been doing that ever since and throwing your pages over the world. Robert, you are a millionaire of love— and that is the only kind of a millionaire it is worth being."


Saturday, November 6, 2010

every hour a deliverance...

It is, of course, the month of Thanksgiving and I will be excerpting "Thanksgiving Sermons" now and again during the next few weeks. Today, Nathaniael Frothingham, the "Boston Unitarian" who inspired the name of this space, and his sermon, "The Wonderful Works of God's Goodness"


The earnestness with which the Psalmist repeats again and again this benevolent wish, — as devout as it is benevolent, and expressive of the gratitude that it invokes, — implies that men are remiss in paying their thanks to the Supreme Benefactor, and that they have need to be urged to the performance of that cheering duty...[Frothingham goes on the list reasons we are deficient in thankfulness, including the following]

" his wonderful works to the children of men" are not rehearsed as they should be, because we do not recognize them where they are most really displayed. We mistake their nature; and so when they are present we do not observe them; and when nothing is present but the feeding of a full sense, or the triumph of a proud will, or the preponderance of brute power, we inaugurate our selfishness; we make priestesses of our passions; we confound our greediness or ambition or revenge with a true thank-offering to Heaven...We still imagine often that we are giving thanks, when we are only blessing ourselves for success or indulgence. Our rejoicing is not in the Eternal Providence. Our returns are not to Him. We set our regards in the wrong direction. We put our passing interests, and the gratification of our immediate wish, in the place of the most that God can do for us. We exalt our conceit and presumption, and call it gratitude. We praise accidents, and fancy that we are praising the Most High. We will see his wonders only in striking results and unfrequent occurrences. Our hearts are not open, till a stranger is before their doors. We can be grateful but on occasions of distant interval, while our whole being is one unbroken occasion, and the universe shines round us a perpetual miracle, and the varied love of the General Father is every moment as unceasing as it is every moment unlike. We are moved more by the merest chances of time, than by the permanent laws that have been established for our wellbeing and the steady provisions of an infinite bounty. We stand awaiting some, signal rescue or munificence, when every hour is a deliverance from the adversaries of our life, and every day is a crown of opportunities. We are demanding something great enough to excite our thankful attention, when, behold ! the smallest boon is more than we could establish a claim for, and the smallest objects of our contemplation infold gracious mysteries, and reflect a whole circle of love and wisdom. The reason that we have no more gratitude is that we have no more fidelity; — that we are no more true to our powers of discernment, means of improvement, and sources of joy; to the capacities of every upright heart, and the privileges of the meanest condition."


Friday, November 5, 2010

the original reality...

ProphetsI have spent a goodly part of my day studying the Prophets in preparation for our Church's Bible Study group this Sunday (a pretty good way, incidentally, to spend the day.) My favorite line so far...Abraham Heschel's idea that a Prophet has "a sympathy with the Divine pathos."

"PROPHETS WHO HAVE BEEN SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN." is James Freeman Clarke's take on prophecy.  An excerpt...

"A PROPHET is not merely one who foresees, who knows the future, who beholds events as they draw near: he is this, and more. He is not merely one who rebukes a nation's sins. Prophets do that; but that is not all they do. He is not merely one who teaches truth. The essential thing which makes him a prophet lies deeper than any of these partial definitions take us. A prophet is one who goes back of all traditions in religion to the original reality; behind all creeds, to the primal insights out of which they grew; beneath all expediency, to the creative law of justice and eternal right. This makes him a prophet; this helps him to foresee; this charges him full of noble indignation against all falsifiers of truth, and betrayers of justice. Such men are naturally and necessarily the teachers of their race. They do not teach officially as a profession, but from the need of utterance. He who sees, must say what he sees. "We also believe, and therefore speak."

(illustration:  Seated Prophet by Durer)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

not my business...

Fairly regular readers will know that I love, and often excerpt, the "life and letters" memoirs that were the norm during the heyday of the Boston Unitarians.  Written to memorialize and to inspire, these memoirs are often affectionate and almost devotional.  What they don't often do, however, is describe in any detail the internal struggles that are inherent in living. I think that is why, for example, Ezra Stiles Gannett's memoir, written by his son, is so remarkable.  More often, these struggles are, if mentioned at all, described in the context of having been conquered.  This short paragraph in the memoir of Rufus Ellis is an example-

"... those who knew Rufus Ellis well know how, like the late Dr. Gannett, he suffered from periods of despondency. Such struggles are constant in the lives of many ministers who strive to do conscientious service. The life of Rufus Ellis formed no exception. There are frequent indications in the entries in his diary of the clouds which gathered. That he fought manfully against these persistent obstacles is apparent from the success which attended his efforts not to obtrude his own sufferings upon the attention of others."

The almost martyr like qualities of Channing and Ware, are, to be sure, sometimes reported as cautionary, but that martyr aspect remains. 

While I love the fact that these memoirs eschew excessive psychoanalyzing and personal revelation (I don't suppose that many of us, were all aspects of our internal life revealed, come out maintaining much dignity, and the strain of biography that seeks to do that is less than helpful), I do long, on occasion, to learn more about the struggles of these religious leaders so important in my own spiritual life.   

That being said, I remember that during my days as a middle school teacher, the mantra I tried to instill in my students, who were all too interested in the details of each other's lives, was "It's not my business!"  It is no great insight that in this age of instant information, privacy is nearly gone (the very concept is changing and not, I fear, for the better.)  So come to think of it, I think I will keep reading my old, falling apart "life and letters" memoirs where dignity isn't lost in revelation. 


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

love thy neighbor...

This from Ezra Stiles Gannett's "Election Sermon" of 1842, "The Religion of Politics."

"When I speak of the religion of political life, I mean that religion should control men in the exercise of their political rights as it should control them in all their other relations and concerns. The religion of politics is nothing else than the application of religious principles to political action, whether it be the action of a statesman or a private citizen, of an individual or of the community. The politician should respect these principles as much as any other man. Political opinion, political discussion, political life should be brought under the influence of religious convictions. This is the ground which I take, and which I shall endeavor to prove is the only ground on which a Christian can consistently stand...

It (Christianity) has one and the same instruction for all men, whether they live in palaces or wander houseless, whether they are versed in tongues or are rude of speech, men of science or men of handicraft, subjects of a monarchy or citizens of a republic; to them all it says, Hearken and obey— walk by faith—lead holy lives—fulfil all righteousness...

Christianity by addressing the common nature and unfolding the immortal destiny of mankind has shown a broad ground, on which all may meet and lift up the chorus of a united and acknowledged brotherhood. The framers of our Declaration of Independence thought they were proclaiming a political axiom, when they republished one of the great revelations of the Gospel, the full meaning of which can be learned only through sympathy with him who came to save the lost and reconcile the estranged. "The common people," it is said, "heard him gladly." And the people it is who should welcome his religion, which condemns the selfishness alike of the tyrant and of the demagogue, and rebukes at once the arrogance of an aristocratic and the meanness of a servile spirit by its pregnant charge to "honor all men." All men? What, of every class and condition? Yes, men of every name, rank, and complexion... Alas! how few yet comprehend the law, on which the morality of every Christian people, and every Christian believer, should be built—" Thou shalt love thy neighbour."


Monday, November 1, 2010

a strange and tender beauty...

The theme in James Freeman Clarke's "Messages of Faith, Hope and Love"  for November is EVERY-DAY RELIGION.  This a perfect start for the Month of gratitude...

"THERE is a strange, tender beauty at this season of the year, which we all must have felt. The air, during some days of the last week, has been singularly pure and full of health. No mountain air, no Italian air, could be sweeter or purer. The woods and hills have put on their autumn dress of beauty and pride. The declining year has robed itself in majesty before bidding us farewell. And I think: " O beautiful world, world most full of beauty, which God has given us, why do we not enjoy thee more? Why are we so restless and discontented and unhappy; at war with ourselves, with those around us, even at war with Providence, when it seems as if we had only to open our hearts to all this infinite tide of God's love, and be happy?"

Amen and blessings