Friday, December 30, 2011

the world is a proud place...

Longtime readers of this space know of my love for Plutarch and may have seen my "Plutarch Blog" at: After a short break, I am back at work on Brother Plutarch and will be posting on the "Moralia" pretty regularly. I urge you to visit periodically. I will also be posting from one of my all-time favorite books, "Emerson's Plutarch" by Edmund G. Berry. Why Plutarch? This from Emerson explains a bit...

"Go with mean people and you think life is mean. Then read Plutarch, and the world is a proud place, peopled with men of positive quality, and with heroes and demigods standing around us, who will not let us sleep."

If it naive to want to believe in the world as a "proud place" when all about it appears "mean" then count me among the naive...


Monday, December 19, 2011

misappropriation and superficiality...

Readers of this space know that I love Ralph Waldo and the Transcendentalists. This, however, is a love that is not blind. The fascinating Orestes Brownson (as discussed by Arthur Verslouis in his "American Transcendentalists and Asian Religions" gets to the heart-or at least one of the hearts-of areas where RWE and the gang give me pause. Brownson, of course, carved his way through the liberal Protestant landscape before embracing authority and the Roman Catholic Church...

"In brief (writes Verslouis) Brownson's criticism is that Transcendentalism takes rhetorically for itself the highest stations attainable within the various traditions and offers no effective means for realizing those stations. And in this respect Brownson's critique is indeed valuable, as each of the traditions on which Emersonian Transcendentalism draws depends on following a particular path. So if one were to choose among its teachings without having followed that path, one could certainly be accused of doing the given tradition an injustice. Much better, says Brownson, to enter into one of those paths-in particular, that of the church-and to follow it. One at least avoids the sin of misappropriation and superficiality."


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

life is but a dream sweetheart...

My posting recently has been sporadic which means, unfortunately, the same for my devotional life. One idea, however, has been going around in my head the past few days. I am reading much right now on the Transcendentalists and "Asian Religions" (right now Arthur Versluis', "American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions'" and a persistent issue is Emerson's perceived romantic self-centerdness. Verslouis writes of Emerson's use of the idea of Maya and "illusion" to "transcend" this problem:

"...there is another subtle but important ramification to his affirmation of maya's or illusion's, universality: Through this recognition of the universality of illusion, Emerson is able to affirm the illusory nature of the individual self as well and thus to avoid the tendency toward solipsism that so haunts English and to some extent European Romanticism. After all, the logical conclusion of the doctrine of maya must be that the individual ego is also contigent, that if the external world is a dream, then so are we ourselves. If the essence of the Romantic fallacy was the psychologizing internalization of religious truth, then by denying the ultimate reality of the ego, Emerson is effectively transcending the fundamental trap of Romanticism.

According to Emerson, man is truly man only when he transcends his limited self; man is meant to be more than man, to be a 'transparent eyeball' (using an echo of a Plotinian phrase), to be a 'god' sitting among 'gods,' or not to be an 'I' at all. Many critics have suggested that Emerson was fundamentally an egoist, and no doubt this is true, for as Nakagawa Soen Roshi once said, we are all egoists. But insufficient attention has been paid to Emerson's focus on transcending the self, for it is here, on the poet's illuminaation or inspiration, that Emerson's works are often actually centered. Pivotal here are Platonism and the Vedanta."

The line between self absorption and self transcendence is a fine line indeed and maybe the chief role of religion is to illuminate that line...


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

to triumph over old age

Yesterday was the birthday of Amos Bronson Alcott, most infuriating of the Transcendentalists, who wrote...

"To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent that is to triumph over old age."


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the most dependent creature on earth...

Ephraim Peabody tells us that the more "advanced" a civilization becomes, the more dependent we humans become. Yesterday's Advent Sermon continued...

"1. I call attention to the general fact that every increase of faculty, though it increases power, involves also an increase of needs. The stone in the quarry has no needs whatsoever. The air folds it round about, the rains fall on it, the sunbeams glow and flame on its surface, but the rock remains impassive, needing none of them. The tree adds to dead matter the element of organizing life, and air, rain and sunshine are essential to its existence. With the added faculties of animal life come added and corresponding needs. In man there is a sudden and vast enlargement of faculty, but with it an equal multiplication of the points of dependence on what is external to himself. Man, the most powerful, is also the most dependent creature on earth. The general law follows him into the spiritual life. The brute has neither hope nor fear for the morrow; but man is tortured by remorseful memories, is racked by anxieties, is at the mercy of hope and fear, lives a needy mendicant on human affections, his soul is awed by conscious relations with God, he recoils from the mysteries of the grave, and treads with trembling the borders of the eternal world. He is in the midst of the vast agencies of Nature and of God, and by the very intelligence which raises him above the animal, is made conscious of his weakness and dependence. And now, going one step farther, I add, that the higher the culture, the greater the needs... One might almost describe civilization as a condition of multiplied needs—physically, mentally, morally, a condition of multiplied needs. It is no accident, but the merciful law of God, that the same civilization which develops individual power shall create the restraints of dependence and the humanizing influences of mutual needs. Thus culture invariably increases need. It awakens the sensibilities, it gives them a keener edge, it multiplies their demands, it carries a man out of himself, and connects his wellbeing with a constantly enlarging circle of influences external to himself—making him at the same time more self-subsistent and more dependent."

More tomorrow...


Monday, November 28, 2011

the culture of our higher faculties...

I have read a fair number of 19th Century Unitarian Sermons in my time and a recurring theme, I think it safe to say, is the desire to square the Christian revelation with the increasing secularism and perceived rise in "the general activity of the intellect" of the time. 
   This an Advent collect and part one of a sermon from the more conservative end of the "squaring." It is by a Boston Unitarian staple, Ephraim Peabody...

ADVENT. Collect.

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty, to judge both the living and dead, we may rise to the life immortal. And this we beg in the name of our Mediator; though whom we ascribe unto Thee all honour and glory, now and ever. Amen.



"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Rom. xiii. 14.

In entering upon that period of the year which calls our attention to the advent of Christ and the beneficent influence of his religion in past ages, it becomes us to consider it in its relation to the wants of our own time. The fundamental characteristic of the age, the source of many other characteristics, and fostered by what itself creates, is the immense and general activity of the intellect, and the direction of this activity to secular affairs. By the education of schools and the severer education of practical life, by individual freedom, by the multiplied and multiplying careers open to the enterprising and aspiring, by the poverty which rebels against its restrictions, by the luxury which would make the world tributary to its pleasures, by the prizes held out on every side to the clear mind and the energetic will, the general intellect is stimulated to an activity in secular pursuits such as the world never saw before. One of the results of this intellectual and secular activity is seen in the theory, that, in some inexplicable way, the advance of knowledge supersedes the necessity of revelation; that, in the growing light of civilization, Christianity is less needed, that it is becoming obsolete, that it has been a good religion for rude ages, that it is good now for the ignorant, but that the intelligent and the cultivated may find, in the study of nature and the human heart, what answers their purposes quite as well and is more satisfactory.

The text, taken from the lesson of the day, implies that, in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, we are laying aside what is low and sensual, and making provision for the higher faculties of our nature. The inference from this is, that in proportion to the culture of our higher faculties will be our need of His religion and the extent of its influence over us.

The precise point, however, which I would urge, is this ;—that the increased intellectual activity of the age, instead of diminishing, increases the need of an authoritative religious revelation, both in regard to the faith and practice of men."


Sunday, November 27, 2011

renew thyself...

This from "Walden."

  "Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of King Tching Thang to this effect: "Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." I can understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages"

Amen and blessings

Friday, November 25, 2011

eulogy of courtesy...

This on Emerson's "gentility" excerpted from Christy's "The Orient in American Transcendentalism." To be a gentleman...

"For a Philosopher," wrote Walt Whitman, "Emerson possesses a singularly dandified theory of Manners"...Emerson consistently kept insisting that the outward man was an expression of the inward, nevertheles. He was perfectly aware that he went furthuer than his countrymen in his insistence on courtesy and manners...

Emerson defended his own emphasis stoutly:

"We may easily seem ridiculous in our eulogy of courtesy, whenever we insist on benevolence as its foundation. The painted phantasm Fashion rises to cast a species of derision on what we say. But I will neither be driven from some allowance to Fashion as a symbolic insititution, nor from the belief that love is the basis of courtesy. We must obtain that, if we can; but by all means we must affirm this."

The reason for Emerson's eulogy of courtesy...was the belief that man can only become inwardly perfect by expressing himself perfectly in outward manner."


Thursday, November 24, 2011

This from Henry David...

"My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contended one can be with nothing definite - only a sense of existence."

Amen and blessings to all

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cool, cool water...

Though I almost never post anything from later than the last century and a half, I offer this under the category of family pride. It is a video done by our 5th and 6th grade class of which son Henry is a member and spouse Carrie is a teacher. The video was filmed, compiled and edited by daughter Molly. It was "premiered" at our Guest at Your Table kickoff...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the whole of our lives...

This "Thanksgiving Song" by Henry Ware Jr...


November, 1840. Tune, Sandy And Jenny.

Come, uncles and cousins; come, nieces and aunts;
Come, nephews and brothers, — no wonts and no cants:
Put business, and shopping, and school-books away;
The year has rolled round; — it is Thanksgiving-day.

Come home from the college, ye ringlet-haired youth,
Come home from your factories, Ann, Kate, and Ruth;
From the anvil, the counter, the farm come away;
Home, home, with you, home; — it is Thanksgiving-day.

The table is spread, and the dinner is dressed;
The cooks and the mothers have all done their best:
No caliph of Bagdad e'er saw such display,
Or dreamed of a treat like our Thanksgiving-day.

Pies, puddings, and custards, pigs, oysters, and nuts, —
Come forward and seize them, without ifs or buts;
Bring none of your slim, little appetites here; —
Thanksgiving-day comes only once in a year.

Thrice welcome the day in its annual round!
What treasures of love in its bosom are found!
New England's high holiday, ancient and dear!
Twould be twice as welcome, if twice in a year.

Now children revisit the darling old place,
And brother and sister, long parted, embrace;
The family ring is united once more,
And the same voices shout at the old cottage door.

The grandfather smiles on the innocent mirth,
 And blesses the Power that has guarded his hearth;
He remembers no trouble, he feels no decay,
But thinks his whole life has been Thanksgiving-day.

Then praise for the past and the present we sing,
And trustful await what the future may bring:
Let doubt and repining be banished away,
And the whole of our lives be a Thanksgiving-day."


Monday, November 21, 2011

let your feet run...

"My entire Philosophy," wrote Ralph Waldo to Carlyle, "teaches acquiescence and optimism." It has become my foundational quote and is here fleshed out in RWE's famous, "Oversoul."

"Ineffable is the union of man and God in every act of the soul. The simplest person, who in his integrity worships God, becomes God; yet for ever and ever the influx of this better and universal self is new and unsearchable. It inspires awe and astonishment. How dear, how soothing to man, arises the idea of God, peopling the lonely place, effacing the scars of our mistakes and disappointments! When we have broken our god of tradition, and ceased from our god of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence. It is the doubling of the heart itself, nay, the infinite enlargement of the heart with a power of growth to a new infinity on every side. It inspires in man an infallible trust. He has not the conviction, but the sight, that the best is the true, and may in that thought easily dismiss all particular uncertainties and fears, and adjourn to the sure revelation of time, the solution of his private riddles. He is sure that his welfare is dear to the heart of being. In the presence of law to his mind, he is overflowed with a reliance so universal, that it sweeps away all cherished hopes and the most stable projects of mortal condition in its flood. He believes that he cannot escape from his good. The things that are really for thee gravitate to thee. You are running to seek your friend. Let your feet run, but your mind need not. If you do not find him, will you not acquiesce that it is best you should not find him? for there is a power, which, as it is in you, is in him also, and could therefore very well bring you together, if it were for the best. You are preparing with eagerness to go and render a service to which your talent and your taste invite you, the love of men and the hope of fame. Has it not occurred to you, that you have no right to go, unless you are equally willing to be prevented from going? O, believe, as thou livest, that every sound that is spoken over the round world, which thou oughtest to hear, will vibrate on thine ear! Every proverb, every book, every byword that belongs to thee for aid or comfort, shall surely come home through open or winding passages. Every friend whom not thy fantastic will, but the great and tender heart in thee craveth, shall lock thee in his embrace. And this, because the heart in thee is the heart of all; not a valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in nature, but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation through all men, as the water of the globe is all one sea, and, truly seen, its tide is one."


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Arabian within...

This on how the Concord Transcendentalists read books found in Arthur Christy's "The Orient in American Transcendentalism" first published in 1932...

"How carefully did the Concordians read books? As a boy barely in his majority, Emerson confessed that his 'cardinal vice of intellectual dissipation' was 'sinful strolling from book to book, from care to idleness.' He added that with this malady he belonged to the incurables. Over two decades later, in 1843, he was still uncured. Some one must have taunted his with the remark, 'Your reading is irrelevant.' Emerson's answer was defiant. 'Yes, for you, but not for me. It makes no difference what I read. If it is irrelevant, I read it deeper. I read it until it is pertinent to me and mine...A good scholar will find Aristophanes and Hafiz and Rabelais full of American history.' Elsewhere he explained his meaning in other terms. 'Only so much of Arabian history can I read as I am Arabian within."


Friday, November 11, 2011

the gentleman and scholar...

Ephraim Emerton  (18 February 1851 – 3 March 1935), scholar, devout Unitarian, teacher and writer on the kind of education that nourished the "Gentleman and Scholar"...

"If we try to analyze this somewhat vague conception, we find that the essential quality of this earlier education was that it was in no sense professional. That is what men tried to express by the word "liberal," a word one hesitates now to use, because one fears to be understood as thereby describing all other education as "illiberal." No such opposition was ever intended, nor was it felt by the generations which came and went under those conditions. They rejoiced in the privilege of spending a certain period of youth in studies and in a mental attitude which had in view no direct practical use of what they were acquiring; in other words, no professional or technical aim. At the conclusion of that period they were not, and knew they were not, fitted to carry on any given work of life. They did believe, however, that they had made the best preparation for living, no matter what specific line of work they might follow. If, at that moment, they were to enter the world of scholarship, they were without technical training in any field. That was all to come, and they were as ready to begin the necessary professional discipline in their way as were the lawyer, the physician, and the engineer in theirs.

What they had had was a chance to fix solidly in their mental character the largeness and the beauty of the intellectual life. They had had time to think and to ripen without concern as to just whither their thinking and their unconscious development were leading them. No matter into what direction they might now turn their activity, they were bound to carry with them that essential thing which, for lack of a better name, we agreed to call the liberal spirit. If they had made a proper use of their chance they could never be mere specialists in their field. Their special and technical skill must always be infused with that higher and larger spirit of culture to which the professional spirit is always and necessarily more or less antagonistic. Expressed in terms of the inner life, such a scholar was, and was felt to be, a gentleman. No one cared what his origin might be. There was no fixed type to which he was forced to correspond. There might be endless diversity in his outward expression of himself; only, through all diversity and with every allowance made for original advantage or disadvantage, there was the inevitable stamp of the gentleman and the scholar."


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

the unity of all nature...

Ralph Waldo in "Emerson's Plutarch" by Edmund G. Berry.

"Emerson's earlier Stoicism is orthodox Roman in its doctrine of God within man and it is also pantheism, since God is in all nature and nature includes man. Some of the Stoics used in defending themselves against the charge of pantheism an argument which Emerson later could have used when the same charge was made against him, but he would have regarded the argument as quibbling and evasion; the Stoics said that God is in the universe and hence in man but He is not evenly distributed throughtout the universe. There is deity in all things but, said the Stoics, "as a man is called wise, being wise in mind, though he consists of mind and body; so the world is called God from its soul, though it consists of soul and body. Only at a later stage in his thinking, after he had achieved a state of mind something like Stoic equanimity, or to put it in another way, after his religion had been toned down so that it consisted of not much more that Stoic ethics, did Emerson cautiously approach the Stoic solution to the problem of the relation of man, nature, and God. In the essay "Worship" in "The Conduct of Life," Emerson speaks of "God's delegating his divinity to every particle." This certainly sounds Stoic but the term delegating is perhaps carefully chosen; the particle is not itself God as the Stoics would have it. Emerson still shies away from a full acceptance of Stoicism; rather ihis solution is Platonic and Christian-and it is surprising that h3e has not adopted it before: "Man is the image of God." Still, he adds, "there is no flaw in either Epicurianism or Stoicism."
This Plutarchan blend of Platonism and Stoicism lies not far below the surface of much of Emerson's thought about man and God. It appears in his doctrine of face, for to Emerson and the Stoics, the unity of all nature provides, or itself is, a natural necessity."


Friday, October 21, 2011

Put them all down?...

For when we think that progress is never made...

Thoreua in a letter to Harrison Blake: "They have a census table in which the put down the number of the insane. Do you believe that they put them all down there?

And this the accompanying note by Bradley Dean: "The 1850 Census forms had a column for "deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict'; the census taker in Concord listed two deaf and dumb, one blind, five insane, one idiotic, eight paupers, and five convicts among the 2,249 residents."


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The common level...

One more from HDT...

"It is worth the while to live respectably unto ourselves. We can possibly get along with a neighbor, even with a bedfellow, whom we respect but very little; but as soon as it comes to this, that we do not respect ourselves, then we do not get along at all, no matter how much we are paid for halting. There are old heads in the world who cannot help me by their example or advice to live worthily and satisfactorily to myself; but I believe that it is in my power to elevate myself this very hour above the common level of my life."


Monday, October 17, 2011

Rotting potatoes...

This, briefly, from Thoreau's "Letters from a Spritual Seeker"

I have had but one spiritual birth (excuse the word,)and now whether it rains or snows, whether I laugh or cry, fall farther below or approach nearer my standard, whether Pierce or Scott is elected,-not a new scintillation of light flashes on me, but ever and anon, though with longer intervals, the same surprising & everlasting new light dawns upon me, with only such variations as in the coming of the natural day, with which indeed, it is often coincident.

As to how to preserve potatoes from rotting, your opinion may change from year to year, but as to how to preserve your soul from rotting, I have nothing to learn but something to practice.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

home-made divineness...

My current devotional reading includes Thoreau's "Letters to a Spiritual Seeker," edited by the late Bradley Dean. It is a wonderful volume (not least for the copious notes provided by Dean) and vital in understanding Thoreau's religion. This morning I was deeply struck by the profound importance of "expectation" in HDT's thought and life...

"Is not the attitude of expectation somewhat divine-a sort of home-made divineness? Does it not compel a kind of sphere music to attend on it? and do not it's satisfactions merge at length by insensible degrees in the enjoyment of the thing expected?"


Thursday, October 13, 2011



"If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated?"


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let the beautiful laws prevail...

A little on the tired side today and thinking of a particular passage from Thoreau that I finally tracked down...

"Who are poor and dependent? Who are rich and independent? When was it that men agreed to respect the appearance and not the reality? Why should the appearance appear? Are we well acquainted, then, with the reality? There is none who does not lie hourly in the respect he pays to false appearance. How sweet it would be to treat men and things, for an hour, for just what they are! We wonder that the sinner does not confess his sin. When we are weary with travel, we lay down on our load and rest by the wayside. So when we are weary with the burden of life, why do we not lay down this load of falsehoods which we have volunteered to sustain, and be refreshed as never mortal was? Let the beautiful laws prevail!"

Amen and blessings

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The undulations of celestial music...

Thoreau's great call for living the day...

"The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air--to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life it can make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"


Friday, October 7, 2011

most complete...

I think it was Mark Twain who, when asked about the controversy over who really wrote the books attributed to Homer, said, "If Homer didnt write them, some other guy named Homer did" (that is, I think, a paraphrase.)  The first essay in Plutarch's "Morals," "On the Education of Children" was probably not written by Plutarch but by some other guy named Plutarch. This an excerpt...

 "...we ought to make philosophy the chief of all our learning. For though, in order to the welfare of the body, the industry of men hath found out two arts, — medicine, which assists to the recovery of lost health and gymnastics, which help us to attain a sound constitution, — yet there is but one remedy for the distempers and diseases of the mind, and that is philosophy. For by the advice and assistance thereof it is that we come to understand what is honest, and what dishonest; what is just, and what unjust; in a word, what we are to seek, and what to avoid. We learn by it how we are to demean ourselves towards the Gods, towards our parents, our elders, the laws, strangers, governors, friends, wives, children, and servants. That is, we are to worship the Gods, to honor our parents, to reverence our elders, to be subject to the laws, to obey our governors, to love our friends, to use sobriety towards our wives, to be affectionate to our children, and not to treat our servants insolently; and (which is the chiefest lesson of all) not to be overjoyed in prosperity nor too much dejected in adversity; not to be dissolute in our pleasures, nor in our anger to be transported with brutish rage and fury. These things I account the principal advantages which we gain by philosophy. For to use prosperity generously is the part of a man; to manage it so as to decline envy, of a well governed man; to master our pleasures by reason is the property of wise men; and to moderate anger is the attainment only of extraordinary men. But those of all men I count most complete, who know how to mix and temper the managery of civil affairs with philosophy; seeing they are thereby masters of two of the greatest good things that are, — a life of public usefulness as statesmen, and a life of calm tranquillity as students of philosophy. For, whereas there are three sorts of lives, — the life of action, the life of contemplation, and the life of pleasure, — the man who is utterly abandoned and a slave to pleasure is brutish and mean-spirited; he that spends his time in contemplation without action is an unprofitable man; and he that lives in action and is destitute of philosophy is a rustical man, and commits many absurdities. Wherefore we are to apply our utmost endeavor to enable ourselves for both; that is, to manage public employments, and withal, at convenient seasons, to give ourselves to philosophical studies."

   My reading project has been Plutarch (much loved by Emerson and many of the Boston Unitarians) and though the "Lives" have been finished for some time, the start of the Church year has caused some delay in taking up, again, the "Morals." I blog bits I like from my reading of and on Plutarch at Plutarchan Lustres.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

time is conquered...

File:Edward Rowland Sill.jpgThis a poem from Edward Rowland Sill, collected in the volume, "The Poets of Transcendentalism"

Forenoon and afternoon and night, —Forenoon,
And afternoon, and night, — Forenoon, and —
The empty song repeats itself. No more?
Yes, that is Life: make this forenoon sublime,
This afternoon a psalm, this night a prayer,
And Time is conquered, and thy crown is won."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

sit with the hermit in you...

This from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Celebration of Intellect"

"If I had young men to reach, I should say to them, Keep the intellect sacred. Revere it. Give all to it. Its oracles countervail all. Attention is its acceptable prayer. Sit low and wait long ; and know that, next to being its minister, like Aristotle, and perhaps better than that, is the profound reception and sympathy, without ambition which secularizes and trades it. Go sit with the Hermit in you, who knows more than you do. You will find life enhanced, and doors opened to grander entertainments. Yet all comes easily that he does, as snow and vapor, heat, wind and light. Power costs nothing to the powerful. I should say to them, Do what you can do. He that draws on his own talent cannot be overshadowed or supplanted. . . . Homage to truth discriminates good and evil. Power never departs from it."


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Careless of life...

In the notes to Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Courage," Edward Waldo Emerson remembers Margaret Fuller reporting that Emerson once said to her, "Careful of health, Careless of life, should be our motto."


Monday, October 3, 2011

the living and sanctifying spirit...

From John Emery Abbott, the "pious Unitarian" on the Religious Education of children..


The general necessity of the Religious Education of children is acknowledged by all; but it is perhaps impossible that its actual importance should be fully realized and adequately felt. The foundation of the moral character is most often laid in the years of childhood; and the progress of life very frequently does little more than develope and fix the principles, harden the habits, and give permanence to the feelings, which were either formed by deliberate care, or caught by accidental influences, during the period of youthful susceptibility. The world is full of temptations, through which, in various measures, all are destined to pass; and nothing can protect the young adventurer amidst the perils and exposures of life, but the early establishment of sound and deep rooted religious principles...

If we inquire into the obstacles which most frequently prevent parents from attending to the religious education of their offspring, we shall find them sometimes to arise from Vanity, which is more desirous of training children in showy accomplishments, than in the solid qualities of a virtuous character; of rendering them graceful and polished in manners, and fascinating in worldly accomplishments, than of giving them the less imposing graces of seriousness, humility, and purity, or kindling in their uncorrupted bosoms, the living and sanctifying spirit of silent and unobtrusive piety."


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Unless the soul...

From my morning devotionals. First Andrew Preston Peabody, then the Roman Stoic Seneca...

" your most imminent duty, and may be your most blessed privilege; and character-building ought to be temple-building,—the framing and perfecting of a sanctuary for the indwelling God, — a sanctuary in whose firm foundation, massive walls, fair proportions, and rich adornings there should be blended strength and beauty."

And Seneca...

"Do you ask where the supreme good dwells? In the soul. And unless the soul be pure and holy, there is no room in it for God"


Thursday, September 29, 2011

all truth shall be sacred...

This from "The Unitarian" magazine, 1892...

"What is the aim of Unitarianism? No question comes to us oftener than this. Perhaps every independent mind must give in some sense a different answer. The following seems to us concise and true. We think there are few Unitarians who will not heartily assent to it. We give it as our answer to inquirers:—
With Jesus as Leader, with all great prophets of the soul as teachers, and with tho Bible and all inspiring books as sacred scriptures, Unitarianism seeks to establish a Church in which all truth shall be sacred, all men brothers, and all duty divine.
It seeks to destroy sectarianism and to promote Christian unity in the only way in which this can ever be done; namely, by exalting the spirit above the letter, by going down below the sectarian differences of Christians to that which all have in common, by making the essentials of Christianity to consist, not in forms or ceremonies or creeds or doctrinal systems, but, as Jesus did, in simple worship of God and service of man. In this work, the most important, as it believes, that is given to this age to do, it invites join."


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

life is hardly respectable...

This from Emerson's essay "Worship"...

"Life is hardly respectable,--is it? if it has no generous, guaranteeing task, no duties or affections, that constitute a necessity of existing. Every man's task is his life-preserver."


Saturday, September 24, 2011

for worship or for death...

This on preparing for the Sabbath by Henry Ware Jr. from his "How to Spend Holy Time." Also interesting in light of the spiritual/religious discussion...

"The fact is," said he, " Saturday evening is the hardest night in the week to get rid of. 'Tis not exactly reputable or proper to be pushing about in the same way as on other evenings, and yet one does not like to be moped up at home. It is neither work day nor Sunday."
"What is it then 1" said David.
"Why, it's something between the two."
"That's the beauty of it to me," said David, " and the very reason why I like it. It is particularly delightful to have a little season of transition between the common affairs of the world and the sacred duties of the Sabbath. I should not like to rush suddenly and without preparation from the one to the other; and this quiet evening is an excellent time for preparation."
"But for my part," answered Smith, "I do not see that any particular preparation is necessary; and I have heard you say a hundred times, that a good man will live so as to have every day a Sabbath as well as Sunday, and be ready, at one time as well as another, to join immediately in prayer." .
"Not a hundred times, John; perhaps two or three."
"Well, not exactly a hundred, to be sure," said Smith, smiling at David's precise way of correcting his extravagance in speech; "not exactly a hundred times; but I am sure I have heard you say so, and I have heard it from the pulpit."
"Very true; and I will not take it back. A man should make every hour holy, and be every minute prepared for worship or for death. But very few men have ever reached such a perfection; and, therefore, we have no right to act as if we had, and put aside special occasions of preparation. We need them so much the more now, because we hope, by and by, to need them less."
"But don't you suppose that one would get on faster if he were to begin with making all days alike?"
"No, not at all; and for this reason; — if he were to begin so, he would make Sunday like a week day, and not the week days like Sunday; he could not avoid this. And just so it has happened with all that I ever knew attempt to act on this principle. It was perfectly impossible for them to live every day a life of sober, devout, contemplative deportment, such as belongs to the Sabbath and to Heaven: they were not advanced enough in holiness for that; and, therefore, all they could effect toward making all days alike was to make Sunday a common day. By this means they did make all alike, but they deprived themselves of a great aid to religious improvement, and their characters perceptibly lost ground. Instead of getting six more Sabbaths in the week, as they pretended to do, they lost the one they had."


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Start your own team...

Emerson chiefly read "for lustres" or bits that inspired his own thought. His biographer James Elliot Cabot reports that he once told "a young admirer" to "Only read to start your own team."


Monday, September 19, 2011

Pshaw! pshaw!...

This from Emerson's lecture, "Character" on the Unitarian clergy, and the accompanying note by J.E. Cabot, editor and compilier of RWE's works...

(RWE) "To their great honor, the simple and free minds among our clergy have not resisted the voice of Nature and the advanced perceptions of the mind; and every church divides itself into a liberal and expectant class, on the one side, and an unwilling and conservative class on the other. As it stands with us now, a few clergymen, with a more theological cast of mind, retain the traditions, but they carry them quietly. In general discourse, they are never obtruded."

(and the note.) "Dr. Charles T. Jackson, Mrs. Emerson's brother, when a boy, was, with several others, the pupil of the excellent but eccentric Dr. Alleyne of Duxbury. One Sunday the boys, accompanying their reverend friend to afternoon service in a time of drouth, each carried a large umbrella under his arm. "Boys!" said the Doctor, "what nonsense is this?" Why Doctor, you prayed for rain this morning." "Pshaw! pshaw! boys; its customary!"


Saturday, September 17, 2011

a chief event of life...

In a lecture entitled "Character" Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking of how the universal moral sentiment is imparted, wrote...

"A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us by its large scope. I am in the habit of thinking, - not, I hope, out of a partial experience, but confirmed by what I notice in many lives, - that to every serious mind Providence sends from time to time five or six or seven teachers who are of the first importance to him in the lessons they have to impart. The highest of these not so much give particular knowledge, as they elevate by sentiment and by their habitual grandeur of view"

Who has Providence sent as your teachers?


Friday, September 16, 2011

the essential characteristic...

Ephraim Peabody's "Eternal Life" continued...

"How little meaning (for most) have the Saviour's words, " Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness." Not they who act justly and righteously as a matter of expediency, but they who love it for its perceived, intrinsic excellence, —love it as the artist loves what is beautiful, —love it as the sensualist loves his pleasures, — hunger and thirst for it, and must have its presence within them, or die. Instead of our having any just sense of the Gospel doctrine of life, even the prevailing religious creeds of the world fix the attention on a life in a manner external to the soul, a mere continued existence, and a bliss showered on it from without. They treat of salvation; but often it seems as if it were a salvation of man in his sins, rather than from his sins. As if, were it not for future perdition, the attempt to attain the virtues of the Gospel were an unbearable cross. How little do they give the impression, that in these very spiritual excellences, in this love of them, and in their exercise, in their self-controlling and inspiring presence, is itself the eternal life! That Christ came to impart an'd awaken this life, and that his death becomes our life only as it touches our hearts and awakens in them a spirit like his own, — that then, and then only, are we sharers in the life of Christ, — is "this believed ? Were it believed with anything like the intelligent sincerity with which men believe in the worth of intellectual education, of worldly success, or of good repute among men, the millennium would have come. And yet, if there be any meaning in Christ's words, the first step in religion is the perception of the nature of this spiritual life,—the life described in the Bible as that of faith, — a regenerate and sanctified life...

In a word, to sum up what has been said, — the essential characteristic of the eternal life in the soul is the love of truth and good, and thus of God who is the true and good, and of Christ in whom God is manifest. This is the life of the angels which inspires them in their ministries. It is the heavenly life. It is the bond which unites all the hierarchies of the celestial world. He who hath it has affinities with all the pursuits and pleasures of that sacred nature. The pomps and passions of earth turn back from the closed portals of heaven. No bribes gain admission there. No forms or shows avail. But he who hath in him the eternal life, though a beggar naked and maimed and blind, before him heaven's gates open of themselves. He is no stranger there, for the life that is in him finds there its true sphere and companionship."


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

this side the grave...

Ephraim Peabody, often excerpted in these pages, has been my companion the past two or three weeks and a valuable companion he has been. This from his sermon "Eternal Life" (to be continued the next couple of days)


Here is stated the great end of our Saviour's mission. And yet one is tempted to say, that there is no important subject of which the Gospel treats to which a less heedful attention has been given, than its doctrine of Life.
What was the life which Christ came to impart? The common answer is, The assurance of existence beyond the grave. And certainly he gave this assurance ; and no words can overstate its importance. And yet, though of infinite moment, it was the least essential part of Christ's doctrine.
The misapprehensions respecting this subject have arisen from neglecting the two entirely different senses in which the word is used, — the distinction between the life which Christ came to reveal and the life he came to awaken. He revealed an unending life beyond the grave. But far more than this, and what he dwells on as the chief thing, he came to awaken the Eternal Life in the soul. The nature of this life, the mode in which it is awakened, its relations of dependence on Christ and on God, constitute the great theme of the Gospel. Let us, confining ourselves to a single point, endeavor to gain some definite idea of what our Saviour taught respecting its nature.
In the first place, the life which Christ came to impart is a life which may be possessed and enjoyed in this world: " I am come that men may have life, and have it more abundantly." This describes something very different from the mere revelation of a future state of existence. For his coming was in no sense the cause of man's existence. Again, he makes a distinction between the assurance of a future state, and the life which he imparts, when he says, " I am the resurrection and the life." The resurrection may be unto death, whereas he who believeth in me shall never die. " If a man keep my sayings, he shall never taste of death." The wicked share in the common resurrection to a future existence. But they are never spoken of as possessing the eternal life. The murderer is to exist hereafter, but the words are, " No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him "; thus showing, that by the phrase " eternal life " something very different is meant from simply eternal existence. In spite of that existence, " the wages of sin is death," but the gift of God is "eternal life." Or, among numberless other passages bearing on the same point, take the single decisive declaration, " He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." He already hath the everlasting life. The phrase is remarkable. And, in order to leave no room for misconception, he adds, " And is passed from death unto life." The death from which Christ came to deliver man is one which may thus fall on him while he lives in the body, and the life which he came to impart, the eternal life, the everlasting life, may begin this side the grave."


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

obedience alone...

I believe that one of the most neglected aspects of the commonly known Emerson is the absolute centrality of obedience to every aspect of his thought. This from the lecture "Perpetual Forces"

"The forces are infinite. Every one has the might of all, for the secret of the world is that its energies are solidaires; that they work together on a system of mutual aid, all for each and each for all; that the strain made on one point bears on every arch and foundation of the structure. But if you wish to avail yourself of their might, and in like manner if you wish the force of the intellect, the force of the will, you must take their divine direction, not they yours. Obedience alone gives the right to command"


Monday, September 12, 2011

pie and the capacity for virtue...

Two things more than most put me in an Emerson state of mind-fall and pie. There has been a wonderful fall like nip in the air of late and yesterday my wife made me a "back to Church apple pie" so, this morning, I had my favorite breakfast. I was going to praise Carrie's pie as "the best pie I have ever had" (which I think it is) but then I read Emerson's lecture "The Superlative" which argues for a temperance of expression. As an example of the once famous New England gift for understatement, he relates this story...

"How impatient we are, in these northern latitudes, of looseness and intemperance in speech! Our measure of success is the moderation and low level of an individual's judgment. Doctor Channing's piety and wisdom had such weight that, in Boston, the popular idea of religion was whatever this eminent divine held. But I remember that his best friend, a man of guarded lips, speaking of him in a circle of his admirers, said: "I have known him long, I have studied his character, and I believe him capable of virtue."

So I will just say of my breakfast pie, "It was adequate"

(for more on Emerson and pie, go here)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

an instrument of spiritual good...

This "Prayer to be Used by a Sunday School Teacher Before Engaging in Religious Instruction" comes from the Unitarian Prayer collection, "The Altar at Home: Prayers for the Family and the Closet" the 1857 edition...

"0 Thou who seest my whole heart, and knowest all my unfaithfulness, how can I hope, except by thy special blessing and surpassing mercy, to be an instrument of spiritual good, while I am myself so low in spiritual attainments, so worldly, so indifferent, so weak in faith, and so unworthy in thy sight. Yet, 0 my God, thou canst cause the earthen vessel, the broken vessel, the too often dishonored vessel, to receive and convey the balm and medicine of thy heavenly truth, to the praise and glory of thy own name. 0 deign to bless my feeble endeavors and ministrations this day. Let the prayers which shall be poured out be uttered in a believing, contrite, grateful, earnest spirit. Let the words of comment and enforcement which may be offered be words of truth and soberness, conducing to the edification of Christians, and the conviction and renovation of those who as yet believe not.

0 Thou that hast all hearts in thy almighty hand, be pleased so to move and guide my failing mind and heart, and those of others, that we may derive from these means of grace wisdom, and strength, and new devotedness. Fix in my soul, and in every soul present, more forcibly than ever, the practical and prevailing persuasion, that to depend on thy help is indispensable; that to be spiritually-minded is life and peace; that to serve thee in simplicity and godly sincerity, through Jesus Christ, is the way of true freedom and exaltation, of true content and joy; that nothing in the tents or palaces of wickedness or earthly pleasure can compare with the happiness of walking in the light, as thou art in the light. 0 let the blood of Christ purify us from all iniquity; and do thou take away every evil thought and imagination of the heart, confirming each right and self-denying aim and resolve within us, that we may live and die unto the Lord, and be meet for his undefiled home and rest.
Heavenly Father, make all the services of the day, and of the remaining Lord's days which thou mayest grant us upon earth, effectual for these great ends to us and ours, and to all in every place whom we love or ought to love; and bring us all together in the one temple of thy eternal grace and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Assist us mercifully, 0 Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the way of thy servants toward the attainment of everlasting salvation; that among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy most gracious and ready help, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Have a blessed Sabbath

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Make it honorable...

Ephraim Peabody's "Stand in thy Lot" concluded...

"Be content to stand in your lot. Whatever it may be, there is work in it enough for one to perform. It is your work, and if done in a Christian spirit there is ample opportunity to build up faith and piety in your own soul, and to bless your fellow-men. If you aspire to what you think a better lot, the way to reach it is by being faithful where you are. But be sure, that no lot to which duty calls you can in its essential nature be excluded from the highest good. A noble spirit ennobles the humblest condition, and a mean spirit alone makes the lot mean. A wonderful fact! It seems as if it had been to disabuse the world, and to exorcise it of its false views of human conditions, that the Saviour of man was born in a manger; that his ministry was in the obscure land of Judaea; that by the way-side, along the lake-shore, among humble men, he subjected himself to poverty; that he washed his disciples' feet; that he died on a cross; and in all places lost not his own divinity, but made the event divine.

Whatever then your lot may be, so that it come to you in the simple way of duty, do not contemn it, but honor it, and by your fidelity in it make it honorable. All real duties come in the order of a providential appointment, and take their character, not from the measurements of human vanity, but from God who appoints them. He can be worshipped as devoutly in the humble way-side church, as in the great cathedral; and so also he may be served as truly in the obcurest duty as in that whose performance wins the plaudits of the world. Leave to others to labor in their lot, and for yourself be satisfied to stand in your own; fulfilling its duties; enlarging it by your fidelity; contented to stand there while it is your lot; there to serve God, and to be useful among men."


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The silent lives...

Ephraim Peabody's sermon "Stand in thy Lot" continued...

"A man is dissatisfied with his religious state. He desires more religious life. Where shall he look for it?— I answer, from Christian fidelity in the circle of his daily cares and duties. A Christian principle is established in the soul by being obeyed in practice, and his place of obedience is of course where his duties and temptations lie. He may derive from other sources occasional impulse and instruction, but the obedience must be along the daily path of life. The husbandman goes abroad sometimes to gain information, he tries experiments; but he depends for his harvest on his steady labor...

A man must not look, for his means of doing good to others, to making a few addresses on this or that great reform, — to entering great organizations, — to great, conspicuous, and exceptional acts, — nor to occasional acts of generosity. These are indeed necessary in their place, but the great good which he may wish to do must be done by his habitual life spent amidst its common cares. A man promotes by word and act som% great moral enterprise, and yet, after all, to how little will it amount. But behold him in his daily walk. Here, every day, he comes in contact, in his business, with various persons, in a way which shows the real principles on which he acts, — children, young persons, or those of mature years, like himself. He may say nothing, but it is seen that he will not do a questionable act for the sake of personal gain. He will practise on no man's ignorance. He will take no advantage of men's necessities. Where it is to his loss, he is seen to be as strictly just and true and faithful as when it is for his gain. In all his dealings he is governed by Christian principle. Perhaps he does not at all attempt directly to make others better: he is only a good man himself. And yet, were he to devote himself to some great and extraordinary moral or religious enterprise, he probably would not do so much to raise the moral condition of man as he will by this practice of Christian principle amidst those common duties and temptations where the characters of men are tried. The little child sees his course, and involuntarily respects it, and it becomes a standard by which he will judge of the propriety of actions. The young man, whose principles were not bad, but unsettled, takes courage for the right. Those that do business with him, if for nothing else except that he may respect them, will more or less adopt his principles. Unjust and hard and discreditable customs are shamed away, and grow obsolete. Thus, often, the silent lives of individuals in time raise the character of a whole community."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the perpetual and equal illumination of the sun...

This from Ephraim Peabody's sermon, "Stand in Thy Lot" continued from yesterday...

"Just so in morals and religion. Men would do good, and think that the means must lie outside the common course of life. The need of a more religious spirit is felt, and it is sought from extraordinary and ever-varying means of excitement. And certainly we will not undervalue these means. Through them deep invasions and permanent conquests have been made in the realms of ignorance and sin ; but they mark the tendency to rely on the novel and the extraordinary. We see the same tendency in the low estimate which men place on the moral opportunities of that sphere of life in which their daily lot is cast. The merchant says, " I have peculiar temptations: it is very difficult for me to be a Christian "; and he thinks if he is to become one, it must be in some changed condition of life. The sailor says, " I have peculiar temptations: it is very hard for one in my place to be a Christian." And every man thinks that his lot is peculiarly exposed and difficult and destitute of moral- opportunity. For the attainment of the Christian character, and the practice of Christian usefulness, he thinks he must look beyond his common sphere of labor and duty to exceptional and extraordinary opportunities. And yet the daily lesson of Providence is to rely on what is common,—.made common, indeed, because the most valuable. Thus Almighty God does not rely for lighting the world on the momentary glare of an occasional meteor, but on the perpetual and equal illumination of the sun. And man, while thankful for every extraordinary aid, must look for his goodness and usefulness chiefly to his use of the common means and opportunities which belong to his special lot."

Monday, September 5, 2011

an illuminated universe...

I am currently re-reading the "Sermons" of Ephraim Peabody, often excerpted in these pages. The next few days will include bits from his sermon: STAND IN THY LOT.

DAYS.—Daniel xii. 13.

"In the text, the Prophet " should stand in his lot, and rest." The words may have a universal application. The infinite variety of human duties cannot all be discharged by the same person. For different duties there must be different men. Thus it is, in the order of Providence, that to different men different lots are assigned, not necessarily better or worse one than another, but different. And in his own lot, and not in another man's, must each one accomplish the true purposes of his existence. He must not dream of some impossible condition, but with a manly heart be content to labor in his appointed lot, — content to find in that, so long as it is his, his usefulness, his happiness, and his virtue. Do not crave what is another's and not yours, but stand in your own lot, be grateful for its privileges, and faithful to its obligations.
The lesson has not lost its significance for our restless, impatient, grasping age. It points to a view of life and duty which it greatly concerns us to consider. There are two principal things for which life is worth living, — personal growth in goodness, and social usefulness. For both these things there is a constant tendency to look beyond the means and opportunities furnished in our appointed walk in life. We rely for goodness and usefulness on opportunities which are rare and exceptional, but neglect as valueless those which come within our actual lot.
Thus in theology we hear of common grace and special grace, of ordinary and extraordinary means of grace ; and yet while it is on the ordinary means of grace that the moral life of man mainly depends, they are neglected and forgotten in the anxiety for those that are extraordinary. And certainly the tendency to overvalue what is unusual is quite natural. That which is extraordinary, though comparatively of inferior moment, strikes the imagination, and for the time makes a great place for itself in the mind. A miracle preserves the life of one man, and the world turns in wonder and reverence to view it, and acknowledges the hand of God ; and it is right and well. Yet at the same moment the ordinary providence of God, moving calmly as the stars, lights up the heavens, gives fertility to the earth, and spreads the table at which the human race sits down, and by which it lives ; and it is not well for us to forget that this ordinary providence of God is a more stupendous manifestation of his glory and goodness than any single miracle can possibly be. A whole country collects to see an illuminated city, and yet the glare of the torchlight which blinds us to the stars hides and makes us forget the more wondrous illumination of the heavens. The throng traverses with unsated gaze the illuminated street, because the spectacle is rare. As it withdraws into the open country, and morning breaks in splendor above the seas, its beams kindling from cloud to cloud till earth and sky are flooded with light, the weary multitude is scarcely conscious of standing under an illuminated universe. This spectacle for the angels is unheeded because it is common."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hope on...

I was first exposed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, like most I suppose, through oft anthologized essays such as "Self-Reliance." Over more years than I like to remember I have wrestled with RWE. As I have gotten older, the older more pragmatic Emerson holds greater appeal. I am also, however, starting to read some of his young man sermons with profit. This from a sermon on Matthew 25: 23, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things..."

"Christianity despises nothing because it is small, provided only that it is according to your ability. It says be not discouraged if you find more difficulties in your path to heaven, than in first ardour of youthful resolution, you anticipated. You have aimed at great conquests with too much confidence in yourself, and are dispirited now by apparent failure. Hope on. Be thankful with growing better by small and almost imperceptible acquisitions, only see too it that you husband them well...

My friends, I wish the words of Jesus might prevail with us to direct a new attention and a greater respect to the improvement of our characters by small degrees. What is biggest is made up of minute parts...

Besides, there is no such thing as a small virtue. Virtue is always great, and to the least action which it inspires, it imparts something of grandeur."


Saturday, September 3, 2011

playing on the seashore...

Part of my devotions this morning included an early sermon by Ralph Waldo Emerson which, in turn, included this wonderful bit...

"We can hardly quote too often the beautiful saying of that man who knew so mush more than his fellow men, Sir Isaac Newton. "I don't know," he said, "what I may seem to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."


Friday, September 2, 2011

close to the road...

This from James Freeman Clarke's sermon, "Faithful Over a Few Things"

"But what is the meaning of the word "integrity "? It means thoroughness, entireness; putting the same quality of soul into everything, great and small. No one is a man of integrity who does not do every thing with the same nndeviating honesty, the same unbending principle. The man of real integrity puts the whole energy of conscience, faith, love, into the smallest act as into the greatest. So the steam-engine in a factory exerts the same tremendous power to cut in two an iron bar, or to stick a pin into a card.

Christianity does not allow us to trifle with anything. There is nothing trivial to the illuminated eye and heart of faith. He who says to his brother, "Thou fool!" is in danger of hell-fire. He is, in fact, already in hell-fire; for the feeling of contempt for his brother, the scorn and disdain which can thus reject from its sympathy a fellow-man, is itself the spirit of the pit...

I once heard of a...preacher, who used this plain but striking image in a sermon: "You think, my brethren, that you can go a little way out of God's road into the devil's field, and not be caught, provided you do not go too far. But the devil is not such a fool, when he spreads his nets and sets his traps for you, to put them away in the middle of his field. No: he puts them close to the road: so, if you mean to go a great way or only a little way, he is sure to have you in either case." The illustration was homely; but the doctrine is sound."


Thursday, September 1, 2011

a higher and holier life...

This from Ephraim Peabody's "Christian Days and Thoughts"

There are seasons when, for the moment at least, the power of the world seems to drop. A strange and awful sense of responsibility comes upon us. Aspirations rise up out of the soul like the morning mist kindling in the sun as it rises from the mountain top towards heaven. We long for a higher and holier life. The vanity of the world, the worth of virtue, the goodness of God, and the peace of a trusting and devout heart are revealed to us. It is a heavenly vision open before the soul. These hours, when the soul is freed from its bonds, and holds communion with truth and God, and sees revealed the realities of its existence, are blessed hours—hours of heaven— hours which if obeyed shall raise the soul upward to heaven. Repel not the heavenly vision by disobedience. Sacrifice any thing rather than these heavenly impulses. Give up any thing that interferes with carrying them out into the life. These hours of the soul's communion with truth and God are the precious hours of life. They are the scattered fountains in the desert, at which the fainting traveller revives his strength and courage. Then heavenly voices speak, and happy is he who gives heed to the heavenly vision, which is from God, and conduces to God."


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the deep places in life...

This from James Freeman Clarke's "The Christian Doctrine of Prayer"

" Experience. — Out of the Depths.
A further preparation may come to us out of the deeper experiences of life. We may pray sincerely, but superficially, from the surface rather than from the depths of the mind. We may pray from our perception of what is right and true, rather than from a deep feeling of it. But when we can say with the Psalmist, " Out of the Depths have I cried unto thee, O God !" then we have achieved also the moral preparation for prayer, the preparation of a moral experience. Then we acquire the habit of prayer out of the deep places of life, and the deep places of the heart.
There are deep places in life. For years we pass on in a circle of routine, until we reach a crisis. Sometimes years of cloudless prosperity are at once interrupted by a succession of troubles, as the smooth stream of a river ia broken by rapids and hurried suddenly down a cataract. The happy family is entered by Death, — father, mother, children, are snatched away from that loving circle. Love is disappointed, — hopes are frustrated, — prosperity ceases, — adversity comes, — sickness despoils us of our energies. In such hours we seem to descend, step by step, into still more profound depths of trial and sorrow. But from these depths the heart sees God more' clearly than from the sunny hill-tops of a happy life, — as persons can see the stars at midday from the bottom of a well. When all around us grows dark, the inward light grows stronger and clearer. When man deceives us, God is faithful. When Death approaches us outwardly, the idea of Immortal Life dawns, in pure auroral light, within the heart. In such hours we learn to pray.
But there are deeps lower than those of trouble and outward affliction, — moments in which, though no external trouble comes near us, inward joy departs. There are depths of scepticism which the soul of man has sometimes to pass, in his pilgrim's progress toward God, — depths in which we lose our faith in God, in man, in ourselves,— in which we ask for the meaning of the world, and find none, — in which all things seem full of vanity and emptiness, and we cause our heart to despair of all its labor which it takes under the sun.- Blacker than Egyptian darkness is this mental gloom, which sometimes settles, for a time, upon the purest and most aspiring minds, —
" A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, nnimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief
In word, or sigh, or tear."

In this condition of scepticism, when we are like children lost in a forest, what can we do but cry to God ? This is the remedy, this the cure. It is not reasoning or argument which can help us in this disease, but Prayer. ' If we have faith enough left to cry to God, Peace and Light may then return to us."


Saturday, August 27, 2011

the wise man in the storm...

“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear” Ralph Waldo Emerson

That said, I hope all stay safe...Blessings

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My soul stretcheth...

My devotional reading this morning included this wonderful portion of Richard Lucas' (1648-1715) "An Enquiry into Happiness." I get a glimpse of what he speaks while praying in the quiet pews of our church and, often, in reading the Boston Unitarians. "My soul stretcheth"...

"It is true, I am but a Man, that is, a little Atom in the vast Matter, and my Life is but a short Moment in an endless Stream of Time: but then I feel a strange kind of Comprehensiveness in my Soul, it stretcheth forth itself to Times past and to come, it enjoys Things that, are not seen, by Faith and Hope, and sometimes Things that are not at all, by Memory and Fancy ; and tho' my Life is but a Moment, Satisfaction, and Pleasure hath it's Degrees and therefore if I can possess it in its Height and Perfection, I shall live much, tho' not long, I shall enjoy Eternity in a Moment, the World in a little Globe."

Amen and blessings

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The mountain and the multitude...

James Freeman Clarke on praying without ceasing. (not sure he is quite fair to "monks and hermits") but the overall point is a good one...

"Prayer without ceasing.

The Apostles, in their Epistles, frequently refer to Prayer as a necessary part of the Christian life. Unceasing prayer is urged 1 Thess. v. 17. So Eph. vi. 18, " praying always" &c. Phil. iv. 6, " In every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God." 1 Tim. v. 5, the widow is spoken of who continues in supplication and prayer night and day. Rom. xii. 12, " Contine in prayer." Col. iv. 2, " Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving." 1 Peter iv. 7," Be sober, and watch unto prayer." James v. 13, " Is any among you afflicted, let him pray : is he happy, let him sing psalms." Jude i. 20, " But ye, beloved, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God."

This spirit of constant prayer was a natural growth of Christianity ; one peculiarity of which...was to insist on a permanent union of the soul with God, and an immanent presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart, instead of transient inspirations. Hence Christianity is spoken of as a Life ; as a constant, regular activity of the spiritual nature, — " the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus," — " eternal life abiding within us," — God and Christ "coming to make their abode in us." Such is the language of the New Testament.
Therefore, to pray without ceasing intends the unbroken union of the soul with God, so that all of life shall flow from God and to God. It does not mean a life like that of the monks or hermits, in which men retire from the world to devote themselves to formal acts of worship, and to make that the chief business of life : for such exclusive activity of the devotional element would not be as truly unceasing prayer as a life which alternates, like that of Jesus, between the mountain and the multitude. He who does nothing but pray is unable even to do this. His prayer necessarily degenerates into a form, into an outward routine, and so ceases to be prayer. When he takes himself out of life, where is the sphere of Christian duty, he loses the subject-matter for prayer. He has nothing to pray for, except in relation to the moods of his own mind, and therefore his prayer becomes wholly personal; and instead of praying out of an interest in Christ's kingdom, and the coming of his truth in the world, he prays only for himself. Therefore to pray without ceasing is to work for man in constant reliance on God ; to work for Christ, and in every moment of need to look to God for strength wherewith to work. While this habit of intercourse with God is maintained, while we thus bring all parts of our life before Him in thankfulness, penitence, or supplication, we fulfil the command to pray without ceasing."