Tuesday, March 29, 2011

stand by your order...

I am currently re-reading Richardson's masterful biography of William James. This from James on Emerson...

  "What gave a flavor so matchless to Emerson's individuality was, even more than his rich mental gifts, their singularly harmonious combination. Rarely has a man so accurately known the limits of his genius or so unfailingly kept with them. "Stand by your order," he used to say to youthful students; and perhaps the paramount impression one gets of his life is of his loyalty to his own personal type and mission. The type was that of what he liked to call a scholar, the perceiver of pure truth; and the mission was that of the reporter in worthy form of each perception. The day is good, he said, in which we have the most perceptions. There are times when the cawing of a crow, a weed, a snowflake, or a farmer planting in his field become symbols to the intellect of truths equal to those which the most majestic phenomena can open. Let me mind my own charge, then, walk alone, consult the sky, the field and forest, sedulously waiting every morning for the news concerning the structure of the universe which the good Spirit will give me.

        This was the first half of Emerson, but only half; for genius, as he said, is insatiate for expression, and truth has to be clad in the right verbal garment. The form of the garment was so vital with Emerson that it is impossible to separate it from the matter. They form a chemical combination — thoughts which would be trivially expressed otherwise, are important through the nouns and verbs to which he married them. The style is the man, and if we must define him in one word, we have to call him Artist. He was an artist whose medium was verbal and who wrought in spiritual material."


Thursday, March 24, 2011

perhaps they are...

Still studying Emerson's "Experience." These are perhaps my favorite lines in all literature...

"Let us treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are."


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

life...is sturdy

Preparing for adult learning session on Emerson's great-almost painfully great-
essay "Experience." What happens when the world catches up and the inspiration gets a little dimmer? Some jewels that I have posted before...

"Life is not intellectual or critical, but Sturdy. It's chief good is for well mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question.

To fill the hour,-that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval.

To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom."


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

be still and know...

Ephraim Peabody was born on this day in 1807(See here for more.) This on prayer from Rev. Peabody...

"I return now to the question, What is the best course for me to take in endeavoring to determine, in any doubtful case, what is my duty ? And, borne out by the laws of man's nature and the declarations of revelation, I reply in the words of the text, for they suggest the whole answer, " Be still, and know that I am God!" In many things it is proper to ask merely what is pleasant, what will gratify the taste,' what will be useful. But in deciding a question of duty, the appeal is made to what is highest and best in a man, and the answer must come thence, or it will only cheat and lead astray. The primary necessity is to separate one's self from the urgencies of the passions. We have come to a question which no crowd can settle by vote or resolution. And what is more, no other human beings, much as they may help us, can settle it for us. I would summon up the best counsellors. I would be out of the sound of human voices. Then is the time for retirement. Be still, and know only that with you is God. One hour in these summer fields alone, in the silence of nature, with a heart that looks in prayer to Him who is above the open heavens, is worth more in determining a question of duty, than ages of rhetoric and libraries of logic. An hour in this place, before the memorials of Christ, with the heart seeking God's guidance, has in it more wisdom than all the oracles philosophy ever uttered. Evil suggestions fade away from the consciousness of the Divine presence. The mind acts in an unembarrassed sphere; it is placed in a right position, and is open to the unbewildered light of truth. The intellect will seek truth most faithfully when the heart seeks God most truly. Prayer does not take the place of reasoning, but the reason finds guidance and protection in prayer. I do not say that even under these circumstances one will always judge aright; but he will judge rightly for himself. He has done the best he can, and will never repent of it. In this reverential and prayerful seeking for right, one is not likely to go astray ; and such a spirit will correct its own errors. The prompting of such an hour it is generally wise for one to follow, and no man ever yet regretted that he was governed in his acts by the spirit of such an hour. In seeking what is right, when you have used other means, have some religious retirement of mind. With a prayerful heart, be still, and alone, conscious that God is With you."


Monday, March 21, 2011

the soul's sphere...

This from William Phillips Tilden's "Leaflet for Lent" For today. May everyone have a week of light and love...

"GOD help us to let shine the light that His own hand, hath kindled; to take away the bushel of our own placing and to put our light on the candlestick God made for it, that it may give light to all that are in the house. The virtue of the light depends upon its power of illumination. Good works are themselves light. Doing comes closer than having. What one has he may lose; but what one does is never lost. No star-lighted heaven speaks to the heart like a heaven-lighted soul, — a soul filled with the echoes of the spirit's voice; a human star, touched with intelligence, warmed with love, knowing the light and love that kindled both. Each soul seems to have a sphere like the atmosphere around the earth, through which there is an outgoing on mystic threads of communication whereby its own light is imparted. There is something in this world to live for that is not riches; something that no flood-tide of prosperity can ever bring, or ebb-tide of adversity take away; something we carry with us wherever we go. It is what we are, our Best. God make that a light to some life!"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Come unto Me...

This prayer from Rufus Ellis, often featured on these pages...

"Almighty and Ever-loving God, Thou livest though Thy children die, and Thou art ever near to uphold and comfort. Blessed be Thy Name for the faith which is by Christ and that in Him Thou hast overcome the bitterness of sorrow and the sharpness of death, and opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believing hearts. May Thy children of this household be near to Thee as Thou art near to them. Let this sorrow be unto them as Thy fatherly discipline, and may they hear Thee saying unto them as by the lips of the Christ, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." They would confess the wisdom of Thy decree. For all that hath been gracious and merciful they would devoutly thank Thee, and compassed about by the mystery of our life they would say, "Thy will be done." Be Thou the Strength of the weak, the Companion of the lonely, the Author and Finisher of an immortal life. Go with those who shall bear forth their dead to be gathered to kindred dust. Let the face of the risen and glorified shine down through the darkness, and refresh our spirits evermore with the light of Thy Countenance. We pray in His Name who died for our sakes, beseeching Thee to forgive our great and manifold transgressions through Him who ever liveth to make intercession for us. Amen."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

the life of heaven...

This morning, "Seasons of Prayer" by Henry Ware Jr. I found this version (online) in the book "THE DISTRICT SCHOOL READER; EXERCISES IN READING AND SPEAKING; DESIGNED FOR THE HIGHEST CLASS IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS." (1845)

"To prayer! to prayer ! — for the morning breaks,
And Earth in her Maker's smile awakes.
His light is on all, below and above —
The light of gladness, and life, and love.
O, then, on the breath of this early air,
Send upward the incense of grateful prayer.

To prayer! — for the glorious sun is gone,
And the gathering darkness of night comes on.
Like a curtain from God's kind hand it flows,
To shade the couch where his children repose.
Then kneel, while the watching stars are bright,
And give your last thoughts to the Guardian of night.

To prayer! — for the day that God has blessed
Comes tranquilly on with its welcome rest.
It speaks of creation's early bloom ;
It speaks of the Prince who burst the tomb.
Then summon the spirit's exalted powers,
And devote to Heaven the hallowed hours.

There are smiles and tears in the mother's eyes,
For her new-born infant beside her lies.
O, hour of bliss, when the heart o'erflows
With rapture a mother only knows!
Let it gush forth in words of fervent prayer;
Let it swell up to Heaven for her precious care.

There are smiles and tears in that gathering band,
Where the heart is pledged with the trembling hand.
What trying thoughts in her bosom swell,
As the bride bids parents and home farewell!
Kneel down by the side of the tearful fair,
And strengthen the perilous hour with prayer.

Kneel down by the dying sinner's side,
And pray for his soul through Him who died.
Large drops of anguish are thick on his brow :
O, what are earth and its pleasures now ?
And what shall assuage his dark despair,
But the penitent cry of humble prayer ?

Kneel down at the couch of departing faith,
And hear the last words the believer saith.
He has bidden adieu to his earthly friends;
There is peace in his eye, that upward bends ;
There is peace in his calm, confiding air;
For his last thoughts are God's, his last words prayer.

The voice of prayer at the sable bier! —
A voice to sustain, to soothe, and to cheer.
It commends the spirit to God who gave;
It lifts the thoughts from the cold, dark grave;
It points to the glory where He shall reign,
Who whispered, " Thy brother shall rise again."

The voice of prayer in the world of bliss! —
But gladder, purer, than rose from this.
The ransomed shout to their glorious King,
Where no sorrow shades the soul as they sing;
But a sinless and joyous song they raise;
And their voice of prayer is eternal praise.

Awake! awake ! and gird up thy strength
To join that holy band at length.
To Him, who unceasing love displays,
Whom the powers of nature unceasingly praise,
To Him thy heart and thy hours be given;
For a life of prayer is the life of heaven."


Friday, March 11, 2011

a religious recollection of our lives...

William Ellery Channing continues his discussion of "Daily Prayer" (begun yesterday.) Today he speaks of evening prayer...

"Let us now consider another part of the day, which is favorable to the duty of prayer; we mean the evening. This season, like the morning, is calm and quiet. Our labors are ended. The bustle of life has gone by. The distracting glare of the day has vanished. The darkness which surrounds us, favors seriousness, composure, and solemnity. At night the earth fades from our sight, and nothing of creation is left us but the starry heavens, so vast, so magnificent, so serene, as if to guide up our thoughts above all earthly things to God and immortality.
This period should in part be given to prayer, as it furnishes a variety of devotional topics and excitements. The evening is the close of an important division of time, and is therefore a fit and natural season for stopping and looking back on the day. And can we ever look back on a day, which bears no witness to God, and lays no claim to our gratitude? Who is it that strengthens us for daily labor, gives us daily bread, continues our friends and common pleasures, and grants us the privilege of retiring after the cares of the day, to a quiet and beloved home? The review of the day will often suggest not only these ordinary benefits, but peculiar proofs of God's goodness, unlooked for successes, singular concurrences of favorable events, signal blessings sent to our friends, or new and powerful aids to our own virtue, which call for peculiar thankfulness. And shall all these benefits pass away unnoticed? Shall we retire to repose as insensible as the weaned brute? How fit and natural is it, to close with pious acknowledgment, the day which has been filled with Divine beneficence!
But the evening is the time to review, not only our blessings, but our actions. A reflecting mind will naturally remember at this hour that another day is gone, and gone to testify of us to our Judge. How natural and useful to inquire, what report it has carried to heaveni. Perhaps we have the satisfaction of looking back on a day, which, in its general tenor, has been innocent and pure, which, having begun with God's praise, has been spent as in his presence; which has proved the reality of our principles in temptation; and shall such a day end without gratefully acknowledging Him, in whose strength we have been strong, and to whom we owe the powers and opportunities of Christian improvement? But no day will present to us recollections of purity unmixed with sin. Conscience, if suffered to inspect faithfully and speak plainly, will recount irregular desires and defective motives, talents wasted and time misspent; and shall we let the day pass from us without penitently confessing our offences to Him who has witnessed them, and who has promised pardon to true repentance? Shall we retire to rest with a burden of unlamented and unforgiven guilt upon our consciences? Shall we leave these stains to spread over and sink into the soul? A religious recollection of our lives, is one of the chief instruments of piety. If possible, no day should end without it. If we take no account of our sins on the day on which they are committed, can we hope that they will recur to us at a more distant period, that we shall watch against them to-morrow, or that we shall gain the strength to resist them, which we will not implore?
One observation more, and we have done. The evening is a fit time for prayer, not only as it ends the day, but as it immediately precedes the period of repose. The hours of activity having passed, we are soon to sink into insensibility and sleep. How fit that we resign ourselves to the care of that Being who never sleeps, to whom the darkness is as the light, and whose providence is our only safety! How fit to entreat him, that he would keep us to another day; or, if our bed should prove our grave, that he would give us a part in the resurrection of the just, and awake us to a purer and immortal life. The most important periods of prayer have now been pointed out. Let our prayers, like the ancient sacrifices, ascend morning and evening. Let our days begin and end with God."

(painting: Evening Prayer by Clarence Gagnon)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

pray always...

During Lent, this space will focus on the veiws and practices of the "Boston Unitarians" on prayer. I have felt that my own prayer life has become lackluster-a dry spell-and I want to work on that this Lenten season. Today, the basics from William Ellery Channing in his "Daily Prayer."

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments agree in enjoining prayer. Let no man call himself a Christian, who lives without giving a part of life to this duty. We are not taught how often we must pray; but our Lord in teaching us to say, "Give us this day our daily bread," implies that we should pray daily. He has even said to us, "pray always ;" an injunction to be explained indeed with that latitude which many of his precepts require, but which is not to be satisfied, we think, without regular and habitual devotion. As to the particular hours to be given to this duty, every Christian may choose them for himself. Our religion is too liberal and spiritual to bind us to any place or any hour of prayer. But there are parts of the day particularly favorable to this duty, and which, if possible, should be redeemed for it. On these we shall offer a few reflections.
The first of these periods is the morning, which even nature seems to have pointed out to men of different religions, as a fit time for offerings to the Divinity. In the morning our minds are not so much shaken by worldly cares and pleasures, as in other parts of the day. Retirement and sleep have helped to allay the violence of our feelings, to calm the feverish excitement so often produced by intercourse with men. The hour is a still one. The hurry and tumults of life are not begun, and we naturally share in the tranquillity around us. Having for so many hours lost our hold on the world, we can banish it more easily from the mind, and worship with less divided attention. This, then, is a favorable time for approaching the invisible Author of our being, for strengthening the intimacy of our minds with him, for thinking upon a future life, and for seeking those spiritual aids which we need in the labors and temptations of every day...
So fit and useful is morning devotion, it ought not to be omitted without necessity. If our circumstances will allow the privilege, it is a bad sign when no part of the morning is spent in prayer. If God find no place in our minds at that early and peaceful hour, he will hardly recur to us in the tumults of life. If the benefits of the morning do not soften us, we can hardly expect the heart to melt with gratitude through the day. If the world then rush in and take possession of us, when we are at some distance and have had a respite from its cares, how can we hope to shake it off when we shall be in the midst of it, pressed and agitated by it on every side? Let a part of the morning, if possible, be set apart to devotion; and to this end we should fix the hour of rising, so that we may have an early hour at our own disposal. Our piety is suspicious, if we can renounce, as too many do, the pleasures and benefits of early prayer, rather than forego the senseless indulgence of unnecessary sleep. What! we can rise early enough for business. We can even anticipate the dawn, if a favorite pleasure or an uncommon gain requires the effort. But we cannot rise, that we may bless our great Benefactor, that we may arm ourselves for the severe conflicts to which our principles are to be exposed! We are willing to rush into the world, without thanks offered, or a blessing sought! From a day thus begun, what ought we to expect but thoughtlessness and guilt?"

Evening prayer...this evening.

(painting: William Hunt, "Morning Prayer")

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

8 and 8...

Lent is upon us and, as always, I have spent far too much time thinking about what my Lenten discipline might be and casting about for a reading project as well. Lent has long been a very important season for me but upon becoming a Unitarian some years ago, it became clear that this feeling was not exactly widespread. I was, therefore, all the more happy to find, about seven years ago, "Leaflets for Lent" by William Phillips Tilden. Tilden grew up in the church I am proud to serve, was its first Sunday School Superintendent, and studied with its minister Samuel J. May before beginning a long and fruitful ministry of his own.
His "Leaflets" have been my Lenten Devotional ever since and during my first year blogging I reproduced it in its enitretly over the 40 days of the season. You can start here if you would like a fine companion this Lent.
Then yesterday, a wonderful parishioner at our Church gave me a framed Roman Numeral VIII in crusted gold leaf that was taken from our 1830 Clock Tower last summer during our renovations. It is a powerful link with the past and a symbol of the flexibility of time. And it gave me an idea for this Lenten season.
I have been thinking much recently about Prayer in our Unitarian Universalist past and present, especially intercessory prayer. And while I pray regularly for family, friends and church members, during this Lenten season I want to deepen that practice. My plan is to spend time in prayer for others (by name) at 8am and 8pm (my clock tower number.)
I write to invite anyone who may wish to join me and, of course, if you would like prayer for yourself or someone you know, send along a first name. And, as always, if you toss out a prayer or two for me, it is always appreciated.

Have a blessed Lent

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

there are my arms...

Today marks the anniversary of the passing of Ebenezer Gay who died in 1787 at the age of 90. Minister at Old Ship in Hinghan for 69 years, Rev. Gay was an important figure in the development of Unitarianism in America.
Though he was fairly liberal for his time in religion, he did not support the American effort to achieve independence. An excerpt from his biography in "Heralds of a Liberal Faith"

"In the Revolutionary period Dr. Gay adhered to Tory sentiments, and continued for years to pray for the king and all the royal family, yet such was his discretion that he maintained his position at the head of a parish largely composed of supporters of the Declaration of Independence without seriously impairing his usefulness. Mr. Solomon Lincoln has recorded this anecdote of these times:
It was a part of the duty of the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety to call upon suspected citizens, and those known to be Loyalists, to demand a search for arms. It was proposed that the committee should call upon Dr. Gay, and demand his arms, probably not because they supposed he had any of which he would make improper use against the new government, but because the opportunity was a good one to give him a sort of official admonition that he held obnoxious sentiments, in which some of the most influential of his people did not share. That the thing to be done was a little aggravating did not take away the zest of doing it. It would have been ungenerous, also, had there not been a very perfect accord between Dr. Gay and his parish, as pastor and people, on all subjects save politics. The committee presented themselves before the doctor, who received them in his study, standing, and with entire calmness and dignity, when he inquired of them, “What do you wish with me, gentlemen?” “We have come, sir, in accordance with our duty, as the Committee of Safety, to ask you what arms you have in the house.” He looked at them kindly, perhaps a little reproachfully, for a moment or two before answering, and then said, laying his hand upon a large Bible on the table by which he stood, “There, my friends, are my arms; and I trust to find them ever sufficient for me.” The committee retired with some precipitation, discomfited by the dignified manner and implied rebuke of Dr. Gay; and the chairman was heard to say to his associates as they passed out of the yard, “The old gentleman is always ready.”

RIP and blessings

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Battledore and Shuttlecock...

Edward Waldo Emerson tells this story of his father and the Sabbath...

"Father always expected that Sunday should be observed in the household, not with the old severity, but with due regard for a custom which he valued for itself as well as for it's association, and also for the feelings of others. We could read and walk...but were not expected to...play games or romp or go to drive or row...One rainy Sunday when we could not go to walk we got permission from our mother to play Battledore and Shuttlecock for a little while, but no sooner did the sound of the shuttlecock on the parchment bathead ring through the house than we heard the study door open and our father's stride in the entry. He came in and said: "That sound was never heard in New England before on Sunday and must not be in my house. Put them away..."

Have a blessed Sabbath

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

the great nature...

It is one week till the season of lent, a much under-valued (by most Unitarians) time of reflection and repentance. This from James Freeman Clarke on what we are capable of...

"The goodness of the best man is nothing, compared with the goodness which the worst man is capable of attaining. This is a point in Christianity which we are slow to comprehend. We overvalue present attainment; we undervalue inherent capability. The small house suited to our present convenience, and finished in a year, we value more than the vast palace, the enormous cathedral, the metropolitan city, whose great plan it will require centuries to execute. Esau, selling his birthright for a mess of pottage, is the type of those who despise the common human nature which is in every man, and idolize the talents of this or that brilliant person, here or there.
Jesus did not so. Jesus reverenced the great nature which he saw in the soul of every man. Therefore he reverenced the child whose unpolluted soul still beheld the face of God. Therefore he looked with tenderness on the sinner, —spoke words of loftiest truth to the most humble and called upon the common crowd to be perfect, as their Father in heaven was perfect. Therefore he demanded of all, as the only essential thing, to turn their faces the right way in faith, to have courage, to believe in God and in themselves. In this conception of the possibilities of man, the roots of all great Christian ideas find nourishment. Love to God is strengthened when our love is not abject, but hopeful, flowing from the consciousness of what he has made us to be. Love to man is possible only when we see in every man the capacity of goodness, beauty, and power. We can love the sinner when the actual sin appears superficial, and the possible goodness radical. We can forgive an enemy when we see that this enemy, by means of our forgiveness, may not only become our friend, but the friend of God. We can look on ourselves with humility and yet with hope, on the prosperous without envy, on the sufferer without too sickly a sorrow, on our trials with patience, and our successes without elation, when we consider how little all these things are in comparison with the universal soul which is in all, with its boundless capacities, with its glorious destiny."