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."


Monday, August 22, 2011

The fleshy instrument...

As a denomination we talk much about "Social Justice" often to the detriment of the spirit. It is a phenomenon that is not new. The liberal religionists of the 19th century began the process and it's one that James Freeman Clarke warned against. In this excerpt from his "the Christian Doctrine of Prayer" he argues not against working for the betterment of people and the world, but for a remembrance of the spiritual source of that effort.

"Every human being is an immortal soul in a mortal body. That mortal body in a few years will be laid aside, and will have gone to the earth whence it came. It is an organ, for a few years, through which the undying spiritual force within it shall be manifested and shall be developed. That spiritual force, that immortal soul, can draw its life only from God, its fount of being. Without a constant, steady communion with him, it is drawn down by its fleshly instrument, it is immersed in sense, it is buried already in the body which itself is to -be buried in the grave. Inward, toward God, we must go continually for spiritual force, — outward, toward man and life, to exercise it. We must come to know and love God, the sum and substance of all spiritual life, or it is idle to talk of loving man or doing any thing for him. We must have, to give. We must drain from an eternal fountain, from a well that never becomes dry, in order to water the smallest garden or plot of ground."


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Confusion and every evil work...

My devotions for today included:

Day Unto Day
(a 19th Century Unitarian Devotional)

Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee. — Gen. x iii. 8.

Blest we the suns of peace,
Whose hearts and hopes are one;
Whose kind designs to serve and please
Through all their actions run.

To learn to bear and forbear, to prefer to lose the argument rather than the temper, to be willing to suffer a great wrong rather than do the least wrong, to give way to the unfortunate temper of others rather than to gain a point at the cost of a war of words, — a few such plain habits would prevent a world of trouble, and spread joy and happiness throngh scenes where every blessing may be poisoned by the corrosion.of imbittered feelings. — A. A. Livekmore.

Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues.

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. — Jas. iii. 16,18."

and this from James Freeman Clarke's "Messages of Faith, Hope and Love"...

"The root of the difficulty is the same in all these cases. Indignation against wrong is not joined with sympathy for the wrongdoer. Those who are opposed to each other in opinion keep apart. They know nothing of each other's motives, and hence do injustice to each other. Any amount of intelligence will not save a man from this ignorance of his opponent's motives if he keeps away from him. Meantime the simplest person who hears both sides, and talks with both parties, has a much deeper and wider view of the subject than either. The eloquent leaders, with all their powers of oratory, resource of wit, and trained faculty of speech, have often less real insight of their subject than the unpretending but candid seeker for truth, who refuses to be a partisan, does not abuse his opponents, and can join charity toward the evil-doer with indignation against the wrong."


Saturday, August 20, 2011

neither justice nor wisdom...

The very first time I stepped foot in a Unitarian Universalist church was to give a lay sermon on Unitarian Piety. Invited by a couple I had met through a public library book group, I was then an Episcopalian but had read, studied and loved the 19th century Unitarians (the Boston Unitarians) for years. I was listened to respectfully but remember the looks on most of the people's faces who clearly thought I was bringing a message from another planet. I thought of this yesterday when Bill Baar used the words of James Freeman Clarke on Piety to illuminate the massive contrast between the Unitarianism of our past and the UUism of our present. I appreciated that because all these years later, it is still my "mission" to put forward our rich and wonderful history as well as to promote a way of being religious that is so important to my life.

I have also sought to do so with respect. A defining trait of the "Boston Unitarians" though, of course, one not universally shared-one thinks especially of Andrews Norton and Theodore Parker, was their lack of desire to engage in vilification and extreme partisanship. James Freeman Clarke provides a good example of why...

"THE conservatives in our community are a well-disposed set of men, meaning to be just, but, instead of making themselves acquainted with the spirit and motives of reformers, they avoid them, and refuse to associate with them. Instead of noticing the proposition, they impute a bad motive to the proposer. They say that the man is a demagogue; that he seeks notoriety; that he wants office, he wants money. Many others are led by their example into a like unreasoning scorn and invective.
But, if conservatives understand the art of scolding, reformers understand it likewise. This habit has grown to be one of the chief obstacles in the way of reform. A man who is not a reformer goes into some reform meeting, wishing to hear a calm, strong statement of the evils under consideration, the steps tp be taken, practical measures to be discussed, and the duties of friends of the cause. Instead of this, he often hears ridicule and sarcasm against the churches, and sharp witticisms against every person of influence who is supposed not to sympathize with the reformer. He sees neither justice nor wisdom in this torrent of invective, and he is repelled by it. Meantime this is what is most liked and applauded by the reformers themselves. The man who says the sharpest thing is the favorite orator. And, as each class of reformers talk only with each other, this habit increases all the time; and so you have, instead of a great league made up of all the friends of truth, a little coterie who spend their time in scolding, and a great public which goes on its way indifferent to the whole subject."

Not a bad description of what politics and religion has become in America. Its long been my belief that, in their lives and words, people like Clarke and Channing had the only real antidote.

Blessings to all

Friday, August 19, 2011

Spring of improvement...

The nature, qualities or even the existence of a peculiar "Unitarian Piety" was often discussed by the Boston Unitarians. It is not often spoken of today. And yet it is an idea so crucial to living a religious life. Here is the start of James Freeman Clarke's "Five Kinds Of Piety"

"We love God when we love the highest and best' thing we know; that is, when we look up, not down; up to the Infinite, not down to the finite; up to goodness, not down to wickedness; up to truth, not down to error. By thus looking up to what is higher and better than ourselves we refresh our souls, we purify our hearts, we open them so that Divine influences come in.
A man of piety, therefore, is essentially one who believes in and who loves goodness. A man without piety is one who either does not believe in it or does not love it. The natural culture of piety, therefore, consists in looking up, not down, — looking up to good things, not down to evil things; in contemplating truth rather than error, right rather than wrong, nobleness rather than meanness. Every good and generous act done by man makes it easier to love God and to believe in him; every lie we tell, every act of dishonesty we perform, makes trust in God more difficult, not only to ourselves, but to others. Such great scandals as have recently occurred in the financial world not only make men doubt of human honesty more, but also distrust Divine truth. Every bad action which men do makes humanity seem less lovely, and so makes it harder to love, not only the brother we have seen, but also the God we have not seen.
We see why piety is essential to all real worth. A man without piety is only a part of a man, and is incapable of growing into anything better. A man who never looks up to, adores, reverences superior goodness, has in him no spring of improvement.


Thursday, August 18, 2011


Its all about salvation. As always, James Freeman Clarke says it best for me...

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

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


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy birthday Sir Walter Scott...

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott. Happy birthday and
Many blessings

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

All the angels of God...

Part three of
Rev.Bellows on Practical Righteousness.

"We have got, therefore, to believe that while morals are dependent upon faith, and while faith is to be purified by morals, we must keep the two great commandments together, and learn at last that you cannot love man unless you love God, and that you cannot love God unless you love man; that you have got to love in God what is human, and in man what is divine; and that the two commandments must be kept and held close together; that there is no divorce between them possible, and that a mere morality is no morality at all, and a mere piety is no piety at all; but that faith and works, love for God and love for man, are to be kept close, united, inseparable; and that through the strength that faith gives we shall at last do the works of practical righteousness; and through practical righteousness purify and illumine piety. And when our Unitarian body rises to the full dignity of this conception, it will despise all questionings and all doubtings about its having inherent and evangelical piety. It will manifest its evangelical piety in its practical righteousness; and the sect that does that will command the attention of the world. And it is probably only because we do not manifest it in any very eminent degree that we have not the possession of that first place and that leadership that we are always wondering slips out of the hands of people who have such intelligent and rational and simple conceptions of Christian truth and Christian life. Let us live the Unitarian gospel, and it will show itself to be the original gospel of Christ. Let us live the Unitarian gospel; it will be a gospel of practical righteousness. Let us really have the practical righteousness— which we sometimes boast of having — in our personal lives, in our homes, in our business, in our ministry, everywhere that we are; and I tell you, you will not have any longer to wonder, to mourn, or to grieve that your cause does not move forward like lightning towards its final triumph. All the angels of God, all the divine passions of Christ, all the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, follow the track of righteous living; for righteous living is alone possible in the eternal faith of the divine truth and in the image of the Almighty God. Morality is the life of God. It is no earth-born thing. Its roots are in the divine nature. It is living in justice, in truth, in mercy, and in love; and that morality will be the life of heaven; and we shall find that' piety and morality are one, and that they are both bound fast to the throne of God."


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

plaguy hard work getting to heaven...

Henry Bellows on Practical righteousness continued...

"Let me...exhort you to go home with it deeply impressed upon your minds, that if you want to advance the kingdom of Christ, it must be by producing a higher practical righteousness among yourselves and in your community, in your business, in your homes, and in your church relations, than prevails very extensively or very satisfactorily in any sect or among any body of Christians. We have the deepest necessity at this particular era and time for girding ourselves up for a battle for that only issue that is above all other issues, — the issue between good and evil. There is no other issue worth mentioning, — neither Catholic nor Protestant, neither Orthodox nor Heterodox; but between good and evil we must make our election and declare our choice. We must put our foot upon the evil in men's lives, whether they be high or low, whether they be in the pulpit or among the people, — wherever it be, in God's name and in the name of his Christ, we must put our foot upon moral evil and crush it down with the weight of our lives and with the full force of our example.
I was going down the other day to consecrate a hall which our distinguished patriarch in letters, William C. Bryant, had just presented to the town of Ruslin. Behind me were two men — they were farmers — talking upon the subject of religion; and it was a great comfort to me to know that plain men, in their intercourse with each other in the vehicles of daily business, do sometimes come down to this subject. One of them was saying to the other: "I don't go to church any longer. The fact is, I don't see much difference amongst these fellows. One is about as good as another. One says one thing and another says t'other thing. I don't see as it makes much difference in their living. I have made up my mind to do about as well as I know how, practice the golden rule, and trust the Lord for the rest." "Well," says the other man, "that is all very good doctrine if you do as well as you know how; but I don't believe you will." "I think," said he, "and I have been watching folks a good deal, that some kind of a form, even if it is foolish, is better than none, to help a man to be about right, and I advise you to go to church." "Well," said he, "there is something in that. I will think of it." Well, but he turned on the other man and said: "The golden rule, anyhow, will save anybody. If a man does to his neighbor as he would have the neighbor do to him, you may be sure that is a good thing anywhere, and will save him in any climate and in any world." "You are right," said the man, "but show me the fellow." We are so much occupied in speaking about the end, and, in having satisfied ourselves about the end at which we are all aiming, —the keeping of the golden rule, and the keeping of the commandments, the two great pillars of the law, — that we sometimes think that the road may take care of itself, and that if we keep the end in view it does not matter much whether we busy ourselves to walk in it or not; and we think somehow that the recognition of certain high truths and the perception of the right end is going to save us in spite of ourselves. I tell you it is plaguy hard work to get to heaven; it is plaguy hard work to keep the commandments; it is plaguy hard work either to love God or man down to the bottom of one's soul, and out to the uttermost rim of one's life and character. As Shakspeare, who said every thing, once said through the mouth of Portia: "If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces." "If wishes were horses beggars would ride." And a great many people think that because they see what is to be done, and acknowledge what is to be done, the thing will do itself, without their bringing their stubborn, their reluctant wills to bear upon it, with all the power and force which they can command, by the prayers of the night and the morning, and by the communion of their spirits with the only strengthening Source of life and of thought, God Almighty."


Monday, August 8, 2011

A Gospel of Practical Righteousness...

The next couple of days will feature Henry Bellows' address to the Semi-centennial meeting of the American Unitarian Association (1875)

My friends, as I was to say a word on Unitarianism considered as a gospel of practical righteousness, I have an idea that the best exhibition I can give of practical righteousness is to consider your disposition to go home, and to let you off from listeningoto a speech which I am very sure would add exceedingly little to the over-full vessel which you now carry. Indeed, I must only put the cork into the bottle, that you may safely carry home all this rich freight of thought and feeling that has been steadily, all the day, pouring into the vessels of your hearts and minds.
I wish I could have used an opportunity (which I do not mean to avail myself of) to say a word in the interest of that practical righteousness for which we sometimes think we stand. My own feeling is that " boasting is excluded" by the truly righteous man, and by practical Christians, and that it would neither become us, nor be according to the absolute truth, if we set ourselves up to be any better than our neighbors in respect of practical living. But we ought to be a great deal better. Our system grew out of the convictions of a deeper morality, which compelled us to change the whole theology of our sect to match a moral sense which refused to believe that the conscience of God was otherwise than higher and holier than the conscience of man, — to match it as the original sound matches the echo and the echo the sound. And if we changed our theology on grounds of moral conviction, and under the leadings of moral sense, the theology we have adopted ought to be more practically righteous in its roots than the theologies which have boasted themselves of being based upon conceptions of God that refused to be corrected by the conscience of man, and despised that very reason which is the only vehicle, or instrument, or medium by which any thing like rational intercommunication can take place between God and man."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

sane, high and heroic...

Longtime readers know that I have long been attracted to Stoicism, especially the later Roman style, which I find very congenial to the Boston Unitarian angle of vision. This from the Introduction to "Marcus Aurelius" by the Boston Lawyer and writer Henry Dwight Sedgwick (1861-1957)

"GOETHE'S saying, "Das Schaudern ist der Menschheit bestes Teil/' does not need the recommendation of his name; it carries its own authority. Among the qualities that go to make up character, a sensitiveness to the feeling of awe is the surest sign of the higher life. It lies deeper than other susceptibilities, sensuous or spiritual. Love, fame, or truth, have greater power to dazzle and overcome, but awe bestows the more abiding satisfaction; it sets a man apart from the many, it lifts him into communion with what for him is the highest, and ennobles his condition. This sense of awe is the fruit of the religious life, whether that life be lived in the solitude of the monastery, library, or wood, in the company of people consecrated to an ideal, or in the hurly-burly of the world. But the leaven of religion is not always at work, even in men of religious life. The spirit bloweth where and when it listeth. Sometimes the causes that lead men to religion are close at hand, bereavement, disappointment, sin; sometimes public calamities turn whole communities to the great fundamental question of life, Is there a God? and, sometimes, a religious genius comes with healing on his lips and rouses men, both singly and in multitudes, to perceive the beauty of a universe in which there is a God, and the desolation of a universe in which there is none. But religion does not lie at beck and call;

We cannot kindle when we will, The fire which in the heart resides. There are times when the temple of the soul is empty. We may acknowledge, with our intelligence, the supreme nobleness of that overpowering sense of reverence which turns a man in upon his heart and fills him with a consciousness of a presence, interpret that consciousness or that presence as we will; and yet we cannot conjure it to come. Awe lies beyond the reach of the human will. It is in these empty times, these barren moods, that there is need of some doctrine, some rule of action, that shall serve as makeshift to occupy the empty place which the sense of awe should occupy. Such a makeshift is the Stoic philosophy.

Under the long dominion of Christian dogma, chosen souls have experienced, in a sharper or duller degree, das Schaudern, the shudder of awe from the consciousness of what they believed to be a manifestation of the divine presence. But the Christian faith has lost its ancient authority, and though there are many cries, Lo here! Lo there! as yet no new religion has come to preach the gospel of what is to be. And it is not impossible, nor yet unlikely, that the principles underneath Stoic philosophy may still be of service today, to teach the pilgrim soul to find that support within himself which he does not find without.

The ancient Stoics were in the same ignorance as seekers today who are no longer Christians. They had no authoritative revelation, no word of God, to teach them the nature of the world in which they found themselves, no divine code of laws to tell them what to do. They looked about and beheld sorrow, disease, old age, maladjustments of all sorts, wars between states, civil strife, contention among neighbors, earthquakes, and tempests. Such was the world then; it is not very different now. In a world of this sort, what shall a man do to persuade himself that it is a world of order and not of chaos, that there is something in it other than vanity, that it has what the human heart, if the human heart had spiritual eyes, would pronounce to be a meaning? The Stoics were honest men and would not go beyond the evidence of the senses, they turned away from Plato's dream that the soul released from the body may behold divine beauty, and from Socrates' hope of communion with the heroic dead, and created what they called a philosophy, but what we may more properly call a religion, out of the world as their human senses saw it, a religion, austere and cold, but sane, high, and heroic."