Saturday, December 26, 2009

"There is but one method of attaining to excellence, and that is hard labor;
and a man who will not pay that price for distinction had better at once dedicate himself to the pursuits of the fox, or sport with the tangles of Neaera's hair, or talk of bullocks and the glory in the goad."
Sydney Smith

When I first ran across this quote it completely baffled me. The pursuits of the fox, tangles of Neaera's hair and glory in the goad went right over my head. But as I thought through it and looked up Neaera's hair I came to the conclusion he is saying; if we won't work we had better learn to be sly like the fox or find hiding behind others or learn to like being goaded all our life.

In Henry Ward Beecher’s chapter titled Christ the Deliverer, he gives this practical story of the importance of personal involvement.

“Ah, are the Zebedees, then, so poor? John, take a quarter of beef and carry it down, with my compliments. No, stop; fill up that chest, put in those cordials, lay them on the cart, and bring it round, and I will drive it down myself.” Down I go; and on entering the house I hold out both hands, and say, “Why, my old friend, I am glad I found you out. I understand the world has gone hard with you. I came down to say that there is nothing wrong between you and me. We are on good terms, just as we always were. You have one friend, at any rate. Now do not be discouraged; keep up a good heart. I have brought you down a few articles for your comfort” And I empty all the things, and I see tears beating in his eyes, like rain on a pane of glass in summer; and I go away as soon as I can – for, hard as ingratitude is to bear, it is not so hard to bear as gratitude. And when I am gone, the man wipes his eyes, and says, “I did not know how I should feed my children, and I am thankful for the meat and the other things; but God knows that that man’s shaking my hands gave me more joy than all that he brought. It was him that I wanted.”

I tell you, when men are in trouble, it is the human soul that cures and feeds. It is one soul lying against another.

This was epitomized by the old prophet, when he went into the house where the widow’s son lay as one dead, and put his hands on the child’s hands, and stretched himself across the child’s body, and the spirit of life came back. Oh! If, when men are in trouble, there were some man to measure his whole stature against them, and give them the warmth of his sympathy, how many would be saved!

Photo from the Internet

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"When you see the men or women consecrated to severe tasks, or the painful office of visiting human miseries and binding wounds, remember that these beings are made like you, that they have the same needs, and that there are hours when they require pleasure and forgetfulness."

The following quote from Charles Wagner's book "The Simple Life", is such a practical word regarding placing our sympathies: the entire book is one that should be read by all.

"Offer your sympathy, also, to all who have absorbing occupations, and who are, so to speak, riveted to their places. The world is filled with sacrificed beings, who have never any rest or pleasure, and to whom the most modest interval of rest does them an immense good. And it would be so easy to secure this minimum of alleviation for them if one only thought of it.
But the broom is made to sweep with, and it seems that it cannot feel fatigue.
We must get rid of that culpable blindness which hinders us from seeing the weariness of those who are always in the breach. Lift up the sentinels lost in their duty; procure an hour for Sisyphus to breath in.
Take, for a moment, the place of the mother of a family whom the cares of the home and children enslave; sacrifice a little of our sleep to those who watch long hours by the bedsides of the sick. Young girl, whom perhaps going on a walk does not amuse, take the cook's apron and give her the "key to the fields."
Thus you will make others happy and be so yourself.
We walk forever by the side of beings loaded with burdens that we could take upon ourselves, even if only a little while. But this short pause would suffice to cure the evils, revive the joy almost stifled in many hearts, and open a large career to good will among men."

This fantastic photo taken by Anuar Patjane.

Now the following piece convicts me because, as I have aged, I have lost much of my gaiety and frolicsome nature. I do have young grandchildren and so this piece applies to me as much as those with children still at home. I do think it is a timely and important reminder, written in 1904 by Charles Wagner in his important book "The Simple Life".

"In the next place I wish to ask you to observe that you are mistaken in imagining that young people amuse themselves too much. Apart from those fictitious, enervating and disuniting pleasures which blast the life instead of making it blossom and become radiant, there remains today but little.
Our children are the heirs of a world that is not gay. We give them the legacy of great cares, embarrassing questions, and a life loaded with shackles and complications. Let us at least make an effort to light the morning of their days. Let us organize pleasure, create shelters, and open our hearts and our homes. put the family into your game. Let gaiety cease to be a an imported commodity. Reunite our sons whom our morose inward manners drive into the streets, and our girls who grow weary of solitude. Let us multiply family gatherings, receptions and family excursions, lift good humor among us to the heights of an institution."

Photo from the Internet

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I happened upon this piece by Professor David Swing, and in it he encourages Americans to learn their native tongue thoroughly. I struggle so with all the authors he lists in this piece and although I don't know how far I would take his conclusions, it sure made me think.

The prevailing idea among the upper American classes that even their little children must learn French, and to that end must speak it at the table, is highly blamable, for reasons more than one. It is based upon entire ignorance of the fact that it will require the life-time of each mortal to master the language of his birth and country. All the young years given by Americans to the study of French are years turned away from the greatest language yet known to man. All the acquisitions of the human race, all the sciences, and arts, and histories, and sentiments of humanity have passed into the English tongue….. He that has perfectly mastered his own language has a store of information immense in bulk and rich in value. To excavate many channels for a river is to lessen the unity and power of the stream otherwise majestic. It will always be proof of some blunder of judgment, or of some stubborn vanity, when Americans will be found using a little French and German and Italian, who have not mastered the English of William Wirt, or of Tennyson, or of the eloquent Ruskin.

It is not a room full of violins, but the power to make music. It is therefore simply painful to hear a fashionable girl or woman or man combining several languages in conversation, when the listener knows well that this bright talker could not by any possibility compose an essay in the English of Washington Irving, or Charles Sumner, or the poet Whittier.

Even when a whole life is given to one’s native English or native French, so inadequate still is that language to express the soul, that it seems a form of wickedness to divide the heart between many masters, and to have no supreme friend. Chateaubriand, the greatest master of the French tongue, when he stood near the Niagara Falls almost a hundred years ago, ands saw evening coming down from the sky upon all the sublime scene; saw the woods growing gloomy in the deep shadows, and heard the sound of the waters increasing its solemnity as the little voices died away in the night’s repose, said: “It is not within the power of human words to express this grandeur of nature.” Skilled as he was in a most rich and sensitive form of speech, that speech , all of whose resources he knew so well, now failed him, and his spirit had to remain imprisoned, there being no gateway by which its sentiments could escape to the heart of his countrymen. What are you and I to do, then, if we have not loved early, and late, and deeply, our own English -- that English which is now the leader in literature and all learning; if we have not mastered its words, its elegancies, its power of logic, and humor, and pathos, and rhythm, and have not permitted our minds to become rich in its associations; if we have for years gone along with a heart divided in its love, or with a mind that has studied words more than has thought and prayed, and laughed, and wept, amid the sublime scenes of nature, or the more impressive mysteries of mankind? “Parlez vous Francais?” Not well; not at all; would to Heaven we could learn to speak English!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I was reading a sermon by Rev. F.W. Farrar, who I have never read before, although I find I have a copy of his commentary on the life of Paul in my library. Anyway, this piece was on the moral conditions at the time of Christ and shortly thereafter; and the thought of the pagan moralists of the time, such as Seneca, Epictetus and Aurelius. The vivid descriptions of the brutality towards slaves during that time is horrific. Rev. Farrar is liberal in his thought and his conclusion was far more generous than I ever hear from the pulpit. I found it......merciful.

“The morality of paganism was, on its own confession, insufficient. It was tentative, where Christianity is authoritative; it was dim and partial, where Christianity is bright and complete; it was inadequate to rouse the sluggish carelessness of mankind, where Christianity came in with an imperial and awakening power; it gives only a rule, where Christianity supplies a principle.

And even where its teachings were absolutely coincident with those of Scripture, it failed to ratify them with a sufficient sanction; it failed to announce them with the same powerful and contagious ardor; it failed to furnish an absolutely faultless and vivid example of their practice; it failed to inspire them with an irresistible motive; it failed to support them with comfort, hope and happy immortality after a consistent and moral life.

Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius, are among the truest and loftiest of pagan moralists, yet Seneca ignored the Christians, Epictetus despised, and Aurelius persecuted them. All three, so far as they knew any thing about the Christians at all, had unhappily been taught to look upon them as the most detestable sect of what they had long regarded as the most degraded and the most detestable of religions.

There is something very touching in this fact; but, if there be something very touching, there is also something very encouraging. God was their God as well as ours—their Creator, their Preserver, who left not Himself without witness among them; who, as they blindly felt after Him, suffered their groping hands to grasp the hem of His robe; who sent the rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with joy and gladness. And His Spirit was with them, dwelling in them, though unseen and unknown, purifying and sanctifying the temple of their hearts, sending beams of illuminating light through the gross darkness which encompassed them, comforting their uncertainties, making intercession for them with groaning which can not be uttered. And more than all, our Savior was their Savior, too; He, whom they regarded as a crucified malefactor, was their true, invisible King; through His righteousness their poor merits were accepted, their inward sicknesses were healed; He whose worship they denounced as an “execrable superstition,” stood supplicating for them at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

Photo from the Internet.

I ran across the picture of this woman, who I believe is from Ethiopia, and was captured by her beauty and interesting ethnic style. I have seen many photos of those from this people group and the red soil which they incorporate in their beauty styles is so unique. It makes no difference where in the world people are from, a sense of beauty is valued by all. The woman below is doubtless very proud of her latest fashion as well.

Top photo by Heinz Homatsch, bottom photo by Justin Grant.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Do you not know how many things you can do under personal influence that you cannot in any other way? My father said to me, when I was a little boy, “Henry, take these letters and go down to the Post Office with them.” I was a brave boy; and yet I had imagination. And thousands of people are not as cowardly as you think. Persons with quick imaginations, and quick sensibility, people the heavens and the earth, so that there are a thousand things in them that harder men do not think of and understand. I saw behind every thicket some shadowy form; and I heard trees say strange and weird things; and in the dark concave above I could hear flitting spirits. All the heaven was populous to me, and the earth was full of I know not what strange sights. These things wrought my system to a wonderful tension. When I went pit-a-pat along the road in the dark, I was brave enough; and if it had been anything that I could have seen, if it had been anything that I could have fought, it would have given me great relief; but it was not. It was only a vague, outlying fear. I knew not what it was. When father said to me, “Go,” I went – for I was obedient. I took my old felt hat, and stepped out of the door; and Charles Smith (a great thick-lipped black man, who worked on the farm, and who was always doing kind things) said to me, “Look here, I will go with you.” Oh! Sweeter music never came out of any instrument than that. The heaven was just as full, and the earth was just as full as before; but now I had somebody to go with me. It was not that I thought he was going to fight for me. I did not think there was going to be any need of fighting, but I had somebody to lean on; somebody to care for me; somebody to help and succor me. Let anything be done by direction, let anything be done by thought or rule, and how different it is from its being done by personal inspiration.”

There's a lot about this little story that tickles me, but what strikes me most is the sweet music that Charles Smith made to this youngster. It takes me back to my boyhood and memories of my uncle Jack, who would play this music to my ears on so many occasions. Whether it was something I feared or just to eliminate boredom, his company meant so much to me. The power of personal presence, it just cannot be over estimated.

Henry Ward Beecher - Photo by Taci Yuksel

The name above every name

"If the God that you beheld in imagination when you were converted, before whom you fell down rejoicing, and to whom you surrendered yourself, is the best that you have, woe to you! You have not grown since you came out of the nursery, and you stand in the orchard of truth without growth. A true man has a better and better God every year."
H. W. Beecher

So it is in respect to dispositions, and in respect to character at large. Little cracks, little flaws, little featherings in them, take away their exquisiteness and beauty, and take away that fine finish which makes moral art. How many noble men there are who are diminished, who are almost wasted, in their moral influence! How many men are like the red maple! It is one of the most gorgeous trees, both in spring, blossoming, and in autumn, with its crimson foliage. But it usually stands knee-deep in swamp-water.

To get to it, you must wade or leap from bog to bog, tearing your raiment, and soiling yourself. I see a great many noble men, but they stand in a swamp of faults. They bear fruit that you would fain pluck, but there are briars and thistles and thorns all about it; and to get it you must make your way through all these hindrances.

Faults are also dangerous, in their own way, because they have insect fecundity. They are apt to swarm. And though a few of them may not do much harm, when men come to have a great many of them they will avail as much as if they were actual transgressions. It is not necessary that there should be wolves, and lions, and bears in the woods to drive hunters out of them. Black flies, mosquitoes, or gnats will drive them out, if there are enough of them. These little winged points of creation make up what they lack in individual strength by their enormous multitude. You might kill a million, and make no impression upon them. Faults oftentimes swarm and become strong and dangerous by reason of their multitude. Multitude, in such cases is equivalent to power.

This little piece really made me stop and ponder. Ouch.

Henry Ward Beecher - picture from the Internet

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The following advice is from the book "Our Home" written in 1899 by Charles E. Sargent, M.A. I think its still pretty good advice for our modern times.

Home as a natural institution has for its primary object the nurturing of those tender buds of promise which can mature in no other soil. The human bud, unlike that of the flower, does not contain its future wholly wrapped up within itself, but depends much upon the hand that nurtures it. The rosebud, no matter in what soil it grows, no matter what care it receives, must blossom into a rose. No care or neglect, at least in any definite period of time, can transform it into a noxious week. But on every mother’s bosom there rests a bud of promise, and whether or not that promise shall be fulfilled depends on her. Whether that bud shall blossom into a pure and fragrant rose or into the flower of the deadly nightshade, is at the option of the guardian.

Let every mother act as if she held a bud of promise. Let those who have not felt the premonition attribute it to their insensibility. Better a thousand times bestow your tenderest care upon an idiot, better believe that you held the bud of genius and awake to bitter disappointment, than to learn in the end that you have failed to do your duty, and that a genius grand and awful like a fallen temple lies at your feet in the pitiful impotence of manifest but unused power.

The crying sin of modern parents is their unwillingness to let their children grow. They wish to transform them all at once from prattling infants into immortal geniuses. They have more faith in art than in Nature, in books and schoolrooms than in brooks and groves.

Painting by Elizabeth Nourse

I was reading a chapter titled "The Education of Our Boys, in a book called Our Home and he is describing the values of education, natural and academic; and after offering hope that most can find a way for an education, the author offers principles to those who are the least likely to get educated --

“At any rate, all may become well educated. Those men are almost numberless who have become great and useful by the light of a pine torch, who have learned the science of mathematics with a stick for a pencil and the ocean beach for a slate.

But suppose we meet the barefoot boy in the street picking rags, what word of advice have we for him? He will listen to all our fine talk about grand possibilities which are offered to the poorest and the worthiest in our great communities; he will listen to the story of those great souls who have climbed to glory over fence rails and canal boats; and when we have finished he will meet us with the question, “What shall I do and how shall I begin?”

Let us see if we can answer these questions. As the first step toward the desired result, he can pick up a rag, just as he has been wont to do, and examine it, not as heretofore with the simple purpose of determining whether he shall put it into one or the other of two baskets; but he can make it a text-book with which to begin an education. He can ask those older and wiser than himself what it is made of and how it is made. They will point him to the great mill yonder, where, if he tells his purpose, he can gain admission and learn something of the mechanical principles involved in the manufacture of the rag. If he continues to make inquiries until he can trace a piece of cotton through all its transformations, till it comes out a piece of fine bleached cotton, he has surely begun an education in earnest. He can save a penny a day for a few days and buy a primer, and with that primer under his arm he may politely approach any lady or gentleman with these words, “I am determined to make the most of myself. I want to learn to read. I have bought a little book. Can you give me any advice or help?”

There is not a man or woman in all that great city with a heart so hard as not to be melted to sympathy by that appeal. He would be astonished at the amount of love and sympathy and philanthropy in the world which he before had considered so cold and heartless.

Young man, -- bootblack, rag-picker, obscure farmer boy, or dweller in the dingy haunts of the city, -- remember that Freedom’s goddess holds over your head a crown. But she never puts that crown on any but a sweaty brow, -- the royal symbol of effort and worth.”

I found this picture of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller on the internet and found it so charming and full of devotion. Her story certainly verifies the authors principles.