Hard times pass, and so do the good times. In 1841, Unitarian minister Theodore Parker gave a sermon on what stays the same and what changes in liberal religion. He says what stays the same, and can give us hope even on the worst of days, is love. He says love is the bedrock, the heart of all religion – loving one another, all human beings, and also loving something bigger than ourselves.
Theodore Parker called that something bigger, “God” but if that word doesn’t work for you, it could be life, truth, beauty, family, friendship, kindness – whatever you consider most important. Those things last, even through hard times. They are what endures, that upon which we can build our lives.
Here’s a little bit of what Theodore Parker write, over 170 years ago. Like most people back then, he wrote as if all God and all people are men. I hate changing other people’s words so let’s try to let it bother us…
“He that loves God and man, and lives in accordance with that love, needs not fear what man can do to him. His Religion comes to him in his hour of sadness, it lays its hand on him when he has fallen among thieves, and raises him up, heals, and comforts him.”
Theodore Parker says that in addition to love, what matters is doing the best we can, in the best way we can, and with the best reasons for doing it. Now matter how hard a day we have, we can love. No matter how hard a day we’re having we can be kind. Later, looking back, if we see that even on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, we have done our best to act in kind, loving, hopeful ways, that can bring us peace. After all, that is all we can control – our own actions, our own thoughts and deeds.
“For the next 24 hours I pray for knowledge of your will for me only, and the power to carry that through. Please free my thinking of self-will, self-seeking, dishonesty, and wrong motives. Send me the right thought, word, or action. Show me what my next step should be. In times of doubt and indecision, please send your inspiration and guidance. I pray that you help me work through all my problems to your glory and honor.”
What I like that this prayer is that does not ask that my will be done. I recognize that my will is not always the best thing for the world around me. However, I am not sure that my higher power has a will for me. So I am working on a version that holds to the simplicity and intention of the prayer without watering it down. To do that, I borrow a phrase from Howard Thurman, one of my favorite theologians. He wrote, “keep fresh before the moments of my high resolve.”
Here’s my adaptation of the original prayer, using Howard Thurman's phrase.
Spirit of Life, for the next 24 hours, keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve. May I find the power to carry that resolve through. May my thinking be clear of self-will, self-seeking, dishonesty, and wrong motives. May I find the right thought, word, or action. May I see what my next step should be. In times of doubt and indecision, may I find sources of inspiration and guidance. Spirit of love and wisdom, help me work through all my problems for the best unfolding of my life, and for the interdependent web connecting all creation.
Another historic Unitarian, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen.” In times of trouble, if we can hold onto the best that is within us, to our moments of high resolve, to the love that overcomes all obstacles, then like a tree with roots strong around the bedrock of love, we can let stormy times pass. We can enjoy the serene beauty of peace, returning.