No Sentimentalist

Nature is no sentimentalist, — does not cosset or pamper us. We must see that the world is rough and surly, and will not mind drowning a man or a woman ; but swallows your ship like a grain of dust. The cold, inconsiderate of persons, tingles your blood, benumbs your feet, freezes a man like an apple… Providence has a wild, rough, incalculable road to its end, and it is of no use to try to whitewash its huge, mixed instrumentalities, or to dress up that terrific benefactor in a clean shirt and white neckcloth of a student in divinity.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature.

In this passage, Nature = Providence, and Providence was then and is now a name for God. Nature, that will swallow up your ship like a grain of dust, that will freeze you like an apple, is an aspect of God, who is our terrific benefactor.

What kind of benefactor is that? What is the end of the incalculable road that Providence puts before us?

Emerson gave up Christianity, the whole engrossing story. He never looked back, not even in great old age, never whispering a final confession to a minister or priest, perhaps because his mind left his body long before his last day. Even if he had retained his mental faculties to the end, I think there would have been no timid return, half shame-faced or possibly joyful. None of that.

Despite recognizing the murderous power of nature, Emerson retained his equanimity. You can’t find a passage where he rails against fate, even though he had his fair share to rail against: the early death of his father, the deaths of two brothers in young adulthood, the death of his first wife after less than two years of marriage, and, most of all, the death of his 5-year-old son.

Still he believed You are good. His temperament seems to have been set on a low boil. Is that why?

I default to traditional language about You and let it speak for me. Am I simply beguiled by the beauty of the prayers? Or do the words sneak in ideas that I really want to embrace or maybe already do? Maybe I’m just posing, maybe I turn my face away from the water You offer me, but later guzzle it when I think no one is around.

At night, I often pray collect 53, “For Travelers,” from The Book of Common Prayer. I change it to mention people I know or whole groups of people, like people who leave their houses to work either out of dedication or because they are forced to by necessity.

O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who leave their houses to go to their jobs; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger, especially COVID-19; and bring them home in safety at their day’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

BCP, p. 831

Why do I pray that? Just habit, just the beauty of the words?

July 12, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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