#AceHistoryNews – Dec.07: This post is by my friend and a great writer of history Phil whose site is well worth a visit and please comment on his site on this really great post … Spiritual-Lite
// Excuse Us for Living
My Life Anchors
Excuse us for living, but over the years of our lives many of us find we have need to call upon sources for spiritual sustenance. We need these fountains of strength to get through difficult or demanding moments or chapters in our lives. I look at these sources as my life anchors. These are very “portable” entities, separate from or outside customary church-going and organized religion. I refer to these anchors as “spiritual-lite.” They offer guidance, comfort, strength; solace, if you will.
The first is “Desiderata,” Latin for “desired things.” This poem, written in prose, words to live by, was very popular in the 1970’s and I found it personally instructive and inspirational. I used it in my middle school history classroom with my students. It hung on my podium as a poster and I would play a popular 1971 spoken word recording of it made by TV and radio talk show host Les Crane. I would go over the text with my students for its meaning. It is a neat recording recited well by Les Crane with a musical background sung by a choir or chorus.
Once read or heard, most people are curious where “Desiderata” came from. It does not help that there are copies floating around that say, “author anonymous, c. 1620. Baltimore, Spain. from the wall of a monastery.” Actually, it originated as a poem written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann. The music was added later, composed by Fred Werner. “Desiderata” was saved from obscurity in 1956 by Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, Maryland. He included it as part of a “compilation” of devotional materials for his congregation. On the cover page was printed, “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692,” the date of the founding of the church! These words had nothing to do with “Desiderata,” but so began the various mistaken corruptions of the poem’s derivation!
Max Ehrmann. 1872-1945, of German descent, was an American writer, poet, & attorney from Terre Haute, Indiana. Spiritual themes were characteristic of his works. Ehrmann’s 1927 prose poem, “Desiderata,” achieved notoriety in the decades after his death, recognized today with a statue honoring him in his hometown.
“Desiderata” – – the recording – – peaked at #8 on the “Billboard Chart” in 1971 and won a Grammy! Here is the URL to click on (if it works for you) or “copy and paste” it to go to YouTube to listen to it. It’s really nice! – – Or just read it here as follows. You may find as I did, the poem offers wise precepts by which to live. – – First, the URL.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it’s a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
The second of my spiritual-lite anchors is “Footprints,” referred to as a poem, but to me it is more of a spiritual narrative. It comes in a least four versions, including an alternative title, “Footprints in the Sand,” often accompanied by an appropriate photograph.
Here again, the authorship of “Footprints” is disputed among dozens of people, a discussion of which I will spare you. However, the source and inspiration was indisputably conceptualized in a 19th century “footprints imagery” traced to the opening paragraph of a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a British preacher, in 1880. – – I’ll spare you the details here as well.
“Footprints” was introduced to me in the form of a plaque, given to me by a teacher when I was a principal. Reading “Footprints” for the first time is truly special. If you never read it, you may be pleasantly surprised as I was. My first reaction was almost one of disappointment, as if I had been denied some special truth up to that point in my life. And yet, I knew in my heart that through the most difficult times in my life, I must have received help “from above” with faith and strength. – – See what you think. See how you feel.
One night a man had a dream.
He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.
He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, You said that once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.”
The Lord replied,
“My son, My precious child, I love you and I would
never leave you. During your times of trial and
suffering, when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I Carried You.”
And the third “spiritual-lite” anchor, “The Serenity Prayer,” familiar to you in part, no doubt, is by far my favorite. The first stanza is well-known due to its use at “AA Meetings” (Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings). But to my delight, many decades ago, I discovered the prayer in its entirety in, of all places, a “Dear Abby” column in a newspaper! I was so taken by it, I gave small, laminated copies to my wife and three sons. I considered knowledge of it a real gift. I always carry a little card copy in my pocket like a money clip. And it stands at my bedside and on my desk shelf as well.
My greatest surprise was to discover that “The Serenity Prayer” was written by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943, known to me as a political theorist and scholar and author through my political science studies. Little did I know that Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the most renowned theologians of 20th century America. He was a Congregationalist and professor at the Union Theological Seminary in Brooklyn, New York, for over 30 years, 1928-1960.
See what you think of “The Serenity Prayer” in its entirety…just in case you’ve been reciting the first stanza alone at Friday night meetings. It really is so meaningful, helpful, and beautiful at the same time. – – Talk about “spiritual anchors”! “Serenity” reduces life to the basics and grounds you. But first a little more about Reinhold Niebuhr.
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971, was of German ancestry, born and raised in Wright City, Missouri. Niebuhr was such an accomplished & controversial theologian & political theorist, he cannot be done justice in a mere caption here. He was praised & scorned by conservatives & liberals alike at different times in religious & political circles. His political philosophy & political theology were intertwined. Author of numerous prominent & distinguished books, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1964, he went from being a prominent leader of the Socialist Party of America in the 1930’s to being a strong voice confronting Soviet communism after 1945.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Excuse us for living with a little help along the way from these spiritual sources. May you too have your own favorites that you rely upon!
Sources: My personal files & notes, Wikipedia & various online websites
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