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Responsive readings

A selection of more than 80 readings and responsive readings. Several of the readings and responsive readings are specific to the Unitarian Universalist tradition. However, many post-Christian congregations and some liberal Christian congregations should also find useful material here.

I really put these responsive readings on the Web for my own convenience, and therefore I do not have a comprehensive index. I do plan to create an index, and I'm sure I'll get to it Real Soon Now (i.e., don't hold your breath). To help narrow your search, I have divided the readings into twelve broad categories listed below.


I. Opening Words
  Words for lighting the flaming chalice (for Unitarian Universalists)
  Words for the offering
II. Beauty and Truth
III. Nature and Cosmos
IV. Hope, Courage, and Love
V. The Great, the Brave, the True
VI. Work and Play
VII. The Human Community
VIII. The Great Religious Traditions
IX. The Heritage of Universalism
X. Let Freedom Ring
XI. The Circle of the Year
  Winter and Yuletide
  Spring and All
  Summer Warmth
XII. Closing Words

To the best of my knowledge, all material on this Web page is either copyright-free (published before 1923, or author dead more than 100 years), or constitutes "fair use" of copyrighted material (a smaller excerpt only of a larger work). If you are a copyright holder of any work on this page, let me know and I will remove your copyrighted work immediately.

I. Opening Words

i-1. Let Us Have Faith

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith--
Let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Abraham Lincoln, 1860.

i-2. The Stream of Life

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world, and dances in rhythmic measure.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass, and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

From a poem by Rabindrinath Tagore. Mr. Tagore, a Nobel prize winner, was afilliated with the Brahmo Samaj, a Hindu group that had been influenced (and had influence on) American Unitarians.

i-3. Outwitted

They drew a circle that shut me out --
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took them in.

Poem by Edwin Markham, poet, teacher, and Universalist.

i-4. Faith in the Spirit of Life

A unison reading.

May faith in the spirit of life
And hope in the community of earth
And love of the sacred in ourselves and others
Be ours this day and in all the days to come.

Affirmation of First Unitarian in New Bedford, c. 1980 .

i-5. We Believe

We believe in human nature:
That goodness and love are the most powerful forces working within us.
We believe that all things flow:
That no creed or religion, no form of government of social order, no standard of beauty, no code of morals, is final and perfect.
We believe in growth:
That the long arc of history bends towards justice.
We believe in integrity:
It will never be put to shame.
We believe in the satisfaction of work well done; in approving of those we love; in the healing grace of duty; in the ability of the human spirit to create goodness;
We lift our hands and declare in the fact of all the follies and faults and fears that life is good.

From Harry Youlden in Social Worship; with material from Theodore Parker; adapted by Dan Harper.

i-6. Together, We Affirm and Promote

We covenant with those in this congregation, and with the other congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association:
Together we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Together we affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Together we affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
Together we affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
Together we affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
Together we affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
Together we affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
As a free congregation and as free individuals we enter into this covenant,
Promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

Adapted from the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

i-7. Together, We Affirm and Promote (Bilingual Portuguese/English version)

We covenant with those in this congregation, and with Unitarians and Universalists around the world,
Together, we affirm and promote:
O valor e a dignidade próprios de cada pessoa;
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
A justiça, a igualdade e a compaixão nas relações humanas;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
A aceitação uns dos outros e o estímulo ao crescimento espiritual em nossos grupos;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
Uma busca livre e responsável pela verdade e pelo sentido;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
O direito de consciência e o uso do processo democrático dentro de nossos grupos e na sociedade em geral;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
A meta de uma comunidade mundial de paz, liberdade e justiça para todos;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
O respeito pela rede interdependente da existência, da qual fazemos parte.
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitários e Universalistas Brasileiros and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

i-8. Together, We Affirm and Promote (Bilingual Spanish/English version)

We covenant with those in this congregation, and with Unitarians and Universalists around the world,
Together, we affirm and promote:
La dignidad y valor propio de cada persona;
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
La justicia, equidad y compasión en las relaciones humanas;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
La aceptación del uno al otro y el estímulo del crecimiento espiritual en nuestras congregaciones;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
Una búsqueda libre y responsable por la verdad y el sentido;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
El derecho de la conciencia y el uso del proceso democrático dentro de nuestras congregaciones y en la sociedad en general;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
La meta de una comunidad mundial con paz, libertad y justicia para todos;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
El respeto por la gran red interdependiente de nuestra planeta tierra de la cual somos una parte.
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Los Unitarios Universalistas de Puerto Rico and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

IA. Opening Words: the Flaming Chalice

i-a-1. Unitarian Universalists around the World

The flaming chalice has become the symbol of Unitarians and Universalists around the world.
There are congregations around the world that recognize the flaming chalice as their symbol, too:
Unitarians in Romania and the Czech Republic, in Australia and the Khasi Hills of India;
Universalists in the Philippines; other Unitarian Universalists in North America.
As we light a flame in this chalice, let us remember:
For people like us all around the world, the flaming chalice symbolizes religious freedom and the search for true justice.

Dan Harper.

i-a-2. Here We Have Gathered

Here we have gathered:
Nurtured by the highest and best in life, which some call God;
Bound together by our common humanity;
Led by the great spiritual teachers of the ages;
Seeking salvation through ethics and good character;
With the final goal of bringing true peace and true justice,
Here on earth, in our own time.

Dan Harper.

i-a-3. The Symbol of the Flaming Chalice

The flaming chalice is the symbol of our larger Unitarian Universalist community, our shared historical tradition, our covenant, and our faith.
We light this chalice each time we gather as an ongoing reminder of who and what we strive to be, in celebration of our life together,
And as an ongoing prayer for true peace and true justice and for all who seek to make those dreams become real.
In this spirit we gather.

Lindsay Bates, Geneva, Illinois.

i-a-4. An Ancient Hymn to Fire

Fire has sent forth its far-spreading luster:
Bright, radiant, and refulgent, like the Dawn's Lover.
Its splendor shines forth like the golden Hero,
like the golden Heroine. It awakens our longing thoughts.

From the Rig Veda, Book VII, Hymn X, v. 1, translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith, adapted by Dan Harper.

i-a-5. The Light of the Ages

The light of the ages has brought wisdom and truth to all peoples, in all times of human history.
We light this flame to remind us to seek wisdom in our own time.

Dan Harper.

i-a-6. O Hidden Life (Bilingiual Portuguese/English version)

O vida oculta que brilha em cada átomo
O hidden life that vibrates in each atom,
O luz oculta que brilha em cada criatura,
O hidden light that shines in each creature,
O amor oculto que tudo abrange na unidade,
O hidden love that embraces everything in unity,
Possa todo aquele que se sente um contigo
May all who feel one with you
Saber que por isso mesmo é um com todos os outros.
Know that for this very reason we are one with all the others.

Adapted from Annie Besant by Paulo Ereno, Brazilian Unitarian Universalists.

i-a-7. The Universe

The universe, which is the same for all,
Was made by neither gods nor humanity;
But it was ever, is now, and ever shall be an ever-living fire,
Kindling in measures, and in measures going out.

Heraclitus fragment 30, translated by John Burnet, adapted by Dan Harper.

IB. Words for the offering, for First Unitarian in New Bedford


For a relatively small congregation, we have a large presence in our community. People in the surrounding community know who we are, and what we stand for. The surrounding community may not know that we, as a general principle, believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all persons; but the community does know specific applications of this principle, such as the fact that we welcome all people regardless of sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, and so on. We will now take this morning's offering. By placing even a token amount of money in the collection box, you can publicly affirm your support for the general principles of this church; and by contributing as generously as you can, you can help enlarge our positive presence in this community. If you are a visitor or a newcomer, you can let the collection box pass with a clear conscience.

Dan Harper.


In the 18th C. here in Massachusetts, government money went towards supporting certain chosen congregations. But Universalists in Massachusetts fought a legal battle which established the principle that no tax dollars should go to one government-sanctioned church. In honor of First Universalist Church of New Bedford, one of our antecedent churches, we take a weekly collection as a public witness of our support for this essential principle of religious liberty. By placing even a token amount of money in the collection box, you publicly affirm your support for the principles of religious liberty supported by this church; and by contributing as generously as you can, you can strengthen an institution that stands for religious liberty. Of course, if you are a visitor or a newcomer, you can let the collection box pass with a clear conscience.

Dan Harper.


As a part of the free church tradition, we accept no money from any governmental body, nor do we receive money from any ecclesiastical authority, in order to remain free to govern ourselves. In addition to their annual pledges, each week our members and friends may choose to give a small additional contribution of a dollar or two as a public witness that we are, and remain, a free church. If you are a visitor or a newcomer, you can let the collection box pass with a clear conscience.

Lindsay Bates, adapted by Dan Harper.

i-b-4. (for special collections)

We come out of the Christian tradition, and our custom of taking an offering during the worship service comes from the earliest Christian communities. In the earliest Christian communities, you didn’t bring money for the offering, you brought food -- bread, cheese, olives, wine, dates -- and during the worship service, everyone got to eat that food. That way, the church community made sure the poorest members of the church had at least one big meal a week. Today, in our contemporary version of that ancient tradition, all the money we collect during the offering will go to people in the wider community who are in need. And here to tell us where that money will go is ________.

Dan Harper.

II. Beauty and Truth

ii-1. The Way (The Tao)

The Way that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Way.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
If it is conceived as having no name, it is the originator of heaven and earth;
Conceived as having a name, it is the Mother of all things.
We must always be found without desire. if its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire be always within us, its outer fringe is all that we shall see.
Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names.
Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

From Tao te Ching, Book I, translated by James Legge.

ii-2. In Dealing with Truth, We Are Immortal

With a little more deliberation in the choice of our pursuits, all of us would perhaps become essentially students and observers.
In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal;
But in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change or accident.
The oldest Egyptian or Hindu philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity;
and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as that first vision,
since it was I in the ancient philosopher that was then so bold, and it is that ancient philosopher in me that now reviews the vision.
No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed.
That time which we really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, from the chapter “Reading.”

ii-3. Where Shall You Seek Beauty?

Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find here, unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?
The aggrieved and injured say, Beauty is kind and gentle. Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.
And the passionate say, Nay, beauty is a thing of might a dread. Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.
The tired and weary say, Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit. Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.
But the restless say, We have heard her shouting among the mountains, and with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions....
In the winter, the snowbound say, She will come with the spring leaping upon the hills.
And in the summer heat the reapers say, We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.
All these things have you said of beauty, yet in truth you spoke not of her, but of needs unsatisfied, and beauty is not a need but an ecstacy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.

From “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, adapted by L Griswold Williams, further adapted by Dan Harper.

ii-4. On Truth

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--

Poem by Emily Dickinson.

ii-5. Great Is Truth

The young man said: Great is the truth, and stronger than all things.
All the earth crieth upon the truth, and the heaven blesseth it: all works shake and tremble at it, and with it is no unrighteous thing.
As for the truth, it endureth, and is always strong; it liveth and conquereth for evermore.
With her there is no accepting of persons or rewards; but she doeth the things that are just, and refraineth from all unjust and wicked things; and all men do well like of her works.
Neither in her judgment is any unrighteousness; and she is the strength, kingdom, power, and majesty, of all ages.
And with that he held his peace. And all the people then shouted, and said, Great is Truth, and mighty above all things.

From the Apocrypha,1 Esdras 4.35-36, 38-41, King James Version.

ii-6. All Life Is Spiritual

Everything is moral, everything is spiritual, and therefore everything is great and majestic. All times are moral:
The serene and bright morning, the wakening of all nature to life; that silence of the early dawn, the silence of expectation; that freshening glow, that new inspiration of life;
The holy eventide also, its cooling breeze, its falling shade, its hushed and sober hour; the sultry noontide, too, and the solemn midnight.
All seasons are moral: springtime and chastening autumn; and summer, that unbars our gates and carries us forth amidst the ever-renewed wonders of the world; and winter, that gathers us around the hearth;
--All these, as they pass, touch by turns the springs of the spiritual life in us, and conduct that life towards Good. The very passing of time, without reference to times or seasons, is moral--
For what is the passing of time, swifter or slower; what are its lingering and its hasting, but indications of the state of our own minds?
Time hastens onwards because we are wisely and well employed; it lingers, it hangs heavily upon us because our minds are unfurnished, or are unoccupied with good thoughts.
Could the world but see that the scene of their daily life is all spiritual, that the very implements of their work, or the merchandise they barter,
If we could see that all is designed for spiritual ends,
What a sphere for the noblest improvement might our daily lives then be!

From the sermon “Everything in Life Is Moral” by Orville Dewey.

ii-7. More Precious Than Rubies

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore gain wisdom;
and with our gain, also gain understanding.
The path of the wise is like the light of dawn,
Which grows brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.

We shall give heed to the path of our feet,
So that all our ways are steadfast.
We shall turn neither to the right hand nor to the left,
We shall not stumble into evil.

Happy are they who follow Wisdom
For the profit thereof is greater than silver or gold.
Wisdom is more precious than rubies;
None of your jewels may be compared to her.

Length of days is in her right hand,
In her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
And all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her,
And happy is everyone who has wisdom.

From Proverbs 6.7, 18, 26-27; 4.13-18; as translated in Translations of the Psalms and Proverbs by George Noyes (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1886). Adapted and arranged by Dan Harper.

III. Nature and Cosmos

iii-1. The Law of the Universe

How can one hide from that which never sets?
It is wise to hearken, not to me, but to the Logos--the Law of the universe--and to confess that all things are one.
Though this Law is true evermore, yet humanity is as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time, as before they have heard it at all.
Even though all things come to pass in accordance with this Law, people seem as if they have no experience of it, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it truly is.
Wisdom is but one thing: it is to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things.
Thought is common to all. Those who speak with understanding must hold fast to what is common to all as a city holds fast to its law, and even more strongly.
For all human laws are fed by the one divine law. It prevails as much as it will, and suffices for all things with something to spare.
Let us not conjecture at random about the greatest things. Those that love wisdom must be acquainted with very many things indeed.

Fragments of Heraclitus, adapted and arranged from the translation by John Burnett (with reference to Kathleen Freeman’s translation).

iii-2. The Lure of the Infinite

When you dwell at the shore of the sea, where gleaming sails swell with the breath of distant adventure, your thoughts, no matter how low and limited, cannot be entirely landlocked and earthbound.
The far sweep of the ocean calls to you, and at the sound of the booming surf there awakens in you something of the poet and prophet you were in your childhood days.
When you dwell by the shore of the sea, the wild strains of the alternating tides will keep alive whatever is wayward and untamed in your inmost spirit.
The ships that come and go will carry more than their visible freight: they will carry to far lands the invisible cargo of your dreams and desires.
You are a dweller by the shore, and your dreams are shoreline dreams. When you dwell by the shore of the sea, the merely possible is beneath your contempt, and the impossible becomes your daily meat and drink.
When you dwell by the shore of the Infinite Sea, the sand you stand upon is a beach against which waves beat from an Ocean other than sense can perceive--
When you know that wherever you happen to be, there is the shoreline between the finite and the infinite life, where tides come and go from a horizonless Vastness,
Then the sea-surge of the infinite will sing in your blood, and set your heart moving to the rhythm of eternity.

From “The Wonder of Life” by Joel Blan, adapted by L Griswold Williams, further adapted by Dan Harper.

iii-3. Each and All

All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.
The delicate shells lay on the shore;
The bubbles of the latest wave

Fresh pearls to their enamel gave,
And the bellowing of the savage sea
Greeted their safe escape to me.
I wiped away the weeds and foam,

I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore
With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.

Then I said, “I covet truth;
Beauty is unripe childhood’s cheat;
I leave it behind with the games of youth:”--
As I spoke beneath my feet

The ground-pine curled its pretty wreath,
Running over the club-moss burrs;
I inhaled the violet’s breath;
Around me stood the oaks and firs;

Pine-cones and acorns lay on the ground;
Over me soared the eternal sky,
Full of light and of deity;
Again I saw, again I heard,

The rolling river, the morning bird;--
Beauty through my senses stole;
I yielded myself to the perfect whole.

From “Each and All” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

iii-4. Knowing the Processes of Change

Full of anxious thoughts you go and come; if you are like that, then only friends will follow you and think with you.
The Master said:-- “In everything that takes place under heaven, what is there of anxious thinking, and what is there of anxious scheming? They all come to the same end point, though by different paths;
The Master said:-- “There is one result, though there might be a hundred anxious schemes. What is there of anxious thinking, and what is there of anxious scheming?”
The sun goes and the moon comes; the moon goes and the sun comes; the sun and moon thus take the place each of the other, and their shining is the result.
The cold goes and the heat comes; the heat goes and the cold comes; it is because the cold and heat succeed one another that the year is completed.
That which goes away becomes less and less, and that which comes hither grows more and more;--
As these contractions and expansions influence each other, so they produce the advantages of changing conditions.
When we minutely investigate the nature and reasons of things until we have entered into the inscrutable and spirit-like in them, we will attain to the largest practical application of them;
When that application becomes the quickest and readiest, and all personal restfulness is secured, our virtue is thereby exalted.
Beyond this, we reach a point which it is hardly possible to know. When we thoroughly comprehend the inscrutable and spirit-like, when we know the processes of transformation; this will be the fulness of virtue.

From “The Great Treatise” of the I Ching (Yi Jing), trans. by James Legge in Sacred Books of the East, vol. 39. Adapted by Dan Harper.

IV. Hope, Courage, and Love

iv-1. Hope

"Hope" is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words--
And never stops--at all--

And sweetest--in the Gale--is heard--
And sore must be the storm--
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm--

I’ve heard it in the chillest land--
And on the strangest Sea--
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb--of Me.

Poem by Emily Dickinson.

iv-2. Love Casts Out Fear

For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love.
Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts.
God is Love; and ye that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.

From the Christian scriptures, 1 John 3.11, 14, 18-19; 4.16, 18.

iv-3. Understanding the Nature of the Good

Begin the morning by saying to yourself: “Today I shall have to face an idle curious person; an unthankful person; a crafty, false, or an envious person; an unsociable uncharitable person;
Then say to yourself, “--all these ill qualities have happened unto them, through their ignorance of what is truly good and truly bad.”
But I who understand the nature of the Good, that only the Good only is to be desired; and I who understand the nature of that which is bad, that only it is truly odious and shameful;
I who know moreover, that these transgressors, whosoever they may be, are my kinsfolk, not by the same blood and seed, but by participation in the same reason, and of the same particle of divinity;
How can I either be hurt by any of them, since it is not in their power to make me incur anything that is truly reproachful? How can I be angry, and ill affected towards them, who by nature are so near unto me?
For we are all born to be fellow-workers, as the feet, the hands, and the eyelids; as the rows of the upper and under teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and what is it to chafe at, and to be averse from, but to be in opposition?

From Meditations, Book I, no. XV, by Marcus Aurelius. Arranged by Dan Harper from the George Long translation.

iv-4. Times of Trouble

Save me, O Holy One,
For the waters have risen to my very neck!
I sink in the deep mire, where is no foothold,
I have come into deep waters, and the waves flow over me.

I am weary with crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes are wasted, while I wait for comfort.
Let not the flood-waters flow over me,
Let not the deep swallow me up.

May I be delivered from the deep waters,
Saved from the mire so that I shall not sink.
I am poor and sorrowful.
Hear the cries of the poor and afflicted,

The hearts of those who love life shall be revived.
Then will I give glory to life with song and thanksgiving.

From Psalm 69.1-3, 14-15, 29-33 in Translations of the Psalms and Proverbs translated by George Noyes (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1886). Adapted and arranged by Dan Harper.

iv-5. The Good Is Positive

Certain facts have always suggested the sublime creed, that the world is not the product of manifold power, but of one will, of one mind;
and that one mind is everywhere active, in each ray of the star, in each wavelet of the pool;
and whatever opposes that will, is everywhere balked and baffled, because things are made so, and not otherwise.
Good is positive. Evil is merely privative, not absolute: it is like cold, which is the privation of heat. All evil is so much death or nonentity.
Benevolence is absolute and real. So much benevolence as a man hath, so much life hath he. For all things proceed out of this same spirit,
which is differently named love, justice, temperance, in its different applications, just as the ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes.
All things proceed out of the same spirit, and all things conspire with it. Whilst a man seeks good ends, he is strong by the whole strength of nature. In so far as he roves from these ends,
he bereaves himself of power, of auxiliaries; his being shrinks out of all remote channels, he becomes less and less, a mote, a point, until absolute badness is absolute death.

From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Divinity School Address.”

iv-6. The Shepherd Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

From the Hebrew scriptures, Psalm 23.1-6, King James Version.

V. The Great, the Brave, and the True

v-1. Swords into Ploughshares

We shall beat our swords into plowshares,
and our spears into pruning hooks:
nation shall not lift up a sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
But we shall sit every one under our vine and under our fig tree;
and none shall make us afraid.

From the Hebrew Bible, Micah 4.3-4. Adapted from King James Version by Dan Harper.

v-2. Those Who Are Blessed

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers:
For they shall be called the children of God.

From the Christian scriptures, Matthew 5.3-9.

v-3. Self-Trust

One terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them.
But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then?
It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.
In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity, yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.
Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

From “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Adapted by Dan Harper.

v-4. The Great Learning

Things have their root and their branches. Affairs have their end
and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning.
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families.
Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.
Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere.

Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated.
Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed.
Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.
From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.
It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered.
It never has been the case that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for, and, at the same time, that what was of slight importance has been greatly cared for.

From “The Great Learning” by Confucius, translated by James Legge.

v-5. The Open Road

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road!
Healthy, free, the world before me!
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose!
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

The earth--that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women--I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am filled with them, and I will fill them in return.

You road I travel and look around! I believe you are not all that is here!
I believe that something unseen is also here.
I think heroic deeds were all conceived in the open air,
I think I could stop here myself, and do miracles,
I think whatever I meet on the road I shall like, and whatever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.

From this hour, freedom!
From this hour, I ordain myself loosed of limits and imaginary lines!
Going where I list--my own master, total and absolute,
Listening to others, and considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of air,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
I am larger than I thought!
I did not know I held so much goodness!

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women,
You have done such good to me, I would do the same to you.

From “Poem of the Road” by Walt Whitman; 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass. Adapted by Dan Harper.

v-6. The Wisdom of the Sage

The sage, looking up, contemplates the brilliant phenomena of the heavens, and, looking down, examines the definite arrangements of the earth;-- and thus knows the causes of that which is obscure, and the causes of that which is bright.
The sage will trace things to their beginning, and follow them to their end;-- and thus knows what can be said about death and life. There is a similarity between the sage and the cosmos, and hence there is no contrariety between the sage, and heaven and earth.
The sage’s knowledge embraces all things; the course of the sage’s life is intended to be helpful to all under the sky;-- so it is that the sage falls into no error.
The sage acts according to the exigency of circumstances without being carried away by their current; rejoices in Heaven and knows its ordinations;-- and hence the sage has no anxieties.
The sage cherishes the spirit of generous benevolence, and can love without reserve.
By an ever-varying adaptation, the sage completes the nature of all things without exception;
Getting to the root of knowledge about the course of day and night and all other connected phenomena;--
So it is that the sage is spirit-like, unconditioned by place, producing changes which are not restricted to any form.

From “The Great Treatise” of the I Ching (Yi Jing), trans. by James Legge in Sacred Books of the East, vol. 39. Adapted by Dan Harper.

v-7. What Jesus Taught

Many a book has been written to prove that nothing that Jesus said was new at all.
Teaching similar to his can be found in the writings of Buddha, of Confucius, the Lao Tze, the Hindus, and hosts of others.
They can be found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, in the Edicts of the Babylonians, in the writings of the Greeks.
There is no great religion which does not have within it many teachings similar to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Great moral ideas have a permanence which do not appear to change very much from age to age.
The fact that similarities to the teachings of most of the great moral leaders of history can also be found in the teachings of Jesus is testimony to his greatness and the universality of his mind.
Jesus’ main teaching was revealed in his life, that our highest role is to serve our neighbors. After two thousand years of practice, this is still a supreme goal of the moral and religious life.
Taken individually, most of the things Jesus said had been said before. And the sum total of Jesus’ teaching was revealed by both his words and his life.
The teaching of Jesus was both new and old. It was as old as time, and as new as the life he lived.
It was as old as the earth and as new as this morning’s dew drop.

From a sermon “Jesus the Man” by Duncan Howlett, preached at First Unitarian in New Bedford in 1941.

VI. Work and Play

vi-1. Heaven and Hell

The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you, and the world's need of that work.
With this satisfaction, and this need, life is heaven or as near heaven as you can get.
Without this--with work which you despise, which bores you,
With work which the world does not need--this life is hell.

W. E. B. DuBois, "To His Newborn Great-Grandson."

vi-2. What We Live For

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.
They say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.
As for work, we haven't any of any consequence. We have the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot possibly keep our heads still.
If I should only give a few pulls at the parish bell-rope, as for a fire, that is, without setting the bell, there is hardly a man on his farm in the outskirts of town,
--notwithstanding that press of engagements which was his excuse so many times this morning, nor a boy, nor a woman,-- but would forsake their work and follow that sound.
I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be.

From “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” in Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Adapted by Dan Harper.

vi-3. Equalizers of This Age and Land

To us enter the essences of the real things and past and present events--
The enormous diversity of temperature and agriculture and mines--
The weather-beaten vessels entering new ports or making landings on rocky coasts--the rapid stature and muscle--
The perpetual coming of immigrants--the wharf hem'd cities--the loghouses and clearings and wild animals and hunters....
The free commerce--the fisheries and whaling and gold-digging--
The noble character of the young mechanics and of all free American workmen and workwomen....
The general ardor and friendliness and enterprise--the perfect equality of the female with the male....
We come among the wellbeloved stonecutters and plan with decision and science, and see the solid and beautiful forms of the future where there are now no solid forms.
Let us be the equalizers of this age and land....
To supply what wants supplying and to check what wants checking.

From the prose introduction to the first edition of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855; p. iv in the original). Adapted by Dan Harper.

vi-4. A Magnificent and Generous Economy

Ellen Emerson, daughter of Lidian and Ralph Waldo Emerson, recalled this about her mother: “One of Mother's talents was making something out of nothing and there was room to afford it great play.
“Every rag of remains of her days of fine dressing was used in one way or another with great ingenuity till there was nothing left of it. Every garment could be made to serve a second term.
“Whenever Mother saw an opportunity she spread out the wearing-out things and the stores in the bundle-trunk and devised intricate plans, having someone at hand to baste as fast as she could arrange the pieces.
“Almira Flint, the daughter of one of the farmers, came to sew for us and told me afterwards that Mother taught her how to do many things by telling her how, and simply expecting her to do it; she made her a carpenteress, an upholsteress, a paper-hanger, a dress-maker.
“Almira had naturally a true eye and a skilful hand, a spirit also that hated to give up. She wouldn't say I can’t, so she and Mother were always triumphant together over many successes. Every economy and skill that she learned of Mother she used at home.
“Economy was natural to Mother. She knew she was practicing a vigilant, active and inventive economy in all departments of her housekeeping.
“To her economy was a large science with many intricate and minute ramifications. Her economy did not lie in going without.
“Instead she wished everything to serve all the purpose it could. She was, as naturally, magnificent and generous.”

From The Life of Lidian Jackson Emerson, by Ellen Tucker Emerson. Adapted by Dan Harper.

vi-5. I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics--each one singing his or her own, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing hers, as she measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat--the deck-hand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench--the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter's song--the ploughboy's, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother--or of the young parent at work--or of the girl sewing or washing--
At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
Each singing what belongs to him or her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day--the night what belongs to the night.

“I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman in the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass. Arranged and adapted by Dan Harper. In the Introduction to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman celebrates "the perfect equality of the female with the male"; therefore I have taken the liberty of substituting the feminine pronoun in the third line, and added the feminine pronoun in the second-to-last line.

vi-6. Putting in the Seed

You come to fetch me from my work tonight
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals from the apple tree.

(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,

Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with week,

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering it way and shedding the earth crumbs.

From Mountain Interval by Robert Frost (1916). Frost’s mother was a Swedenborgian, and his father an atheist; his poetry reflects this religious mix.

vi-7. The Creative Works of Humanity

What is so great a good as the joy of creating--of shaping by mind and hand the beauty which others may share.
Words that seem dull upon the lips of the crowd come alive to the poet; as a song they spring from her heart, inspiring the world.
The sounds of earth beat upon the ears unheeded; but one man touches the strings of a violin and our souls rise on wings of music.
Colors brilliant and dull pass unperceived before us; but a painter brushes them upon a canvas and discloses hidden glories.
Wonderful are the creative works of humanity; and wonderful are the minds that conceive them.
Honor to those who shape humanity’s dreams, and to all who from common things bring forth beauty.

Robert Terry Weston.

vi-8. The Game of Games

An athelete in the Game of Games is one who plays life intensely, with a heightened awareness of this endeavor.
An athelete is one who can perceive discord and harmony both, who can accept contradiction as the very stuff of play, while not losing sight of the ultimate harmony.
An athelete in the Game of Games may be a musician or a carpenter; a householder or a yogi, an Olympic runner or a farmer.
No one can be excluded merely because of occupational speciality, and differences between the purely physical and non-physical begin to fade.
It is only through a heresy in Western thought that we could consider any aspect of life as "nonphysical."
The body is always involved, even in what we call the most cerebral pursuit.
Spirit in flesh, flesh in spirit. Abstractions in the muscles, visions in the bones.
We can no longer deny the conditions of embodiment--nor can we ever entirely explain them.
The body opens us to wonders in this and other worlds.
Its movements through time and space can launch us on a timeless voyage to a place beyond space.

From "The Game of Games" by George Leonard, in The New Games Book (Headlans Press: Tiburon, Calif., 1976), ed. Andrew Fluegelman. Adapted and arranged by Dan Harper.

VII. The Human Community

vii-1. I Shall Not Live in Vain

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.

Emily Dickinson.

vii-2. May We Have

A unison reading.

May we have eyes that see,
Hearts that love,
And hands that are ready to serve.


vii-3. The Horizon of Our Minds

Let the horizon of our minds include all humanity:
The great family here on earth with us;
Those who have gone before and left to us their heritage of their memory and their work;
And those whose lives will be shaped by what we do, or leave undone.

Samuel Crothers (1857-1927), adapted.

vii-4. Our Divine Responsibilities

If instead of indulging in pious platitudes about a perfect God doing all things well, we were all resolved to do as well as we can with the things within our reach,
There would be such improvement in human conditions that we would be astonished at our own achievements.
War, the summation of all iniquities, is buttressed, defended, and excused by all of the primitive and reactionary dogmas and traditions.
If a holy zeal to accomplish what is within our collective reach seized a majority of the human race, war and all the brood of evils that go with it would not long survive.
We are, in our collective capacities, the imperfect divinity that must make the world over into the kind of abiding place that we know it ought to be.
We cannot escape our divine responsibilities, however imperfect we are.

From the sermon “Speak to the Earth” by Stanton Hodgin.

vii-5. It Is You Who Give the Life

We consider bibles and religions divine.... I do not say they are not divine,
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of you still,
It is not they who give the life.... it is you who give the life;
Leaves are not more shed from the trees, or trees from the earth, than they are shed out of you.

Will you seek afar off? You surely will come back at last,
In things best known to you finding the best or as good as the best,
In folks nearest to you finding also the sweetest and strongest and lovingest,
Happiness not in another place, but this place.... not for another hour, but this hour,

Man in the first you see or touch.... always in your friend of brother or nighest neighbor.... Woman in your mother or sister or lover or wife,
And all else thus far known giving place to men and women.
When the psalms sing instead of the singer,
When the script preaches instead of the preacher,
When the pulpit descends and goes instead of the carver that carved the supporting desk
When a university course convinces like a slumbering woman and child convince,
When the minted gold in the vault smiles like the nightwatchman's daughter,
I intend to reach them my hand and make as much of them as I do of men and women.

From the first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855), the poem later called “Song for Occupations.” Lines 78-81, 163-178. Adapted by Dan Harper.

VIII. The Great Religious Traditions

viii-Buddhism-1. The Middle Path

Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha, said: “There are two extremes which a religious seeker should not follow:
“On the one hand, there are those things whose attraction depends upon the passions, unworthy, unprofitable, and fit only for the worldly-minded;
“On the other hand, there is the practice of self-mortification and asceticism, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.
“There is a middle path, avoiding these two extremes--a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to higher wisdom, to full enlightenment.
“What is that middle path? It is the noble eightfold path: Right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct;
“Right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right contemplation.
“This is the middle path. This is the noble truth that leads to the destruction of sorrow.”
This noble truth was not among the religious doctrines handed down from the past.
But within the Buddha there arose the eye to perceive this truth, the knowledge of its nature, the understanding of it, the wisdom to guide others.
Once this knowledge and this insight had arisen within Buddha;
He went to speak it to others, that others might realize the same enlightenment.

From the Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana Sutra, trans. T. W. Rhys Davids. Adapted by Dan Harper.

viii-Buddhism-2. Listening to Nature

Trees, rocks, sand, even dirt and insects can speak. This doesn't mean, as some people believe, that they are spirits or gods.
Rather, if we reside in nature near trees and rocks we'll discover feelings and thoughts arising that are truly out of the ordinary.
At first we'll feel a sense of peace and quiet, which may eventually move beyond that feeling to a transcendence of self.
The deep sense of calm that nature provides, through separation from the troubles and anxieties that plague us in the day-to-day world functions to protect heart and mind.
Indeed, the lessons nature teaches us lead to a new birth beyond suffering that results from attachment to self. Trees and rocks, then, can talk to us.
They help us understand what it means to cool down from the heat of our confusion, despair, anxiety, and suffering.
The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative.
The same is true for humans and animals, trees and the earth. Our bodily parts function as a cooperative.
When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise, that human beings are all mutual friends in the process of birth, suffering, old age, and death,
Then we can build a noble, even a heavenly environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we’ll all perish.

From the writings of the Thai monk Buddhadasa Bhikku (d. 1993), quoted in Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds, ed. Mary E. Tucker and Duncan R. Williams (1997), pp. 24-25, p. 29.

viii-Judaism-1. Midrash on Psalm 8

Blessed are You, Holy One, Creator of the Universe,
We know you and praise you from birth. Every child is immortal: given the strength to stand and speak your words in the face of oppression and injustice.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, I am in awe: I stand before infinite creation, its boundaries I will never know.
What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given us power over the works of your hands; you have put all things under our feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
You have entrusted us with your whole creation.
You have given us knowledge and insight. We are aware of you and every work of your hand, and we know that it is good.
What else can we do but praise you, and care for what you have made. Blessed are You, Holy One, Creator of the Universe.

From the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 8, translated by Ellen Spero (used by permission), adapted by Dan Harper.

viii-Judaism-2. Happy is Humanity

Happy are those whom you choose, O God,
to bring near to you, to dwell in your lands.
You make fast the mountains
with your great strength;
and still the roaring sea,
the roar of its waves.

You make the coming of the morning,
and the time of the evening to rejoice.
You visit the earth,
enrich it exceedingly,
with your river full of water.

You supply the earth with good grains
when you have thus prepared the earth.
You water earth’s furrows
and break down its ridges
and make it soft with showers
and bless its increase.

You crown the year with goodness,
your footsteps make fruitful the wilderness;
the hills are covered with gladness.
Happy is humanity, whom you choose
to bring near to you, to dwell in your lands.

From Psalm 65.4, 6-12, as translated in Translations of the Psalms and Proverbs by George Noyes (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1886). Adapted and arranged by Dan Harper.

viii-Hinduism-1. The Person of Steady Mind

Arjuna asked: What are the characteristics, O Krishna, of one whose mind and heart are steady, of one who is intent on contemplation? How does the person of steady mind speak, sit, and move?
Krishna replied: Such a person, O Arjuna, in sorrows is not dejected, and in joys is not overjoyed; dwells outside the stress of passion, fear, and anger; and remains fixed in the calm of holy contemplation. Such a person is the Sage of steady mind.
Being without attachments anywhere, the person of steady mind takes evil things and good, and neither exults nor falls into despondency,
As the wise tortoise draws its four feet safe under its shell--so the one who has wisdom's mark draws five frail senses back from the world, which otherwise assails them, back under the shield of the spirit.
Even a well-governed mind may chance to feel the sense-storms sweep over it, wresting strong self-control by the roots.
Restraining them all, such a one should remain engaged in devotion, and sit in quiet contemplation. When the senses are under control, the mind will remain steady.
If one ponders on objects of the sense, there springs attraction; from attraction grows desire, desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds recklessness;
Then the memory--all betrayed--lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, till purpose, mind, and person are all undone.
But, if one deals with objects of the sense, not loving and not hating, making them serve the free soul which rests serene --
Lo! such a person comes to tranquility; and out of that tranquility shall rise the end and healing of earthly pains, since the will that is governed sets the soul at peace.

From the Bhagavad Gita, 2.55-63; drawn from two translations: that of Sir Edwin Arnold, and that of Kashinath Trimbak Telang; arranged and adapted by Dan Harper.

viii-Taoism-1. from “The Book of Plain Words”

By abandoning the appetites and restraining the passions, you may escape trouble and anxiety.
By keeping clear of calumny and beyond the reach of suspicion, you may avoid hindrance to your affairs.
By abhorring the wicked and expelling slanderers from your presence, you may put a stop to disorder.
By extensive study and eager questionings you may greatly enlarge your knowledge.
By a high course of conduct and a reserve in conversation, you may cultivate the person.
By providing against disaffection and knowing how to use your power, you will be able to unravel complications.
By firmness and stability of purpose, you will establish merit.
By impregnable virtue, you will be able to preserve yourself securely until death.
By consulting with the benevolent and making friends of the outspoken and blunt, you may receive support in seasons of adversity.
By doing to others as you would wish to be done by, and being sincere and honest in all your dealings, you may attract all people to become your friends.

From “The Su Shu: The Book of Plain Words,” in Taoist Texts: Ethical, Political, and Speculative, collected and trans. Frederic Henry Balfour (London, 1884). Adapted by Dan Harper.

viii-Taoism-2. Care for the World As You Care for Your Body

The Tao which originated all under the sky is to be considered as the mother of them all. When the mother has been found, we know what her children should be.
When we know that we are our mother's children, and proceed to guard the mother that belongs to us, to the end of our lives we will be free from all peril.
Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long. The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are able to continue and endure.
Therefore the Sage puts self last, and yet it is found in the foremost place. Because the Sage avoids self-interest, the Sage's self is fulfilled.
You who would govern the world, honoring it as you honor your own body, you may be employed to govern the world;
And you who would govern the world with the love which you bear to your own body, you may be entrusted with the world.

From "The The Tâo Teh King of Lâo Dze," trans. James Legge, Sacred Books of the East, Volume 39; chapters 52, 7, 13. Adapted with reference to the translation by Stephen Addis and Stanley Lombardo by Dan Harper.

viii-Islam-1. The Breathing of the World

Cloak yourself in a thousand ways, and still I shall know you, my Beloved.
Veil yourself with every enchantment, and yet I shall feel your Presence, most dear, close and intimate.
I shall salute you in the springing of cypresses, and in the sheen of lakes the laughter of fountains.
I shall surely see you in tumbling clouds, in brightly embroidered meadows.
O beloved Presence, more beautiful than all the stars together,
I find your face in ivy that climbs, in clusters of grapes, in morning sun on the mountains, in the clear arch of the sky.
You gladden the whole earth and make every heart great.
You are the breathing of the world.

Adapted from “Shams Ud-Dun” by the Sufi poet Mohammad Hafiz.

Confucian Tradition:
viii-Confucian-1. The Book of Changes

Anciently, when the sages wrote the Book of Changes, it was their design that its images should conform with the principles underlying the nature of humanity and things, and the ordinances for them appointed by Heaven.
With this view, the sages described the way of heaven, naming yin and yang; and the way of earth, naming the weak and the strong; and the way of humanity, under the names of benevolence and righteousness.
The symbols of heaven and earth took their determinate positions; the symbols for mountains and collections of water interchanged their influences;
The symbols for thunder and wind excited each other the more; and the symbols for water and fire did each other no harm.
Then among these eight symbols there was a mutual communication.
Thunder serves to put things in motion; wind to scatter the genial seeds of them; rain to moisten them; the sun to warm them;
The crash of thunder to arrest them and keep them in their places; water in a lake to give them joyful course; the strong and undivided to rule them; and the weak and divided to store them up.
The Supreme God comes forth in the crash of thunder; brings processes into full and equal action in wind;
Processes are manifested to one another in brightness; the greatest service is done in the weak and divided;
The Supreme God rejoices in the water in a lake; and struggles in the strong and undivided;
The Supreme God is comforted and enters into rest in water; and completes the work of the year in the crash of thunder.
When we speak of Spirit we mean the subtle presence and operation of the Supreme God with all things.
Water and fire contribute together to the one object; thunder and wind do not act contrary to one another;
Mountains and collections of water interchange their influences.
It is in this way that they are able to change and transform, and to give completion to all things.

From "Treatise of Remarks on the Trigrams," in the Yi King, or Book of Changes, translated by James Legge; paragraphs 4, 5, 7, 8, 10. Adapted and edited by Dan Harper; Legge’s descriptive names substituted for Chinese terms.

viii-Confucianism-2. Human Nature Is Good

Mencius said: From the feelings proper to it, human nature is constituted for the practice of what is good. This is what I mean in saying that human nature is good.
When people do what is not good, you cannot blame their natural powers.
The feeling of commiseration belongs to all people;
the feeling of shame and dislike belongs to all people;
the feeling of courtesy and respect belongs to all people;
and the feeling of approving and disapproving belongs to all people.

The feeling of commiseration implies the principle of Humanity;
the feeling of shame and dislike, the principle of Righteousness;
the feeling of courtesy and respect, the principle of Propriety;
and the feeling of right and wrong, the principle of Knowledge.

Humanity, Righteousness, Propriety, and Knowledge are not infused into us from without.
We are originally furnished with them. To think otherwise is simply owing to want of reflection.
Hence it is said, "Seek and you will find them. Neglect and you will lose them."
If people differ in goodness, it is because they cannot carry out fully their natural powers.

From The Works of Mencius, 6A:5, translated by James Legge. Arranged and adapted (with reference to translations by Wing-Tsit Chan and Charles Muller) by Dan Harper.

IX. The Heritage of Universalism

ix-1. What Worship Is

Worship is awe in the presence of majesty,
It is hope towering above the wrecks of hope.
It is the thirst of the scientist for truth;
It is the passion of the artist for supernal beauty.

It is the mountain climber struggling toward the windswept peak;
It is the mariner launching upon unknown seas.
It is the seed pushing toward an unseen sun;
It is a mountain stream rushing toward the distant ocean.

It is the mean and ugly rising toward the sublime;
It is the sensitive ear listening to the music of the spheres.
It is this gathered community reaching out to the wider world,
As we express together our deepest yearnings for the loftiest in the universe.

Clarence Skinner, adapted and arranged by Dan Harper. Skinner was a Universalist minister who was prominent in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th C.

ix-2. What Does It Mean To Be Religious?

It is in the round of common everyday life that to many of us religion must have meaning, if it is to have any meaning at all.
Not in formal observances, not in creeds or doctrines, however long ago proclaimed,
but in the lives we live, in the home, the community, and in the world, is the religious way of life to be found.
A religious person is one who fulfills the highest function as a human being in all relations with other human beings.

Clinton Lee Scott, arranged by Dan Harper. Scott, who was a humanist in theology, was the Superintendent of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention in the 1950’s.

ix-3. Why I Am a Universalist

I base my hopes for humanity on the Word of God speaking in the best heart and conscience of the race,
The Word heard in the best poems and songs, the best prayers and hopes of humanity.
It is rather absurd to suppose a heaven filled with saints and sinners shut up all together within four jeweled walls and playing on harps, whether they like it or not.
I have faint hopes that after another hundred years or so, it will begin to dawn on the minds of those to whom this idea is such a weight, that nobody with any sense holds this idea or ever did hold it.
To the Universalist, heaven in its essential nature is not a locality, but a moral and spiritual status, and salvation is not securing one place and avoiding another, but salvation is finding eternal life.
Eternal life has primarily no reference to time or place, but to a quality. Eternal life is right life, here, there, everywhere.
Conduct is three-fourths of life.
This present life is the great pressing concern.

From “Why I Am a Universalist” by Phineas Taylor Barnum. Adapted by Dan Harper. In addition to being a world-renowned showman, Barnum was a prominent Universalist layperson, known for his generous gifts to his church.

ix-4. The Universalist Idea of Humanity

Universalism believes in the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity.
A common origin means a common relationship. We may deny the fact, as many have denied it.
We may exalt one person to kingship and reduce the other to beggary.
But the fact of our common relationship persists through all denial and partiality.
This fact has been established by the physical and chemical sciences.
It is the witness of anthropology. It is the creed of all universal religion. It is the burden of sociology.
The unbreakable relationship of all humanity, black or white, strong or weak, rich or poor, has become the established postulate of all clear thinking.
Universalism believes in the common destiny of humanity in all times and in all stations of life.
It believes that all human souls have a spark of this divine in their nature,
And eventually, all those human souls will reach a perfect harmony.
Never was there such a bold proclamation of brotherhood and sisterhood;
Never such implicit faith in the solidarity of the human race.

From "The Social Implications of Universalism" by Clarence Skinner, adapted and arranged by Dan Harper. Skinner was a Universalist minister who was prominent in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th C.

ix-5. A Pantheist's Creed

I believe in the existence of a universe of suns and planets, among which there is one sun belonging to our planetary system;
and that other suns, being more remote, are called stars; but that they are indeed suns to other planetary systems.
I believe that the whole universe is Nature, and that the word Nature embraces the whole universe,
and so far as we can attach any rational idea to either, that God and Nature are perfectly synonymous terms.
I am not an Atheist, but a Pantheist; instead of believing that there is no God, I believe that, in the abstract, all is God.
I believe that God is all in all, and God is in each of us; and that it is in God that we live, move, and have our being;
and that our whole duty consists in living as long as we can,
and in promoting as much happiness as we can while we live.

From "Philosophical Creed" by Abner Kneeland (1833); arranged and slightly adapted by Dan Harper. Kneeland began as a Universalist minister, but moved beyond the Universalism of the 1830's towards a pantheist position, and organized the First Society of Freethinkers in Boston. Kneeland was tried and convicted of blasphemy by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1833 -- surely one of the sorriest legal spectacles in the history of the state.

X. Let Freedom Ring

x-1. Justice Like Waters

Let justice roll down as waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

From the Hebrew prophets, Amos 5.24. King James Version, adapted Dan Harper.

x-2. The Birthright of Every Human Being

Learned women are sure of an admiring audience, if they can once get a platform on which to stand. But how to get this platform, or how to make it of reasonably easy access is the difficulty.
Plants of great vigor will almost always struggle into blossom, despite impediments. But there should be encouragement, and a free, genial atmosphere for those of more timid sort, fair play for each in its own kind.
Some are like the little, delicate flowers, which love to hide in the dripping mosses by the sides of mountain torrents, or in the shade of tall trees. But others require an open field, a rich and loosened soil, or they never show their proper hues.
What women want is that which is the birthright of every being capable to receive it,-- the freedom, the religious, the intelligent freedom of the universe, to use its means, to learn its secret as far as nature has enabled them.

From “The Great Lawsuit” by Margaret Fuller (1843). Ms. Fuller was a Unitarian and Transcendentalist, and one of the great American intellects of her day.

x-3. True Reform

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions, yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle.
The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

Frederick Douglass, from “An address on West India Emancipation,” August 4, 1857.

x-4. True Reformers

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform.
Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation.

Susan B. Anthony, “On the Campaign for Divorce Law Reform,” 1860.

x-5. National Morality

We do not advocate a partisan religion. The line should be distinctly drawn between party questions and the general moral questions.
But with regard to the moral function of government, the case is different.
To the administration of this power, we, the people, the whole people, do directly contribute:
We contribute to the right or wrong which the Government does--to the good or evil which it brings upon us and will bring upon our posterity, we contribute.
The question about the national morality, in every branch of it, is one of profound concern.
An immense interest for ourselves, an immense interest for the world, is embarked upon the experiment we are making in self-government.
But when we say “self-government,” the very phrase directs us to morality, to moral restraint, to conscience as the basis without which everything must sink to ruins.
We may point to whatever material results in this country we wish, to whatever rising cities, to whatever increasing commerce, to whatever improving and extending manufactures and stupendous growth of national wealth;
But, if we are declining in morals, if we are becoming a less virtuous people; if moral corruption is silently stealing into the midst of our prosperity,
We know that a canker is at the root, which must before long bring down all our flourishing honors to the dust.

From the sermon “On the Moral Character of the Government” by Orville Dewey. Dewey was minister at First Unitarian in New Bedford from 1823-1834.

x-6. Liberation of Mind

This is how to give rise to understanding and liberation of mind:
Go into the forest and sit at the foot of a great tree, or go to a deserted place and sit. Hold your body upright, and practice introspection.
Breathe in attentively, and breathe out attentively.
Breathe in and be aware of your whole body. Be aware of your whole body as you breathe out.
Breathe in and make your whole body calm and at peace. Make your whole body calm and at peace as you breathe out.
Breathe in with joy and serenity. With joy and serenity breathe out.
Become aware of your thoughts as you breathe in. As you breathe out, become aware of your thoughts.
As you breathe in, concentrate your thoughts and dissolve them. Concentrate your thoughts and dissolve them as you breathe out.
As you breathe in, you will liberate your mind. You will liberate your mind as you breathe out.
You will understand that all teachings are impermanent. You will be able to let go. You will contemplate liberation.

Words attributed to Gotama Buddha. From the Anapanasati Sutta, trans. Chao Kung. Adapted by Dan Harper with reference to the translation by Thich Nhat Hanh.

x-7. Four Freedoms

In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from the so-called "Four Freedoms" speech given January 6, 1941.

XI. The Circle of the Year

xi-1. The Circle of the Year

From the east, out of the air, the growing brightness of dawn comes each day.
May the rising sun bring me wisdom, may all beings share in the enlightenment I seek.
I await the light of gentle dawn in my dreams, clearing my thoughts for wisdom.
From the south, where summer never ends, comes the warmth that makes earth green and good.
May the work of my hands transform the world for good, as the summer sun ripens fruit and makes it sweet.
I await the fire and passion of summer entering my dreams, guiding me to create a world where all may live in peace.
From the west comes the power of the drenching storm, the surging waves, thunder and lightning, and the sweet waters of the rivers.
May the power of the waters wash away injustice and hatred from my heart.
I await the gentle mists flowing into my dreams, filling my heart with love for all beings.
From the north the groaning winter winds bring death of the old year, preparing the land for birth and new life.
I will draw strength from the darkness of winter, the darkness of the earth where seeds lie dormant, waiting to grow.
Into my dreams shall come wonders of life and death, and mystery and power.

Dan Harper.

The Circle of the Year: Autumn
xi-autumn-1. When Trees Put on Their Autumnal Tints

These days when the trees have put on their autumnal tints are the gala days of the year, when the very foliage of trees is colored like a blossom. It is a proper time for a yearly festival.
Some maples when ripe are yellow or whitish yellow; others reddish yellow; others bright red; by the accident of the season or position, the more or less light and sun, being on the edge or in the midst of the wood.
At the Cliffs I found the wasps prolonging their short lives on the sunny rocks just as they endeavored to do at my house in the woods.
The nights are now very still for there is hardly any noise of birds or of insects. The whippoorwill is not heard, nor the mosquito, but only the lisping of some sparrow.
The moon gives not a creamy but a white cold light, through which you can see far.
There is a great difference between this season and a month ago--as between one period of your life and another.

Arranged from Henry David Thoreau’s Journal, October 1, 2, and 5, 1851; by Dan Harper.

The Circle of the Year: Winter and Yuletide
xi-winter-1. The Meaning of Christmas

Suddenly a cheerful voice cried out:
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” This nephew of Scrooge’s had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? You’re rich enough.”
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”
“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.
“What else can I be,” said Scrooge indignantly, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!”
“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.
“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time,” returned the nephew, “when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

From the first chapter of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

The Circle of the Year: Winter and Yuletide
xi-winter-2. The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, from Harmonium (1921).

The Circle of the Year: Winter and Yuletide
xi-winter-3. Late winter

You can feel it now: the days are longer, the sun higher in the sky at mid-day.
Something begins to emerge from winter: rising sap drips from broken branches and buckets appear on sugar maples; snow melts.
The yellow blossoms of witch hazel; green skunk cabbage in silent marshes; you can see little bits of it.
You can hear it: small birds singing once again in the morning, and at night the owls call out, searching for mates.
Let's not tempt fate by saying, "Winter's as good as over." It's not.
But you can start to feel hopeful: something new is coming.


The Circle of the Year: Spring and All
xi-spring-1. Litany for the Flower Celebration (or Flower Communion)

The Flower Celebration is not a substitute for Easter or any other myth.
Its only motivation is to stress and to bring about BROTHERHOOD and SISTERHOOD -- the COMMON HUMANITY of us all.
As a symbol, we use flowers;
Because no wars have ever been waged in the name of flowers, though wars have been waged in the name of the Cross or the Chalice.
The flowers are used as symbols of the gifts which each person can make to the church and through the church to other persons:
Because of the large variety, each person is able to express his or her individuality. And the exchange of flowers means that I shall walk, without reservation, with anyone --
Regardless of his social status, or her former religious affiliation,
As long as he or she is ready and willing to go along in search of truth and service to humanity.

Adapted by DH from Rev. Maja V. Capek's letter to Rev. Ernest Kuebler, June 1, 1961 (accessed from, September 17, 2007).

The Circle of the Year: Spring and All
xi-spring-2. The Winter Is Past

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
And the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.

From the Hebrew Bible, The Song of Solomon, 2.11-13. King James Version.

The Circle of the Year: Spring and All
xi-spring-3. Spring Strains

In a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds
crowded erect with desire against the sky
tense blue-grey twigs
slenderly anchoring them down, drawing
them in--

two blue-grey birds chasing
a third struggle in circles, angles,
swift convergings to a point that bursts
Vibrant bowing limbs
pull downward, sucking in the sky
that bulges from behind, plastering itself
against them in packed rifts, rock blue
and dirty orange!

(Hold hard, rigid jointed trees!)
the blinding and red-edged sun-blur--
creeping energy, concentrated
counterforce--welds sky, buds, trees,
rivets them in one puckering hold!
Sticks through! Pulls the whole
counter-pulling mass upwards, to the right
locks even the opaque, not yet defined
ground in a terrific drag that is
loosening the very tap-roots!

On a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds
two blue-grey birds, chasing a third,
at full cry!
Now they are
flung outward and up--disappearing suddenly!

William Carlos Williams, from Al Que Quiere (1917).

The Circle of the Year: Summer Warmth
xi-summer-1. A Time To Talk

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed
And shout from where I am, “What is it?”

No, not as there is time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

Robert Frost, from Mountain Interval (1916).

The Circle of the Year: Summer Warmth
xi-summer-2. Mowing

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,

Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound--
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:

Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.

The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

Robert Frost, from A Boy’s Will, 1913.

XII. Closing Words

xii-1. Look to this Day

Look to this day;
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the truth
And reality of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is already a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well-lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

From the Khalidasa.

xii-2. Until the Shadows Flee Away

May the truth that sets us free,
And the hope that never dies,
And the love that casts out fear
Be with us now
Until the dayspring breaks,
And the shadows flee away.

Arranged from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures (John 8.32, Romans, John 4.18, Song of Solomon 2.17).

xii-3. Go Forth in Peace

Go forth into the world in peace,
and be of good courage,
and hold fast to what is good,
returning to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted
and help the weak;
and be patient with all,
loving all living beings.
So we rejoice in life,
and give thanks for that which is good.

Adapted from the Christian scriptures (2 Thessalonians 5.14-18).

xii-4. Peace

Lead us from death to life, from lies to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

From a Hindu prayer.

xii-5. The Stream of Life

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world, and dances in rhythmic measure.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass, and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

from a poem by Rabindrinath Tagore

xii-6. Eternal oneness

Claim your right to touch the eternal oneness of life.
Promise yourself to do this.
Reach out to life, reach out to those around you;
Reach out in hope, and in courage, and in love.

Dan Harper

xii-7. Let Your Light Shine

Go out into the highways and byways.
Give the people something of your new vision.
We may possess a small light,
but uncover it, let it shine,
use it to bring the light of understanding
to the hearts and minds of others.
Some will bring fear of hell and damnation;
some will bring hopelessness and despair.
But we bring the people hope and courage;
We will say, Together we can change the world.

adapted from words by John Murray

xii-8. We Shall Be Blessed in Our Deeds

May we be doers of the word, and not hearers only,
For to hear without doing is to deceive our own selves.
It is merely to behold our faces in a mirror, and go on our spearate ways, and straightaway forget what manner of person we are.
But whosoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein;
We shall not be forgetful hearers, we shall be doers of the work;
We shall be blessed in our deeds; we shall be blessed in all we do.

adapted from James 1:22-25, by Dan Harper