From the Writer’s Almanac

Ah, today’s homily earned this sort of criticism. I tried to be patient and was, but I go to an old church with no air conditioning so I really wish the priest could give us more. Sometimes you can tell a priest’s just not gifted as a speaker, but such mediocrity? Aren’t they trying? I’ve reached a point where I do focus more on the scripture and the consecration. I guess the heat made me cranky. But still the mass is so central and these people aren’t just there to pass the time, but to transform lives.

Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a commencement address to the Harvard Divinity School on this date in 1838. Emerson had graduated from Harvard Divinity in 1826, and the graduating students had chosen him as the speaker for this event. The year before, he had given a lecture called “The American Scholar” to the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa society. It was controversial but popular, and the students were eager to have him back.

Emerson had been a Unitarian minister, but he had resigned and was becoming critical of Christianity as it was currently practiced. He opened the address with a passionate celebration of the “refulgent summer,” and then said: “I once heard a preacher who sorely tempted me to say, I would go to church no more […] He had lived in vain. He had no one word intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or in love, had been commended, or cheated, or chagrined. If he had ever lived and acted, we were none the wiser for it. The capital secret of his profession, namely, to convert life into truth, he had not learned.” And he also said, “The true Christianity — a faith like Christ‘s in the infinitude of man — is lost.” Many in the audience were incensed by Emerson’s speech, particularly the older faculty and ministers. It was 30 years before Emerson was invited back to speak at Harvard.


About smkelly8

writer, teacher, movie lover, traveler, reader View all posts by smkelly8

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