Courage! Howard Westwood’s 1939 Lenten Manual uses outdated, high-flown language, is written in the mode of all-men-all-of-the-time, and mentions several, mostly-forgotten dead people. Still, his exercises and meditations are worth a look.
Besides, Lent isn’t supposed to be easy. So, as Westwood might say, abandon your safe haven and sail into the high seas of engaged reflection.
Here are a few more days from his Manual, in grey, one of the colors of the season.
DAY 6 (1st Tuesday): “We Avow Our Faith”
“Here I stand, so help me God, I can do no other.” These words of Luther remind us of a statement by Prof. Kirsopp Lake: “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but life in scorn of consequence — a courageous trust in the great purpose of all things and pressing forward to finish the work which is in sign, whatever the price may be.” So do we avow our faith, without hesitation, equivocation or apology. For the moment we leave argument and discussion behind. We are engaged in an enterprise that we will defend at all hazards and promote without compromise. We do not ask for a secure haven for we propose to sail the high seas. We do not ask for guaranteed certainty for we possess what is more important, the inward certitude of consecrated purpose.
Exercise: Dwell upon the assertion, “We become what we affirm.” Some psychologists condemn wishful thinking, therefore comment on, “The right kind of wishful thinking leads to creative power.”
Meditation: Spirit of Life, give us the courage to match our purpose, the will to endure and the trust which falters not. Above all, strengthen daily within us faith equal to our high resolve.
[The 2nd week’s theme.]
IMPLICATIONS OF THE AVOWAL
DAY 7 (2nd Wednesday): “In God”
In his essay “Is Life Worth Living?” William James utters words of profound insight in declaring “God himself may draw vital strength and increase of very being from our fidelity.” He also quotes William Salter, the late leader of the Philadelphia Ethical Society: “As the essence of courage is to stake one’s life as a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe that the possibility exists.” In avowing our faith in God, we are staking our life on the possibility that the world is not a meaningless void, but that the highest within us reflects and reveals the Life and Intelligence through which all things exist.”
Exercise: Dwell on St. Paul’s statement, “We are co-laborers with God.” What do you think about the quotation from Wm. James?
Meditation: O Soul of All in the heart of each, help me to trust my deepest intuitions as expression of thy purpose, and in loyal devotion teach me to fulfill them in the experience of life.
DAY 8 (2nd Thursday): “In Eternal Love”
How keen in their insight these words of the Bard of Avon:
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove.
How beautiful in its constancy the frequent devotion of husband and wife, of parent and child! Yet human love is sometimes inconstant, for often it is influenced by changing circumstance and the passing of the years. The prophet causes the Eternal to say, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Reflect on the eternal constancy of Nature in the rhythms of day
and night, the seasons, seed-time and harvest, etc. Note the great certainties in the invariableness of Nature’s laws. The manifestations of Nature are infinite, but Nature herself is unchanging. The laws of Love are likewise unchanging.
Exercise: The thought in the lesson is a challenge to our own constancy. This phase of the avowal is a pledge to overcome fickleness of mood and temper. Let us examine ourselves in this.
Meditation: O Spirit of Love, how often have we betrayed thee! By they divine constancy, control our changing moods and the waywardness of our affections. Keep the compass of our spirits ever true.
DAY 9 (2nd Friday): In All-Conquering Love
It is the nature of Love never to know defeat. Among the most revealing parables of the Great Teacher is that of the Lost Sheep, in which the shepherd seeks for the wanderer from the fold “until he finds it.” In his majestic poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thompson likens the Divine Spirit to a relentless seeker forever on the trail of the soul of man. Likewise, the unknown author of the 139th Psalm, when he exclaims, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
In his hour of trial George Matheson cried, “O Love, that wilt not let me go!” There is a persistent quality in Love which never surrenders.
Exercise: Read Thompson’s poem referred to in the less. Take the time, even if you have to visit a library to obtain the poem. Treat the thought personally, “Love is destined to have its way with me.”
Meditation: O Love forever seeking us, teach experiences of our lives, thou art indeed the highest expression of the Universal Life. Teach me the secret of thine enduring patience, for in this is the assurance that thou shalt prevail, even with me.