NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, August 5th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. A walk in summer inspired Andrée Seu Peterson’s essay published in her 2008 book titled Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me.
ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: On Walden Pond we strolled upon an August afternoon, my sister’s family and I, trying to inhale the vapors of Henry David Thoreau, not knowing how much he was already in the warp and woof of us.
We had come to Concord on a lark, to put our steps in his footsteps, and those of Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts. We had come to fathom the mystery: how so much literary energy had welled up from such a small piece of real estate just northwest of Boston. Was there something in the water?
In New England the steeples of simple, white, wood-framed churches with their apron of grassy commons still serve as bearings for many a town. They are geographical (if no longer moral) compasses in their second incarnation as tourist guides.
The sign in front of this one is a thumbnail history: First Baptist Church of Concord. Then, the smaller subscript: Unitarian Universalist. (What tales are left untold in those interstitial spaces!) Underneath, inspirational thought for the week: “I always make the most of what’s ahead of me and the least of what’s behind me.” Inoffensive enough, I suppose. And maybe there’s a man in a thousand who will recognize the diluted reference to Philippians 3:12-14.
Grim, rounded slabs crookedly dot the hill like the teeth in an old man’s mouth. I retrieve a paper from my pocket and jot tombstone etchings: “Retire, my friends, dry up your tears. I must be here till Christ appears” (on Elizabeth Barrett, d.1701). A hundred yards and a hundred years up the road, on “Author’s Ridge,” we read a very different ode: “The Passive Master Lent His Hand to the Vast Soul That O’er Him Planned” (R.W. Emerson, d.1882). “He gave his life in service for children and youth,” this the epitaph for one Daniel Lothrop, d.18–.
Do I not detect a slippage here? Religion giving way to poetry? Faith in Christ, subtly, to faith in faith? Then faith in man, then worship of man.
In 1838 Emerson addressed the Harvard Divinity College, without a scintilla of sound doctrine left, only elegant claptrap. In 1909 Harvard shortened its banner from “Truth for Christ’s Kingdom” to “Truth.”
On Walden Pond we strolled upon an August afternoon, serene in the knowledge that it belongs to our Creator and his Kingdom, every inch of it, as Kuyper says. And therefore it is ours (1 Corinthians 3:21), and we will not let them claim it. We listened for a voice and heard more than our own echo — something breaking through the solipsism, a better transcendentalism than the vaunted Transcendentalists’, an eloquence not blown off like chaff, and a dream not washed away like footprints in the sand.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.