Build Your Own Beliefs I | St. Lawrence University Chaplain's Office

Build Your Own Beliefs I

BYOB I Readings

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to- die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever.
          ~ From "Walden" - by Henry David Thoreau

I call that mind free, which masters the senses,
and which recognizes its own reality and greatness:
which passes life not in asking what shall it eat or drink,
but in hungering, thirsting, and seeking after righteousness.

I call that mind free which jealously guards its intellectual right and power,
which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith:
which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come:
which receives new truth as an angel from heaven.

I call that mind free, which is not passively framed by outward circumstances,
and is not the creature of accidental impulse:
which discovers everywhere the radiant signatures of the infinite spirit,
and in them finds help to its own spiritual enlargement.

I call that mind free, which resists the bondage of habit,
which does not mechanically copy the past nor live on its old virtues:
but which listens for new and higher monitions of conscience,
and rejoices to pour itself forth in fresh and higher exertions.

I call that mind free, which has cast off all fear but that of wrongdoing,
and which no menace or peril can enthrall:
which is calm of the midst of tumults,
and possesses itself, though all else be lost.
          ~ The Free Mind - William Ellery Channing

"For many people, religion is a rigid concept, somewhat like a stone that is passed from generation to generation. We don't add to it, change it or challenge it, we just pass it along. But even the most cursory study of the history of religions would undermine such a view. Religious traditions are far more like rivers than stones. Like the Ganges or the Gallatin, they are flowing and changing. Sometimes they dry up in arid land; sometimes they radically change course and move out to water new territory."
          ~ From Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey From Bozeman to Banaras - Diana Eck

Who are you? Who am I? Haunted
By the dead, by the dead and the past and the
Falling inertia of unreal, dead
Men and things. Haunted by the threat
Of the impersonal, that which
Never will admit the person,
The closed world of things. Who are
You? Coming up out of the
Mineral earth, one pale leaf
Unlike any other unfolding,
And then another, strange, new,
Utterly different, nothing
I ever expected, growing
Up out of my warm heart's blood.
All new, all strange, all different.
Your own leaf pattern, your own
Flower and fruit, but fed from
One root, the root of our fused flesh.
I and thou, from the one to
The dual, from the dual
To the other, the wonderful,
Unending, unfathomable
Process of becoming each
Our selves for each other.
           ~ "Growing" from Sacramental Sets: The Love Poems of Kenneth Rexroth
               by Kenneth Rexroth

"It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second."
          ~ Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

I do and I must reverence human nature. Neither the sneers of a worldly skepticism nor the groans of a gloomy theology disturb my faith in its god-like powers and tendencies. I know how it is despised, how it has been oppressed, how civil and religious establishments have for ages conspired to crush it. I know its history. I shut my eyes on none of its weaknesses and crimes.... But injured, trampled on, and scorned as our nature is, I still turn to it with intense sympathy and strong hope. I bless it for its kind affections, for its strong and tender love.... I thank God that my own lot is bound up with that of the human race.
          ~ William Ellery Channing

"My bread may be a material matter. Another's bread is a spiritual matter."
          ~ Nicholas Berdyaev

“Man was born for society. However little he may be attached to the world, he never can wholly forget it, or bear to be wholly forgotten by it.”
          ~ from The Monk - by Matthew Lewis

“Society is the soul writ large.”
          ~ Plato

The Tree and the Leaf
When will you learn, myself, to be
a dying leaf on a living tree?
Budding, swelling, growing strong,
Wearing green, but not for long,
Drawing sustenance from air,
That other leaves, and you not there,
May bud, and at the autumn's call
Wearing russet, ready to fall? 
Has not this trunk a deed to do
Unguessed by small and tremulous you? 
Shall not these branches in the end
To wisdom and the truth ascend?
And the great lightning plunging by
Look sidewise with a golden eye
To glimpse a tree so tall and proud
It sheds its leaves upon a cloud?
Here, I think, is the heart's grief:
The tree, no mightier than the leaf,
Makes firm its root and spreads it crown
And stands; but in the end comes down.
That airy top no boy could climb
Is trodden in a little time
By cattle on their way to drink. 
The fluttering thoughts a leaf can think,
That hears the wind and waits its turn,
Have taught it all a tree can learn.
Time can make soft that iron wood.
The tallest trunk that ever stood, 
In time, without a dream to keep,
Crawls in beside the root to sleep.
          ~ Edna St.Vincent Millay

If it is true that the sun, the seasons, the waters, and human life itself go in cycles, the inference is that "there is time for all things," something different to be done at each stage of the cycle ... Only when we realize that nothing is new can we live with an intensity in which everything becomes new.
          ~ Northrop Fry (Literary Critic)

I simply haven't the nerve to imagine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the planets revolving in their orbits, and then suddenly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds.
          ~ Quentin Crisp

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
          ~ Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, 1734

"There are three types of devotees...Believers who attend church and are satisfied; believers who live an upright life but make no effort to achieve oneness with [God]; and believers who are determined to discover their true identity."
          ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

Home is where one starts from.  As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated.
We must be still and still moving,
Into another intensity;
For a further union, a deeper communion.
          ~ T. S. Eliot

My dear Mr. Kappus: I have left a letter from you unanswered for a long time; not because I had forgotten it - on the contrary: it is the kind that one reads again when one finds it among other letters, and I recognize you in it as if you were very near. It is your letter of May second, and I am sure you remember it. As I read it now, in the great silence of these distances, I am touched by your beautiful anxiety about life, even more than I was in Paris, where everything echoes and fades away differently because of the excessive noise that makes things tremble. Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awareness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
          ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

We should not pretend to understand the world only by the intellect; we apprehend it just as much by feeling. Therefore, the judgment of the intellect is, at best, only the half of truth, as must, if it be honest, also come an understanding of its inadequacy.
          ~ CG Jung

Anything we love can be saved.
          ~ Alice Walker