Morning Has Broken
William James (1842-1910) was America's most influential philosopher. He was also a psychologist and spiritual seeker whose work inspired Alcoholics Anonymous and established empirical psychology.
He also suffered from bouts of depression, suicidal thoughts, and restlessness that plagued him for much of his young adulthood.
But his belief that life was worth living and that there was truth and beauty in both pleasure and pain ultimately drove James to a fuller understanding of living abundantly.
In 1868, James wrote a letter to one of his close friends who was battling depression, and this quote from the letter perfectly sums up what he'd learned in his study and reflection:
Remember when old December's darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation; and the hour is just as fit as any hour that ever was for a new gospel of cheer to be preached.
I have read that quote repeatedly since I first wrote it down, and I can't get enough of the imagery. It called to mind the first stanza of the old hymn "Morning Has Broken," which was made famous by Cat Stevens in 1971.
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world...
What James did in those few lines to his friend was masterful. He believed another reality was on the other side of his friend's darkness. There was a universe alive and growing, being renewed every day.
James inferred that no amount of darkness could hold us for long if we were attuned to the notion that the world was teeming with life and light all around us.
In fact, he seems to say that light and life could serve as both a sign and symbol for us that no matter what we might be feeling or experiencing, there is more on the other side of it. We have agency. We can choose because we are free to do so.
God doesn't pre-determine our outcomes, according to James. To do so would negate the gift of free will. Instead, God is present with us as we live, move, and make our choices.
Even when our choices lead us down paths we wish we'd never walked, God is still with us. And even those paths, though shrouded in darkness at times, are part of our journey, instructing and shaping us.
So if you find yourself in shadows today, take a moment to look around you. Go outside and let your feet feel the ground. Listen to the sounds of the world around you. Breathe in and out, and allow yourself to be quiet.
The world is your teacher. God is your companion. The same life that is burgeoning around you is also within you.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.