Blessed thought

Sometimes the pathway is beautiful, sometimes not,
but I truly believe we need never walk it alone.
Mission San Juan Bautista, California, June 2003

“He leadeth me:  O blessed thought! 
O words with heavenly comfort fraught! 
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.” Joseph H. Gilmore

This old hymn, which its author said was written during “the darkest hour of the Civil War,” has always been a favorite of mine.  I have vivid childhood memories of hearing it sung by the congregation in church, where the booming, perfectly-pitched tenor of an older British gentleman rose above the others and impressed me with the conviction in his tone when he sang it.  To hear him sing those words was to feel a sense of elation and absolute assurance that went perfectly with the beautiful melody of the song’s chorus.

I know there are a lot of people who have mostly negative views of religious faith.  I can understand to some extent how people could feel that way, given the wars and violence done in the name of various religions, and the unfortunate stereotypes of believers that are often perpetuated by the media.

My own experience of faith, though, has been almost completely the opposite.  For a lifetime I have been watching believers whose faith in God has defined their lives and blessed the world around them.  I have seen people weather unbelievably tough times with a peace that truly passes understanding.  I have been strengthened and upheld by knowing that people are praying for us.  And the sadness of losing loved ones who die is tempered by the belief that their souls live on, and the hope that we will someday see them again.

To some, of course, this sounds like foolish wishful thinking.  But I’m reminded of one of my favorite Woody Allen quotes:  “What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”  As funny as this quote is, he does have a point. If it’s cold, hard evidence you’re after, I think most of what seems like “proof” is just as illusory, if not more so, than truths that cannot be seen. I’m not sure we have any more reason to trust what we see as “realities” that appear only to our senses, than we do to trust in the unseen, and perhaps Einstein would agree.

In any case, I am profoundly thankful to have this song among the ones that play inside my head when I need them most.  I love it even more now, after sitting beside Jeff in church this morning, hearing him sing the words of the final verse and knowing he meant them.  The world is a very tough place at times, and it’s unspeakably comforting to hold to an unchanging hand.

One year ago yesterday*

Hidden inside

*the post from one year ago today was linked in yesterday’s post



  1. sarvjit

    We needn’t be ‘religious’ but we have to be ‘spiritual’.

    • Sarvjit, that’s an important distinction, I think. I tend to think of religion as the outward expression of inward spirituality. In other words, in the way I think of it, one can be religious without being spiritual (and unfortunately, many people are) but one cannot be spiritual without being religious in some way, meaning without showing the outward signs of devotion that results from a changed heart. These outward signs of devotion are not necessarily the ones people have tended to think of as religious activity, such as showy rituals, demonstrative loud prayer and speech, and so on. The religion I seek to embody is described in the Bible in James 1:26-27: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” When our hearts are right, we will be careful what we say, not seek to harm others with our words, and will naturally show compassion for those who need our help, and will not be overcome or ruined by the noise and evil in the world. This is why spirituality, not merely religion, is our goal. The inward comes before the outward. Good point about the difference.

      • Jack

        When I thought myself simply spiritual, I was free to make my own choices, do whatever I thought “right for me”, wreck my life in whatever manner seemed to suit my fickle nature. Respectfully, the notion of a deity or a higher power or a spirit that sacrificed nothing that I might love Him, holds me not to any account, doesn’t demand my allegiance, won’t challenge me or confront me or do anything that a Father would do of his beloved child doesn’t seem worthy of worship to me. I want, need to be loved into something useful…and I’m going to worship something; it’s wired into my (and I suspect everyone’s) DNA.

        • Jack, I agree that we are “hard-wired” to worship; religion of some sort is part of pretty much every human culture. It seems to me that even those who do not accept or practice any traditional religion tend to find surrogates in the form of other causes, passions or beliefs that dominate their lives and give meaning to existence. Like you, I think of God as a loving parent who wants and expects my best, but this notion may be easier to accept if one has had loving parents. I think it’s possible that the word “Father” or “parent” may give an unfortunate idea of God, whether the error is that of an overindulgent “who cares, whatever makes you happy” type of parent, or an overly strict, unloving and harsh parent. This does not mean that it’s a bad metaphor (or even a metaphor at all), it simply exemplifies that people’s understanding of God varies so wildly, for a variety of reasons, that some dismiss the notion of deity altogether, while some build entire lives and worlds around it.

          I do think, as you imply, that self-will has a lot to do with rejection of God, as well as distorted concepts of God. The same self-will that can cause some of us to deny God altogether, can lead others of us to mentally re-create God in the image that is most acceptable to us personally. Maybe this is why I have come to trust so completely in the idea of God as being supremely merciful! 🙂 I like Anne Lamott’s quote “You can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he hates all the same people you do.”

          I think the word “spiritual” is often misused in recent years to mean some squishy, anything goes, warm-fuzzy feeling, but this is not the sense in which C. S. Lewis and other great writers have written of spirituality. As with so many other words that get hijacked to use for political or other agendas and thus take on distorted meanings — words such as “conservative” “liberal” “traditional” “feminist” “values” “freedom” and “choice” to name just a few — “spirituality” has been confused by some to mean the sort of moral license that you describe, where there is no objective right or wrong, only the internal compass. But hopefully most of us who use that term understand that it has much deeper significance.

      • sarvjit

        What great thoughts! That’s true people say that they are religious and do things which are beyond the guidelines of God. All the religions convey the same message but the translations have gone wrong. God only created one religion – humanity. Thank you.

        • Sarvjit, I think the best we can do is keep praying to God to open our eyes and help us see the truth. I honestly believe he will do that when we seek him. Thanks for being here with us!

  2. Ann

    Your reference to Einstein reminded me of the following explanation he gave on his theory of relativity and how it relates to time: sitting on a hot stove for a minute seems like an hour. Sitting next to a pretty girl for an hour seems like a minute.
    Something to ponder on this cold morning.

    • Yes Ann, I think Einstein was right about that! I can create my own versions of this – “Being on an exercise machine for a minute feels like an hour; being on Pinterest for an hour feels like a minute.” 🙂

  3. Michael

    Yesterday NPR had a segment on the author of “The Little Prince,” which was actually written on Long Island and in Manhattan, after the author fled Nazi occupied France. A line lifted from the work, ” all the things that matter are unseen.” Or something like that. Antoine was a reconnaissance pilot who was lost over the channel? There is a museum dedicated to his memory. Sounds like a character. He would wander Manhattan with a sheaf of paper from his manuscript, a cigarette perpetually dangling from his lips. Pages from his original manuscript are dotted with drips of coffee and traces of ash. Sounds like I need to reread this one. We have boxes of the kids books somewhere- more evidence of hoarding- and I think it is buried in there somewhere.

    • Michael, The Little Prince has long been one of my favorite books, and I lost count of how many people I gave it to as a gift. I have quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry at least a couple of times on this blog, including one of my favorite quotes from that book. What I didn’t know until recently, but did not find surprising, is that he had a close friendship with Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who was very grieved when he died in a plane crash. I have always wanted to read his other books, mostly memoirs about flying. Just recently I read of an exhibit in Manhattan which describes how the book originally included a visit to New York City. I tried to figure out some way to make a quick trip to NYC before the exhibit ends in April, but I don’t think it will be possible. By all means, do read the book. It’s one of the few I would ALWAYS advise people to purchase and keep.

  4. Veronica Brown

    Julia, Your words and pictures are such an inspiration. What an eloquent gift you have for encouraging & blessing others. I seldom write, but I do visit each day and keep you and your family in my prayers.

    • Thank you Veronica! I am always so happy to hear from readers, and it means a great deal to hear from those who are typically less inclined to leave comments. I know you have commented a few times before so I knew you were there, but am happy to hear from you again and know you are still reading and enjoying the blog. Thanks so much for being here!

  5. Michael
    “What is essential is unseen.” i.e. -faith.

    • Yes, I put a link to this very article on my Facebook page not long ago. The story surrounding that quote (as told in the book, where the fox gives it to the little prince as a gift) is even more touching and charming.

  6. This is incredible and so very beautiful. I can’t get over the power of your posts. It’s really added to my days.

    • Thank you so much, Kourtney! That is a lovely compliment and it means a great deal to me. I am so happy you enjoy the posts. I was blessed to sing this very song last night with most of my family, including my Daddy whose health has been precarious at best for the past few months. When I sang it with Jeff recently I thought how much I wanted to sing it with Daddy at least one more time…last night God granted us that beautiful gift! Thanks for being here.

      • That’s such a blessing. God is full of gifts.

        • Yes, too many to count! 🙂 Thanks for being one of them.

  7. Carolyn

    I went to hidden inside and found Drew and Grady’s picture. I know you and Jeff as so happy to have him and wait to see more pictures. What does Uncle Matt think about Grady? Have a great week. I will let you know how the surgery went sometimes during the week. Love and hugs to all.

    • Carolyn, you probably know this, but most of the pictures of Grady are on Grady’s Page (click on title in the email to get to the blog post itself, then when you get to the actual blog, click on the words “Grady’s Page” at the top. The emails do not contain the entire blog, you have to click through to get to the actual blog spot. Soon there will be a picture of Grady and me that the computer took just before Christmas! Matt loves Grady, as we expected that he would. Thanks for keeping us posted about your surgery. Love to you and Terry!

  8. Sandra Watkins

    Amen! This one of my many “favorite” hymns.

    • Thank you Sandra! I’m so glad you like it. I feel sad to think we don’t sing it in church much anymore, but there are so many lovely new ones that I suppose there isn’t as much time for the old ones. I love when we have singing nights and sing lots of songs; the singing is undoubtedly the part of worship that I enjoy the most. Thanks for being here, and for your comment.

  9. I do remember as a child, asking my dad, “does everyone die?” (I’m not sure what prompted it). He simply said, “yep, everyone, sometime”. Dad wasn’t a church goer nor religious and we only attended for a short time when our neighbour, pastor Schmidt, would drive. I might be wrong, but I don’t believe Canadians attend much. I’m not sure why the difference in beliefs or ‘lifestyles’ between our countries. I just know that my dad lived by, “to each their own”. We were taught to respect others points of view and be considerate of all ideas, whether our family adopted them or not. I do think it’s wonderful how it gives a strong sense of belonging and community to members. I remember singing in Sunday school though, songs like, “this little light of mine”. I used to be rather afraid of dying but since loosing my dad, not anymore.

    • Generally, I think that dying is something that grows less frightening as one grows older. When we lose loved ones to death, especially those who left us with admirable examples of how to live AND die with courage and grace, it takes away some of the fear. When I was a teenager I was much more fearless about certain things – car or plane accidents, for example – until my children were born, when I had a sort of “I am no longer replaceable” mentality that made me feel that I MUST stay alive for their sakes. So for a brief time, I was more afraid of dying, thus leaving my children without a mother, than I ever was before or since. This too has lessened as they have grown older.

      There’s a wonderful scene in Field of Dreams that I think of when I wonder what it will be like to face death. It’s the moment when Terrence Mann is about to walk into the cornfield which is the otherworldly place the ghostly players come from each day. He is clearly afraid and uncertain of what he will face there, yet also excited. He stands before the cornfield and tentatively reaches an arm into the tall foliage, then draws it back, looks over to Ray and his family, and giggles at his own excitement and fear. I hope I feel a little bit like that if I am conscious of the moment I am about to die. A bit nervous, maybe even a little afraid, but also excited and filled with anticipation.

      We used to sing “This little light of mine” in Sunday School too – we would hold up our index fingers while we sang it and wave it around. “Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.” 🙂

      • By coincidence, I saw Field Of Dreams with my dad. We were both sobbing and going thru tissues like mad. My ex was a little flabbergasted I think, LOL.
        I loved that show so much, I’ve seen it many many times since and know exactly the part you’re talking about. It’s written by a Canadian, did you know? Mr Kinsella was actually born in my home town 😀 I think our chat has now come full circle…ha…shine on Julia, shine on xoK

        • I just love Field of Dreams. We have the video and have watched it many times. In fact my sons practically have it memorized. I’m not a Kevin Costner fan at all — he sort of gets on my nerves — but he was born to play that role, I think. I just love the music to it! Sometimes when I need to sit down and have a good cry I put it on and bawl my eyes out. I didn’t realize the author was from your home town but of course my favorite writer Malcolm Gladwell is also from Canada – you guys produce a lot of literary talent to go along with all those amazing gardens!

          • That’s so funny you feel that way about Kevin Costner, ME TOO. He seems arrogant whenever I’ve seen him interviewed. Plus he also cheated on his wife and looks a bit like my ex…need I say more 😀
            I have heard of Malcolm Gladwell only thru a 60 minutes interview. Interesting guy with a less than stellar start. Go Canucks ! 😀 LOL

            • You just described all the reasons I’m no fan. Except for the last one of course, which I wouldn’t have known, but if he looks like your ex, that’s one more reason in my book. 🙂 Malcolm Gladwell is an absolute treasure, a writer with a keen mind, curious spirit and compassionate heart. What I love most about him is that he seems to have genuine esteem for all the people about whom he writes, no matter what their station in life. So many who write about others seem somehow to be critical of them or condescending. Gladwell conveys sincere respect even while making quite pointed observations about people and how we behave. Anything he writes goes immediately to the top of my “must read” list! You guys keep up whatever you’re doing to produce such great comedians, gardeners and writers!

      • Rene

        I think it’s funny you mentioned Malcolm Gladwell. At the bottom of the exhibit story, there is mention of an eco-terrorist being sentenced to read one of Gladwell’s books while in prison. I checked it out & it’s not a joke, as it seemed at first.

        • Wow, how totally cool! Did it say which book? Or did they let the incarcerated person choose which one? Gladwell is a master of open-minded optimism and good will. His respect for people is contagious. I can easily imagine that reading him would be a very freeing and healing experience for an angry person.

  10. Beautiful garden path…I would enjoy strolling along smelling the flowers!

    • Yes, the mission gardens in California were always lovely. Most were large enough for quite a nice stroll, too. We have a neighbor who has turned his backyard into a garden that reminds me of those. Sometimes I dream of creating a garden like that in our back yard. I don’t think I could get very much to bloom in our wooded area. The azaleas we planted back there didn’t bloom much until we transplanted them back into the yard.

  11. Michael

    My daughter in law also loves-” The little Prince.” She lives in Manhattan and may get to visit the museum-not far from them on Museum Row. They live in East Harlem. When I mentioned the book to my wife-she said she tried to read it to our sons who were not too interested. Oh well. They preferred-“Steam shovel Mike.”
    That is a great Ann Lamont quote which I had not heard before. I started to read-“Little Prince.”

    • Michael, it’s not surprising that some kids would not find the book interesting. It’s really written on an adult level more than on a child’s, I think. There are so many quotes from that book that have stayed with me through the years. One of the most haunting ones is “I am busy with matters of consequence.” That part of the story was good to keep in mind when our kids were young and I would often be frustrated at having many urgent or “important” tasks that seemed to be going undone. Also I love the lamplighter; I have often felt like him! The king and the conceited man cracked me up. It’s such a delightful story.

    • Rene

      If you mean “Mike Mulligan & His Steam Shovel,” that is a wonderful story too; I read it to my kids many times. I remember my mom trying to read “The Little Prince” to us when I was young, but I don’t remember any of the characters or scenes that people have mentioned here. I think it will go on my 2014 reading list…

      • Rene, I have only vague memories of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, but I know my sister has mentioned it as a classic (she’s been a teacher for nearly 40 years). One wonderful thing about books is that there is something for everyone and we don’t all connect to the same titles. The great librarian Ranganathan, who was perhaps my favorite inspiration in graduate school, described 5 simple laws of library science, and one of them was “for every book its reader.” Another one was “for every reader, his or her book.” Reading is one of the few activities that can be enjoyed by literally all populations. It’s the epitome of true diversity.

  12. cynthia k

    I have to make sure I never delete this one! Thank you so much for the inspiration today at just the right time.

    • Thank you Cynthia, I’m so happy you found it helpful. I’m glad it came at a good time for you. I appreciate your letting me know, and I hope you have a great week!

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