My four years of high school Latin flew away many, many years ago. All I know now is I am living the idea that time flies. Things that seem to have happened yesterday are ancient history to my grandsons. My students have a very different background than my contemporaries do. It’s all good but it is also all different.
The Emerson class I am teaching is a perfect example of how time flies when you are having fun. We are using some old lectures I taped 20 years ago when I was a hundred pounds heavier and 20 years younger.
I used to write non-fiction for teens, and my talent was making complicated ideas simple. I remember using those skills to very carefully research Transcendentalist history in libraries, taking intricate notes from many sources. The material I offer on tape is still well tailored to the needs of my students.
But times have changed; material on Emerson is now available many other places. However, the facts are still the same and it is still complicated to find the ways in which New Thought is connected to the Transcendentalist movement.
We require practitioners and ministers to have a course in Emerson because he was a major influence on the founder of Religious Science, Ernest Holmes. As I reviewed the more recent material, I realized the facts hadn’t changed. The two men seemed frozen in time but we approach them through new technology.
Every student in my class has an email address, whether they are in their 20’s or 80’s. When I made those tapes many of them did not have computers, let alone cell phones, MP3’s and all the other gadgets. One of my students took a photo of our email list and within 30 minutes of the end of class, it was posted to all the other students. That would have seemed like magic in the days of Emerson and maybe Holmes, as well.
My taped lectures are still useful because they place Emerson and his contemporaries in history. My students gasped as I described the Boston of Emerson’s birth, which had no railroads, only 25,000 people, and no Irish immigrants. My point was that Emerson lived in changing times and after the first class, I came away thinking, “So do we!”
Time really does fly as we live our lives. Emerson was born into an-almost rural Boston area and by the time he died, Boston was a real city, slaves were freed, the nation was much larger, and railroads stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
When our Religious Science founder, Ernest Holmes, was a teenager he read the Emerson’s essays about 70 years after they were written. Now we are reading those same essays about 175 years later. I am certain it was easier for Holmes to see their continuing relevance than it is for us.
My students will have to become accustomed to the old fashioned language in order to understand and appreciate Emerson’s writing. The beautiful part is that the Truth they will find in them will be just as true now as it is then. The only thing that will have changed is that it won’t seem quite so revolutionary. That is why I like to place him in his times – so they can see the magnificence of the man’s mind.
Self-reliance, God throughout all, God as OverSoul, fully present everywhere including all humankind, and the supreme nature of one’s own integrity, are fairly common ideas today. They were rare in a time when most people were wrestling with the idea that maybe God didn’t really create the earth in six days or have a prophet who was swallowed by a whale, those ideas were beyond imagining for many.
Our New Thought heritage includes many strands of wonderful ideas from the past. Some of them came from the Bible and the words of the master teacher, Jesus, some came from Oriental texts, some came from psychology and the discovery of the subconscious nature of our individual consciousness. A very great deal came from Emerson and the Transcendental Movement.
It is a proud heritage that represents the best of the ideal America. The Transcendentalist Movement is responsible for the most original and finest American thinking and the Emerson lectures influenced the growth and development of the United States.
The value of all humans, without respect to social or economic conditions, was a startling idea in a country where half the states allowed slavery. And all the states forbade married women control of their own property or the vote.
Amidst the political rhetoric of the speeches we hear, we tend to forget that the “founding fathers” were talking about white men who owned property when they talked about inalienable rights. Time flew and new ideas engendered new social and political movements. The America of idealists opened up it’s blessings to include the blacks, the women, and the poor.
From the time his first essay, Nature was published in 1836 to his death in 1882, a lot of time flew, and a lot of things changed. Emerson and his friends were the vortex that reached out and enabled much of that change.
If you want to know more about Emerson, you can check your local New Thought church for classes. You can also check out the following websites. Although they won’t tell you anything about the New Thought influences, they will tell you more about Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement.
Smithsonian Magazine May 2003
excellent article on impact of his teaching today
American Trancendentalism Web
good basic background bio
The Ralph Waldo Emerson Society Site
How have you changed?
What changes have you seen?
What changes do you hope to see?