Dear Lord and Father of mankind, Forgive our foolish ways! Reclothe us in our rightful mind, In purer lives Thy service find, In deeper reverence, praise. (John Greenleaf Whittier 1872)
God knows our “foolish ways” and our prideful ways—the selfish things we do and the grudges and hurts we often carry around for far too long. But the “Lord and Father” of humankind also knows our need for Him. He knows how much we seek some comforting connection beyond ourselves. And, since childhood, the calming presence of Christ that flows through this hymn has always touched me.
Originally, the words were part of an extended poem. Whittier was rejecting what religious believers do, and what they have always done—which is to rely too much on external, physical worship as a way to connect them with God. Being a Quaker, Whittier knew that it was the “inward light” of Christ that brings us comfort and draws us near.
The mystery that first emerged with Jesus’ resurrection, the beautiful secret of Christianity, is that God the Father never meant His children to walk through life alone. And He didn’t intend the earthly trials we encounter here to be some kind of a pass or fail test. Instead, He sent Jesus Christ, the living Saviour, to be “God with us,” always. His presence at our side is God’s forgiveness. His compassion is the saving love that cleanses our heart and purifies our intentions.
So we can stop relying so much on our “foolish ways,” the desperate things we do to find God. He isn’t hiding. He’s always right here. We need only to open our hearts, to make room for Christ’s warmth and vibrancy and strength. And the best way to begin, as Whittier wrote, is with the meekness of listening, the stillness and humility of no words, the “deeper reverence” of “praise.”