‘merican Mystic:  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

[A simple definition of a mystic is one who seeks to experience God or the Transcendent.  Many of the greatest mystics have shared some of those experiences through poetry.  This is one a series of posts to share a spiritual poem and several quotations that have to do with some of the great themes of mystical writers and saints.  Thoreau deserves to be near the top of the list of what i call “‘merican Mystics.”    150 years ago yesterday Henry David Thoreau died.  He is best known for his book Walden and his essay on Civil Disobedience.  Here is a beautiful prayer he wrote.]

Hold On
I pray today that I may:
Hold on to what is good,
even if it is a handful of earth;
Hold on to what I believe,
even if it is a tree that stands by itself;
Hold on to what I must do,
even if it is a long journey;
Hold on to life,
even when it is easier letting go;
Hold on to Your hand,
even when I have just lost my way.
May I live in each season as it passes:
Breathe the air,
Drink the drink,
Taste the fruit,
And resign myself to the influence of each.
May I be blown by all the winds;
May I open all my pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature,
in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons.
May I grow green with spring, yellow and ripe with autumn,
Drink of each season’s influence as a vial,
A true panacea of all remedies,
Mixed for Your special use.

Quintessential Quotations

To be awake is to be alive.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us
are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and
go to the grave with the song still in them

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.

Happiness is like a butterfly;
the more you chase it, the more it will elude you,
but if you turn your attention to other things,
it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment;
that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.


[PORTRAIT by Benjamin D. Maxham (daguerreotype) of Henry David Thoreau in June 1856. In the public domain it is here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]


About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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2 Responses to ‘merican Mystic:  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

  1. Kelly Rose says:

    Yeah, Mystic Monday! Yeah Henry David Thoreau! What a great American! In reference to the line “A woman is rich in proportion to the number of things which she can afford to let alone,” you should have an “Ascetic Thursday,” or something. They’re really interesting too. : )

  2. Not enough people read Thoreau. Funny how many foreigners make pilgrimages to his humble Walden.

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