The curmudgeonly journalist H.L. Mencken pronounced Puritanism as the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. In popular culture, the Puritans are generally considered devout and devoid of fun. Yet the Puritans were complicated and complex people, much like us. They worked hard, they made mistakes, they had fun, they worried, they celebrated, and they tried to figure out how to live with God and their neighbors. No easy task, then or now.

As I struggle to figure out the ways to worship God with my mind, I have come to appreciate the Puritan emphasis on spiritual reflection as a devotional practice. This is one of my favorites:

The Valley of Vision
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
     where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
     hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
     that the way down is the way up,
     that to be low is to be high,
     that the broken heart is the healed heart,
     that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
     that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
     that to have nothing is to possess all,
     that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
     that to give is to receive,
     that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime starts can be seen from deepest wells,
     and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine.
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
               thy life in my death,
               thy joy in my sorrow,
               thy grace in my sin,
               thy riches in my poverty
               thy glory in my valley.

From Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust), 1975.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

2 Comments

  • Bob VE says:

    Thanks Rebecca,
    This reflection I think could just as well have been Jesus speaking. BVE

  • Mike Weber says:

    While it is an often repeated idea, it is not true that you can see stars from the bottom of wells during day time. I want this to be true because the image is so powerful, but in point of fact it is folklore only and not rooted in reality.

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