Spirituality for Today – January 2012 – Volume 16, Issue 6

A Psalm of Life

By Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

Much has been lost to time and much waits to be discovered. A new year's arrival opens the door of memory and of renewal. My mind enjoys a self-imposed retreat into a world of treasured prose and poetry once viewed through a young man's eyes. At this annual digital change of the anno Domini, I entertain reflections on Longfellow's A Psalm of Life. He first published this poem in 1838. The following excerpts express a timeless message:

An old photo of Henry Wadsworth LongfellowHenry Wadsworth Longfellow

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnist,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Trust no future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, – act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er Life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

These lines speak of mortality and eternity, work and legacy. A number of years ago, the tennis great, Martina Navratilova replied to a question regarding her career, "When I am done, I hope that I mattered." How does our life matter? Throughout human history billions of lives have occupied the earth. Did all of these lives matter? If so, they mattered in what way and to whom? The answers to these questions are as unique as the individuals themselves. Rising from the rhythmic verses and rhyming couplets of the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a song of duty and honor paid by the "creation" to the Creator.

If our life is to have some eternal significance, it is only from the Eternal One that we shall be able to determine that significance. In essence, we have a super-vocation. Our various occupations are elevated by a higher expectation. Many health professionals have discovered that overall well being is enhanced in a person who has a strong faith, has a consistent prayer-life, and enjoys the love and caring of others and is generous in returning that love and caring. Jesus teaches that we are to love God, others, and self. Thus, it should come as no surprise that this command leads to a healthier and happier person. Our super-vocation becomes pellucid by practicing with sincerity and awareness what Jesus taught. Although not understanding completely what contribution to life has been accomplished, the person living in the Lord will have added to the fulfillment of a divine plan by doing so. This matters; this is significant.

One creditable resolution for the New Year would be to determine to live a life in concurrence with the Will of God. This work would reap for the laborer an abundant profit of grace and lasting feelings of gratitude from all receiving this benefice. One day in August 1879, the poet encountered a young lady, a Longfellow fan, asked him – not knowing that she was in the presence of the great man – requested of him if this was Longfellow's house and did the poet die there. He replied, "Not Yet!" Three years later, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did die and left us a psalm of life and of faith.