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Harriet Martineau
by [?]

But at twenty, a great light suddenly shone around her. Love came and revealed the wonders of Earth and Heaven. She had ever been of a religious nature, but now her religion was vitalized and spiritualized. Deity was no longer a Being who dwelt at a great distance among the stars, but the Divine Life was hers. It flowed through her, nourished her and gave her strength.

Renan suggests that one reason why religion remains on such a material plane for many is because they have never known a great and vitalizing love–a love where intellect, spirit and sex find their perfect mate. Love is the great enlightener. And in my own mind I am fully persuaded that comparatively few mortals ever experience this rebirth that a great love gives. We grope our way through life. Nature’s first thought is for reproduction of the species; she has so overloaded physical passion that men and women marry when the blood is warm and intellect callow. Girls marry for life the first man that offers, and forever put behind them the possibilities of a love that would enable them to lift up their eyes to the hills from whence cometh their help. Very, very seldom do the years that bring a calmer pulse reveal a mating of mind and spirit.

When love came to Harriet, she began to write, her first book being a little volume called “Devotional Exercises.” These daily musings on Divine things and these sweetly limpid prayers were all written out first for herself and her lover. But it came to her that what was a help to them might be a help to others. A publisher was found, and the little work had a large sale and found appreciative readers for many years.

Today, out under the trees, I read this first book written by Miss Martineau. How gently sweet and perfect are these prayers asking for a clean heart and a right spirit! And yet at this time Harriet Martineau had gotten well beyond the idea that God was a great, big man who could be beseeched and moved to alter His plans because some creature on the planet Earth asked it. Her religion was pure Theism, with no confounding dogmas about who was to be saved and who damned. The state of infants who died unbaptized and of the heathen who passed away without ever having heard of Jesus did not trouble her at all. She already accepted the truth of necessity, believing that every act of life was the result of a cause. We do what we do, and are what we are, on account of impulses given us by previous training, previous acts or conditions under which we live and have lived.

If then, everything in this world happens because something else happened a thousand years ago or yesterday, and the result could not possibly be different from what it is, why besiege Heaven with prayers?

The answer is simple. Prayer is an emotional exercise; an endeavor to bring the will into a state of harmony with the Divine Will; a rest and a composure that gives strength by putting us in position to partake of the strength of the Universal. The man who prays today is as a result stronger tomorrow, and thus is prayer answered. By right thinking does the race grow. An act is only a crystallized thought; and this young girl’s little book was designed as a help to right thinking. The things it taught are so simple that no man need go to a theological seminary to learn them: the Silence will tell him all if he will but listen and incline his heart. Love had indeed made Harriet’s spirit free. And to no woman can love mean so much as to one who is aware that she is physically deficient. Homely women are apt to make the better wives, and in all my earth-pilgrimage I never saw a more devoted love–a diviner tenderness–than that which exists between a man of my acquaintance, sound in every sense and splendid in physique, and his wife, who has been blind from her birth. For weeks after I first met this couple there rang in my ears that expression of Victor Hugo’s, “To be blind and to be loved–what happier fate!”