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THE DESIDERATA

July 25, 2014

I was ordained on April 1, 1970. That’s right! I was ordained on April Fools Day.

Perhaps you can imagine the jokes and the teasing that simple fact has prompted.

Clare and I were members of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I was two months away from graduation from Seminary. Dr. John Claypool was our pastor. He was also my professor of preaching at Southern Seminary. It was appropriate that John would chaire my ordination council and preach my ordination sermon. In the homily, he used a poem entitled “The Desiderata.”  The Latin word meaning desired things.

At the ordination service, the church presented a Bible to me. John had placed an abbreviated copy of the poem inside the Bible as a bookmark.

That copy indicates that the poem was written in 1692 at Old St. Paul’s Church, in Baltimore, Maryland.

In truth, the author was Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who copyrighted the verse in 1927. The claim that “The Desiderata” was written in 1692 and was later found in Old St. Paul’s Church is incorrect.

In 1959, the Rev. Frederick Kates, the rector of Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore used the poem in a collection of devotional materials he compiled for his congregation. At the top of the booklet was the heading, Old St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692. The church was founded in 1692.

As the poem was passed along, the authorship became clouded. It is certainly understandable that a later publisher would interpret the heading as meaning that the poem itself was found in Old St. Paul’s Church, dated 1692. This notation added to the charm and historic appeal of the poem.

A spoken-word recording of the essay was made by Les Crane perpetuated the older date. That recording reached #8 on the “Billboard” magazine charts in 1971.

When Adlai Stevenson was former Governor of Illinois and Democratic candidate for President of the United States in both 1952 and in 1956. When he died in 1965, a guest in his home found a copy of “The Desiderata” near his bedside. Stevenson had planned to use it in his Christmas cards. The publicity that followed gave the verse a boost in popularity and furthered the mistaken relationship to Old St. Paul’s Church.

The Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

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