Author: jimsherblom

Paddling Musketaquid

Approaching Concord’s wildness from the south or west is best done paddling on the rivers.  The Algonquin indigenous people called this ancient river system Musketaquid.  It is a land defined by its sandy esker ridges, left from the melting of the last ice age, and its plentiful waters.  My house is a half mile from egg rock, on a street that ends at the Assabet river.  I often paddle my kayak as a form of transcendental meditation there.   Once I’m on the river, with only bird sounds to distract me, my heart rate slows, and I paddle gently with the current. As we circumnavigate rocky shoals and fallen limbs, the edge of Barrett’s Mill Farm, the final destination of the British troops on April 19, 1775 appears on the river’s northern shore.  I am already drifting between Concord’s two revolutions, the eighteenth century civic fight for freedom and the nineteenth century transcendentalist reimagining of the role of reason and our senses in spirituality.  This tranquil final mile of the Assabet River is mentioned often in …

Walking Walden Transcendentally

A lecture for the Thoreau Society 2018 Annual Gathering by Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom adapted from his soon to be released book (September 2018) SPIRITUAL PILGRIM: Awakening Journeys of a Twenty-First century Transcendentalist.  What is a transcendentalist?  Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1842 lecture describing The Transcendentalist said: “As thinkers, [humankind] has been divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive the senses are not final, and say, the senses give us representations of things, but what are the things themselves they cannot tell.”  The actual data of our senses represents just a small part of our experiences in life.  So, how do we experience the underlying reality beyond what our senses perceive?  What transcends our senses? Whether you approach Concord from the north, east, south or west, all directions pivot around this place.  Walking, driving, cycling or paddling in Concord as a transcendentalist can be a journey across space and time.  If you come on foot from the north, …

A Twenty-First Century Transcendentalist

A transcendentalist seeks to transcend the normal experience of life.  With a sense of ultimate reality, the infinitude of our soul is made real through transcendent experiences.  In Concord, nature’s wildness is usually where that happens, but this transcending of ordinary life can occur in all times and all places.  The indigenous people who lived here for millennia also seemed to have a transcendental consciousness.  So how do we seek, and how do we find, this transcendental consciousness? In his lecture “The Transcendentalist” Emerson said, “what is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism.  Idealism as it appears in 1842.  As thinkers, [human]kind has been divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists: the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell.”  So how do we transcend materialism to become mindful idealists?  What is the consciousness we seek?  For Emerson spiritual idealism was simply part of the perennial philosophy, honored in all places and …

Phebe Bliss Emerson Ripley

 Why do we still not hear the stories of our women ancestors, or ancestors of color, as we do our White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) male ancestors?  Their stories should be told. Concord’s sixth minister, Daniel Bliss (1739 – 1764), was its last Calvinist, Loyalist, and Puritan minister. The times were rapidly changing.  Bliss was, like Jonathon Edwards and George Whitefield, a product of the American Great Awakening.  He preached hellfire and damnation to his often-frightened congregation.  The previous minister, John Whiting (1712 – 1737) was far more liberal, but had apparently been fired for public drunkenness, so he offered alternative worship services at the Black Horse Tavern. His oldest daughter, Phebe Bliss, lived through Concord’s greatest time of transformations.  Born in 1741, she grew up in a British colonial town, loyal to God, King and Country.  She was only 23 when her father died young (age 49) leaving she and her mother and two younger sisters scrambling to make ends meet.  Concord turned to William Emerson, age 22 and a direct descendent of Concord’s founding …

Blacks in Concord

  It is hard to know many of the details of the lives of early enslaved African Americans in Concord, Massachusetts because they were, like white women and children, treated as property rather than as citizens of early Concord.  In the seventeenth century Concord was a subsistence farming community, so college educated intellectuals, such as ministers, lawyers, or doctors, appear to have often relied upon enslaved workers to maintain their households and farms.  But they didn’t tend to leave posterity their names or life details. Concord’s founding minister, the Rev. Peter Bulkeley, and some subsequent First Parish in Concord ministers prior to the American Revolution, appear to have kept slaves at least some of the time.  The church record books include occasional references to enslaved members, but like white women and children, they were seated separately, and were not counted as full or paying members at the time. The first previously enslaved African American to buy land in Concord was John Jack, born 1712, who built his homestead on swampland near the edge of Great …

A New England Colonial town

My family heritage is about fifty percent White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) New Englanders with most of the rest being descended from Swedish immigrants who moved to Worcester in the late nineteenth century to work in the precision tool industry. I am descended from the pilgrim John Alden, who helped to pacify and destroy the indigenous people of Cape Cod.  But I am also descended from the Marlboro farmer Abner Goodale who fought with the rebels at Concord’s Old North Bridge on April 19, 1775.  And also, the WASP loyalist Peter Collicutt, who defending king and country fled to Canada during the American revolution.  It is important we know the histories and heritage of our place in this world. In the late 1620’s the Musketaquid river valley, where Concord would be founded, were open and idyllic pastures and farmlands previously cultivated by a tribe of the Massachusetts indigenous people.  It was twenty miles through the deep dark forest to the nearest settled WASP town, but there were remnants of the indigenous people living in this area …