I would have faith to keep the path Christ trod

This week’s quote is the twelfth and final line from the poem I have relied on to discuss a collection of character traits identified by the poem’s author, Harold Arnold Walter. He was a divinity student at Princeton University, whose 1905 poem written to his mother as a Christmas present became the source of my pirated inspiration.

I learned about the poem when I found it nestled amongst songs of praise in a Christian hymnal. It struck my fancy as the content was something of an outlier; focusing on self and the internal qualities one hopes to possess like some virtuous miser. Its compatriots in that collection of songs were distinctly outward looking; songs of praise and adoration of another transcending one’s self.

Walter’s poem became a popular hymn thanks to the musical talents of Joseph Yates Peek, a Methodist lay-minister, but only after the content was altered by a Congregational Minister, Ralph Harlow, who claimed that the deceased Walter visited him in a dream, beseeching him to finish the poem.

My aspirations as a wannabe historian rejected Harlow’s alterations in preference for working with the original material. If I have shown the attribute of being faithful, it is only evident in my presentation of the poem as written, one line at a time.

Walter divided his poem into three stanzas of four lines each. With these twelve lines, he made what are in essence twelve pledges to his mother, each line highlighting a specific character trait and its significance in his life. Actually he specifically mentioned only seven traits, those of being true, pure, strong, brave, friendly, giving and humble. He also listed five commitments he would always undertake in how he lived his life. These five I have liberally interpreted as also requiring him to be optimistic, faithful, devout, persistent and now resolute.

Unless you’re Nicolas Cage citing HMS Resolute as holding an important clue in the discovery of hidden wealth (see his movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets), you likely have never used the word resolute in a complete sentence. It is a once popular word that has fallen out of favor, but that is the common trend with most aspects of character. Personality prevails in our postmodern world.

When we do use words like optimistic, faithful, devout, persistent and resolute there is an obvious overlap in their meaning. The more nuanced concept of being resolute, however, can be seen in Walter’s stated commitment to keep the path Christ trod. That path has one singular destination. We call it Calvary. Walter’s pledge entails doing the charitable services Jesus performed with the understanding that such actions can prove to be fatal.

Whether we literally become martyrs to the cause or simply make personal sacrifices in denial of self, there are potentially negative consequences to our actions, no matter how good and compassionate our intentions may be. Being resolute means pursuing the goal despite the cost. The life-long commitment means not to turning back, giving up or giving in.

I dwell on such things because I think character is key to a life well lived. And for me it reveals an exquisite irony. For while the pursuit of character requires constant self-examination in order to hold ourselves accountable to our pledges and commitments, the end result tends towards a life of service to others Internally strengthened, we use our gifts for the benefit of those we encounter be they family, friends, colleagues, teammates or strangers in need.

This is the path that Christ trod, all the way to Calvary and consequently an empty tomb. May you be blessed as you ponder the significance of this week’s Easter observances.

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