Outstretched Wings of the Spirit--Day Thirty-five

The Thirty-fifth Day
(Tuesday, April 9, 2019)

City of God

“The church has always cherished the dream of an ideal social order called the City of God, and has striven to bring it into existence. . . . The church has tried to improve society by changing individuals. But the social order cannot be changed through effort to change its individual units for a very simple reason. Suppose it were possible (as it is not) to make all individuals into saints without first changing the social system. Still these saints, each with the best intentions in the world, would find themselves destroying one another and all the values of life, if the coordinating institutions were not fitted to direct their interactions in ways that were beneficial. . . . The more complex and compact society becomes, the less effective is the good intention of the individual who lacks the guiding support of institutions to coordinate his or her activities with those of others, We cannot personally know the needs of most of the people who are affected by what we do. . . . To be sure these saints—supposing they could be produced in the midst of such malfunctioning institutions—might change the social order. But that is a gigantic task in itself and cannot be left to take care of itself while everyone is striving to transform everyone else into an individual saint. . . . Yet without the sustaining devotion and driving loyalty of a religion, social reconstruction with all its difficulties and sacrifices cannot be carried through.” (Wieman & Wieman)

The City of God is not a place, but a condition. It is never wholly achieved, but always a-building. It requires individual transformation, which in turn sparks social revolution. The task if religion is, step by step, to help people grow into that City, so that they may discover it emerging within and among them, transforming their society in the direction of wider mutualities. This inevitably will require new and reborn social institutions if the reborn spirits are not to be suffocated and stifled. (Donald Szantho Harrington)


We pray, dear God, Your City come on earth as it exists in Your own mind and essence. And we know that requires us to forgive if we expect or hope to be forgiven, and that we learn to love more fully year by passing year. Teach us to love. We know also that Your promise of the better day must come to pass through us. Rouse us to that task. Amen.


At length there dawns the glorious day by prophets long foretold,
At length the chorus clearer grows that shepherds heard of old.
The day of growing humanhood breaks on our eager eyes,
And human hatreds flee before the radiant Eastern skies.

For what are sund’ring strains of blood of ancient caste or creed?
One claim unites us all in God to serve each human need.
Then here together, humans all, we pledge to God anew
Our loyal love, our stalwart faith, our service strong and true.

One common faith unites us all, we seek one common goal;
One tender comfort broods upon  the struggling human soul.
To this clear call of humanhood our hearts respond with love;
We join the modern new crusade of our great God above.

—Ozora Stearns Davis (Hymns of the Spirit, no. 356)

Donald Szantho Harrington wrote the Lenten meditation manual Outstretched Wings of the Spirit: On Being Intelligently and Devotedly Religiousbased on the theology of Henry Nelson Wieman and Regina Westcott Wieman. It was published by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1980.