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V. A Handful of Heather Henry van Dyke

White Heather.

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So my gentle teacher with the silver hair showed me the treasures of her ancient, simple faith; and I felt that no sermons, nor books, nor arguments can strengthen the doubting heart so deeply as just to come into touch with a soul which has proved the truth of that plain religion whose highest philosophy is "Trust in the Lord and do good." At the end of the evening the household was gathered for prayers, and the Mistress kneeled among her servants, leading them, in her soft Scottish accent, through the old familiar petitions for pardon for the errors of the day, and refreshing sleep through the night and strength for the morrow. It is good to be in a land where the people are not ashamed to pray. I have shared the blessing of Catholics at their table in lowly huts among the mountains of the Tyrol, and knelt with Covenanters at their household altar in the glens of Scotland; and all around the world, where the spirit of prayer is, there is peace. The genius of the Scotch has made many contributions to literature, but none I think, more precious, and none that comes closer to the heart, than the prayer which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote for his family in distant Samoa, the night before he died:--

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"We beseech thee, Lord, to behold us with favour, folk of many families and nations, gathered together in the peace of this roof: weak men and women subsisting under the covert of thy patience. Be patient still; suffer us yet a while longer--with our broken promises of good, with our idle endeavours against evil--suffer us a while longer to endure, and (if it may be) help us to do better. Bless to us our extraordinary mercies; if the day come when these must be taken, have us play the man under affliction. Be with our friends, be with ourselves. Go with each of us to rest; if any awake, temper to them the dark hours of watching; and when the day returns to us--our sun and comforter--call us with morning faces, eager to labour, eager to be happy, if happiness shall be our portion, and, if the day be marked to sorrow, strong to endure it. We thank thee and praise thee; and, in the words of Him to whom this day is sacred, close our oblation."

The man who made that kindly human prayer knew the meaning of white heather. And I dare to hope that I too have known something of its meaning, since that evening when the Mistress of the Glen picked the spray and gave it to me on the lonely moor. "And now," she said, "you will be going home across the sea; and you have been welcome here, but it is time that you should go, for there is the place where your real duties and troubles and joys are waiting for you. And if you have left any misunderstandings behind you, you will try to clear them up; and if there have been any quarrels, you will heal them. Carry this little flower with you. It's not the bonniest blossom in Scotland, but it's the dearest, for the message that it brings. And you will remember that love is not getting, but giving; not a wild dream of pleasure, and a madness of desire--oh no, love is not that--it is goodness, and honour, and peace, and pure living--yes, love is that; and it is the best thing in the world, and the thing that lives longest. And that is what I am wishing for you and yours with this bit of white heather."


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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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