"There is no object that we see; no action that we do; no good that we enjoy; no evil that we feel, or fear, but we may make some spiritual advantage of all: and he that makes such improvement is wise, as well as pious" (American Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet, Meditations Divine and Moral I).
From English Anglican Bishop Joseph Hall's Occasional Meditations (1630) to English Puritan John Flavel's Husbandry spiritualized, or, The Heavenly Use of Earthly Things (1674) to Anne Bradstreet's Meditations, we have examples of devotional literature wherein the pious writer takes note of ordinary or extraordinary things around him or her and with meditation finds spiritual application and benefit.
One such example from the literature of American Presbyterianism comes from the Journal of Samuel Davies. In 1753, he left Virginia to visit England and Scotland. That is when his Journal begins. He often took note of the wind, waves and weather around him as he sailed, and sometimes inspired his poetry, but it was not until he was almost back home, off the coast of North Carolina, in 1755, that he really began to takes notes on what he saw for purposes of spiritual meditation and improvement (George William Pilcher, ed., The Reverend Samuel Davies Abroad: The Diary of a Journey to England and Scotland, 1753-55).
"Wednesd. Feb. 12. Blessed be God, we had the wellcome [sic] Sight of Land this Morning; and suppose we are on the Coast of N. Carolina, about 20 Leagues S. of Cape Henry. The Wind is contrary; and if a Storm should rise, we might be driven out to Sea again.
Since my last Remarks, we have had strong Gales and violent Storms of Snow, with violent intense Cold. It has been so cloudy; that we have had no good Observations of 9 Days; and our Reckoning for Longitude being out [editorial note: John Harrison's marine chronometer was not invented until 1761], we knew not where we were. We have been expecting Land, and sounding for Ground, these 14 Days, but were still disappointed 'till this Morning. If the Longitude, which has been so long sought for in vain, could be certainly discovered, it would be vastly to the Advantage of Navigation.
Tho' my Mind has been in such a confusion, during the Passage, that I have not been able to make any useful Remarks to any Advantage; yet the various Phenomenon of the Ocean have suggested to me such Hints as might be well improved by a spiritual Meditant. And I shall take short Memorandum of them that if I should happen to be disposed for it hereafter, I may improve upon them.
The majestic Appearance of this vast Collection of Waters, may suggest to use -- the Majesty -- and Power of God, the Author -- and his uncontroulable Government who rules so outragious an Element as he pleases, and stills it with one almighty Mandate, 'Peace, be still,' -- and the Terror of the Conflagration which shall dry it up.
The alternate Storms and Calms are a picture of the Mutability of human Life on this World -- of the various Frames of a Xn.
As Storms and Hurricanes purifie the Sea, and keep it from corrupting; so Afflications are necessary to purge and sanctifie the People of God, and shall work together for their Good. And so God brings Good out of Evil.
It is calm in some Parts of the Ocean, while it is tempestous [sic] in others. So, particular Persons -- and Countries, are alternately happy and miserable.
The Sea in the Ferment of a Storm gives us an Image -- of a Mind agitated with furious Lusts and Passions -- and a riotous Mobb.
The Ship is our only Safety. So is Xt. to the Souls amid the Ruins of Sin.
After a Storm and a gloomy Night, how wellcome and chearing is the Return of a Calm, and a the Morning Light! So is the Return of Peace and the Light of God's Countenance to a Soul in Darkness and Distress.
The Want of an Observation to discover the Latitude, in cloudy Weather, leaves the Mariner perplexed about his Course. Thus perplexed is the Xn. when God withdraws the Light of his Countenance, or when the Meaning of the Scripture is uncertain.
It is a great Disadvantage to Navigation, and occasions the Loss of many Ships, that the Longitude is not discovered. Thus would it have been, with the moral [sic?] World, if it had not been favoured with the Light of Revelation; and thus is the heathen Part of Mankind at a Loss about the Way to Heaven.
After a long and dangerous Voyage, how eager are the Seamen looking out for Land; and how rejoiced at the Sight of it! Thus eager are some Xns and thus eager should they all be, to see Immanuel's Land, and arrive there.
It is a striking Evidence of the Degeneracy of human Nature, that those who traverse this Region of Wonders, who see so many Dangers and Deliverances, are generally tho'tless, vicious and impenitent.
Such Remarks as these, decorated with lively Images and good Langue, would be both useful and entertaining."
It was the next day that Samuel Davies arrived in Yorktown, Virginia, and two days following he returned home to his dear wife.
Pictured: Winslow Homer, Northeaster (1895).