Daily Probiotics and Lots of Water

A thanks to my one-shot Naturopathic Doctor.

Sixteen years ago, as part of my treatment for prostate cancer, I had my one (and only) consultation with a naturopathic doctor at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southwestern Regional Medical Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

This lone visit served as a follow-up to undergoing radiation bombardment of my prostate gland in daily sessions for about one month (You can read more details of my experience in Tulsa here: http://faithatease.com/2008/07/trees-doves-and-cancer/).

Throughout my treatment and follow-up examinations at the Cancer Treatment Centers in Tulsa and Philadelphia, no one ever again asked about or advised me regarding my naturopathic history. Many provided standard candid suggestions: “Stay off the red meats,” “Eat lots of salmon,” “Go easy on fried foods,” “exercise as much as you can,” “Eliminate soft drinks–even the diet kind,” “Drink your coffee and tea without sugar,” “Not too much on the dairy products–especially ice-cream.”

None of my examiners, however, matched Dr. Cynthia Bye, NA, who at the time was doing her residency in Tulsa after completing her studies in naturopathic medicine. I sat with her for about an hour, and I still have–and often refer to–the record of my naturopathic consultation she provided when I walked out of her office and down to a hospital pharmacy.

Here’s a summary of her advice: No red meat; an hour of exercise each day; drink water away from food. Then she added a sixteen-item list of supplements I might find helpful. Some of them have become daily companions: DigestIve Aid #34; L-Glutamine; Lycopene; Flax seed or oil; a daily probiotic; melatonin; and a daily multi-vitamin.

I recall, as I rose to leave, I said, “Wow! That’s quite a list.”

“Short answer,” she replied. “Take daily probiotics and drink lots of water.”

And that, by far, is the best medical slogan I’ve heard and practiced over the past 16 years.

Memoir 5–Going Steady, Papists, and The Ink Spots

I’ll call him Kenny Powers (his last name escapes me), one of the thirteen members of the Thessalonians, a rival social club in the Windsor Terrace/Park Slope neighborhoods of my youth that lay between Prospect Park and the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Kenny stood well over 6-feet, with large hands and feet but, except for perhaps tennis at his school, he demonstrated little athletic skill or interest. An intelligent boy, he introduced us to gadgets and books that we probably never ran across at school. A music lover, Kenny eschewed the growing rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon that delighted most of us and preferred the close harmonies of groups from my older sister’s era, such as The Ink Spots.

The Thessalonians met in the basement of one member’s house on Fuller Place. The club gathered for games, study, service, and dance parties to which they invited neighborhood girls. All of the thirteen adolescent boys’ were Roman Catholics who had attended Holy Name Church before spreading themselves among different high schools–mostly parochial–in the surrounding regions of the borough. I don’t think any of the Thessies, as we called them, attended Manual Training High School, the unfortunately named institution where I was educated. They called themselves The Thessalonians and took their name from the Biblical New Testament letters of St. Paul written to the early Christian church in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Membership in the club was by invitation only and limited to 13–the number of letters in Thessalonians. Unlike many other clubs in the surrounding neighborhoods, the Thessalonians showed little or no interest in athletics.

A smaller club, known as the Valours, met in Michael Fox’s basement on Windsor Place, also for parties and dances with neighborhood girls, but mostly for sports. We played stickball against teams from other nearby neighborhoods, usually with small monetary wagers going to the winners. We played basketball in the PAL (Police Athletic League of the 72nd precinct) and also in Catholic Leagues organized in the school gyms of the neighborhood. The Valours were limited to seven members because Valours had seven letters. We were Michael Fox, in whose basement we met, Christopher Wren, a good friend of Michael’s, Kenneth McCarthy, Robert (Bobby) Buckley, Donald Lyons, Edward Babinski, and me (the lone Protestant in the group).

Valours and Thessalonians were not street gangs; in fact, we often gathered together for parties and co-ed games, but mostly we just “hung out together” focussing primarily on Dominic’s Soda and Ice Cream Parlor on the corner of 10th Avenue and Windsor Place. Dom’s–as we called the soda shop–provided a place to meet for a snack and to listen to the jukebox continuously play the current 100 hits, a place to meet girls our age, and a place to slurp New York’s ubiquitously favorite soft drink, an egg cream.

(Read the Wikipedia entry for “egg cream” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_cream to understand the history and singular significance of the drink).

During the years we were mostly sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school, the two clubs socialized and befriended each other easily. On the corner opposite Dom’s parlor was a tavern and on another corner was a grocery store. One door up from the grocery store was the home of Mary Duffy, one of the girls in the mix of our social lives. The front stoop of Mary’s house provided a common gathering place where boys and girls together mixed and played and ambled to the booths in the back of Dom’s to enjoy the jukebox and our egg creams.

During that time of my life, I became enchanted with Elaine Grant, a good friend of Mary’s, who frequently visited the stoop and shared time with me in a booth at Dom’s. It didn’t take long before Elaine and I were considered “going steady” as the jargon of our adolescence put it. I nightly walked Elaine home along Tenth Avenue to 17th Street beyond Prospect Avenue, holding hands as we walked but disengaging as we turned down 17th Street and strolled to her front door just a few houses down the street. After supper most nights I’d head over to Elaine’s house, and together we’d stroll back to Duffy’s stoop and join our friends.

Elaine and I did a lot of socializing and walking as sixteen-year-olds. We attended dancing parties that included kissing games like spin-the-bottle and were mildly embarrassed when the bottle forced us to kiss in front of the others. I believe she and I, in our separate ways, innocently learned the wonder of liking and being liked by a person of the opposite gender.

However, any romantic crushes that Elaine and I might have experimented with were doomed aforehand. A devout Roman Catholic, Elaine came from a faithful and practicing family in the Holy Name parish. My family, while not Orangemen, were Wesleyan Methodists with a particular disdain for any Roman Catholic that didn’t convert to Protestantism. Many of my parents’ friends dismissed Roman Catholics as papists. My parents echoed sentiments from John Wesley, and they knew of several in our fundamentalist church who had married “outside their faith” and became alienated forever. Though, my folks often remarked–as if surprised–on “how nice” the disdained Catholic partner seemed to be.

I remember my older brother just before being drafted into the artillery during the Korean conflict had developed a close relationship with Marilyn McKenna, the older sister of Margaret McKenna, who had been one of my best friends at The Windsor School (aka P.S. 154). I’d overheard all the discussions my parents had with my older brother concerning his getting too friendly with a “Catholic girl.” When the draft board set a date for my brother to report for duty, I think my mother secretly welcomed the opportunity for my brother to be forced away from the influence of Marilyn.

Even if I tried to deny it, the stance of my parents kept me from any consideration of becoming “unequally yoked” to a papist. Thus, by my senior year of high school, Elaine and I no longer walked hand-to-hand together to and from her home on 17th Street.

Shortly, Kenny Powers, who had the politeness of asking me if Elaine and I were still “going steady,” became the boy who walked her home.

About that time, my interests had shifted to the neighborhood near the Methodist Hospital and All Saints Episcopal Church, where several of my friends were high school classmates, basketball teammates, and non-Catholics.

I often wonder if Elaine ever became enamored of the music of The Ink Spots. I did.

 

Memories and Finding Faith–a brief note

The older I’ve become at this blogging game, the more I drift into recording my memories.

Last week, I visited an online site offering a four-week course in “Writing A Personal Essay.” In my explorations, the presenter of the class referred to the book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Memoir Writing, by Natalie Goldberg. (New York: Atria Press [Simon & Schuster Free Press], 2009).

I made an instantaneous shift from exploring a course offering to finding Goldberg’s book that I’d scanned almost a decade ago, and I hustled to amazon.com to buy a paperback copy.

If you revisit this site, expect to find more memoirs as my memory takes me back again and again to my journey toward faith at ease.


Last week, a fine cataloger of the journey of faith seeking ease died. Rachel Held Evans was 37 years old and the mother of a three-year-old and one-year-old. Her books contain much about the struggles and blessings of the faith-journey from fundamentalism to love.

As one who has traveled a similar path to loving Jesus and my neighbors, I feel I can offer nothing better than a recommendation that you read Rachel’s books and blog.

This link will take you to her books:

https://www.google.com/search?newwindow=1&safe=active&ei=fLbRXLXENeXD_QaJ-ovABA&q=books+by+Rachel+Held+Evans&oq=books+by+Rachel+Held+Evans&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0i324j0i22i30.1365103.1373365..1374259…0.0..0.185.2610.17j9……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i67j0j0i131j35i39j0i22i10i30.7N3SybWfkVs

Her blog is at:

https://rachelheldevans.com/blog

–the posting of “Rachel’s Health Updates,” a record of her battle with a deadly infection, is written by her husband, Daniel Evans.

Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.

 

 

Good Friday Meditation–2019

Here’s the text from a Hank Williams sacred song called “How Can You Refuse Him Now?”

“As He hung there on the tree,
He prayed for you and me,
There was no one his pain to ease;
Before He died, He faintly cried,
Father, forgive them please.”

Williams, remembered as the most famous country singing star of the twentieth century, died  on January 1, 1953, at 29. Williams also had earned a reputation in the country music industry as an unreliable performer, a womanizer, and a man squandering his musical talent for a love affair with booze and drugs.

Born in Alabama, Williams grew up sitting beside his mother as she played the organ in a country church. Inevitably, once he’d learned to play guitar and sing, Williams wrote and sang country spiritual songs, notably, the most famous in his religious repertoire, “I Saw the Light.”

Williams, as did most country singers during his career, almost always included a spiritual song or gospel hymn near the end of his performances. Unlike many, however, Williams performed songs he had written (though some would say “had stolen”).

Whatever one’s attitude toward (Hiram) “Hank” Williams as an entertainer, his awareness of the scriptural account of Jesus at Calvary suggests God’s grace is greater than any country singer’s sin.

 

Here’s Williams’ complete lyrics to the song:

HOW CAN YOU REFUSE HIM NOW?
By Hank Williams Sr.

How can you refuse him now?
How can you refuse him now?
How can you turn away from his side?
With tears in his eyes, on the cross there he died.
How can you refuse Jesus now?.

There’s a story old, that has often been told,
Of how our savior died, as they nailed his hands,
He cried they don’t understand,
As the blood flowed from his side.

Cho.

As he hung there on the tree, he prayed for you and me,
There was no one his pain to ease;
Before he died, he faintly cried,
Father forgive them please.

Cho.

Lyrics: Hank Williams Sr. (1923-1953)
How Can You Refuse Him Now? lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

(Incidentally, in the version of the gospel story recorded in Luke 24:46-47, Jesus is said to cry out in a “loud” voice rather than Williams’ “faintly cried.” Also, another witness, the Roman centurion on duty at the foot of Jesus’ cross, like Williams, expresses a new believer’s understanding.)

 

Below is a YouTube posting of Hank Williams Sr. singing “How Can You Refuse Him Now?” If you leave this clip running you can access 30 of his spiritual song recordings.  (You’ll also get a feel for early radio broadcasting of country music.)

Hank Williams on YouTube

 

 

In Awesome Wonder

In 2016 I discovered Nick Knisely’s book, Lent is Not Rocket Science, a daily trip through Lent with a focus on scientific information. I thought it was a good book at the time, but I wasn’t ready for its seasonal significance.

This year, I’ve gone back to it with a different mindset. In part, I owe my new attention to an online course I signed up for just after reading Knisely’s reflections called “Astronomy: State of the Art,” offered by Prof. Chris Impey of Arizona State University.

I was pretty slow with the readings and assignments for this online course, more of a lurker, I suppose, but it awakened my latent curiosity about physics, astronomy, meteorology, etc., and had me investigating telescopes, binoculars, and online skywatching software.

And, of course, the journalist still lurking in my retirement consciousness had me exploring popular magazines such as Astronomy, Sky and Telescope, and several more science newsletters.

The course brought me back to Bishop Knisely’s 2013 meditations for Lent.

Knisely, I should mention, before being ordained an Episcopal priest and eventually consecrated as Bishop of Rhode Island, taught astrophysics at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University.

An important aside to my interest in astronomy occurred when during my on-off attentions, I stumbled across the YouTube record of a memorial service for gospel singer George Beverly Shea.

Reading about Shea, who died in 2013 at 104, and with my mind already re-enthralled with astronomy, I couldn’t help but meditate with a new awareness on the words of the hymn that Shea popularized at the New York City Billy Graham Crusades, “How Great Thou Art.” The song’s opening stanza provides, I think, an astronomer’s prayerful meditation:

O, Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder

consider all the worlds thy hands have made;

I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder:

thy power throughout the universe displayed;

 

Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee,

How great thou art, how great thou art.

 

References:
Knisely, W. Nicholas. Lent is Not Rocket Science: An Exploration of God, Creation, and the Universe. Cincinnati, OH (Morehouse Publishing Co.) 2013.
Jason Soroski. The Story You Don’t Know Behind “How Great Thou Art,” (www.crosswalk.com). Originally a nine-stanza poem written in 1885 by Carl Boberg, a Swedish ex-sailor and lay-minister who went on to serve in the Swedish Parliament. Boberg died in 1940 before his hymn became popular. It was selected in a Christianity Today survey as readers’ second favorite hymn behind John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.”

A City Boy’s Memory of Magical Sanctuaries

A chance mention by someone that a James Taylor concert was coming to town sent me to Amazon’s Alexa to listen to Taylor once again.

The first song I heard proved a memory awakener: Taylor sang “Up On the Roof,” the singer’s mellow cover of the Drifters hit from the ’60s, written by Carole King (who played piano on the Drifters’ recording) and Gerry Goffin (King’s first husband who once called this song the most satisfying he’d ever written). King’s suggested title for the song was “My Secret Place,” but Goffin, inspired by the haven imagery of rooftop culture in the musical West Side Story, settled with “Up On the Roof.”

One of my cherished childhood memories is gatherings of family and relatives atop the four-story apartment building where my Aunt Eva and Uncle Nat occupied fourth-floor rooms. Just one flight of stairs above them the roof provided a plaza-like lookout over Park Slope in Brooklyn. In the days before home air-conditioning was ubiquitous, roofs provided an escape from summer heat and expansive space for sitting and snacking among the tiny grove of television antennas sprouting from the roofs of the city. My aunt made almost daily climbs to the roof to hang laundry on the clotheslines woven atop the roofs in the neighborhood.

My only memory of another uncle, then the bachelor Mason, during his visit from Newfoundland, is captured in a photograph of a family together on this roof. The picture shows me as a toddler alongside my uncle. I believe this was his only visit to Brooklyn, and he was dead before I made my first visit to Newfoundland four decades after that photograph had been taken. My parents named my older brother after Uncle Mason, my mother’s younger brother, and my wife and I named our youngest son Mason after my oldest brother and my uncle.

As a late teenager, I had the joy of spending time with Uncle Mason’s daughter, a teenager like me, during her maiden visit to the States. As if carrying on a family tradition, she had been named Sylvia after my older sister.

Unfortunately, I don’t recall any gathering up on the roof with my cousin, but we spent delightful time visiting the New York World’s Fair on a rainy day, a magical excursion when the Fair became a quiet and nearly empty playground and refuge of joy for us.

So many of the rides at the fair that day made me feel that the Flushing Meadow fairgrounds had become our private shrine embracing us in friendship and joy. She later married a U.S. airman stationed in Newfoundland and eventually settled to raise her own family in Minnesota.

James Taylor’s recording always takes me to my memories of rooftops and the strange quietude and joy of the rainy World’s Fair grounds, lifting my spirit “when this old world starts getting me down.”

How we enjoyed those family times up on the roof; it was an urban sanctuary of love and peace. So too, the World’s Fair on that wet, empty, magical day of pure joy and peace.

I’ve never used any rooftop as a getaway, but my memory of relatives up on the roof keeps me wishing I had. James Taylor awakens my need for reflective sanctuary.

Over the years, I have sought periodically to find my spiritual sanctuary.

From Thoreau to John Muir, from St. Simeon Stylites to St. Benedict of Nursia, I have read of many who sought meditative sanctuary for personal growth and spiritual instruction, often in odd or challenging places, and at times characterized as “the dark night of the soul.”

For me, Jesus stands as a supreme earthbound model. He frequently “went apart” from the crowds, be they disciples or seekers, to commune with the One who sent him.

Christians are encouraged similarly to follow their Master, be it in daily devotions, “quiet” time, meditation, contemplation, Lectio Divina, intense Bible reading, or meaningful silence.

I have struggled with such admonitions and exercises of faith. I’ve tried praying in empty chapels and empty classrooms; sitting in gardens; seeking “away” places such as a belfry stairway; purposely eating in crowded restaurants or cafeterias away from home, where I was alone with the white noise of dishes and clinking silverware; finding dark places where the stars are visible (city boys hardly notice stars); parking at beaches or on piers to view the vast ocean; walking beaches or forest paths or climbing small hills; riding in trains and subways where the din of travel and noisy commuters provides a muting background; or sitting alone in my most comfortable chair at home (with or without a book or a laptop).

How I yearn for that sanctuary “up on the roof.”

A Brain like a Hyperlink

Charles Wycliffe, the fictional detective superintendent of the British Mystery series “Wycliffe,” is depicted as a thinking inquirer and an accomplished amateur jazz pianist in this long-running series.

In the closing scene of one episode (Season 4, Episode 2, “Close to Home,”) Wycliffe, played by actor Jack Shepherd—himself a surprising jazz enthusiast and pianist—is seen walking along a Cornish beach with his distressed teenaged son having a father-son chat.

The boy asks his father, “If you got to choose again, would you still be a detective?”

After a reflective pause, Wycliffe answers emphatically, “No!”

Then, following another well-timed pause, he adds, “I’d be Oscar Peterson.”

Father and son enjoy an animated laugh as the credits for the show begin to roll, while many in the audience–like me–are caught in ignorance: “Who’s Oscar Peterson?” Almost immediately, I employ my Wikipedia synapses and am dutifully and appreciatively educated about the Canadian jazz pianist who died in 2007.

I employ my familiarity with hyperlinks, and in seconds I am being educated by URLs on my tablet.

Readers whose minds unwittingly are captivated and moved by textual hyperlinks are almost instantaneously learning to fill gaps in their knowledge.

You can follow suit at:: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/oscar_peterson

Incidentally, one doesn’t have to depend on Wikipedia. Just going to Google and typing in “Oscar Peterson” will provide more links to information about this musical artist.

If and when anyone ventures online, he or she is obligated to become a hyperlink learner and reader. Frankly, hyperlinks are the most powerful tools in a lifelong learner’s electronic toolbox.

“Use your brain!” my parents frequently admonished. Contemporary parents might wisely advise: “Use your hyperlinks!”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wycliffe_(TV_series)

The Cup of Salvation

The urban Baptist Church that nurtured my childhood faith is fondly remembered for its congregational singing of gospel choruses. Led by our deacon, Howard T, we heartily learned and repeatedly sang so many choruses before we dispersed to our respective Sunday School classes that the church eventually produced a booklet of choruses containing close to fifty of these lively tunes. Those mimeographed sheets took their place in the pew-racks alongside hymnals and copies of the King James Bible.
 
Deacon Howard eagerly conducted our singing. He had a unique way of leading, clinging to the sleeve of his suit jacket with three or four fingers pressing the fabric into the heel of his palm and pumping his forearm up and down at the elbow like the lever of a drilling rig or an auto shop’s jack. His arm never wavered: up-and-down in the identical pattern of beats with only an occasional stop at the top to hold a sustained note. He didn’t wave or point; he never changed his facial expression nor made grand flourishes to mark dynamics. The deacon dutifully and joyfully sang as he led his congregation of all ages.
 
The deacon’s favorite chorus was a four-line ditty of thanksgiving:
 
Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul;
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole.
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation, so rich and free. (1)
 
The church, faithful in preaching its gospel message of salvation, boasted its evangelistic slogan: “We preach the Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope.”
 
The book, of course, referred to the King James Bible, and any mention of wine in the scriptures became interpreted as being sweet juice.
 
The blood, which represented Jesus’ sacrificial death on a cross shed as a substitute for our deserved eternal death, rarely was referred to during once-a-month communion services outside of Jesus’ reference at the Last Supper, when he said, “This is my blood, shed for you.” The reference at my church meant Welch’s Grape Juice that had been pre-poured into tiny glasses and distributed in silver serving trays by the deacons and trustees to the congregation seated during the service.
 
The Blessed Hope referred to the promise of salvation given to anyone who repented and made a profession of faith and became “born again.” I remember no connection between the blood and salvation during our communion service.
 
My faith changed dramatically as a collegian who gradually shed his fundamentalist Baptist upbringing and as a young adult became attracted to the liturgy, graciousness, and The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
 
A young couple in my Episcopal parish and I became good friends through church meetings and socials. The wife, a mother of two boys—Andrew, aged six, and Timothy, aged four—one night shared with our fellowship that her boys often played “church” at home.
 
Using a mop-handle set across two back-to-back chairs, the boys built a makeshift altar with the handle serving as a rail. Andrew, wearing his bathrobe as a clerical surplice and a striped dish towel or a winter scarf as a stole, acted as the priest and server, while Timothy and his mother knelt at the rail and cupped their hands to receive the “sacraments.”
 
At the appropriate moment during an episode in their church play, the mother related, Andrew presented Timothy with a small wine glass containing a tiny amount of liquid (water or juice), saying the appropriate words from the prayer book: “The cup of salvation,” which Timothy raised to his lips and poured down his throat.
 
At this point, a distressed Andrew screamed to his mother: “Mommy, Timothy drank all the salvation!”
 
Indeed, that is precisely what occurs at the Eucharistic rail: a penitent and confessing believer kneels to be fed “all the salvation.”
 
As I’ve aged in my confirmed Episcopal life, when I kneel at the Eucharist rail to partake of the body and blood of Christ, before I rise I thank God for the lesson of a six-year-old and I silently recite the lines of deacon Howard T’s favorite chorus:
 
Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul;
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole.
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation, so rich and free.
 (1) The song is attributed to Seth and Bessie Sykes, itinerant British singing evangelists of the 1930s. It contains three verses in addition to the well-known chorus, but I have no memory of ever singing the verses in Sunday School. Some references to the chorus replace the word “rich” in the final line with the word “full.”

Wisdom–An addition to my Personal Anthology of Favorite Poetry

This poem is a selection inspired by an exposition of The Book of Common Prayer called Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices. (Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement, 2018).

In Walking in Love, two Episcopal priests, the Rev. Scott Gunn and the Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe, guide readers on a journey through the 1979 edition of The Book of Common Prayer.

At the end of each chapter, Gunn and Shobe attempt to provoke thoughtful responses from readers by posing a series of questions under the rubric “For Reflection.”

Closing the first chapter, the writers ask: “What is your favorite prayer, and why is it your favorite?”

During my reflection, I listed a half dozen favorites from The Book of Common Prayer, but using a separate devotional guide came across a passage from the Book of Proverbs, which I don’t believe is contained in the BCP. (Technically, the passage is listed as an optional reading in the Lectionary Schedule for Year B.)

The poem is the opening six verses of Proverbs 9 and takes its title from the first word.

Wisdom

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;
She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has prepared her table.
She has sent out her maidservants; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
“Let whoever is naive turn in here;
to any who lack sense I say,
Come eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.”*

[The above is from the New American Bible translation. Below is the wording of the New Revised Standard Version (with the title “Wisdom’s Feast”)]

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, (or simpleness) and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

[For a contemporary take on the ancient language, here is the translation of Eugene H. Peterson in The Message, with the title “Lady Wisdom Gives a Dinner Party.”]

Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home;
it’s supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted,
wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids,
Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place,
and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

 

I can’t fully explain why this poem is a favorite of mine, but the imagery of Lady Wisdom preparing a feast for those who have shown naivety, a lack of sense, and foolishness expresses an outpouring of graciousness and hospitality that anticipates the good news of the Christmas-Easter-Pentecost feasts.

At Your Request: A Personal Annotated Reading List for EfM–Part 1

I serve as a mentor for Education for Ministry (EfM) in my Episcopal parish. EfM is an international four-year program in which small groups meet weekly to discuss and reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures, The New Testament, Church History, and theological philosophy. (For more information, visit efm.sewanee.edu)

Earlier this year, members of my group asked me to keep a list of recommended readings to share with them periodically. Here is the first installment I provided them.

1) Frederick Buechner. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. Harper & Collins, 1993.–This is the first of three books Buechner has written about the vocabulary of faith; it is a quick and informative introduction to his theological thinking.

2) St. Benedict of Nursia. Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book. Ampleforth Abbey Press. First Reprint 1994. –Benedict is the famous abbot and author of “The Rule” for the Benedictine Order of Monastics. The full title of this little book is St. Benedict’s Prayer Book for Beginners. Roman Catholics appreciate Benedict’s instruction, and all persons of faith should become familiar with it.

3) Corinne Ware. Saint Benedict on the Freeway. Abingdon Press. 2001.–Corinne Ware was a spiritual director and professor of pastoral theology at The Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Her casual and conversational introduction to the Rule of St. Benedict is a perfect handbook for EfM-ers diving into Christian contemplation and meditation.

4) Kathleen Norris. The Cloister Walk. Riverhead Books. 1996.–A reviewer wrote of this book, “Why would a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often more doubt than faith be drawn to the ancient practice of monasticism?” Norris, a prize-winning poet, admits this was precisely her question, and she answers by detailing her experience as an oblate in a Benedictine monastery in North Dakota.

5) C. (Clive) S. (Staples) Lewis. The Screwtape Letters. Harper Collins, 1996 (original, 1942).–If you know nothing about C.S. Lewis, let this classic work be your introduction; if you know lots about C.S. Lewis, go back and tackle this book again. Be prepared to confront your own Screwtape and Wormwood.

6) Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy. William Morrow. 1991.–Rabbi Telushkin’s best-selling catalog of “The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History,” reads like an encyclopedia with 346 entries, but contains much more fun and wisdom than most encyclopedias–including Wikipedia! A must read (or perusal) for Year-One EfM-ers.

7) Eugene H. Peterson. Eat This Book. Eerdmans. 2006.–After a long career as a Presbyterian pastor, Peterson became a professor and prolific author. His most widely known book is his translation of the Bible known as The Message. Almost everything he has written provides excellent guidance to readers of the Scriptures. This volume will help anyone become a better Bible reader.

8) Brennan Manning. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Multnomah Publishing. 1990.–Manning was a Franciscan priest who battled alcoholism throughout his adult life to the point of the Franciscan Order laicizing him; that is, defrocking him as a priest. He began writing somewhat late in his life and became a spokesperson for “radical grace.” Before his death in 2013, he wrote or co-wrote about 20 books, and was once accused of out-Luther-ing Martin Luther. He referred to himself as Abba’s Ragamuffin. The Ragamuffin Gospel is his best-known book.

9) Kathleen Norris. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Riverhead Books. 1998.–Another book that stresses the importance of vocabulary, especially the often esoteric and bewildering vocabulary of faith and religion. Norris writes a great deal about her struggles and growth with the vocabulary of her spiritual journey. I think of this as her Autobiographical Dictionary. As do Buechner and Telushkin, Norris gives us an understanding of the often mysterious and strange words we encounter in our EfM experience.

10) Helen Cepero. Journaling as a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing. IVP Books. 2008.–Cepero’s title is self-disclosing. Keeping a journal can provide a powerful aid to weekly EfM sessions, and to theological reflection. I urge everyone to give it a try. This book is one of the best guides.

11) Sara Miles. Take This Bread. This memoir unveils a woman whose father told her she’d be much better off spending her Sabbath mornings reading The Sunday New York Times instead of going to church. After dabbling in scores of adventures, thrills, and happenings into her adult years, an incidental Eucharistic event in a California Episcopal Church changed her life. She writes of her encounter with “crumbly” bread and “sweet” wine that “Jesus happened.”

12) Dee Brown. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 1970.–One of my sad admissions as I grow older is this: I should have read this book 40 years ago. Some might say this book doesn’t belong on a spiritual booklist. However, every American who has any concern about social justice, and every person who believes in “loving one’s neighbor as oneself,” ought to read this tragic chronicle of history that followed Christopher Columbus’ first encounter with “Indians” in the Carribean. I will never again blithely refer to our American heritage as “a nation of immigrants.” This brutal history also can teach us much about the ugly tribal events recorded in parts of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

The wonder of wondering

Many years ago I conjured up a meditative note that may well be the best thing I’ve ever written. It went:

“The wonder of wonders is that I am able to wonder.”

My blog has been silent for about two months–part of it is technical with my server–but let me jump start it again with some gathered wisdom from a desk calendar of meditations I purchased for myself at Christmas time of 2017.

“Whatever you do, Carpe the heck out of that Diem!”

–attributed to the Roman poet Horace, slightly paraphrased by Gabriel Brangers, a writer/reviewer at Google, and popularized in the 1989 film “Dead Poets Society.”

“Be the ball.”

–a line from the 1980 golf comedy film “Caddyshack.”

“Forget about enlightenment, just become a nicer person; this is already a difficult practice.”

–Tenzin Palmo, Tibetan Buddhist, born Diane Perry in Herefordshire, England.

“When you have to make a choice, and you don’t make it, that is itself a choice.”

–William James, psychologist, and philosopher.

“The first key to wisdom is assiduous and frequent questioning. For by doubting we come to inquiry and by inquiry we arrive at the truth.”

–Peter Abelard, French theologian, and philosopher of the 13th century.

“Teach me, like you, to drink creation whole/And, casting out my self, become a soul.”

–Richard Wilbur, American poet (1921-2017); two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

“Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever you already are.”

–The Dalai Lama

“Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question.”

–Tennessee Williams, American playwright.

“One bird sits still/ Watching the work of God:/ One turning leaf, /Two Falling blossoms, /Ten circles upon the pond.”

–Thomas Merton, Cistercian monk, and writer.

Aboard my virtual cruiser called QWERTY

(This entry is copied for the most part from my journal entry of November 2015, in a notebook I called “Writing as Athletic Activity.”) 

This post probably should be called “My Life as a Vicarious Travel Writer.”

Armchair travel is an outdated term. (For one thing, how many 21st-century scribes write from an armchair?) Armchair travel has been supplanted by travel aboard a computer screen and a laptop keyboard.

A few years ago, I jumped aboard my QWERTY keypad and traveled to Greenland, to a tiny outpost on the western side of the icebound colony of Denmark called Ilulissat Icefjord. The city, formerly known as Jacobshaven, has more sledge dogs than people but is the third largest city in Greenland.

This place lies near the Arctic Circle, and its residents live in darkness for a good part of the year during winter. Its November temperatures hover around 5 degrees or 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tourists can cruise into Ilulissat, but I went aboard Microsoft’s Bing gallery on November 6, 2015, aboard an Edge web browser.

Going pictorially into Ilulissat and its Disko Bay environs had me extending my trip (via Google Maps) due south to Newfoundland where I scouted and probed several of the northern bays around the birthplace of my parents in Bonavista Bay.

I plan to make several more vicarious trips.

I was surprised to find in an issue of The Christian Science Monitor Weekly (November 8, 2015) a brief essay written by Robert Klose, a kind of flash non-fiction piece called, “I find warmth in Greenland.”

As a child, Klose dreamed of polar bears, ice, vastness, and Vikings after first hearing and understanding the word “Greenland.” As an adult, he decided to visit and planned a trip that required him to fly to Iceland first and then from Reykjavik on a prop plane to Greenland and by boat to a south coastal settlement beside a fjord called Qassiarsuk. In that remote location, he had arranged to stay in the family-run Illunnguujuk Hostel that welcomed visitors to the outpost with a population of 89.

Arriving at the hostel, he discovered that another lone traveler, mistaken by the hosts to be Klose, had been booked into his reserved spot.

Klose’s hostelers, embarrassed but undeterred, told him, “don’t worry,” and while he spent some time visiting local Viking ruins, a berth was prepared for him in a tiny house the family owned in the settlement. He was not only welcomed to a comfortable bed, but also invited to dine with the family, where three generations of Inuit natives speaking an Inuit dialect, Danish, and English, introduced him to their homeland and its way of life.

Klose had planned this to be his only trip to Greenland, but the hospitality of his newfound friends made him think again. He wrote, “I can now say that I have friends in Greenland and that even a cold, empty, and silent landscape is worth visiting, so long as one has a warm and welcoming place to go.”

Inspired by Klose’s discovery, I got aboard my Google Maps and Wikipedia vessels and went in search of Qassiarsuk, vicariously seeking the wisdom of his words.

E-nerds may call it browsing, but I was on a luxury cruise.

FLASH DIARY: (from a dream) Remember the Sabbath

Jay advises his wife on the running of her event-planning business.

One of her employees plans to take the day of the event off as a family day. The group labors over last-minute plans for the event, and Martha, Jay’s wife, says “Oh! This is going to be so much harder with Evelyn taking the day off.”

“She should be there,” Jay chimes in. “Every employee should be required to work every day, especially the day of an event.”

Alice, Martha’s mother, a gentle woman who rarely speaks–especially to contradict another–says, “If you’re going to require that every employee has to be at work every day, then there ought to be a day when every employee doesn’t have to be at work.”

“Sort of like a Sabbath,” Martha says.

The conversation stalls for a long minute.

“I never thought of it that way, but, yes, there ought to be such a day,” Jay says.

Pondering a career–another memoir episode

The first week I was assigned to the local news desk as a reporter for The Boston Globe, my city editor asked me to make a list of a dozen stories I’d like to explore. I came up with about 15 projects and eventually wrote news or feature stories on four or five of them.

One of those stories began with an interview at Harvard with the semi-retired B. F. Skinner, the icon of behaviorist psychology (he preferred his field be called operant learning). My story on Skinner ran in a weekend edition and also ran later in The Los Angeles Times.

It was a memorable opportunity for me as a young reporter. On the phone when I called to try to set up the interview, Skinner asked about my background and was pleased and much more cordial and open upon learning that I’d been an undergraduate psychology major.

We met in Skinner’s office/lab on the Cambridge campus, and during my time with him, he was visited by a daughter and grandchild. It became an insightful human and relaxed time for me to be with him as his doting-grandfather personality leaped to life.

At the time, Skinner battled cancer of the saliva gland. He carried a roll of toilet paper with him wherever he moved about the room, frequently wiping his mouth and lips, and he spent several minutes expounding the practical benefit of his toilet paper over a box of tissues in dealing with his symptoms.

During our discussion, I learned he had graduated from Hamilton College in New York and dreamed of becoming a writer. As an undergraduate, he attended the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont.

Of course, Skinner became a best-selling author, first with his fictional technological vision called Walden II, and later with Beyond Freedom and Dignity, a treatise on the application of deterministic behaviorism to social and political issues.

Did his career determination fulfill his collegiate writing dream?

Why didn’t I ask him that question?

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My published story is among several collected at: 
https://arainprint.blogspot.com/

Memoir: Journal Writing

I began keeping a journal, probably something I called a diary, in my late teens, mostly for recording my thoughts and feelings about life as a late adolescent grappling with self-identity. I cannot locate that collection now.

My first attempts at poetry were in an English class at Brooklyn’s P.S. 154 (also known as The Windsor School because of its location in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood). Mrs. Bjornson, I recall, taught us how to write cinquains.

I’ve never forgotten those poetic efforts; though; again, I can’t put my hands on my earliest manuscripts. The experience, however, probably implanted a preference for short forms like haiku, tanka, six-word stories, epigrams, and–yes–cinquains. Additionally, my cinquain awakening probably explains my delight at the recent popularity of so-called “flash” fiction.

Also, my lifelong journal-keeping has probably implanted in me a hoarding of short, meaningful quotations, sayings, and inspirations, the kind that fill Page-A-Day calendars.

The first poem I remember spending painful days constructing produced my teenaged lament concerning the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team relocating to Los Angeles. Into that poem, now lost, I poured my love of baseball and favorite players along with a teenager’s anguish and anger with the ownership that absconded, taking my heroes to the Western Ocean.

A couplet lingers in my brain:

“I still see you, Carl Furillo,
Ajax-armed defending Bedford’s wall.”

Incidentally, I remain a faithful and avid fan of the Dodgers. I never liked or respected the blowhard cheerleading of Tommy Lasorda who managed the Los Angeles team to a few championships. Nevertheless, I understand his sentiment that he “bleeds Dodger blue.”

More importantly, the Brooklyn Dodgers and their early owner Branch Rickey taught me powerful lessons about courage and brotherhood. Against the customs and prejudices of organized baseball, the team signed the most talented player of the decade, an African-American, UCLA All-Star named Jackie Robinson, who made baseball and social justice history before he was forty.

And, the Dodgers provided me with new heroes such as Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, their Kentucky-born shortstop who openly embraced and defended Robinson against the racist sins of other players.

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Baseball–a cinquain

Baseball:
a game for men
who remain boys throwing,
batting, catching, sliding, without
a clock.