Memorial Day During a Pandemic

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Remembering: A précis of Chapter 7 in Bryn Barnard’s book Outbreak: Plagues That Changed History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf; originally published by Crown Publishers in NY. (2005)
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PURPLE DEATH WATCH: How influenza influenced war (Barnard, pp. 34-39)

World War I (1914-1918), the world’s first industrial war, introduced most of humankind’s efficient mass-killing machines: tanks; long-range artillery; machine guns; aerial bombardments; submarines; and poison gas.

Poet Robert Graves called the war “The Sausage Machine,” saying “it was fed with live men, churned out corpses, and remained firmly screwed in place.” An estimated 15 million people died, nine million of them in combat.

The war also introduced a new killer, Spanish influenza, the largest epidemic of the 20th century. Of the 100,000 American soldiers who died in WWI, 43,000 died from the Spanish flu. An estimated 20 million people died in India alone, and in isolated aboriginal villages in the Pacific and in Alaska, nearly everyone died.

The so-called “Purple Death” overwhelmed the ability of even the best-prepared governments to care for the living and bury the dead. Influenza forced the creation of global surveillance systems that eventually led to annual flu shots and discovery of the first antibiotic.

An estimated five million people died from this influenza before it disappeared in 1928. Many believe peace negotiations following WWI were so vengeful against Germany they paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and the establishment of his infamous Third Reich.

Spanish flu was not so named because it originated in Spain, but because it was first reported in Spanish newspapers. Spain had remained neutral during the war and operated a national press. Other nations, the U.S. included, supressed news about the disease, fearing it could provide aid to enemies. Nevertheless, the label “Spanish Flu” persisted.

In August 1918, a second wave of the deadly influenza appeared among troops stationed in Sierra Leone, France, and Massachusetts. The U.S. unwittingly took actions that spread the epidemic. Tens of thousands of young men lined up to register for the draft. Soldiers were shuttled around the country from base to base. By September, every major city in the nation was infected by the epidemic that lasted about a month.

Officials in San Francisco and Philadelphia, not prepared for the second wave, were stacking bodies in morgue hallways and ordering extra coffins. Understaffed hospitals and city morgues were overwhelmed. When the war ended, a majority of celebrants in public places wore gauze facial masks and chanted the rhyming warning:

“Obey the laws

And wear the gauze

Protect your jaws

From Septic Paws”

After the Spanish flu subsided, a worldwide flu surveillance network was developed to try to head off future pandemics. Several flu epidemics have been controlled since 1957.

Beginning in 2001, the US Centers for Disease Control stepped up surveillance programs and with the cooperation of scientists around the world was instrumental in dealing with SARS, another pandemic involving a flu-like respiratory disease.

In 1928 the antibiotic penicillin was discovered and became a major weapon in controlling bacterial diseases during WW2, but only in 1933 did scientists understand that influenza was a virus rather than a bacteria. By 1945, the US was producing enough penicillin to treat a quarter million patients a month.

The age of antibiotics had begun.

Random Thoughts in the Season of COVID19

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a Master.”                                 —Ernest Hemingway

If you’re having trouble during this time of social isolation with a concern that you are not washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds, try washing each finger separately as you count “one thousand one; one thousand two; next finger!” And, of course, do this frequently.

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While my brain is in this neighborhood of fingers, here’s a keyboard sequence I’ll wager most of us never memorized in typing class:

! @ # $ % ^ & * (  )

And remember, “caps lock” doesn’t work with these! Also, don’t say you never use these keys. In the modern cultural world, e-mail demands you know cap2, and Twitter demands you know cap3. And, your bankers and merchants certainly insist you know cap4.

You might also be surprised to discover the technical name of a sometimes-called “and sign” (cap7) is ampersand. Many printers call it an amperzand; it’s also known as an “ampassy”; and in the original Latin, this symbol is a “ligature”; that is, a combining of two letters.

[By the way, make an effort to sanitize your keyboard!]

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Following is a little note from The Fairfax Grammar Book that explains this stuff better than I can:

      ligature:

In writing, a ligature is a combination of two or more letters  joined into a single unit. There were many ligatures used in English at one time, formed to make typesetting easier (known as typographical ligatures), but these were all discarded as printing became easier and less expensive. However, there are two other ligatures that originated in Latin and were carried into English as distinct letters.

[My note: One can’t make a ligature from a keyboard, but just think of AE  or CE run together as a single letter. To be fair, some keyboards offer these ligatures as “special figures” along with the hidden special-set collection that allows typists to insert a Spanish tilde or German umlaut or other oft-required accent marks. These generally are labeled diacritical marks. Many current keyboards use combinations of keys to enter an appropriate diacritical mark.]

While these two letters (AE and CE) were eventually separated in modern English (and eventually reduced to just E/e in American English), there is another Latin ligature that is used in English and on all keyboards today; that is, & (known as the ampersand mentioned above).

Finally, there is one other ligature that arose as Latin evolved over time and is now a part of the modern English alphabet: W (that is “double u”).

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The ampersand is also one of the most difficult ligatures to write; it looks like the numeral 8 with two small tails on its lower right (a challenge even to calligraphers). English penmanship often writes an ampersand as a script E with a vertical slash down through its middle. (Don’t say we never use ligatures! The dollar sign and the cent sign probably count as ligatures, By the way, the cent sign is rarely found on current standard keyboards.)

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To extend this bit of silliness, look up the word octothorpe! You can startle your friends on Twitter and Facebook with the query, “What’s your octothorpe?”

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Lastly, regarding keyboards: The most widespread English keyboard uses a QWERTY design and is named after the first six-letters of the top row of keyboard letter keys.

Also, one of the most beautiful and important six-letter words in the English language can be typed by using only top-row keys where QWERTY begins: That word is POETRY!

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Adios! (Yes, it’s Cinco-de-Mayo!)

Read some poetry while you drink your celebratory May 5 beer! Better yet, put down your drink and try to write a poem.

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National Poetry Month: Addition to Personal Favorites Anthology

April is National Poetry Month, a celebration largely subdued by the nation’s battle with COVID-19, but also an ever-present comfort in a time of social distancing. Reading poetry or writing poetry, like any creative art, is largely a solo activity, though readings of poetry can be lively and exciting times for gatherings and delight.

I am particularly aware of the anxiety associated with this deadly pandemic at this time because, as most are aware, the elderly are among the most susceptible to coronavirus. Yes, I am in the susceptible group, but I also have a sister 12 years my senior who is being cared for in an assisted living facility more than a 10-hour drive from where my wife and I are practicing social self-withdrawal. Fortunately, she has a son and daughter and grandchildren much closer than us.

My selected poem for this entry is the product of a contemporary troubadour. Merriam-Webster defines a troubadour as “one of a class of lyric poets and poet-musicians often of knightly rank who flourished from the 11th to the end of the 13th century.” The added definition is “a singer especially of folk songs.”

Keep in mind that during those “flourishing” times, most people could not read or write. Music became a companion of stained-glass windows in grand cathedrals and traveling dramatic shows in telling the stories of the times. Troubadours typically sang and played a stringed instrument, and often created their own tunes.

On April 7 of this year, one of America’s finest troubadours succumbed to COVID-19 at the age of 73. John Prine, considered by many to be one of the finest songwriters of modern times, wrote and recorded a song I think could be the challenge song of the age of COVID-19. Here are the lyrics to Prine’s song “Hello in There,” my selection for addition to my anthology of favorite poems:

Hello in There
By John Prine

We had an apartment in the city;
me and Loretta liked living there.
Well, it’s been years since the kids have grown
a life of their own—
left us alone.

John and Linda live in Omaha,
and Joe is somewhere on the road,
and we lost Davy in the Korean war,
and I still don’t know what for—
don’t matter anymore.

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,
and old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day;
old people just grow lonesome
waiting for someone to say,
“Hello in there, hello.”

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more;
she sits and stares through the back-door screen.
And all the news just repeats itself
like some forgotten dream
that we’ve both seen.

Someday, I’ll go and call up Rudy.
We worked together at the factory.
But what could I say if he asks “What’s new?”
“Nothin’, what’s with you?
Nothin’ much to do.”

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,
and old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day;
old people just grow lonesome
waiting for someone to say,
“Hello in there, hello.”

So, if you’re out walking down the street sometime
and spot some hollow ancient eyes;
please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare
as if you didn’t care.
Say, “Hello, in there, hello.”

(Source: LyricFind)
Songwriter: John Prine (1942-2020)
“Hello In There”
lyrics copyright Warner Chappell Music, Inc.
[Layout & Editing: ARAndrews]

[To Listen to Prine in Concert, click this link: https://youtu.be/OVhA01J0Zsg ]

Submission in the Time of Coronavirus

— The writer in me has been at rest (or perhaps simply lazy) through a protracted season of self-quarantine.

But during this time, the notion of “archiving and browsing” came to life for me as I uncovered files of old poems and writings while sorting through portable hard drives, stacks of print-outs, and meandering through old journals, files, and shoeboxes.

I’ve rediscovered a trove of potential writing submissions. Some poems I’d completely forgotten writing, a few of them 40 or 45 years old, and several other essays and memory pieces I thought were lost forever or, truth be told, some written words I can’t remember ever writing.

Such discovery renews my conviction that writing includes revisions, edits, and simply wandering through journals and notebooks long boxed up and set aside. Not to mention the notion that a true artist works even when gazing absent-mindedly out a window or standing still and silent before the marvels of sunrise, sunset, seas, skies, and gathering storms! And listens in the silent times for the voice of God.

I also put some finishing touches on a brief memoir of a final exam I took at college during which I was taught a life lesson by a wise psychology professor who had a deep influence on my intellectual growth as a collegian. That piece of about 1100 words I may just publish myself.

This means sometime soon I must attend to the work of submission.

Isn’t it amazing that the same word often used to describe one’s life before God is the term used to describe the placing of our stories and poems before the eyes of some unseen stranger we know as an editor?

 

A Prayer For the Time of COVID-19

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.  Amen.”

—From The Book of Common Prayer, (Daily Evening Prayer, p. 124).

A Jesuit Exercise: Conversing With Jesus

Father James Martin, SJ, who hosts an online forum of Ignatian Spirituality, suggests a devotional examination of consciousness, what Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, called The Examen.

Fr. Martin suggests sitting quietly and trying to imagine one is alone in conversation with Jesus about the experiences of one’s day.

I note for my Protestant friends, who understand historically that the Jesuits were militantly opposed to the Reformation, that Ignatius wrote his Spiritual Exercises during the heated and divisive years of the early 16th century. Nevertheless, his spirituality is much appreciated by some Protestant (and Evangelical) thinkers and theologians.

One of my favorite writers emerging in the 20th-century Evangelical-Holiness wing of Christianity that produced the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA) denomination, was Aiden Wilson Tozer, better known as A. W. Tozer.

Tozer was a self-taught theologian, a powerful preacher, a gifted writer, and a rare evangelical who expressed appreciation of the writings of several Roman Catholic mystics.

One of Tozer’s biographers suggests his openness to thinkers and critics outside of the CMA did not please many in the denomination, and some were particularly suspicious of Tozer’s “generous use of the medieval mystics whose writings delighted him so.” (1)

Getting back to my exercise in Ignatian Spirituality:

Fr. Martin’s imagined conversation with Jesus urges me to pull images of seemingly minor incidents and memories from my day.

Here are the images that motivated my reflection and my pen that morning:
1) Reading Natalie Goldberg on writing memoirs; 2) The clerk at a UPS Store who handled the package I was returning; 3) The check-out cashier at the supermarket where I stopped to buy groceries; and 4) “The Unforgotten,” a British police mystery series on PBS.

Here’s my Examen reflection: my imaginary conversation with Jesus:

Jesus seems distracted by the ballgame on TV last night. “The Dodgers left nine runners on base and lost by a single run,” he says.
I try to sound religious. “Do you think any of those players are among your followers?”
“Oh, sure,” he responds. “But they are all my brothers, even if they don’t follow closely.”
“You think of them as needing you?”
“Sure,” he says. “It’s like that show we were watching on PBS before the game came on. What was it called? The one on PBS.”
I hesitate. Jesus always seems to know everything. “The Unforgotten,” I mutter. “The one about the detectives who investigate cold cases.”
“Right!” he exclaims. “They act as my Father taught. No one is alone; No one is forgotten. Those detectives are like disciples, working to show my Father’s love for neighbors and strangers.”
Father Martin interrupts to ask me: “Whom else did you speak with yesterday afternoon?”
I ponder my yesterday, and start ticking off my encounters:
“Natalie Goldberg, a Jewish writer, teacher, and Zen devotee. She offers a variation of Ignatius.” I’m reciting and not thinking about Fr. Martin or Jesus. “Sit, walk, write, and walk some more!”
“The clerk at the UPS Store! She said, ‘We’ll take care of this for you.” I thought I saw Jesus smile.
“The cashier at the market,” I recall again. “She handed me my receipt and said, ‘Have a nice day.’ That’s what Jesus said after he forgave my sins.”
I wasn’t listening, just recalling in a new light. “And the detectives of ‘The Unforgotten’ are also unwitting disciples of Jesus: They probe and discover a kind of healing.”
Jesus spoke again: “You can’t probe if you’re not willing to serve and to heal. And, unlike the detectives, lawyers, doctors, and counselors, you don’t get any pay for yourself–only rewards that can’t be measured.”
I closed my eyes and sat quietly. When I opened my eyes, I noticed both Father Martin and Jesus had gone off to talk to someone else, and I prayed that simplest of prayers, “Thanks!”

(1) Snyder, James L. The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God. Ventura, CA: Regal Books from Gospel Light. 2009. –Snyder notes that Tozer at one point carried on an extended correspondence with Thomas Merton, the famous writer, and Trappist monk.
Snyder also notes that near the end of Tozer’s life and ministry in Toronto, the preacher compiled The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute. Cokesbury, 2009) a collection of the writings of mystics Tozer admired.

Sauntering, Aging, Dilettantism, and Contemplation

“Retirement provides surprising pleasures, and one is the pleasure of sauntering.

Sauntering is a kind of relaxed and joyful walking, perhaps without intention or goal.

Someone I met at college referred to casual walking as “just kicking pebbles.” I think that captures the idea of sauntering.

Sauntering is not the compulsory activity of someone attempting to reach a desired destination, be it an exotic location, a higher vantage point, or any other physically or emotionally rewarding goal.

Sauntering is not compulsive hurrying toward pulmonary or muscular health; it is not a race toward a reward or a valued result of any kind; it is simply traveling along in the delight of ease.

Sauntering is its own end.

Sauntering may be the way of deep contemplation.

Sauntering is counter to hurrying, racing, or achieving.

Sauntering is embracing, enjoying, loving, relaxing, and learning.

Sauntering may be prayer in motion.

The famous American naturalist John Muir is reported to have proclaimed his dislike of the word “hiking,” telling a companion, “People ought to saunter  through the mountains–not hike!”

While this exclamation of Muir’s is not found in any of his writings, it is reported by a mountain traveler who met Muir on the trail and conversed with him about “hiking.” (1)

I’ve concluded while passing through my aging decades that I am an intellectual saunterer. I have at times been called a dilettante. That term, however, I think is often applied in a derogatory manner to someone who persists in raising questions and is mistakenly viewed as lacking any career vision or ambition.

Contrarily, I believe the term may describe many creative people who express countercultural viewpoints, and I have come to be at ease with dilettantism as a way of life, and perhaps an expression of godly contemplation in an age of self-absorbed consumption.

The late spiritual master Thomas Merton, in attempting to define contemplation, wrote:
“It is as if in creating us God asked a question, and in awakening us to contemplation . . . answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.” (2)

Merton sounds a bit like a dilettante, Eh?

Be at ease, and pray to grow as a contemplative who saunters.

Notes:

(1) The full story has Muir saying, ” . . . in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre.’ To the Holy Land. And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
—See full article at:
https://www.etymonline.com/columns/post/john-muir-and-‘saunter

(2) In Merton’s book New Seeds of Contemplation, cited in Robert Ellsberg, Ed. Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books) 2008, p. 10.

New Year addition: Anthology of Personal Favorite Poems

 

Addition to my ***Anthology of Favorite Poems.***

“Theories of Time and Space.”
By Natasha Trethewey, in Native Guard
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006; p. 1)
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You can get there from here; though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on the mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture;

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return.

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I have never been in Gulfport, Mississippi, nor driven that state’s highway 49. But I have been on a similar journey along the route described in this poem.

When I went off to college in Massachusetts, my parents moved to Noyack, a tiny village on the north shore of Long Island’s southern fork in the easternmost county of New York State. They built a retirement home on the coast of Little Peconic Bay, and in the ensuing years, I frequently made the six-hour drive between Massachusetts’ North Shore and Noyack (which locals continue to spell as Noyac).

Making this trip coming south offered two options: a longer and more tiring drive down Interstate 95 to New York’s Throggs Neck Bridge and then south through or around Brooklyn, which meant a two-hour trip on the Long Island Expressway (abbreviated as the LIE and scorned by locals as “The Big Lie” because it rarely was an “express” route). The LIE leads to New York State Route 27 (often called “The Sunrise Highway”) somewhere around Riverhead. It veers into Hampton Bays and over the Shinnecock Canal that allows vessels to sail from Great Peconic Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. After a few more miles, a driver arrives at Tuckahoe Village and must turn left onto North Sea Road (which was known to Noyac residents as the “blacktop road”). North Sea Road connects to Noyack Road, and a half-hour along this road leads to Noyac.

The blacktop road is two lanes on which I frequently drove at night for forty minutes without dimming my headlights. The eyes of many small creatures on the berm of the highway reflected my beams as I approached. These drives are burned into my “tome of memory” that Trethewey resurrects.

A second trip option driving home from New England to Noyac involved leaving Interstate 95 in Connecticut and driving into New London to catch the ferry that crossed the Long Island Sound in a quiet and relaxing hour to New York State. After disembarking at Orient Point, it was always for me the “everywhere” that was “somewhere you’ve never been before” on the eastern tip of Long Island’s northern fork.

From Orient Point to Noyack involved a half-hour-plus of driving west on NY State Highway 25 to Greenport to catch the tiny ferry to Shelter Island’s northern ferry slip, and then driving across Shelter Island to its south ferry slip, crossing to the southern fork of Long Island and driving another twenty minutes through North Haven to Noyac.

 

On none of the ferries did anyone offer to snap my photograph, though, I suspect I took many myself in New London and while aboard the Sound Ferry Crossing.

The state roads I drove were kin, I believe, to Trethewey’s Mississippi 49, roads leading, in the mystery of time and space, to a place I’ve never been before no matter how many times I’ve driven the route.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

What strikes me from the poem is that any pictures of me would be pictures of who I was before. In the truest sense, photographs capture discrete instants of time. We may have learned to call our cameras “instant cameras,” but instant is an ironic label for a split-second of time and space. We must, from the mystery of memory, supply any context to the photos.

This mystery applies going forward as well. “Everywhere you go will be somewhere/you’ve never been.”

I suspect this also captures something of the mystery we call “eternity.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Natasha Trethewey is a professor of English and Creative Writing at Atlanta’s Emory University. Native Guard, a collection of 26 poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2006), was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007. In 2012 and 2013, she was the Poet Laureate of the United States. She is a native of Gulfport, Mississippi.

Miscellanies 1: Concerning the Mundane Life of Jesus As a Boy

Did Jesus ever worry about crooked teeth? Did he sneeze into his elbow? Did he sniffle? Did he brush or comb his hair every morning? How about his sandals? Did he have to clean and re-string or re-stitch them himself?

Before he went into the synagogue to discuss the Scriptures with the rabbis, did he clean his face and wash his hands? Did he ever spit in public? Did he have pimples to squeeze or wipe away? At the end of his special journeys, did someone feed the donkey that carried him, or did he attend to that himself?

Was our Lord ever annoyed with buzzing insects? Did he ever as a teenager talk back to his parents? If you answer, “Never”, then what did “I must be about my father’s business” sound like to the anxious, searching Mary and Joseph? Did Joseph teach him how to shave?

Did his mother say bedtime prayers with him and tell him the story of Bethlehem. Did he fall asleep to the tales of Wise Men and heavenly hosts, shepherd’s visits, and angel’s songs? And did some memory of the fragrance of myrrh and frankincense waft over him as he slumbered?

Could Jesus, or any disciple-fisherman among his companions, swim? Apparently Peter could not.

Did Joseph ever change his son’s swaddling clothes? What is Hebrew or Aramaic slang for human waste? Did Jesus or his disciples ever pause during their wanderings and exclaim, “I have to pee”?

You think these things when you’re an aging father and dealing with an enlarged prostate.

When he woke each day, did Jesus spring to his feet and get right to the business of the morning? Did he wear some kind of pajamas? Did he stop to wipe sleep from his eyes? Did he try to recall his dreams? Did he brush his teeth? Did he worry about his weight? Did he drink his morning milk straight from the jar? Did he have regular chores to attend to before he went to play?

Come to think of it, did he play?

Did he yearn for a hot morning cuppa; or a taste of mama’s fresh bread cooling near the fire?

Did he gaze into the night sky and ask, “Can you hear me, Father?” Did he ever spot a falling star and exclaim “Awesome!”

God, what am I asking when I pray I want to be like Jesus?

Gleanings from My Journals #1: I must write for life

(Journal Gleaning #1) Revised Nov. 15, 2019

I frequently open my journal to write and deride myself for the number of days I have allowed to pass since I penned an entry.

However, I’ve discovered my journal extends to inveterate note-taking elsewhere.

We’re taught we should never write in borrowed library books and must avoid ever making notes in any publication using permanent ink. Although, we seem to worry little about tearing apart newspapers with markers and scissors. (Except, of course, those we peruse in public library reading rooms.)

While I am faithful in my treatment of books read or borrowed at any library, I have never owned a hardback or paperback edition which I have not filled with notes in margins or endpapers using the most comfortable pen I can find (and I have owned hundreds of comfortable pens since being nurtured in the public school’s penmanship decades. Similarly, I own scores of composition notebooks partially filled with journal entries).

I’ve drawn a somewhat morbid pleasure from an anecdote concerning the American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910).

When the executors of James’ estate in 1910 went through his voluminous personal library, they discovered that most of the volumes had been annotated by James’ pen, but only on the first 50 or 60 pages. James, it appears, rarely finished a book he had begun to read, and what he did read, he heavily annotated.

My personal book collection, including many textbooks I’ve saved from my formal studies, is likewise lovingly mutilated.

Most of the volumes on the shelves of my personal library (except, perhaps reference volumes and atlases) are heavily marked. The truth is, I cannot open a book to read without simultaneously picking up a pen to begin underscoring and commenting. (Though, I detest using highlighters for this compulsion, just as I detest publications printed on papyrus-mimicking tissue pages!)

Here is a slightly edited journal entry I made in 2015 that captures the attitude I’ve nurtured in my love affair with note-taking since my teens:

          “Almost 19 months since I put pen to page in this notebook.

          “So be it. I have jottings all over the place. I’ve succumbed to the reality that I cannot read, hear a lecture/sermon, or watch a film/video without at some point, in some notebook, jotting down a reaction or a reference of some sort. My pen has become an extension of my mind’s strolls through life.

          “Some walk for life. I must write for life.”

 

An Autumn Addition: anthology of Favorite Poems

 

In his book, Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters, poet and teacher Robert Pinsky urges readers to create a personal anthology of favorite and significant poems.

It is not enough, Pinsky notes, to simply clip or copy and collect these choices one makes; instead, he urges that each choice should be typed or written line by line exactly as it has been published. Here’s the teacher’s observation:

“Typing a poem, one memorizes it a few words at a time, sometimes one syllable at a time. Every word gets read. By hitting the Return key at the end of each typographical line, one might learn something about the poetic line. The physical act of typing the poem can reinforce the act of judgment that selected it.”

I have applied Pinsky’s suggestions in compiling my own anthology of favorite poems.

Autumn tip-toed in while we dealt with a record-breaking heat wave this year (on Monday, Augusta, GA, recorded the highest temperature in the nation at 101 F). It is time for me to renew my seasonal selection of a poem for my anthology of favorites:
=================================

Musee des Beaux Arts
By W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
====================================

—one cannot fully appreciate this wonderful description of indifference without an awareness of the painting to which Auden is referring. For a fuller understanding, search for the poem’s title on Wikipedia.

At your request: Installment 2–July, 2019

2019 Suggested EfM Summer Reading: A Dozen Recommendations

Selected by Allan Roy Andrews, EfM Mentor,

Church of the Good Shepherd, Augusta, GA

1) Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. NY: Basic Books. 1981.

—Alter is a brilliant professor of literature and translator of the Hebrew Scriptures. His comments on the Old Testament, which generally focus on how the ancient Hebrews told stories, bring to light many nuances of the Hebrew language that non-Jewish readers of the Bible rarely learn in church or school. He is also a champion of our need to hear the Bible read aloud; although, he probably prefers listening to it read in Hebrew.

2) —————. The Art of Biblical Poetry. NY: Basic Books. 1985.

—Ditto praise for Alter’s exposition of the poetry that fills the scriptures. Five words: This is a great book!

3) —————. The Book of Psalms. NY: W. W. Norton. 2007.

—Reading Alter’s parallel notes to his translation of the Psalms is a mini-education in historical and textual theology.

4) —————. The World of Biblical Literature. NY: Basic Books. 1992.

—Probably the best of the Alter books listed here for a beginning reader of the Hebrew Scriptures, this book reviews and summarizes much of the above three volumes.

5) Kunst, Judith M. The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press. 2006.

—This book describes an evangelical teacher’s experience in reading Jewish Midrash and is published by a Roman Catholic Press. Kunst is a poet and teacher at a well-known Christian high school on Long Island, NY. She details her discovery of the ancient rabbinical method of interpreting scripture through its stories and how that strengthens her Christian faith. For a Christian interested in the rabbinic tradition of Midrash, Kunst’s book is an exciting introduction.

6) Evans, Rachel Held. Faith Unravelled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2010.

—Before she died in early May of this year at the age of 37, a victim of a deadly brain virus, Evans was a young leading light in the movement sometimes referred to as Progressive Christianity. (I prefer calling it “Inquisitive Christianity.”) This book describes her discovery of doubt and the asking of provocative questions as paths to a deeper faith in Jesus Christ.

7) Peter Enns. The Bible Tells Me So . . . Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. NY: Harper One. 2014.

—Enns is a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA, just to the northeast of Philadelphia. He was at one time a professor at Pennsylvania’s (Glenside) Westminster Theological Seminary, but his “progressive” thinking wasn’t appreciated by the trustees and administration of that conservative Presbyterian institution and, despite a faculty committee’s vote of confidence in his faithfulness to the Westminster Confession, he left the seminary.

Reading this book uncovers Enns’ inquisitiveness regarding the ancient scriptures, which reads like those popular expositions of “all the questions you’ve had about the Bible but were afraid to ask.” Some might find Enns’ approach a little too cute, but his scholarship is excellent, and he offers intriguing answers to all those questions you might have been afraid to ask.

One of Enns’ guidelines is that the Bible is not, and was never intended to be “A Believer’s Manual.” Instead, it is “a diverse story of God and how his people have connected with him over the centuries, in changing circumstances and situations.”

8) Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Sabbath. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1951.

–This is one of the Interlude books scheduled for EfM in the year 2020-21. It is probably one of the most excellent books you’ll ever encounter and will change the way you think about worship and rest. If you get ahead and want to read it sooner than next year, browse at Barnes & Noble (but remember, you will get your copy from EfM in 2020) and take note of the blurbs on the back of the revised paperback. Be warned! Those recommendations will encourage you to dive in and swim deeply immediately.

Every Christian should want to understand Jewish spirituality; after all, it is Jesus’ way.

9) Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2005.

–This selection from Bonhoeffer’s more than 15 volumes of writings  is one of our Interlude selections for the coming year, (which means you’ll get your copy in September). The book contains Bonhoeffer’s record and teachings at an underground seminary during the Nazi take-over of Germany. Bonhoeffer was hanged in a German prison camp just nine days before the Allied Forces liberated the death facility.

If you develop an appetite for Bonhoeffer, his “must read” books include:

  • Letters and Papers From Prison;
  • The Cost of Discipleship; and
  • Ethics.

10) Reinhold Niebuhr. Leaves From the Notebooks of a Tamed Cynic. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press. 1990 (original, 1939).

–This reflective volume is not one of the famed American theologian’s best-known treatises, but positively his most delightful. Niebuhr wrote this little book during his tenure as a young pastor in Detroit before he began his three-plus decades as a professor of social ethics at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary.

11) Malcolm Boyd. Are You Running With Me, Jesus? NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1965.

–In the early 1960s, this gay priest wrote what became one of the most potent and challenging devotional books of the century. Boyd was a poet as well as a priest, and a civil rights activist as well as a women’s rights supporter. Shortly after he turned 50, he publicly acknowledged his homosexuality and became an advocate for gay rights. Read this book and I believe you’ll agree that Jesus was running with him.

12) Phyllis McGinley. Saint-Watching. NY. Crossroad Publishing Company. 1982

An accomplished poet and author of children’s books, McGinley won the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for light verse. In the raucous days that saw the rise of militant feminism, McGinley staunchly defended her more “domesticated” writing and was criticized by famous women poets such as Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton. A devoted Roman Catholic, she wrote of the saints in the church that she wanted to “rescue them from their pious niches” and show them as “the quirky and fiercely individualistic but humane and charming people” they became. To our delight, she masterfully has done so.

(My earlier posting of recommended readings is at https://wp.me/p86oI1-g6 )

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.

Within a week or so, Kenny Powers, who had the politeness of asking 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+[Rachel Held Evans—In Memoriam]

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.


In Memoriam:

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