Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

June Addition: My Personal Anthology of Favorite Poems

Friday, June 4th, 2021

“Make and Break Harbour” by Stan Rogers.

June marks the 39th anniversary of the death of Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers, who was 33 years old in 1984 when the Toronto-bound plane he was a passenger aboard made an emergency landing in Cincinnati because of heavy smoke in its rear cabin space. When the doors were opened to allow passengers to exit the plane, the smoke exploded into a flash fire that killed Rogers and 22 others, all of whom died of smoke inhalation. Five crew members and 16 passengers survived the tragic evacuation.

Rogers is judged to have been at the height of his successful music career, and he is still remembered as one of Canada’s brightest recording stars, one who wrote many of the songs he recorded. In 1984, his remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered along the Atlantic Ocean coast in Nova Scotia near the place where Rogers had spent many summers and vacations with relatives. His parents were natives of the Maritimes who had moved to Hamilton, Ontario seeking better working conditions. Stan Rogers was born a year after their move. The singer was raised and educated in Ontario but spent summers with family and relatives in the coastal provincial county of Guysborough, Nova Scotia. Nova Scotians celebrate him as one of their own, and many of his songs reflect the life and times of the Maritime Provinces.

The song “Make and Break Harbour,” which Rogers wrote and recorded in the late 1970s is one of several in the collection titled “Fogarty’s Cove” that carried Rogers and his band (which includes his younger brother Garnet) into the limelight of Canadian folk music.

What Rogers captures in the lyrics of “Make and Break Harbour” provides a poignant recounting of the economic tragedy for the North Atlantic fishing fleet with the development of massive foreign longliner trawlers that fished out extensive portions of cod feeding grounds in Atlantic’s waters between the Canadian coast and the ocean’s Grand Banks. Many coastal families of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador, who made their livelihoods from the sea, were forced to find other incomes, and many of them, especially the young, migrated to the more economically promising locations in Canada and the United States.

My parents were among the migration of Newfoundlanders to the United States just about the time the world was recovering from World War I and diving into The Great Depression of the late ’20s and early ’30s. Newfoundlanders as well as other migrating Indians of Canada and Northern New England became the ironworkers and carpenters who built the bustling metropolises of post-Depression America. And as Rogers notes in his lyric, most of those workers still keep time by the turn of the tide.

I grew up listening to and learning many of the sea chanties, jigs, and comic songs of Newfoundland, and most of them emerged from the experience of hard-working fisherfolk. Both of my grandfathers, neither of whom I’d ever met, were schooner captains for a good part of their lives in Newfoundland’s Bonavista Bay. So, with that in my blood, I include Rogers’ “Make and Break Harbour” in my anthology of favorite poems.

Make and Break Harbour By Stan Rogers.

How still lies the bay in the bright western airs
Which blow from the crimson horizon.
Once more we tack home with a dry empty hold
Saving gas with the breezes so fair.
She’s a kindly Cape Islander, old, but still sound,
But so lost in the longliner’s shadow.
Make and break, and make do, but the fish are so few
That she won’t be replaced should she founder.

It’s so hard not to think of before the Big War
When the cod went so cheap and so plenty.
Foreign trawlers go by now with long-seeing eyes
Taking all, where we seldom take any.
And so the young folk don’t stay with the fisherman’s way;
Long ago, they all moved to the cities.
And the ones left behind, old, tired, and blind
Can’t work for “a pound or a penny.”

Chorus:

In Make and Break Harbour the boats are so few,
Too many are pulled up and rotten.
Most houses stand empty, old nets hung to dry
Are blown away, lost, and forgotten.

I can see the big draggers have stirred up the bay
Leaving lobster traps smashed on the bottom.
Can they think it don’t pay to respect the old ways
That Make-and-Break men have not forgotten?
For we still keep our time to the turn of the tide,
And this boat that I built with my father
Still lifts to the sky! The one lunger and I
Still talk like old friends on the water.

Repeat Chorus

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriter: Stan Rogers

You can listen to Stan Rogers sing “Make and Break Harbour” on YouTube.
I recommend the outtakes from a documentary film on Rogers’ life entitled “One Warm Line.”

Stories as Reliable Medicine: A Book (well, first chapter) Review

Saturday, April 24th, 2021

Almost everyone who knows me knows I’m a devoted fan of the Brooklyn (aka Los Angeles) Dodgers. What almost everyone who knows me doesn’t know about me is that I’m a devoted fan of best-selling author Anne Lamott.

I could tell you stories of the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn that even the most ardent of fans can’t recall, stories of Pete Rieser, Cookie Lavagetto, Red Barber, Dixie Walker, Sandy Amoros, Carl Furillo, and Karl Spooner, but those stories, while they probably help to define my childhood, would mean little to most listeners. That’s because my stories have become a kind of “good medicine” for me, and Anne Lamott recognizes that our stories keep us healthy and hopeful in our darkest moments.

Reading Lamott’s latest reflections on revival and courage, a 2021 volume called Dusk Night Dawn, is like sitting beside the outdoor pool of an old motel lobby at the midpoint of an 18-hour drive toward home with a cup of styrofoam coffee and listening to another aging traveler who has taken a seat near me and is reading aloud from a Gideon Bible she’s removed from her motel room as she interprets those ancient stories of Jesus and other prophets.

She holds up the Bible and says: “Love is sovereign here, and the hardest work we do is self-love and forgiveness.”

It’s as if this stranger, a traveling street-preacher of good stories, has singled me out as one in need of her vision of salvation. It’s Spring and it’s still a bit too chilly for a dip in the pool. I’m on my way home after speaking with others about climate change at an Earth Day celebration. I’m listening to an unlikely angel of concern for the earth.

Lamott, the unknown evangelist, apparently has been active in her own discussions of climate change. “It’s going to be really hard to turn the environment around, but we can do hard,” she preaches. “We can do hard and in fact we have done hard before—World War II, vaccines, antibiotics, antiretrovirals. We are up to this.”

“Never give up,” Lamott urges. “Never give up on intimate relationships or science or nature.”

Admittedly, I’m just at chapter one and I’m already recommending Lamott’s message. “Love is the mastermind of it all,” she says as she relates her own stories. She cites Mozart: “The soul of genius is love, love, love,” and I hear the Beetle’s echoing that wisdom—“All you need is love.” And then Lamott turns this discussion into an admonition: “We need to stop racing and to savor beauty, to look up from our screens at the weather, one another’s faces, the ocean, the desert, a garden, and architecture, which is another kind of garden.” [She gets my “faith@ease” vote right there.]

Enough of my story. Lamott’s book has 11 chapters and I’ve just told you about the Prologue. But she discloses her method in her prologue’s discussion of conversing with a group of women: “I told them my stories of mess and redemption, because stories can be our most reliable medicine.”

Her book, Dusk Night Dawn, I can affirm after swallowing its first pill, is good medicine for a world coming to grips with the here and now of a pandemic, melting arctic ice, disappearing shorelines, and a general planetary temperature rising at a scary rate. I’ll be back in a few months when I’m finished with Dusk and Night and am hopefully welcoming the Dawn.

Retired editor, former seminarian, revisits important book

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

Here is my precis of Martin E. Marty’s Introduction to the 1962 book by Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1962).

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Think of this modest book as a greeting card. It could be a welcome note to anyone in a new religious position, or a “Happy Anniversary” to a veteran church employee who might be looking back to measure his or her intentions. It could be a “Get Well” greeting to a pretentious theologian or a sympathy card to someone who has forgotten the excitement and promise of the theological task.
In clear and forceful language the author sets out to speak of the difficult language of theology. It greets a young theologian and will not soon be placed back among his or her souvenirs. To begin to exhaust its meanings, one must consult it again and again. The author offers good counsel to the budding theologian.
Any serious reader, before accepting this counsel, will examine the writer’s credentials. By what right does he speak? Will he insinuate his opinions into my consciousness? Will he be pontifical or condescending? Does he know what theology and young theologians are all about?
Few if any in the Christian world would hesitate in appreciation for Helmut Thielicke. He wears several mantles that fit well: The business suit of the secular administrator, as well as the academic garb of that post; the robes of the professorial office and the learned lecturer on Christian ethics; indeed, some number him among the greatest preachers in the world. His sermons, now published in many volumes, are among the few that preachers read for their own nourishment. Finally, he may be pictured as a world-traveler and storyteller in his corduroy sport coat. He is at home in all of these roles and well-equipped for the tone of voice he uses here.

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My Afterword:

I first read Thielicke’s little book (41 pages) addressed to young people who might be considering, as I was in the decade following its publication, the formal study of theology.

I was fresh out of college and contemplating two career paths. The first entailed graduate school to study psychology, which had been my undergraduate major. The second was seminary and a career in some form of professional church ministry.

This was not an easy decision for me. I spent the next five or six years bouncing between grad school and seminary, before beginning a career in journalism, which took me into newsrooms and classrooms as a copy editor, daily reporter, teacher of journalism, columnist, webmaster, coach, and executive editor for the next 44 years.

I worked for newspapers in four states and also in Japan, and have always maintained my interest in theology.

Even in retirement, I have worked part-time as a freelance copy editor, librarian, teacher of writing, advisor to student publications, and a mentor in theological studies.

At one point in my career, I joined—with my rector’s consent—a discernment group studying to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. Alas, my age, my four children, my two divorces, and my generalist’s relaxed attitude toward a “purpose” in my call, worked against my bishop’s permission to go forward at the end of our examination.

I’ve never, however, lost my interest in theology nor my captive inquisitiveness about its message of God’s beckoning for my mind and heart.

So, for about the umpteenth time I’m re-visiting Thielicke’s little book.

If you’re reading my little reflection, I urge you to read A Little Exercise for Young Theologians yourself. Despite its title, one need not be young to benefit from its Christian message.

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Helmut Thielicke was born in Wuppertal, Germany in 1908 and died in 1986 in Hamburg.

Covid19, School, ‘Punxsutawney Phil’, and Parenting

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

A bit of silly trivia for our times, which this week featured Groundhog Day, drives this casual reflection.

In the news this week was “Punxsutawny Phil,” the Pennsylvania critter of folklore predictions regarding the coming of Spring, and renowned in popular culture as the curse of the romantic-comedy film of 1993, “Groundhog Day,” a weather-based love story that annually revives the stardom of actor Bill Murray and actress Andie MacDowell.

Well, it happens that “Phil” saw his shadow this week, which is a folklore signal that Spring will not arrive for another six weeks at least, and if you ask anyone in the country living in the Northeast north of the Virginia border this week, they’ll underscore that prediction as they deal in many cases with about two feet of snow. (This includes my three sons and their families living in Maryland.)

However, it’s not weather that’s keeping lots of kids home from school across the United States—it’s a deadly virus.

I don’t want to discuss snow today, other than to include it in my reflection on the current COVID19 pandemic, and what it (and the snow) are doing to our notion of “learning” as it applies to our schools.

I shake my head in dismay, each time I hear a news commentator report that “Kids, are out of school again today, but many continue to learn through ‘distance instruction’!”

Let’s clarify, as we do each weekend, national holiday, summer season, and forced holiday, this blatantly obvious though often neglected truth: humans don’t need schools to continue learning!

A simple observation underscores this: kids don’t learn to love sports or cars or fishing or hunting or sewing or shopping in their schoolrooms! And, I’ll go one careless step further, most American kids don’t learn much about religion, philosophy, politics, or meteorology in their classrooms. Nor do they learn much about how to cope with medical depression, death, economic or family distress, or prejudiced and criminal neighbors in school. Nor are they taught how to swear, or hate, or play video games in their classrooms.

Here’s my point: Parents (instead of blaming schools for not properly educating their brood during a pandemic) should be living lessons to kids (which we are whether we want to be or not).

We don’t need classrooms to exercise the teaching we are responsible for.

Here’s a few current suggestions:
1) Blow up the TV (as the late John Prine advised in song) or better still, employ it to watch together and discuss the weather or the news. Don’t let the “talking heads”—be they on the tube or in the classroom—provide the only opinions and judgments your kids hear.

2) Jump at any opportunity at home to have a conversation about things in the news or in the lives of children. When I reflect on my years as a child-rearing father I finally recognize that every conversation I had with my boys about sports or cars or God or death or disappointment or pain was an educational moment. And that went two-ways: I was learning as I was going, just as they were.

3) Understand that learning doesn’t begin and stop at any school’s doors. In fact, it doesn’t stop—ever! I realized as an adult that I’m a “life-long learner,” but this isn’t a choice I’ve made; it is the nature of living.

Just as the old song asks, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” so life teaches us that neither we nor our kids can keep from learning. And they don’t need schools as much as they need parents who believe this and send this message to them daily.

The five most important questions to be asked every day remain: Who? What? When? Where? and How? And the most elusive sixth question that seems least likely to be asked (or answered) at school: Why? (and its partner, Why Not?)

Try this topic: COVID19–what? where? how? who? when? why? And add the perhaps startling but not cynical question, so what?

Keep asking these questions about everything and you’ll reduce the risk of ever becoming a victim of “fake news” or “conspiracy theories.” And, likewise, so will your children.

Enjoy your winter—and your kids. You’re a better teacher than Punxsutawney Phil!

 

 

 

Centering, Words, and “Das Vaterunser”

Sunday, December 20th, 2020

M. Basil Pennington, the late Cistercian monk who encouraged and guided many in the devotional practice of “Centering Prayer,” urges in his writings that readers (and pray-ers) focus on a “sacred word” in Centering Prayer sessions.

When focusing on a special word, I almost always reach for my dictionary as encouraged by a gentle college professor of psychology who insisted students learn to “read” dictionaries; that is, to delve into not only definitions, but etymologies, synonyms and antonyms, and the subtle distinction of manifold forms and usages of the words (including translations of those words).

I think I can confidently say this professor believed “every” word is sacred.

As a native Hungarian and fluent speaker of German, Dr. Theodore Thass-Thienemann had been pressed into instructing classes in that tongue, and he urged those he taught into a tiny exercise of centering by demanding every class of German begin with a unison recitation—Auf Deutsch—of The Lord’s Prayer (The “Our Father”; in German, “Das Vaterunser”).

Many years after I finished college, I learned of this mentor’s death, and his 1985 obituary noted he had been trained not only in psychology but in linguistics. By that time, thanks to him, I had become an avid dictionary-devotee.

I’m still relearning his lessons, and I’ve come to believe, as he instilled in me, that every word is sacred. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

My Personal Anthology of Favorite Poems (Year-End Addition)

Tuesday, November 24th, 2020

At the height of the COVID19 pandemic, as 2020 neared December, several news broadcasts began providing candid memorials, snapshot obituaries, for victims of the deadly virus.

This is good. Most of these I’ve seen pay tribute to first-responders and health-care workers. I think networks should do this regularly even when the pandemic is conquered sometime in the future.

News obituaries tend to honor the famous or infamous. I learned long ago that obituaries published in major newspapers, especially those in the New York Times, provide a helpful resource for biographical research.

Incidentally, one of the finest documentary films I’ve seen is called “Obit,” which tells the story of the Times’ writers of obituaries, and—though this may have changed since the film’s release—claims the Times is the only paper with an Obituary Reporting Department. (You’ll find this documentary easily on YouTube.)

Obituaries (“obits” in journalist jargon) are important to our memory. Almost every story reported in the daily news is dependent on information from someone’s memory, frequently categorized in the phrase “eye-witness.” More formally, we call this history, and all history is comprised of memories. Such is the nature of time.

I started reading newspaper obituaries as a teenager, about the same time I began keeping a journal and writing my own poems. Perhaps I was motivated by the death of a high school classmate; I did write a poem about his friendship.

[I’ve taken the liberty of attaching to this anthology my poem about the friend who died.]

Billy Collins’ poem “Downpour” (From his collection Whale Day, 2020) has been praised as a love poem, and certainly the element of love comes across subtly in Collins’ low-key and clever manner. However, the root of the poem, in my interpretation, is that “Downpour” underscores the experience of death and one’s memories of those who have died.

Interpret it as you wish, but I offer it as a favorite because I want readers to share my experience of dealing with the death of someone close to me, and perhaps in the process underscoring the importance of memory that can be found when names of close ones who died are listed.

Here is Collins’ poem “Downpour,”
originally published in The New Yorker in 2019 and gathered in his 2020 collection Whale Day.

======================================

Downpour

By Billy Collins

Last night we ended up on the couch
trying to remember
all of the friends who had died so far,

and this morning I wrote them down
in alphabetical order
on the flip side of a shopping list
you had left on the kitchen table.

So many of them had been swept away
as if by a hand from the sky,
it was good to recall them,
I was thinking
under the cold lights of a supermarket
as I guided a cart with a wobbly wheel

I was on the lookout for blueberries,
English muffins, linguini, heavy cream,
light bulbs, apples, Canadian bacon,
and whatever else was on the list,
which I managed to keep grocery side up,

until I had passed through the electric doors,
where I stopped to realize,
as I turned the list over,
that I had forgotten Terry O’Shea
as well as the bananas and the bread.

It was pouring by then,
spillin, as they say in Ireland,
people splashing across the lot to their cars.
And that is when I set out,
walking slowly and precisely,
a soaking-wet man
bearing bags of groceries,
walking as if in a procession honoring the dead.

I felt I owed this to Terry,
who was such a strong painter,
for almost forgetting him
and to all the others who had formed
a circle around him on the screen in my head.

I was walking more slowly now
in the presence of the compassion
the dead were extending to a comrade,

plus I was in no hurry to return
to the kitchen, where I would have to tell you
all about Terry and the bananas and the bread.

================================================

Here’s my poem: “A Shorthand Note for Alex,” published by the Maryland Writers Association (MWA) in its 2011 anthology Life in Me Like Grass on Fire, edited by Laura Shovan. April 2011.

 

     A Shorthand Note for Alex 

Dear Sir: this steno’s shibboleth

retrieves his brief, slender form;

Alex, my friend ripped from studies

 

in the banter years of boys confused

but captive to coy female eyes.

We entered class in perfumed air

 

as naive males, two isolated boys

growing in stature, growing familiar

with 15 girls decoding Gregg

 

and framing flirtatious gambits.

Alex died, and left me shorthand notes,

graceful curves he’d chased in class.

 

Could I revise, I’d frame a “Dear Sir” plea

to have him live my trials of afternoons

in shorthand stalled, in ecstasies begun.

 

 

Attacking Blogger’s Block: Meet an Inspiring Guide

Saturday, November 14th, 2020

You might note the non-existence of my October entries. My last posting to this blog was on September 17, a whopping 58 days ago (an eon in blogging lives!)

In the midst of COVID19, when one practicing social distancing and attempting to self-quarantine could expect time to blog would become plentiful and the impulse to put words into print would manifest itself explosively, I have failed to organize a single entry to post for two months. I might be overdoing my championing of faith at ease.

I don’t blame the pandemic, however, for my stalled pen; it seems I have been jotting lots of notes to myself, but simply have not organized anything I wish to bestow with ether wings.

So, I’m taking a simple route here in posting advice to myself, focusing on one particular note of inspiration.

Anyone stumbling into my posts over the past 13 years will discover I saunter in the direction of leisurely musings dominated by a desire to become better at poetry and prayer. Thus, I searched my notebooks for inspiration.

It was at this point during my pandemic-induced scrapbook searchings that Marilyn dropped into my life.

She didn’t arrive in any scurrilous manner you might think I’m leaning into; nevertheless, she has awakened me, taught me, and is slowly guiding my reading, writing, and spiritual travels, largely by modeling in her writings the wonder and beauty of bringing words to life (and, more specifically, by bringing life to words).

Enough of my snarky fantasy. You should read for yourself the writings of Marilyn Chandler McEntyre to understand better my pedestrian meanderings.

Begin anywhere among her published volumes, but here is my beginning chronicle:

It started when I read her book When Poets Pray (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019). She ensnared me with the opening paragraph of her introduction:

“In prayer, as in so many other areas of life, we ‘learn by going where we have to go.’ Many of us took our first steps on the path of prayer as children with lines we recited at bedtime or mealtime, or with innocent prayer lists that included blessings for guinea pigs and dolls [or for baseball players and country singers]. We may have come to prayer through crisis or loss, or through those who, when we didn’t even realize what we most needed, offered to pray for us.” [my insertion]

If you have an inkling of following my advice to read the reflections of this wonderful guide to life, and if you can appreciate God’s gift of skills encasing her prose, I suggest you begin with McEntyre’s collection called Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), where you’ll find entries for every day of the year coming from a writer who whispers inspiration in your ear as you read.

Trembling While Writing

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

I write; therefore, I tremble.

I want to record and recommend what I’ve picked up from Carol A. Wehrheim’s reflection on “Trembling Together,” from the devotional booklet, These Days, published by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation in Louisville, KY.

Think about “trembling.”

One might even consider it a sacred word for use with Centering Prayer or Lectio Divina. To be sure, we tremble before God in our weaknesses and fears.

Wehrheim reminds us that even the Creation, i.e., the geographic/geologic features of our lives force us to stand in awe if not to tremble with fear.

Think hurricane or tornado; think landslide; think flooding rains; think forest fires and damaging hail storms. Think of raging seas and blasting winds. [Think of missionary doctor Wilfred Grenfell stranded on floating pack ice off the coast of Labrador and facing the doom of death!]

The reflection Wehrheim wrote for September 12 (one day after the memorial recall of the terrorist skyjacking and suicide attacks on 9/11/2001) reminds us that trembling also accompanies great joy. I tremble with appreciation at the hospitality of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland on that day, when so many strangers “come from away.”

Recall parents who tremble at the birth of a new child, or think of the medical personnel who tremble when one in a coma blinks and murmurs back to consciousness, or think of the shivering explorer rescued from the grip of icy waters.

We need, the writer says, to remember God is a part of our trembling community, whether in times of fear or joy. Our relationship to God—be it in contact with the Almighty Creator, the Redeeming Son, or the Guiding Holy Spirit—causes us to tremble, perhaps in fear, but often in joy. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” writes the Psalmist, “I will fear no evil.” (Though, I may tremble.)

The traditional spiritual musical lament at the Passion of Jesus–“Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”–repeats over and over in its chorus, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

The Christian journey inevitably passes through times of trembling.

Wehrheim tacks this little prayer onto her brief commentary:
“God of mercy, I pray that my heart and soul will be open and responsive to your work in the world. AMEN.”

As is my exercise in following the so-labeled Hemingway challenge to write six-word stories by attempting to reduce prayers to six words, here is my edit of Wehrheim’s prayer:
“I pray my heart be ready.”

And as I tremble: “I pray my pen be ready.”

 

Asleep in the Boat–A Reflection

Monday, August 24th, 2020

A Reflection:

“. . . and he was asleep.” [Matthew 8:23-27]

I am more grateful than startled by this revelation in Matthew’s gospel story. Jesus sleeps through a storm!

As the grandson of two professional Newfoundland schooner captains whom I never knew, I have always been attracted to boats; alas, as a city slicker, I’ve rarely been aboard one.

I remember going on a first-and-only deep-sea fishing trip as a young man with a group of journalist friends in North Carolina; it was my first cruise on troubled waters. To everyone’s amazement, I hooked the first catch of the day, and reeled it in like a pro.

Once my twelve-inch sea trout was aboard, I stood and began to grow dizzy and stricken; I became seasick. The chartered boat captain, alone among my companions who wasn’t laughing, told me to go below and lie down.

I slept in the rollicking, rolling cabin for about an hour, and for the rest of the trip I followed the captain’s advice to keep my eyes on the horizon or the distant shoreline while standing.

There I was, aboard an ocean-going fishing boat for the first time, and I slept through a good part of the trip (retching over the side several times when I wasn’t at rest). My grandfathers surely were rolling in their graves, or perhaps rocking in delighted laughter from their heavenly haven!

However, I smile because ultimately, we are strengthened and cured with Jesus asleep in our boat!

Thank you, Lord Jesus.

=========================
[This meditation grew out of a post written originally for an exercise in lectio divina for an online course I took offered through the The Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.]

[The selection from Matthew’s Gospel is analyzed in the course text by M. Basil Pennington O.C.S.O. Call to the Center: The Gospel’s Invitation to Deeper Prayer (3rd Ed. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press. 2003)—Pennington’s reflection is from the chapter, “In the Boat of Centering Prayer,” pp. 83-87).]

 

Ten Quotations I’ve Rediscovered

Friday, August 7th, 2020

As a compulsive journal keeper, I frequently collect random bits of news, information, articles, and events (even memories) that find their way into my writing. Last week I uncovered a page of quotes I collected in the ‘60s or early ‘70s.

The four-page collection of 23 quotations reignited my reflections on themes and ideas I hadn’t journaled about; though; I may have dropped a line in here and there. Almost half of these are lifted from Garrison Keillor’s daily delivery of The Writer’s Almanac. But I’ll not resurrect those; If you want to see them, visit Lake Wobegon.

Here I list for your bemused browsing, several that jumped from the page for me as I read them standing in my home “office.”

1) Cited in an e-mail signature line from a former teacher colleague was this inspiring alert directed at educators and attributed to the Irish poet of the 1920s and ‘30s, William Butler Yeats:
Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

2) Daniel Russell is a senior research scientist at Google whose posts and lectures educated me in the strategy of web searching and information scavenging. In a lecture at the U. of California in San Francisco, Russell gave us this four-word nugget of advice:
Synonymization is your friend.

3) I used to do freelance editing for the National Governors Association in Washington, and it was there I came across a speech by professor Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley writer and entrepreneur, in which he said:
There’s no possible way that you could write down in a document, sitting in your office or your library or with consultants, what the real world looks like. The real world is chaos.

4) Paul Brians, the author of *Common Errors in English Usage,* gave us this challenge to ponder:
—Events may progress in time, but time itself does not progress—it just passes.

5) Here’s a touch of Latin, found on the shield of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador (where both my parents were born and raised) :
 —Quaerite Prime Regnum Dei (Seek first the Kingdom of God).

6) In his 1968 text, A Dynamic Psychology of Religion, the late Paul W. Pruyser, a Menninger Clinic psychologist, wrote:
—There is no focus without fuzzy edges.

7) The 18th-Century Christian writer and apologist G. K. Chesterton left us this habit of conversational prayer:
—You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

8) James C. Schapp is a retired writing professor at Dordt College in Iowa, a hotbed of Calvinist (Kuyperian) Dutch Reformed theology, and a faithful, frequently funny blogger at “Stuff in the Basement” (siouxlander.blogspot.com).
Schapp also is a rare Calvinist who attends to the words of “the little bride of Christ” in his book Reading Mother Teresa.
—We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.
—cited by Schapp in “Stuff in the Basement” in 2013.

9) Novelist and short story writer Anne Beattie penned this stunning observation:
 —What we hear by accident often has more credibility than what is said to us directly.
—-cited on the city guides website Matador Network

10) Finally, I offer a quote that I’ve frequently repeated by often mixing up details but retaining the punch line, as it were. In 2003, the evangelical magazine Christianity Today published a profile on Tony Campolo, a sociology professor and evangelist at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. There can be little doubt it was the first time the magazine ever quoted a taboo four-letter word. Campolo told his audience:
—I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Remembrance of Me

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

Engraved on the sturdy oak communion table
that sits in front of the raised pulpit
of Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn
are the words “In Remembrance of Me.”

Remembering is critical to faith–and,
I think, to understanding
the phenomenon known as life.

I can’t deny I often come back to journaling
when I want to think, to reflect,
and to record my thoughts. Journaling
has become a kind of communion table.

Ray Bradbury said, “Don’t think. Just write.
I don’t think, I just write.”
As for me, I go to my journal.

Again, Bradbury said, “You fail only if you stop writing.”
And he confessed, “I was too poor
to go to college (during the Great Depression)
so I went to the library three days every week.”
Where, undoubtedly, he not only read, but wrote.

Can a case be made for understanding
the passage of time as a life of remembrance?
We know nothing of the time that is yet to come;
we simply inhale its mysteries and revelations.

And we can only know the past if we record it,
or if we read some other’s recalled images,
often engraved in granite or marble.

The past is dead life; it can only be recorded;
mind is a scribe; thus, the past is embalmed.
The future is not-yet life.
We create it moment by moment.
Only the present is life. Time is life.

Living is a voyage into time.
So we have records and writings
to help us embalm the past, and we can write,
scribbling our attempts to imprison the present.
But we can only dream the future and wonder.

I’ve been late coming to many realizations;
always in the category of a “late-bloomer.”
Even in grade school, my teachers frequently
characterized me “a boy who should be on top.”

But what did those caretakers know about boys
who didn’t worry about being “on top”?
Why didn’t they teach me
the amazing power and joy of wondering?

Educators can only assess students
by examining past performances.
The wisest among them provide
opportunities for wonder, and
to do so they also must wonder.

Are we all, I wonder,
as centenarian poet Ferlinghetti suggests,
walkers on a tightrope
“constantly risking absurdity”?

And what did Jesus understand about life
when he “went apart from his friends to pray?”
Did he also do this in remembrance of me?

–2020

Father’s Day: Sharing an Introit

Sunday, June 21st, 2020

The self-isolation of the season of COVID19 has led to us worshiping via YouTube. 

I share the Introit of this Sunday—The Third Sunday After Pentecost—from the broadcast service of the Washington National Cathedral in DC:

(Incidentally, an “introit”—comes from the Latin verb introire, meaning to enter. Thus, in ecclesiastic language the Introit is the beginning of a service, particularly when the celebrants enter the sanctuary and a hymn or anthem is played or sung.)

 

The Introit at the cathedral on this Father’s Day  was “Come Sunday” from a composition called “Black, Brown and Beige” written in 1943 by Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974).

=========

COME SUNDAY

Come Sunday, oh come Sunday, that’s the day.

Refrain:  Lord, Dear Lord above: God Almighty, God of Love,

Please look down and see my people through.

 

I believe that God put sun and moon up in the sky.

I don’t mind the gray skies ‘cause they’re just clouds passing by.

Refrain

Heaven is a goodness time, a brighter light on high.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you:

And have a brighter by and by.

Refrain

I believe God is now, was then and always will be.

With God’s blessing we can make it through eternity.

Refrain

=============

The Lord God be with you all.

Memorial Day During a Pandemic

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

=============================================
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)
=============================================

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, suppressed 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.

National Poetry Month: Addition to Personal Favorites Anthology

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

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

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

— 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).