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New Year addition: Anthology of Personal Favorite Poems

Saturday, January 18th, 2020


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

“Theories of Time and Space.”
By Natasha Trethewey, in Native Guard
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006; p. 1)

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.


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

Friday, December 20th, 2019

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

Friday, November 8th, 2019

(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

Friday, October 4th, 2019


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

Tuesday, July 2nd, 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 )

Daily Probiotics and Lots of Water

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

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:

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

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

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” 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]

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

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 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:…0.0..0.185.2610.17j9……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i67j0j0i131j35i39j0i22i10i30.7N3SybWfkVs

Her blog is at:

–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.



In Awesome Wonder

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

consider all the worlds thy hands have made;

I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder:

thy power throughout the universe displayed;


Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee,

How great thou art, how great thou art.


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

A City Boy’s Memory of Magical Sanctuaries

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Brain like a Hyperlink

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow suit at::

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

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

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

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

The Cup of Salvation

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019
The urban Baptist Church that nurtured my childhood faith is fondly remembered for its congregational singing of gospel choruses. Led by our deacon, Howard T, we heartily learned and repeatedly sang so many choruses before we dispersed to our respective Sunday School classes that the church eventually produced a booklet of choruses containing close to fifty of these lively tunes. Those mimeographed sheets took their place in the pew-racks alongside hymnals and copies of the King James Bible.
Deacon Howard eagerly conducted our singing. He had a unique way of leading, clinging to the sleeve of his suit jacket with three or four fingers pressing the fabric into the heel of his palm and pumping his forearm up and down at the elbow like the lever of a drilling rig or an auto shop’s jack. His arm never wavered: up-and-down in the identical pattern of beats with only an occasional stop at the top to hold a sustained note. He didn’t wave or point; he never changed his facial expression nor made grand flourishes to mark dynamics. The deacon dutifully and joyfully sang as he led his congregation of all ages.
The deacon’s favorite chorus was a four-line ditty of thanksgiving:
Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul;
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole.
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation, so rich and free. (1)
The church, faithful in preaching its gospel message of salvation, boasted its evangelistic slogan: “We preach the Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope.”
The book, of course, referred to the King James Bible, and any mention of wine in the scriptures became interpreted as being sweet juice.
The blood, which represented Jesus’ sacrificial death on a cross shed as a substitute for our deserved eternal death, rarely was referred to during once-a-month communion services outside of Jesus’ reference at the Last Supper, when he said, “This is my blood, shed for you.” The reference at my church meant Welch’s Grape Juice that had been pre-poured into tiny glasses and distributed in silver serving trays by the deacons and trustees to the congregation seated during the service.
The Blessed Hope referred to the promise of salvation given to anyone who repented and made a profession of faith and became “born again.” I remember no connection between the blood and salvation during our communion service.
My faith changed dramatically as a collegian who gradually shed his fundamentalist Baptist upbringing and as a young adult became attracted to the liturgy, graciousness, and The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
A young couple in my Episcopal parish and I became good friends through church meetings and socials. The wife, a mother of two boys—Andrew, aged six, and Timothy, aged four—one night shared with our fellowship that her boys often played “church” at home.
Using a mop-handle set across two back-to-back chairs, the boys built a makeshift altar with the handle serving as a rail. Andrew, wearing his bathrobe as a clerical surplice and a striped dish towel or a winter scarf as a stole, acted as the priest and server, while Timothy and his mother knelt at the rail and cupped their hands to receive the “sacraments.”
At the appropriate moment during an episode in their church play, the mother related, Andrew presented Timothy with a small wine glass containing a tiny amount of liquid (water or juice), saying the appropriate words from the prayer book: “The cup of salvation,” which Timothy raised to his lips and poured down his throat.
At this point, a distressed Andrew screamed to his mother: “Mommy, Timothy drank all the salvation!”
Indeed, that is precisely what occurs at the Eucharistic rail: a penitent and confessing believer kneels to be fed “all the salvation.”
As I’ve aged in my confirmed Episcopal life, when I kneel at the Eucharist rail to partake of the body and blood of Christ, before I rise I thank God for the lesson of a six-year-old and I silently recite the lines of deacon Howard T’s favorite chorus:
Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul;
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole.
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation, so rich and free.
 (1) The song is attributed to Seth and Bessie Sykes, itinerant British singing evangelists of the 1930s. It contains three verses in addition to the well-known chorus, but I have no memory of ever singing the verses in Sunday School. Some references to the chorus replace the word “rich” in the final line with the word “full.”

Wisdom–An addition to my Personal Anthology of Favorite Poetry

Monday, January 21st, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11) Sara Miles. Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion.  NY: Penguin House. 2007.— This memoir unveils a woman whose father told her she’d be much better off spending her Sabbath mornings reading The Sunday New York Times instead of going to church. After dabbling in scores of adventures, thrills, and happenings into her adult years, an incidental Eucharistic event in a California Episcopal Church changed her life. She writes of her encounter with “crumbly” bread and “sweet” wine that “Jesus happened.”

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

The wonder of wondering

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

“Be the ball.”

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

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

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

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

–William James, psychologist, and philosopher.

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

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

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

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

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

–The Dalai Lama

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

–Tennessee Williams, American playwright.

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

–Thomas Merton, Cistercian monk, and writer.