Monday, October 31, 2011

"Somebody was wrong, and it wasn’t Jesus"

Wayne Flynt
Samford University Photo
I went back to my alma mater last Saturday to hear Wayne Flynt give a talk at the Samford University Library as part of the Homecoming events. He talked about what life was like when he graduated with the class of 1961. He then read an excerpt from his new memoir, Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives. The reading he chose related his experience of being challenged and seeing broader possibilities as he went from a provincial homogenous community to experience higher education and as he met people on his college campus from other parts of the world and other walks of life. I was especially taken by one quote in particular:

“It was not my parents, peers, school, or church that began to unshackle me from the chains of racism. It was the Bible. I was only a teenager in high school when the first tensions appeared between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of John Patterson and George Wallace. Somebody was wrong. And it wasn’t Jesus.”

The reason I like that quote is that it resonates very much with my own experience. When I went to Samford University in the mid 1970s, I decided on a double major in English and Religion. One of my friends said at the time, “Not only will you have religion, you will be able to talk about it.” There may have been some truth to that. There has also been a lot of truth in Garrison Keillor’s remarks about English majors on his radio program, A Prairie Home Companion – which is why I ended up making a living as a registered nurse so I could continue to enjoy the fields of English and Religion.

My experience in the two departments became very enlightening and even liberating. The professors in the Religion Department were not the fundamentalist strand of the Baptist faith. "They all," as Wayne Flynt recalls, “held to the neo-orthodox theology as espoused by Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, and Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr; they were all theistic evolutionists; none believed in the plenary inspiration of scripture [i.e. inerrant and infallible texts directly dictated by God]. Those Baptists in 1958 were more liberal than half the country is today.” I indeed found that my professors were all caring people who wanted each student to really evaluate the concepts of life and faith in order to understand how it all works in the real world.  So many of us young Baptists had come to college having been steeped in folk religion, and this was our first opportunity to explore the faith more fully.

One particular professor, Karen Joines, was constantly being vilified by certain conservative students as a liberal bent on destroying faith. I found Karen Joines to be quite poetic as well as thought provoking. It occurred to me, since I was studying in both departments, that if Dr. Joines said the same things in the English Department that he was saying in the Religion Department, he would be hailed as a defender of the faith!  My love of literature helped me to see my studies in theology from a different perspective, and I suppose allowed me to be more open to new ideas than some of my conservative colleagues.

For me, it took most of my college career to really get to the point of being able to think through the concepts I was being exposed to (which is why I also believe in life-long learning – so many of us aren’t really at the stage to gain the most from our education while we are in our late teens and early twenties). By the time I finished college, I decided to go on to seminary. It was while I was at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California, that I saw a need to truly change my way of thinking.  Like Wayne Flynt during his high school and college days, I was reading the Bible, which I was conditioned to believe as the truth, and seeing a radical contradiction between the words of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets vs. the ethic of my Southern Christian culture.

The ironic thing was that Golden Gate Seminary, even though it was located in California, was more conservative than Samford University back in Alabama. The more I read, however, and the more I saw of society, the more I leaned toward a more liberal take on things. It is certainly possible to be just as fanatical and polemic as a liberal as are certain conservative fundamentalists. The important thing, rather, is to be open to learning. Openness to learning, openness to hearing another point of view, may lead to a conclusion seen as conservative by some. It may lead to a more liberal view. It is possible to be liberal in some things while being conservative in others.  Authenticity is the key.

My personal motto has become, “Honor Wisdom wherever you find it, welcome Beauty whenever it arrives, follow Truth wherever it leads.” I can thank caring instructors who had unswerving integrity for setting me on that path. I can also thank Wayne Flynt for reminding me of my great blessing in his talk last Saturday.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Northern Lights in Alabama

Last week, the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) could be seen in brilliant display as far south as Alabama. When I heard about it I went outside to see if the sight was visible in Birmingham. I saw only the usual city lights from my yard.  Further north in Huntsville, they got quite a show.

Even though I couldn’t see the Northern Lights that night, it brought to mind an unusual event from my childhood.  In our home in Dadeville, Alabama, my little brother and I would often look out the bedroom window at night as we lay in our bunk beds.  With few city lights in our small town, we could see the stars on a clear night. On this one particular night as we gazed out the window to the north, we noticed a strange glow above the treetops on the horizon. The bluish/whitish light would stretch out further in the sky, recede back a bit, and then extend again up into the sky, far above the tree line. We tried to figure out what that light could be.  There were no city lights that were normally visible above the trees in that direction.  Even if there were, we didn’t know why their light would rise up and die back down like that.  At the time, we were content just to watch and wonder what could be causing the lights in the night sky.

In the next day or so at school, I mentioned the sight to a couple of my friends. One friend, Morris Oliver was always smart in many matters. He was the only one I knew who had read through the entire World Book Encyclopedia just for the fun of it (until I met my wife who did the same thing when she was school age). Morris suggested that what we witnessed may have been the Northern Lights.  “It’s possible to see them this far south,” he explained, “as long as there is no cloud cover between here and there.” Wow! How about that! It was the best explanation I could think of for the lights in the sky that my brother and I had witnessed. Whether or not that was it, when I mentioned it to my brother, we decided that we had indeed witnessed the Northern Lights.

Living in the city now, the wonder of the night sky often goes unnoticed, with the constant blur of street lights blocking the view of the heavens. On many a warm night when I was a kid, I would sit out on the back steps to gaze up at the stars. As an adult, one of my most memorable encounters occurred as I was driving across Texas at night. I was heading out to California to go to seminary. In west Texas I encountered a heavy fog while driving along on I-20. Quite suddenly, the fog cleared. I was out in the flat desert, far from any city, and the whole sky was filled with bright stars. I was absolutely amazed.  It was late at night and there was no other traffic on that stretch of highway. I was so much in awe that I pulled over to the side of the road and got out to look at the sky.  You don’t see sky like that in Alabama! From one horizon to the next, there was an unobstructed view of the stars in the sky. I felt as though I were standing in space with a glorious view of the heavens!

You may not have seen the aurora borealis last week, and you may not be where you can view the entire dome of the night sky. If you are like me and so many others, you may not have occasion to see the stars like our ancestors did. I think we are poorer for it. The beauty of nature has has a way of instilling awe and gratitude as we take it in. It helps us to put things into perspective when we’ve had a difficult day. Even the ordinariness of a crescent moon in the sky can have a wonderful effect. Sometimes we are fortunate to have a sight that is out of the ordinary such as a meteor traversing the sky, or the wonder of the Northern Lights.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Comes to Birmingham

Photo from The Birmingham News / Beverly Taylor
Occupy Wall Street continues with off-shoots across the country. Occupy Birmingham has been getting some attention as well as some local press coverage. A few hundred people showed up on October 15 to march through town from Railroad Park to Five-Points South. Last Sunday's edition of The Birmingham News (Oct. 23), ran an excellent article by John Northrop in the editorial section. Mr. Northrop shares his first-hand account of the event as well as his thoughts on the movement. You can read his full commentary here.

John Northrop recently retired form his position as Executive Director of the Alabama School of Fine Arts where my daughter received an excellent high school education. I always enjoy hearing and reading what John has to say. He is also author of Mayor Todd, a drama based upon the racial tensions in Birmingham, along with the actions and attitudes of a progressive white mayor, that led to the election of the city's first black mayor.

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You may also want to read:

Occupy Wall Street: What Does It Mean for the Country?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Dylan Thomas and Hank Williams: They Shared Their Art and Died Young

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels…”
St. Paul (II Corinthians 4:7)

Statue of the poet Dylam Thomas
in Swansea, Wales
Life hurls herself in all of her fullness, as is her wont, though most cast a blind eye and a deaf ear. Some cannot help seeing and hearing.  The surpassing greatness of the power of life flows in excess. The poets and seers are astounded and try their best to tell the wonders, the beauty, and the heartache of dancing within the realm of creation.

Dylan Thomas and Hank Williams both had to write it. One told it, and one sang it, but her essence was so strong that the seers began to temper the onslaught of vision with alcohol. Some peopple drink to numb the pain, others drink to quiet the vision. Still others drink when there is no other one to accompany them on their visionary road.

Memorial statue of Hank Williams
Montgomery Alabama, USA
In another time, they would have been taken into the community to be honored and protected in their shamanic states. They would have been allowed a safe place to tell their visions and sing their songs. Ritual and dance would have marked the comings and goings of Life’s emanations into the human community. The shaman would have been heard, then would have been assisted in his return to everyday life. Permission for vision and permission for cooling toward the ordinary would have been granted.

Today, our shamans enter without training or forewarning. Our humanity, being a few steps removed from the natural rhythms of life, still requires a word of Life. We are ever more bereft of that breath of Spirit. The poet comes of age who is by nature receptive to the Word of Life and Her spirit breath. Beauty of life, hunger of longing, and nearness of death become the ever present company of the poet. The poet must speak whether we hear or not.

Robert Graves wrote a fascinating short story, “The Shout.” It was about a mysterious Englishman, a patient at a mental asylum, who made himself a guest in the house of a young musician and his wife. He claimed to have lived among the Australian Aborigine and had learned secrets of the soul and of nature. He had learned a shout which when vocalized could bring madness and even death to all within hearing range.  He had an unusual control over the man and his wife during his visit. Whether it was all dream, fantasy, or reality, the reader cannot quite be sure.  Graves stated later that the story was an allegory about the disruption that poetry brings to family life.

Dylan and Hank drank themselves to an early grave. If the alcohol had not killed them, the poetry might have. Yet their words and songs remain as a marvel of talent and beauty. The living can calmly remark how amazing it was that so much work came from such a short life.  Their lives and deaths are a testament of how we hold such a vast treasure within ordinary “earthen vessels.” It is as though we are not completely wired to handle the full current of life’s reality.  And yet, Life continues to beckon. Those who have ears to hear celebrate its beauty and wonder. Most of us take that wonder in small doses: a visit to the symphony, a hike in the woods, an appreciation of a sunset, or a favorite hymn or poem taken in from time to time.  We still have shamans and poets walking among us, declaring to us the promise of life.  Sometimes we hear them; sometimes we come too late in our appreciation of their vision.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Things of Lasting Value

There are things I worry about. I worry that the only thing of lasting value the fast food industry has produced is the No. 5 plastic drinking cup. We recycle as much as we can at our house. Our city came a little late to the recycling effort. They will accept paper products, aluminum, metal cans, and some plastics (No. 1 and No. 2). They also take glass, but they won't pick it up on the curb like they do the rest, you have to drive downtown and deliver it yourself. What keeps nagging me is the amount of plastic we use that has the triangular recycling symbol, but is a number that our recycling center does not accept (e.g. Nos. 3, 5, 6, and 7). All of that then goes into the land fill.

I also worry about all of those plastic chairs. We have a few in our back yard. What worries me is that every spring and summer, I see tons and tons of them for sale. I see them at the grocery store; I see them at KMart, Walmart, and Home Depot. They are everywhere. Since I know they get kind of junky looking out in the weather, and since I see so many for sale every year, I worry that there must be hundreds of thousands of them going into the trash, headed for some landfill. You know they will be there long after our civilization is but a blip on earth's timeline.

I worry that even though my family recycles what little our center will accept, there are many many more houses  on the block where recycling doesn't seem to be on their radar (at least I don't see a recycle canister at every home. I also worry that with all our effort to recycle, industry continues to spew out plastic products.

When I was a kid, growing up in the 1960s, we weren't very environmentally conscious. On the other hand, we were much more geared toward recycling. Milk came in glass bottles, which you would put out on the front porch when they were empty. The milkman would pick them up when he brought your next delivery of milk. Soft drinks were glass, and every soft drink machine had a rack to place your empties. If you got your drink at the store and were leaving with it, you put down a deposit on that bottle (which you could get back if you returned the bottle). We also used more paper, which is biodegradable. Paper cups, paper straws, paper bags. Of course I guess you could get into that argument of paper vs. plastic -- are you going to cut down a tree or pump out some petroleum -- and which is worse? Still I worry about all of those styrofoam cups and plastic straws going into the garbage, heading for a landfill.

Will we be able to get a handle on our non-biodegradable trash? I worry about things like that. I also wonder what we'll be remembered for in the ages to come. Will we be remembered for our music and art? Will we be remembered for our scientific achievement and technological advancement? Will we be known for the strides we have made toward freedom, liberty, and equality? Or will we be remembered for all that plastic we left behind?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shakespeare's Horse

The following poem was written a few years ago after reading Shakespeare's Sonnet 50 which you may read for yourself here.

Shakespeare's Horse
(In response to Sonnet 50)

Magnificent was the beast
Who carried our noblest poet,
The one who gave voice to humanity's woes and triumphs;
Whose song would be heard for ages to come
And whose words would set the standard
For a new era.

Perhaps it was a country lane,
Or it may have been a London side street
That they traveled that day.

"Beast of burden" is too trite a term
For the equine essence
Who collaborated in the Bard's journey.
The man bore within his heart
All the joys and sorrows of a people,
And enough dreams of love and despair
   to fill the world.
It was not the first time
That a four-legged creature
Carried humanity's hopes
Along an earthly road.

Which is why one is jolted
And dismayed
To hear of the poet thoughtlessly kicking
A bloody spur
Into the side
Of his creature companion.
            How unlike a god.

But here is that redeeming moment seen
Which covers many doubts that might have been:

The horse's groan
Resonated with the poet's own grief
And gave voice to his unutterable heart-felt emotion.
It brought the man to himself
To live in the moment
On the road,
On the journey,
Bearing his own burden.

And the groan shared by man and beast
Spoke more than all the words that would come
From the acclaimed poet's pen.

Charles Kinnaird


Monday, October 17, 2011

William Shakespeare, the Bard for All Time

                     "He was not of an age, but for all time." 

                                                           ~ Ben Johnson

                 "And thou, whose head did stars and sunbeams know
                  Self-school'd, self-scann'd, self-honour'd, self-secure,
                  Didst walk on earth unguessed at."

                                                    ~ Matthew Arnold
                                                    (from the poem, "Shakespeare")

There’s a new movie coming soon to theaters, Anonymous. The movie is being promoted with the shocking question, "Was Shakespeare a fraud?" In the trailer that is being run, we see the suggestion that Shakespeare wrote nothing and that we've all been played in some big conspiracy. The trailer gives every indication that it is a well-made, exciting film. The premise is that it was not Shakespeare, but rather Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford who wrote Shakespeare’s plays.  I may go see the movie, if I do I’ll post a review. Bear in mind, however, that this conspiracy theory is not new, nor does it carry much weight.

That Shakespeare didn't actually write those plays is an old saw that comes up from time to time. Years ago papers were written claiming it was Ben Johnson, or Francis Bacon, or some other fill-in-the-blank candidate. I think these are simply scholars who want to make a name for themselves in the academic world. They take pride in their research escapades, desperately clawing their way in the publish-or-perish world of academia. Lacking creativity themselves, they take refuge in throwing darts at the Bard.

There was another film that came out in 1998, Shakespeare in Love, which I thoroughly enjoyed and heartily recommend. The superb screen play was written by Tom Stoppard (who also wrote the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead). Making no claim to be a true account, the movie is a delightful look at the playwright and how he might have been inspired to write Romeo and Juliet. One of my favorite scenes is where Shakespeare, still in the process of writing the play, gives some pages to some actors so they can begin to rehearse. As the actors are reading through the lines of this new play they have been handed, their countenance changes as they realize that these are not ordinary words for an ordinary play. They are struck by the beauty and meaning of the language. It is as though they have been handed a quite remarkable gift. They are taking part in something far greater than they could have imagined.

Reading his poetry and his plays, one realizes that Shakespeare was a genius (we see those from time to time). His words and use of language became the standard for the development of modern English. Shakespeare wrote more about the human condition than perhaps any other author. Within the dialogue of his plays as well as the language of his poetry we see a capacity for inner reflection that was ahead of his time. Those inward reflections still serve as guideposts for us today. He showed us the world and he showed us how to look within our own hearts
 – and he gave us the language to express our hopes, joys, fears and longings. His influence continues to be seen today in modern literature and the cinematic arts. Psychologists, philosophers, poets, theologians, sociologists and historians alike all quote the Bard to this day. 

Yet there are those who somehow cannot believe that someone not born of nobility or privy to the best education could have possibly held such genius and talent, thus the conspiracy theories on the origins of Shakespeare's works. If we studied the actual works of Shakespeare, we would see far more of humanity. That is time better spent, reading the actual words of the Bard, than time wasted in the vapid air of speculations that Shakespeare could not have been so talented. 

I should add that I am grateful that he was so talented. Our world would have been much the poorer without him. Perhaps you can tell I hold William Shakespeare in high regard. He is one of my heroes. He walked on earth unguessed at.

                                                                                              Charles Kinnaird             

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street?

Is it about jobs? Is it about equity? Is it about distribution of wealth? I posted my musings about OWS on Sunday. We are now being flooded with news and information about Occupy Wall Street. These two things came my way that I find of interest. Tim Lennox posted the link to this article on his blog. The article, “Occupy Wall Street: More popular than you think” has an interesting chart showing how wealth is distributed, compared to how people think it is distributed vs. how most people would like it to be distributed across society. You can read the article here.

Darrell Grizzle, who blogs at Blog of the Grateful Bear, attended the Occupy Atlanta version of OWS. He has some interesting things to say in hie post titled, "On Occupying Wall Street and Taking Action Locally." You can read his post here.

And one of my friends posted this photo and caption on his Facebook page with the heading, “Why Occupy Wall Street?”:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Musical Interlude "With Heart and Voice"

I had to go in to work last Sunday at the hospital. It was not my usual weekend duty, but I was working to allow a colleague the day off for her family. It would not be one's chosen activity to get up early to be at work by 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I know I like having some slow leisure time to enjoy the day on Sunday. One of the good things about Sunday duty at the hospital for me is that at 6:00 a.m., our local NPR station airs With Heart and Voice. I always enjoy listening to the classical hymns and choral arrangements presented on that program as I drive in to work. As a rule, however, I don't get up early enough to hear the program if I'm not going to work.

Last Sunday was an especially rich one as the program highlighted the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the British classical composer who was called upon to work on the hymnal for the Anglican Church. His musical compositions remain some of the best that continue to be offered in current church hymnals.

I was able to hear a few of the selections on my way to work that morning, and it helped my day to begin in gladness. The entire program can be heard online. I was able to find another rendition of Vaughan Williams fine hymn, "Come Down, O Love Divine" on YouTube and have included it below:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More about Occupy Wall Street

Here are some more takes on the "Occupy Wall Street" movement:

"Does the U.S. fear peaceful protest more than terrorism?" by Chisda Magid, appeared on the Tikun Daily Blog site.

Paul Krugman in The New York Times writes about the unease of our American oligarchy in his essay, "Panic of the Plutocrats."

The following four-and-a-half minute video features Elizabeth Warren and succinctly details how we came to our recent financial crisis.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: What Does It Mean for the Country?

  Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
                                       ~ Howard Zinn

Occupy Wall Street” is a movement that appears to be gaining ground in cities across the country.  It began in New York City in the middle of September and has been growing much like the “Arab Spring” did in Egypt. For the first few weeks, it garnered little attention from the media, even though streets were crowded with protesters.  Some began asking, “Where is the liberal media?” Others began muttering that the lack of media coverage just shows that the corporations own the media, from Fox News to CNN to MSNBC and all shades in between.

Looking back to other citizen protests

Perhaps our comfort level has diminished to the point where people are
once again taking to the streets to state their cause. As one who grew up in the 1960s, I saw the difference that street protests could make – first with civil rights, then with the anti-war movement to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam.  In those days, there was much at stake. Those of us in high school and college knew people who had been drafted into military service, and we knew people who had died in a war that we saw no reason for (in spite of all the hype about the domino theory and communist world dominion).  I became aware of Vietnam when I was in the 4th grade. By the 9th grade, with the war still raging, I was hearing from some of the adults the traditional line about the honor of military service as a way for young men to give to their country. At the same time, having no skills on the athletic field, I failed to see how I could be of service to the military, and I began to wonder how a Baptist might claim conscientious objector status.  I was a senior in high school when I turned 18. Congress had ended the draft that same year, though young men still had to register and carry cards with them at all times (I guess in case the government changed its mind). I had those cards in my wallet for about ten years, and then I decided I could toss them. At any rate, I was quite relieved that the war ended, and thankful for all of those student protests that most people in my hometown had scorned.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was surprised at how many of the “hippies” and protesters of the ‘60s had settled down into comfortable corporate jobs. I saw no pressing desire to right wrongs or end injustice now that our generation was free from the draft and with no conceivable notion that the country could ever get embroiled in such a conflict overseas again. In recent years I have continued to wonder where that spirit went, that desire on the part of young citizens to make things right in society.

Perhaps we were inspired by the Arab Spring, seeing what peaceful protests can do in another country. Perhaps it is a convergence of the social media and growing fear and discomfort on the part of ordinary citizens.  I know that in the 1960s the fear of being drafted into war in a far off jungle, and the uncertainty of what the future held, combined with an unprecedented number of students gathered on college campuses helped to ignite the fires of protest.

Great market numbers, not so great outcomes for people 

For many years now, we have seen Wall Street numbers looking a lot better than what the average person on the street was seeing.  During the boom years of the 1990s, while jobs and the economy were growing, we were losing manufacturing jobs as companies shipped production overseas. There was not a big outcry – for one thing, people enjoyed being able to by goods at lower prices. This was also the time when Walmart, which once had “Buy American” painted on all of their delivery trucks, began getting most of their products from China.

From 2000 to 2008, the market continued to climb upward, while workers’ salaries remained stagnant and their benefits were reduced. Then the financial crisis hit and the market came crashing. Not only was Wall Street bailed out, corporations have continued to post profits while workers have seen no relief from layoffs and unemployment.

Will there be real change ahead?

Perhaps we will see a difference now, with momentum gaining in the Occupy Wall Street movement. (Jonathan Cohn in an article in The New Republic, tells why he is cautiously optimistic.)  Those protests on the streets back in the 1960s and early '70s changed a few things, but many things remained the same. We did have civil rights laws passed, and we did end the draft, but the corporate mind-numbing materialism that was called into question never skipped a beat. Even though we ended the draft, we redoubled our military efforts with a leaner, more efficient "volunteer" military. Consequently, it became even easier to send our young to battle because it never directly affected the population at large. Families were not called upon to offer up their children to fight; only those who made the choice to enter the armed forces had to make the sacrifice. With the Iraq invasion, and the "war on terror," our leaders even told us that the best thing we could do for our country was to just go shopping.

However things turn out, and whatever direction events may take, at least the voice of the people is finally being heard. Someone said that unlike the Tea Party movement, Occupy Wall Street has no big financial backers – and because of its message, will not likely attract any big-monied donors. There is, however, a sense of excitement and hope, similar to that day a quarter-century ago when the people took to the streets in The Philippines to usher in as new day with Corazone Aquino; similar to the sensation of the Arab Spring; and similar to the excitement of the 1960s when a new day was envisioned by the people in the streets. As we know from history, any number of turns can come about. The important thing for us as a people to remember is what Howard Zin stated, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." When people publicly let their voice be heard, it means they have hope that we can do better.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The “Heron Priested Shore”

In the clamor and pace of today’s world – the rush to keep appointments, the pressure to close a deal, the inundation of electronic information from so many sources – sometimes we need something more solid and ancient. There is a longing for tried and true ritual that can touch us at a deep and wordless level. What deeper ritual is found than geese in flight on a crisp and quiet afternoon, signaling the turning of the autumnal equinox? What better ancient calling than that of an old forest that holds rocks and streams and remains steadfast through every season?

Autumn is a wonderful time of year, invigorating with its cool mornings and colorful foliage; inviting in its call to draw inward for a time. This week I’ve been reading Dylan Thomas’ “Poem in October.”  He evokes such marvelous imagery, such as “heron priested shore,” and “a child's Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother Through the parables Of sun light.” The poet recalled:

“These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.”

As I read that poem, I was transported to many sacred moments I’ve experienced in nature. I was reminded that it is those moments that are truly eternal.  It is the beauty of the earth that grounds us in our human existence.

So today I invite you to spend some time with Dylan Thomas' poem, or better yet, spend some time outside  – somewhere where you can attend to nature, paying attention to its sights, sounds and rhythms. Take delight in what the earth brings forth in sun, water, wind, sky, land and tree. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St. Francis of Assisi: He's Not Just for Birdbaths

“Two great revolutions changed the history of Mankind: the Christian Revolution and the Franciscan Revolution"
                                                                                     ~ Ernst Renan

October 4 is his feast day. Sometimes known as “the Protestant Saint,” St. Francis of Assisi is known and loved outside the Catholic Church more than any other saint. He revolutionized the faith and brought an authenticity of practice during his own day. In Italy, so many people wanted to join his order that he created the Third Order for lay people so that they could be involved and still maintain their role in society. He knew it just would not work if everyone left the world for the monastery.

St. Francis was among the first to write in the vernacular rather than in Latin. He saw humankind  as a part of creation rather than separate from it. He is famous for his references such as brother wolf, sister wind, Brother sun, sister moon, etc. His song, “Canticle to the Sun” remains a popular hymn across the spectrum of Christian denominations.  Francis was also the first to make use of nativity scenes at Christmas, a custom now indispensable in many homes and churches during the Christmas season. 

Mahatma Bernadone*
by Charles Kinnaird

From the day he first caught a glimpse
Of the Fair Lady of Heaven,
He honored her light
And shed that light abroad.
Bowing to the divine in every being
And dancing in the light of creation
His song brought life to all who would hear.

The brilliant avatar of the West,
Through buds of Umbrian light,
Ignited his people
And became a spark of hope
For all the world.

*For John “Francis” Bernadone, aka St. Francis Of Assisi

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