Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Midnight Rises

when midnight rises
the soft white light of the moon
bids all souls wander


Photo by Sharon Lewis


Friday, October 30, 2015

Broadcast History (Re-post)

Reposting this one from last year: On this date in 1938 regarding a Halloween episode on The Mercury Theater on the Air  

The War of the Worlds aired as a radio broadcast on this date (October 30) in 1938. It was a Halloween episode on The Mercury Theater on the Air. It was mistaken as reality by a surprisingly large number of people. It was a case of fiction being misunderstood as reality
because of the way it was broadcast. It set a record for misunderstanding fiction for truth in media broadcasts that stood unmatched before being eclipsed in recent years by Fox News. 

[First posted at The Vidalia Onion:]


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Celebrating the Examined Life (a book review)

Last Sunday, Dr. N. S. Xavier presented his documentary film, The World's Most Enlightening Region,  to viewers in Birmingham, Alabama. The first public showing of the film had been at The Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City. In the near future, I will share more information about that film and other opportunities for seeing it (so watch this space).

In the meantime, I will point out that some of the helpful information in the film can also be found in Dr. Xavier's books: The Two Faces of Religion, and Fulfillment Using Real Conscience: A Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness. Today I am offering a review of Fulfillment Using Real Conscience

I should note that the following review first appeared in Christian Ethics Today as a review of Fulfilling Heart & Soul: Meeting Psychological and Spiritual Needs with Conscience. The present work is a modified and expanded version of the earlier work 

Fulfillment Using Real Conscience
Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness
By N.S. Xavier, M.D.
AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN   276 p

The unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates famously stated.  Dr. N. S. Xavier has a remedy. He has given us a delightful book which can serve as a primer for healthy examination leading to a full and meaningful life. I had an “aha moment” right from the beginning as I read the introduction of Fulfillment Using Real Conscience: Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness.  The author explains the difference between conscience and the superego. The conscience uses reason, fairness, and compassion in guiding the individual toward right thinking and right actions. The superego, on the other hand, is that inner guide that is shaped by family and society. There are times when the superego may actually be in conflict with the conscience if it arises from an unhealthy family or social system. Racism and fanaticism are two examples of unhealthy prompts from a superego shaped by unhealthy societal and religions traits.

Legalism vs. Compassion

The illumination continues with the opening chapter where Dr. Xavier demonstrates how Jesus helped others to get past their superego to make use of their conscience. In the case where some men brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus demanding that she be stoned, Jesus was able to calmly diffuse the situation to allow the men to cease from their unthinking legalistic reaction. He showed them how to use their conscience to bring fairness to the situation.

Dr. N. S. Xavier is from India and has practiced psychiatry in Birmingham for over 30 years. He writes from a deep understanding of religion and spirituality and presents a well-articulated view of healthy psychology. In Fulfillment Using Real Conscience, he draws upon examples from literature, various religious traditions, and historical figures as well as from his own experiences as a psychiatrist to illustrate healthy ways of meeting needs and finding fulfillment. We can gain insight from the likes of Lao-tze, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Boris Pasternak, Albert Camus, Jesus and the Buddha as we learn how to stop self-defeating habits and move toward a healthy identity.  There is also an intriguing story of the ancient king Asoka who reassessed his life and legacy.  King Asoka was able to transform himself and his society to one of equity and fairness by embracing Buddhism and its principles. 

A Practical Guide for Living

Writing with humor and clarity, the author provides us with a practical guide for using the conscience in making right choices and enjoying the healthy pleasures of life. We are given psychological insight that is accessible to the layperson in matters ranging from self-esteem, relationships, and sexuality to freedom and identity. Stick-on tabs may come in handy to mark particularly useful pages. There is a page that lists ways to improve self-esteem and another that lists traits of self-actualizing people. One chapter has a table that compares healthy guilt vs. unhealthy guilt and another table contrasts authentic individuality with egocentrism and dependency.  We are reminded also of the benefits of pleasure and the healthiness of laughter. For those interested in spiritual practice, an appendix includes introductory information on meditation and centering prayer.

There is advice in the book for integrating past experiences in beneficial ways rather than being trapped in unhealthy cycles. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience provides means for achieving forgiveness and reconciliation as well as methods for finding hope. The author consistently demonstrates how conscience can raise self-esteem in cases where the superego may be causing unhealthy guilt. Of course, professional help is recommended for anyone with issues or problems that are beyond the scope of self-examination.

For the Modern Spiritual Pilgrim

In the search for deeper meaning, there is guidance for those in religious traditions as well as for those who are more secular in their orientation. The modern spiritual pilgrim will find affirmation in the concept of using conscience to integrate scientific knowledge with spiritual life. Whether we are religious or secular in our orientation, we can live lives of superficiality or we can find a deeper purpose. Self-examination and conscience can help us to remove some of the spiritual and psychological defenses that often keep us from living at a deeper level.

Sigmund Freud gave us the concept of the superego. N.S. Xavier has liberated the conscience from the superego to give us method of examination for individual growth and societal development. He writes with a frankness and honesty not often seen in books on spirituality, and offers a practical application of spiritual values not always evident in self-help guides. We are shown how to better understand our own needs as well as others’ needs, and then how to go about meeting those needs in a healthy way. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience is a groundbreaking work of insight that will encourage the individual reader. It would also be a dynamic tool for small group study or for courses in counseling, ethics, or spirituality/religion.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Music: I Shall Be Released

Here's a blast from the past (1969). Cass Elliot, Joni Mitchell, and Mary Travers singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." It was from a pilot for The Mama Cass TV Show.  The program aired once on ABC but was never picked up by the networks. At any rate, we have an uncommon trio in this clip.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday Haiku: October Air

dry October air
the afternoon sun’s slant rays
joy comes unbidden


Photo by Maria Kalin (Getty Images)


Friday, October 23, 2015

The World's Most Enlightening Region

I had the privilege of previewing this outstanding documentary while it was still in the production stages. Dr. Xavier presented the film last week at the Parliament of the World's Religions. He is showing it in Birmingham Sunday, October 25 at the Vestavia Hills Library. There will be a showing at 1:15 p.m. followed by discussion led by Dr. N.S. Xavier. There will then be a  second showing at 3:15 p.m.

Friends of Jung-South has issued this announcement of the event:

The World's Most Enlightening Region

a documentary film presentation
N. S. Xavier, M.D.

Dr. Xavier is a long standing member and supporter of FOJ-S and we congratulate him on this documentary film achievement. His film has been selected for showing at the 2015 Parliament of World Religions, a meeting of 10,000 people from 80 countries, representing 50 religious and spiritual traditions. We are pleased to post this announcement of the film's showing in Birmingham.
Vestavia Hills Library

Sunday afternoon, October 25 at 3:15 pm

This film explores the peaceful transformation of extremism among several world religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam, in the small region of Kerala, India.

The film addresses the historical, cultural, philosophical and psychological factors involved in this great example of fostering the heart of humanity...and a culture of conscience in which the concept of non-violence is rooted.

N.S. Xavier, M.D., originally from India, has integrated spirituality in his psychiatric practice in the U.S. for 36 years. He is an author endorsed by scholars in the religious and mental health fields and Nobel Peace Laureates Elie Wiesel and Oscar Arias. His books are "The Two Faces of Religion," "The Holy Region," and "Fulfillment Using Real Conscience." He lectures on Spirituality and Medicine and also Peace Studies at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He has spoken in national and international forums and produced the documentary "The World's Most Enlightening Region."

Addendum: While this event is past, you may watch the full documentary on YouTube at


Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Axial State of the Human Heart

Photo by Jenny Yeung (Getty Images)
Most of us have some general understanding of that somewhat nebulous concept of heart when we speak of “matters of the heart.” We understand that the reference is not to the physical organ that pumps blood throughout the body, but rather it is a more emotional/spiritual concept. Often such language about “the heart” refers to a realm where meaning is found in the life one leads. Our language is full of heart phrases such as, He really put his heart into it; I know in my heart...;” “Our hearts are glad,” etc. 

We seem to have a common understanding of what we mean when we speak of “matters of the heart.” We may use that terminology to speak of love, family and caring as well as spirituality. Most of us are comfortable with that loosely defined category of the heart, seeing no need to be more specific. The heart is an immensely vibrant realm where we make meaning and find connection.

Early Seekers of the Heart

In a talk given to the novices at Gethsemani Abbey, Thomas Merton mentioned that the Desert Fathers saw the heart as an "axial organ" which provided an opening between the physical and spiritual worlds.[1] The Desert Fathers (actually there were some women among them as well as men) were part of an early Christian spiritual movement which had become frustrated by what was seen as the superficial encumbrance of the social structures of their day. They sought to remove themselves from the many and varied distractions of society by going to the desert, where they spent time in meditation and prayer. Those early spiritual pioneers saw the importance of attuning themselves to the heart. To them the heart was that aspect of our being that allows us a connection to another dimension of reality – that spiritual dimension that is different from the ordinary physical world.

Christine Valters Paintner, in her book, Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, writes, “For desert elders the heart was the source of words and actions. It was considered to be an axial organ that centers the physical and spiritual dimensions of human life. The desert elders saw the heart as the center of our being, the place where we encounter God most intimately.”

Paintner goes on to quote another author, Cynthia Bourgeault who wrote The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart. “Cynthia Bourgeault writes that the heart in biblical understanding is not ‘the seat of your personal emotional life. It is not the opposite of the head. Rather it is a sensitive mulitspectrum instrument of awareness: a huge realm of mind that includes both mental and affective operations (that is, both the ability both to think and feel) and both conscious and subconscious dimensions.’”[2]

Physical Benefits to Spiritual Practice

It seems that the early Desert Fathers who were focusing on the heart as “an axial organ” were involved in meditative practices not unlike what we see in Eastern religions as well. There was a physical discipline involved and a spiritual insight to be gained.

I have had an inclination toward spirituality and “matters of the heart” for most of my life, but it took many years of seeking for me to settle down into a specific practice of meditation. After I had become accustomed to meditation, I learned one day of the physical impact it can have.

I had volunteered to give blood at my work site during a blood drive. During the process, rather than get anxious about needle sticks and blood draws, I decided to assume what I call an inward meditative posture. By that I mean that I did dome conscious breathing and inward focusing – imagining myself looking at that “third eye” in the forehead region.

As the nurse was taking my vital signs prior to taking me back to the blood donation area, she became somewhat concerned when she found that my heart rate was 50. She asked if I were an athlete, since normally one would not otherwise have a resting heart rate of 50. While not an athlete, I was involved in a daily walking program at the time. I assured her that it was okay, I was just doing a “relaxation thing” before giving blood.

Since that day, I have checked my own pulse while beginning breathing exercises prior to meditation, and have noted a drop in heart rate along with the physical relaxation.

Finding a Spiritual Practice

I like the concept of the heart as an axial organ, something of a metaphysical “space” within our being where we can tap into a more meaningful reality. Most faith traditions have meditative practices that allow an individual to still himself or herself in order to find access to what some call the spiritual realm. Others are content to see meditative practice as a way to get in touch with their inner being where “soul work” can be done to move toward psychological wholeness.

Those of us in the United States who find our cultural inheritance in “Western Civilization” often find ourselves at a loss in terms of spiritual connectedness. We live in a culture that values material acquisition, money, and business acumen. Much of what we value and strive for is material gain, so we find ourselves ill-prepared for spiritual practice.  

In many ways, we are like those early desert fathers (and mothers) who were the precursors to later monastic movements. Just as they saw a need to get away from the distractions of society, many today see a need to get away from the noisy materialism of our day. 

The good news is that there are more and more avenues for spiritual practice that are coming available to the serious seeker. Moreover, we do not have to flee to the desert or to a monastery to find a spiritual practice.
  • Jack Kornfield has been teaching westerners for years about how to integrate spirituality into everyday life. A skillful teacher of Buddhist meditation, his wonderful book, A Path with Heart is a warm, accessible introduction to meditative practices that can calm the spirit, clear the mind, and help one to gain meaningful insight into the life he/she is living out in the world. Check out Jack Kornfield’s website here
  • Father Thomas Keating has been a leading proponent and teacher of centering prayer, which is a meditative spiritual practice that many Christians are more comfortable with in their tradition. Cynthia Bourgeault, quoted earlier, is also a teacher and practitioner of centering prayer. You can see Father Keating’s website here.
  • The Abbey of the Arts is an online monastery” offering resources, pilgrimages and retreats which seek to integrate contemplative practice and creative expression while drawing upon monastic spirituality. We support you in becoming a monk in the world and an artist in everyday life. We believe in nourishing an earth-cherishing consciousness.  We are an open and affirming community and strive to be radically inclusive. Poetry is our nourishment.  Art inspires our souls.  We dance for the joy of it.”  Christine Valters Paintner, whose book is quoted above, is the online abbess for the Abbey of the Arts. You can view their website here.
There are many other resources available to assist the spiritual traveler in matters of the heart. The main thing is to understand that we all have the capacity to enter into that “axial state” of the heart where we can gain insight from the spiritual dimension which will heighten the beauty and meaning of our everyday reality.

For more of my musings on the topic of spirituality, check out the following: 


[1] Seeing the World in A Grain of Sand: Thomas Merton on Poetry (conferences given to novice monks at Gethsemani Abbey, 1964-1965), Now You Know Media

[2] Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, by Christine Valters Paintner(Skylight paths, 2012) p. 26 (For a review of Paintner's book, go here)

Spiritual Fusion - East meets West
(iStock photo by Getty Images)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Monday Music: On "the most talented street in the world"

This number was posted by a Facebook friend in Montreal. The caption reads, "La plupart des gens ne le remarquent pas, alors qu'il est l'un des musiciens de rue les plus talentueux au monde!" I don't speak French, but Facebook's automatic translation put it as "Most people do not notice, so that it is one of the musicians of the most talented street in the world!" (I don't know whether this was shot in Montreal or France)

La plupart des gens ne le remarquent pas, alors qu'il est l'un des musiciens de rue les plus talentueux au monde !
Posted by Le Saviez-vous ? on Monday, June 22, 2015

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Haiku: "Gathering Herd"

with equine thunder
the graceful animals dance
in morning sunlight

Image: "Gathering Herd" at Kamama Gallery, Mentone, Alabama
Artist: Arthur Price
Medium: acrylic on canvas


Thursday, October 15, 2015

New Art Exhibit Opening Today

I mentioned my daughter's art installation in East Lake earlier this week. For those in the Birmingham, Alabama area, here is another opportunity  to see some of her work. She is taking part in an art show at the Alabama School of Fine Arts from now until December. See details below.

Artists: Elaine Kinnaird - Missy McIntyre - Celeste Pfau

Experience transformation through the eyes of three Alabama based installation fiber artists as they interpret the degrees of transition that allow personal, social and environmental change to occur.

Oct 15 - Dec 11 2015


Gallery Hours: Mon-Fri 8:30-4:30pm


Faith and Science

Darwin at Rest

The bones of Charles Darwin
At Westminster Abbey –
Forever overshadowing
The other.

                             ~ CK


Photo by Peter Macdiarmid (Getty Images Europe)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Empty Podium

Photo posted by Jim Acosta on Twitter

Last night the first Democratic debate for the 2016 presidential campaign took place. It was hosted by CNN which had touted having a 6th podium ready to be put in place in case Vice President Joe Biden decided to enter the race.

Of course, Joe Biden was not there but the good news was that the candidates discussed important issues, conducted themselves well, and basically behaved like adults which was a refreshing change in the world of televised political theater.  

I still like the idea of an empty podium, however, except I don't think it should be kept off in the wings on hand trucks ready to be rolled into place. I think it should be out on stage at every presidential debate, Democratic or Republican. I am thinking of something like the empty place setting at every Seder service in case Elijah should happen to show up.  I am thinking that every presidential debate should hold out hope, not for Joe Biden necessarily, but hope that one day an actual statesman might decide to run for public office.

The Republicans would do well to have an empty podium in case someone with true statesman-like qualities -- like John Huntsman, for example -- should offer his services to the nation.

I am hereby appealing to the nation to hold out hope. Let an empty podium at every political debate be the sign. Let us hold out that sign of hope that our Elijah, our true statesman, our fulfillment of competent political endeavor, may one day be seen in this great land of ours.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Art Is Helping to Revitalize Birmingham

There is an art happening in East Lake this month. East Lake Artist Village is a month long Dance and Visual Art Festival from Oct 5-31st 2015 on the 7600 block of 1st Ave N Birmingham, AL. All events free!

At the East Lake Performing Arts Center is an Art Gallery installation by a number of local artist, including my daughter, Elaine Kinnaird. The art show will be from October 5-31.

East Lake Performing Arts Center is located on the 7600 block on 1st Avenue North, Birmingham, Alabama

"Hive" by Elaine Kinnaird (made of  spray insulation
foam and some 3200 tea bags)
"Tea Bags" by Elaine Kinnaird

(For more examples of Elaine Kinnaird's art, including "Moth Love," and "Monoliths" visit

The East Lake Performing Arts Studio has taken the space that was once a porn theater, the "Cinema Blue Theater," thus removing some blight from East Lake and replacing it with artistic endeavor.

Before Revitalization

East Lake Performing Arts Center today

The events are the result of a partnership between REV Birmingham and the Alabama Dance Council. REV Birmingham "revitalizes places and energizes business to create vibrancy in the City of Birmingham." The Alabama Dance Council "is a statewide, nonprofit service organization for the Alabama dance community. The ADC's mission is to promote the study, creation, performance and enjoyment of dance in all forms."

Be sure to come to the East Lake Community this month to see the things that are happening at  East Lake Artist Village.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Autumn Mist

near an open field
a spider’s gossamer wheel
gathers autumn mist

Photo by David Brazzeal


Friday, October 9, 2015

Rabbi Rami Shapiro in Birmingham this weekend

If you live in the Birmingham area, tonight (Friday) and tomorrow morning is an opportunity to hear Rabbi Rami Shapiro who will be speaking at the SPAFER Fall Lectures with Rabbi Rami Shapiro. I first came to know of Rabbi Rami through his column in the monthly magazine, Spirituality and Health. Later I met him and heard him speak at, of all places, The Alabama Writers’ Conclave. He is refreshing in his honesty, and in his sense of humor. If you come hear Rabbi Rami, I guarantee you will learn, you will laugh, and you will be enlightened.  

I know this is late notice for those interested, but if you haven't registered, you may pay at the door to attend the event. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Music: All Creatures of Our God and King

Yesterday, over at Music of the Spheres, I posted this one for the Feast of St. Francis:

On the Feast Day for St. Francis of Assisi, an old hymn with the words of St. Francis set to the tune  LASST UNS ERFREUEN. Originally written in Italian ("Laudato sia Dio mio Signore"), the text is also known as the "Song of All Creatures" and as the "Canticle of the Sun." Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment titled, "Laudato Si" (Praise Be to You) has as it's subtitle, "On care for our common home." The document's title, of course, harks back to the words of St. Francis in praise to God for creation.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

St. Francis of Assisi

It has been over 800 years since the birth of Giovanni Bernadoni, aka St. Francis of Assisi (his merchant father loved France, thus nicknamed his son "Francis"). Today he remains one of the most popular saints. John Michael Talbot's adaptation of "The Prayer of St. Francis" certainly embodies the ideal of the 13th century saint.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Garden Saint

though cast in stone
the saint is remembered
in living things

Photo: Statue of St. Francis of Assisi at Aldridge Gardens
Credit: Charles Kinnaird


Friday, October 2, 2015

Gun Violence in America

AMERICAblog has reposted my blog essay on gun violence in America from August 28 "The fires of Moloch Are Burning" after the latest senseless shooting in Oregon:

"Unwilling to take meaningful action against gun violence, we are for all intents and purposes sacrificing our children for the sake of our gun rights."

In a country whose politicians love to shout “God Bless America!” at the end of their speeches, and whose people speak of faith in the public square and argue about putting the Ten Commandments on display, it is the ancient and brutal god Moloch who holds sway over so much of our public discourse. Indeed the fires of Moloch continue to consume our children while nothing is done to extinguish those flames.

Read the full essay here.

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