WEDNESDAY WORDS[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. This morning, I’m posting a day early, on the occasion of the 14th anniversary of Buck’s O’Neil’s passing, with the assumption that remembering Buck can bless us all during these troubling days. Imbibe, use, and/or share this posting as you see fit. This is WEDNESDAY WORD #28.]“
BUCK” O’NEIL, SAFE AT HOME
“Buck” O’Neil is now safe at home. Which is to say that we can give God thanks for a man who gave so much to others and who is now, after nearly 95 years of earthly life, at rest and complete peace with God in a dimension we can only dream of.
Buck O’Neil’s passing will surely leave a hole in Kansas City’s civic life no one else can fill. His life and legacy have been well documented and will be remembered with gladness at his public memorial service at Memorial Auditorium.
He was associated with the Kansas City Monarchs, as a player and later as a manager, for the majority of his career in the Negro Leagues. He twice won Negro League batting titles (1940 and 1946). In every Negro League All-Star game in which he managed (four in all), his teams were victorious.
He interrupted his baseball career to serve in the U.S. Navy in 1944-45.
His intelligence and skill as a ball player, his savvy as a manager, and his passion for the game itself endeared him to countless fans and to numberless folks who didn’t know much about baseball except through “Buck.”
He helped to send more Negro League baseball players to the previously all-white Major Leagues than any man in baseball history. Among those he assisted were legendary players like Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, and Satchel Paige.
He broke the color barrier for baseball scouts in 1956, when he became a scout for the Chicago Cubs.
In 1962 he broke the color barrier for coaches in the Major Leagues, when he became a coach for the Cubs. He would go on to discover superstars like Joe Carter and Lou Brock.
In his later years, he served on the Veterans’ Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
He was prominently featured in Ken Burns’s Baseball documentary on PBS in 1994 and thereafter became a national icon. His tireless efforts to keep the history of the Negro Leagues alive resulted in one of the marquee public venues in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Museum in the 18th and Vine district.
Perhaps most prominent among the memories which Kansas Citians will treasure about “Ol’ Buck,” as he liked to call himself in his twilight years, was his constant spirit of hope-filled joy, plainly seen and ever-present in his radiant smile.
Countless congregations and civic groups all around the greater Kansas City metropolis will continue to treasure how he graced a pulpit or a fellowship hall. And Kansas Citians will continue to learn what graciousness is all about as we recollect how nobly he handled the denial of his entrance into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He was, as he described how he wanted to be remembered, “a fellow who lived a life he loved living and who died always learning about people.”
His love of life and his refusal to drink from any cup of bitterness are lasting gifts to be treasured and emulated, until we, too, are “safe at home.”
– Bob Hill
[Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, pp. 50-51.]
MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) [During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #28.]
Mohandas K. Gandhi, known the world over as “Mahatma” (Great Soul), was one of the most exceptional spiritual and political leaders human history has ever witnessed. Trained as a lawyer, schooled in the classics of Western literature, steeped in political theory and praxis, undergirded by the rituals and traditions of Hinduism, acquainted with all manner of religious practices and spiritual disciplines, Gandhi would become the father of the world’s largest democratic nation and the progenitor of startlingly fresh and new ways of thinking about human progress.
E. Stanley Jones regarded the task of summing up Gandhi’s life and legacy as an impossible assignment, “like trying to interpret Mount Everest,”(1) and yet biographies and assessments of Gandhi’s life and legacy continue unabated. New and significant books about Gandhi are published annually, with the hopes of grasping, somehow, one more dimension of the little man with a mind as large as the globe and a heart as wide as the cosmos.(2)
Esteem for Gandhi was captured in the various names given to him. India’s first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore gave him the sobriquet “Mahatma,” a Sanskrit term meaning “Great-Soul,” to describe who Gandhi had become to the Indian people. “Gandhiji” was the affectionate designation of respect given to him by hundreds of millions of the destitute poor and the elite leaders all over India. “Bapu” (meaning “Father”) was a favorite of close associates, regardless of their ages, and the masses, because he was the father of a movement for freedom and dignity, nonviolence as a strategy for change, and eventually the nation of India itself. Whatever he has been called, perhaps Albert Einstein put it best when he wrote, on the occasion of Gandhi’s 70th birthday, “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” (3)
While never abandoning his origins as a Hindu, Gandhi was eclectic in his learning and religious practices. He was intimately familiar with the scriptures of all the world’s great religions. He carried on a lively correspondence with Leo Tolstoy about the practical and theological implications of non-violence. A Trappist monastery was a model for one of his ashrams in South Africa. When asked by an interlocutor, “What do you think of Western civilization?,” he famously replied, “I think it would be a great idea.”
Beginning during his time in South Africa, Gandhi collected an interfaith gathering of prayers and songs which he eventually translated into English and used as a prayer book/hymnal, Ashram Bhahanavali, for the twice daily prayer sessions at his Satyagraha ashram in India.(4) Among Gandhi’s favorite Christian hymns were ”When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and ”Lead Kindly Light.” Among Gandhi’s lastingly important religious distinctives were his fidelity and loyalty to certain ideals and spiritual commitments.
“Satyagraha” may be roughly translated as truth-force, or truth as a force for goodness and the ultimate foundation for lasting change. More than fifty years after his followers became known as “satyagrahis” in India’s independence movement, “satyagraha” was being invoked in debates and controversies about the Vietnam War in the U.S.(5) Gandhi’s key principle also found further expression in the world of opera through Phillip Glass’ 1980 ”Satyagraha,” which would have revival productions in London and New York more than a quarter century later. And, nearly a century after “satyagraha” was a regular part of India’s political calculus, the Bollywood film industry released a depiction of a 21st century application of Gandhi’s ideal in a political thriller entitled ”Satyagraha — Democracy Under Fire.” “Satyagraha” can easily be regarded as Gandhi’s grandest intellectual bequest in the evolution of human thought.
“Ahimsa” is nonviolence. Gandhi’s experimentation with nonviolence as a way of life and as a strategy for social change roughly paralleled Albert Schweitzer’s development of “reverence for life.” Arguments have raged over the years about the practicality of nonviolence, and yet, beginning with Gandhi in South Africa and in India, it has been employed to achieve massive social uplift and political transformation around the world. Howard Thurman and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman, were among the first group of African-Americans ever to meet with Gandhi in India and, thereafter, were the initial persons responsible for bringing Gandhian nonviolence back to America as a methodology for social change. When the Thurmans met with Gandhi in Bardoli, Gajarut, Gandhi asked them if he might hear a particular spiritual, “Were You There?,” because he believed it “gets to the root of the experience of the entire human race, under the spread of the healing wings of suffering.”(6) And so they sang ”Were You There.” In response to which Gandhi commented, presciently, “… it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of non-violence will be delivered to the world.”(7)
NO ONE IS UNTOUCHABLE – EVERYONE IS HARIJAN
For Gandhi, a bold, unflinching, loving encounter with others is necessary for relating to the divine: “To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest creatures as oneself.”(8) “Harijan,” (Child of God) was his term for India’s so-called untouchable caste. Even during dire straits and dispiriting defeats, Gandhi clung to loving all creation, especially those most vulnerable and at risk, as his premier ideal: “When I despair I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always.”(9)
PRAYING WITH GANDHI – SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 Heart and Words – ”It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”(10) Cease your worry about the words you pray today. Instead, focus on having a heart that is open to God’s powerful presence. Offer to God what is in your heart for blessing.
Day 2 New Definitions of and Fresh Experiments with Ancient Verities – Gandhi defined ”satyagraha” as “truth force” or “holding on to the truth.” Jesus declared “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) Seek God’s guidance about moments and relationships in which your truthfulness can be a healing, ennobling force for the benefit of others.
Day 3 Sacrifice Your Own Needs for the Fulfillment of Others – Pray about the places and people in your daily life in which it might be possible to make a sacrifice for the betterment of others. Consider: your family, your friendships, your faith involvements, your participation in the welfare of the wider community, etc. Now consider how you might make such a sacrifice with complete enjoyment as an ultimate goal for the enactment of such sacrifice.
Day 4 Choosing – Ultimately, our daily walk with God is about choosing which path to follow. Gandhi highlighted this axiom in his autobiography: “The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice.”(11) Pray today that God will guide you to choose the useful and the good.
Day 5 Immortal, Invisible Essence – A meditation in Ashram Bhahanavali, the prayerbook/hymnal Gandhi used at his ashram, declares: There is an abode which is beyond intellect. Though the mind is swift like the wind it cannot overtake it. This immortal, indivisible essence pervades everything movable and immovable. It has made this universe, there is not an atom where it is not, but by the grace of a true guru it is attainable. Why go in search of it here and there when it is in you? (12) Many would say that Gandhi is describing the Spirit of God, which Jesus also declared as “dwelling within you.” Pray today for the courage to discover, attain, and live by the powerful truth that God’s spirit can impart to you.
Day 6 Harijan – Consider those in your experience who might be considered or are already condemned as “untouchable” in the society in which you dwell. Now picture them before you and say the word “Harijans” (Children of God). Say the word out loud several times a time as a prayer of blessing for those you know and those unknown to you who labor under the stigma of being “untouchable.”
Day 7 Singing a Favorite Spiritual of Gandhi’s – Sing “Were You There,” ”When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” or ”Lead Kindly Light,” as a prayer to imbue your journey in faith today.
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: October 2, 1869, born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in Porbandar, Kathiawar (present-day Gujarat), India, fourth child of Karamchand Gandhi and PutlibaiGandhi (his father’s fourth wife); of the banyan class (businessmen or merchants — “Gandhi” = “grocer”); grows up in home with rich religious diversity, his mother a devout Hindu and his father a friend with Muslims, Parsis, and Jains;1876, family moves to Rakjot, India; 1881, enters high school; finds most religion boring, disdains Hindu ceremonies, and tends toward atheism; May 1883, at age 13, marries 14-year old Kasturbai Makhanji, according to custom in an arranged child marriage; 1885, first child is born but lives only a few days; father Karamchand dies; 1887, barely passes exams at Samaldas College at Bhavnagar, Gujarat; 1888, first of four sons is born; September 4, 1888, after making vows of vegetarianism, refusal of alcohol, and avoidance of promiscuity (in response to mother’s emphasis on Jainism principles), travels to England to study law at University College, London; becomes acquainted with Henry Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism, reinforcing his dietary commitments; introduced to Western philosophy and Christian religious principles; reads Bhagavad Gita and Christian scriptures; 1891, passes bar and returns to India to practice law;1891-1893, lawyering attempts in Mumbai and Rakjot prove to be unsuccessful; April 1893, accepts year-long contract from Dada Abdulla & Co., an Indian firm, to serve in Colony of Natal, Durban, South Africa; May 1893, is thrown off train in Pietermaritzburg for refusing to leave first-class train cabin; determines he will stay in South Africa and fight discrimination and racism; August 24, 1894, founds Natal Indian Congress; 1896, returns briefly to India to bring Kasturbai and children back to South Africa; January 10,1897, upon arriving back in South African, white mob attacks him in Durban and tires to lynch him; Gandhi refuses to press charges, citing principle of non-retaliation; October 1899, Boer War begins; organizes Indian Ambulance Corps; 1903, founds newspaper Indian Opinion; 1904, establishes Phoenix settlement, a 100-acre experimental, communitarian farm near Mount Edgecom, north of Durban, modeled partly after Trappist monastery near Durban he had visited nearly a decade before; 1906, takes vow of brahmacharya (sexual abstinence) for both personal and population concerns; reads Tolstoy (including The Kingdom of God Is Within You ) and Henry David Thoreau’s ”On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”; September 11, 1906, speaks at a mass meeting, Empire Theater, Johannesburg; July 31, 1907, first use of non-violent non-cooperation by Indians in South Africa, in protest of “Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance,” enacting compulsory registration by all Indians; employs the term “satyagraha”(soul- or truth- force); 1908-1910, correspondence with Leo Tolstoy regarding the practical and theological implications of non-violence; January 10, 1908, arrested for first time for refusing to carry identification papers; during imprisonment writes to Transvaal colonial secretary Jan Christian Smuts (future Prime Minister of South Africa) and secures meeting; Smuts and Gandhi come to compromise making registration voluntary; 1909, travels to England to press for rights of South Africa’s Indian population; 1910, with the generosity of Herman Kallenbach, establishes Tolstoy colony on 110-acre farm, 21 miles from Johannesburg; 1913, after release from one of his many jail terms, appears in a loin cloth (traditional male Indian garb among the poor) which he wears for the rest of his life; 1914, Indian Relief Act passed in South Africa, banning taxes, allowing for Indian wedding ceremonies, loosening immigration protocols, pardoning resisters; January 9, 1915, receives hero’s reception upon returning to India; introduced by Gopal Krishna Gokhale to nationalist leaders; speaks at Indian National Congress; February 1915, meets Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore who uses Sanskrit term “Mahatma” (meaning “great-soul” or sage) to describe who Gandhi has become to the Indian people; May 25, 1915, founds Sabarmati Ashram (also known as Gandhi Ashram, Harijan Ashram, or Satyagraha Ashram) at Kochrab, Ahmedabad, Gujarat Province in northwest India; 1918, declares that ashram accepts all, even “Untouchables,” on equal basis; 1919, begins publishing weekly journal Young India; March 1919, British pass Rowlatt Act for India, allowing for imprisonment without trial for those suspected of sedition and terrorism in India; April 13, 1919, massacre occurs at public garden at Jallianwala Bagh in the city of Amritsar in northern India; December 1921, assumes leadership of the Indian National Congress, reorganizing it for national mass appeal and with the goal of Swaraj (“home-rule”); 1922, sentenced to six years imprisonment for inciting violence at a clash between protesters and police in Chauri Chaura, which had been part of a non-cooperation campaign; 1924, released from prison after treatment for appendicitis; retreats from overt political activity and tours country, urging Indians to abandon child marriage, untouchability, while promoting the use of the spinning wheel as a tool and symbol for self-reliance and freedom; 1927, publishes English translation of autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth; January 26, 1930, declaration of Indian Independence; begins civil disobedience campaign against the British in India, as empowered by the All-India Congress; March 12, 1930, leads 248-mile Salt March to protest British taxation of salt; April 6, 1930, Salt March arrives at Dandi on the Gujurat Coast of the Arabian Sea and produces salt by evaporation of seawater in violation of the law as a gesture of defiance against the British monopoly in salt production; May 5, 1930, arrested for Salt March defiance; eventually 60,000 people imprisoned; named “Man of the Year” for 1930 by Time magazine; 1931, Gandhi-Irwin Pact signed; released from prison, sails to London to participate in the Second Round Table Conference on Indian constitutional reform; 1932, fasts to protest maltreatment of “untouchables”; 1933, begins publishing weekly newspaper, Harijan; 1934, resigns membership from Congress Party and retires from politics; launches All Indian Village Industries Association; three attempts are made on his life; February 1936, Howard Thurman, Sue Bailey Thurman visit on their “Pilgrimage of Friendship” sponsored by the Student Christian Movement, among the group of first African-Americans to meet him; April 1936, moves base of operations to small village of Sevagram (Segaon), near Wardha, in central India; March 3-7, 1939, a “fast-unto-death” prompts promise of democratic reform in Rakjot; August 9, 1942, Gandhi launches “Quit India” movement, advocating India’s immediate independence from British rule; arrested, along with most other leaders in All-India Congress; imprisoned for two years at Aga Khan Palace in Pune; August 15, 1942, Mahadev Desai, his secretary for more than 25 years, dies of heart attack; Feb. 22, 1944, after suffering two heart attacks in January, Kasturba dies in Gandhi’s arms while both are still in prison; May 6, 1944, released from prison, due to failing health; after conclusion of World War II, participates in talks about India’s eventual independence; August 16, 1946, Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, declares Direct Action Day, resulting in Great Calcutta Riot in which 4,000 people die and 100,000 are rendered homeless; cancels all plans and goes to Calcutta to witness riot-affected areas; September 2, 1946, interim government formed; August 15, 1947, India gains independence; as India and Pakistan are partitioned,500,000 killed in ethnic/religious conflicts; January 13-18, 1948, last “fast-unto-death” to end Hindu-Muslim violence in Delhi, resolved when leaders renounce violence and agreed-upon payments to Pakistan are made; January 30, 1948, while walking to daily prayer meeting in Delhi is assassinated with three shots to the chest by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse; “He Rama (O God)” are his last words; cremated in New Delhi, ashes apportioned into urns for memorial services across India, some at Allahabad confluence of rivers, another at the palace of the Aga Khan in Pune, another near Jinja, Uganda, the source of the Nile River; 1982, Gandhi, epic biographical movie released, eventually winning 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director , and Best Actor; 1999, HarperCollins designates The Story of My Experiments with Truth as one of the A100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century;” June 15, 2007, United Nations General Assembly establishes October 2 as annual “International Day of Non-Violence,” honoring Gandhi and all other champions of nonviolence.
(1) E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1948), p. 5.
(2) For two excellent examples of the breadth and the depth of books about Gandhi, see especially Joseph Lelyveld, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) and Arvind Sharma , Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2013).
(3) This quote is cited widely by Gandhi enthusiasts and scholars alike, but with hardly any specific descriptions for exactly when and where Einstein conveyed this outstanding statement of his admiration for Gandhi. See William L. Shirer, Gandhi: A Memoir (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), pp. 9, 11; see also the dramatic use of the quote in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 Academy Award-winning movie Gandhi as well as at http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/452888-on-the-occasion-of-mahatma-gandhi-s-70th-birthday-generations-to.
(4) Mohandas K. Gandhi, ed. by John Strohmeier, Book of Prayers (California: Berkeley Hills Press, 1999), esp. pp. 7-9.
(5) In October 0f 1971, while in college in Ft. Worth, Texas, the author first heard the term “satyagraha” used by David Harris, one of the founders and chief leaders of Resistance, an organization opposed to the draft during the Vietnam War.
(6) Cited in Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt, Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), p. 112.
(7) Howard Thurman, The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman, Volume I, My People Need Me, June 1918-March 1936, Walter Earl Fluker, editor (Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2009), p.337.
(8) Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), p. 422.
(9) This famous statement has been quoted in countless books, and was used in a dramatic high point in Richard Attenborough’s film “Gandhi.” However, despite numerous references to the statement being included in Gandhi s autobiography, an exact source anywhere within Gandhi’s canon has yet to be found.
(10) Mohandas K. Gandhi, Young India, January 23, 1930, p. 25.
(11) Gandhi, An Autobiography: My Experiments with Truth, p. 456.
(12) Mohandas K. Gandhi, ed. by John Strohmeier, Book of Prayers (California: Berkeley Hills Press, 1999), p. 128.
FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION
Erik H. Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (New York: W.W. Norton, 1969)
Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (New York: Dover, 1983),(Boston: Beacon, 1994)
Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Robert Ellsberg, Gandhi on Christianity (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1991)
Mohandas K. Gandhi, edited by John Strohmeier, Book of Prayers (California: Berkeley Hills Press, 1999)
Joseph Lelyveld, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
Arvind Sharma , Gandhi : A Spiritual Biography (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2013)
WEDNESDAY WORDS[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (While I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #27.]
The executive branch of our government, along with the leadership in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, have put the choices for our times in drastic relief:
• respectful mutuality vs. sycophantic loyalty
• the ability to clearly own one’s mistakes vs. idiotic denials of making mistakes
• the strength of humility vs. the weakness of arrogance• wise graciousness vs. brutal bullying and one-upmanship
• respect for the contributions of past leaders vs. denigration of all previous leaders
• deep appreciation of the free press vs. the disgraceful attack on the press as “enemy of the people”
• compassion vs. cruelty
• the joys of sharing common purpose vs. the bitterness of people being pitted against one another
• methodical diplomacy in a world endangered by nuclear weaponry and ecological destruction vs. reckless alliances with dictators and fascistic leaders
– Bob Hill
[Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, pp. 156-157.]
MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #27.]
Since his death nearly eight centuries ago, St. Francis has become one of the most venerated religious figures in human history and one of the most admired monks, missionaries, and mystics in the traditions of Christianity.(1)
Schools, colleges, and churches bear his name. Retreat centers have sprouted up all over the world in his honor. Yards and gardens of Catholics, as well as Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and nonreligious folks alike, are the proud custodians of one St. Francis statue after another. Three religious orders – the Order of the Friars Minor, the Order of the Poor St. Clares, and the Third Order of St. Francis – proudly (and rightly) point to him as their founder. On or near October 4th, Francis’ feast day according to certain traditions, countless “Blessing of the Animals” services are conducted all over the world.
But “Why?” we can ask. “Why Saint Francis?” Why and how did he become so esteemed?Surely he became a great soul by his abiding obedience to what he believed was an undeniable, unequivocal call on his life. When confronted with the option of following Jesus’ example of love and compassion – of allowing nothing to come between him and God – Francis did the exact opposite of the rich ruler depicted in the New Testament gospels.(2) At the age of 24, before the witness of a bishop and in front of his father, without hesitation and with an expression of radical freedom, he renounced his patrimonial inheritance and committed himself to a life of humility and service, especially joyful care for the poor. “…he was a holy man in an unholy time living a total commitment to the second commandment: Love thy neighbor.”(3)
To the poor Francis was a friend. To lepers he was an embracing comforter. To each and every person, stranger and friend alike, he was a brother, and they were a brother or sister to him.Francis abides as a great soul because of his love of nature. Consistently and without wavering throughout the twenty years of his ministerial journey, he regarded all of creation as his sacred siblings, as “brothers” and “sisters.” Francis’ great poem “The Canticle of the Sun”– originally entitled Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures) – bears the imprint of his poetic vision of creation. The grand hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King,” set to a tune by German composer Peter von Brachel, is William Draper’s paraphrase of St. Francis’ canticle and is sung in countless churches, both Catholic and Protestant. It possesses deep affinity for Francis’ mystical expression of affection for the earth and all of its creatures.(4)
For Francis, the gospel was to be preached as a stimulus for the redemption of all of God’s creation. Before Shakespeare intoned his lyrical credo, Francis believed that there are “… tongues in trees, books in running brooks,/ Sermons in stones,/ and good in every thing.”(5) Francis is a great soul, of course, because of the enduringly famous prayer attributed to him:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
where there is hatred let me sow love
where there is injury – pardonwhere there is doubt – faith
where there is despair – hope
where there is darkness – light
and where there is sadness – joy
O Divine Master
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Over the centuries there have been questions about the authorship of the prayer, but it is now universally known as “St. Francis’ Prayer.”(6) Regardless of the exact origination of the prayer, it has a ring of resonance with St. Francis’ spirit and harmonizes with the overall arc of his life and ministry. In the powerful movement of the prayer’s poetic parallelism, the possibility of becoming “an instrument” of God’s peace begins to take on a greater and greater likelihood of realization. The prayer’s idealistic hope is matched by its powerful persuasion, and one who prays it knows a satisfying recognition: “This is the way life is supposed to be.”
Many have followed Francis and have found life’s fulfillment in humble service accompanied by unfettered joy. One of the more famous contemporary Franciscans was Fr. Mychal Judge, the chaplain priest of the New York Fire Department, who, during the attacks of September 11, 2011, rushed into the World Trade Center North Tower to offer help and hope and became one of the first martyrs among the heroic rescuers.(7)
Another notable Franciscan, Cardinal Sean O’Malley has lived out love of neighbor with wisdom and extraordinary compassion.(8) Fast on the heels of cleaning up a diocese in Palm Beach, Florida, he was assigned to the Boston diocese to forge a new and clarified future for one of the most scandal-plagued ecclesial entities in the U.S. Both Judge and O’Malley have embodied what Francis taught his friars, namely that all those who would follow Jesus “should preach with their deeds.”(9)
And when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose the name of Francis when he became Pope of the Catholic Church in 2013, he declared he did so to emulate St. Francis’ care for the well-being of the poor.
Perhaps G. K. Chesterton put it best: “What gave [St. Francis] his extraordinary personal power was this; that from the Pope to the beggar, from the sultan of Syria in his pavilion to the ragged robbers crawling out of the wood, there was never a man who looked into those brown burning eyes without being certain that Francis Bernardone was really interested in him; in his own inner individual life from the cradle to the grave; that he himself was being valued and taken seriously, and not merely added to the spoils of some social policy or the names in some clerical document.”(10)
PRAYING WITH ST. FRANCIS – SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 Praying the Prayer of St. Francis – Step #1 – Becoming peaceable means allowing yourself to be used as an instrument : (a) for the healing of your world and the world at large; (b) for the harmonizing of your world and the world at large; and (c) for the wholeness of your world and the world at large. Pray today – for five minutes in the morning, for five minutes at midday, and for five minutes at the close of the day – with a focus on peace.
Day 2 Praying the Prayer of St. Francis – Step #2 – The first three of the “sowing” propositions in the prayer are a matter of “Interior Decorating.” We cannot move out into the world as instruments of peace until we have made peace with ourselves. While self-reflection and self-revelation may seem to be daunting tasks, we are never so clear as when “come clean.” Pray today by recalling those times when your life was touched by the wounds of hatred, injury, and doubt – or when you were the wounding one. Then pause and begin to let old wounds be healed.
Day 3 Praying the Prayer of St. Francis – Step #3 – Hope, Light, and Joy are the elements of an ultimately fruitful, meaningful life. One might even say they are the premier components of an ideal existence. Such was the foundation of the Garden of Eden as portrayed in the book of Genesis. This part of the “sowing” portion of the St. Francis prayer provides a moment for “returning to the garden” and renewing those basic ingredients of a truly worthwhile life. Pray today by pondering the pairings of despair–hope, darkness–light, sadness–joy in your personal life and in local and worldwide events.
Day 4 Praying the Prayer of St. Francis – Step #4 – The next step in St. Francis’ Prayer may be called the “Gospel Medicine” portion. Recall those times when you have been a source of consolation for another person. Now imagine an opportunity that might arise this day in which you might be of consolation for another person. Seek God’s guidance as to listen authentically to someone and, thereby, offer them an understanding ear today. Pray also for a moment in which you can convey love – the central component of all “gospel medicine” – to another in need today.
Day 5 Praying the Prayer of St. Francis – Step #5 – The closing portion of St. Francis’ prayer refers to his understanding of a “Spiritual Economy.” Consider today those to whom you will give a humble gift that will enrich their lives. Ask for God’s guidance in how you will implement a plan for forgiving others for the injuries you have experienced from their hands. Finally consider what may be called the “Easter” portion of St. Francis’ prayer. What portion of your life should be put to rest this week? Is there a part of your daily existence that you would be better off without? Begin to imagine those dimensions of eternal life which can be enacted in your life today.
Day 6 Praying for the Earth – Pray today by repeating the third verse of “All Creatures of Our God and King” three times, morning, noon and night: Dear mother earth, who day by day/unfoldest blessings on our way,/ O praise him, Alleluia!/ The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,/let them his glory also show. Pray by singing, if you like.
Day 7 Praying for St. Francis to Be Known – What Albert Einstein said about Gandhi may also be said about St. Francis: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” Pray today that the generation in which you live, as well as future generations to come, will know all about St. Francis. Pray that they will believe.
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: 1181, born in Assisi, in the Umbria region of central, Italy, one of seven children to Pietro di Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant, and Pica Bourlemont; baptized “Giovanni di Pietro Bernardone” (after John the Baptist, the name and figure favored by his mother), renamed “Francesco” by his father, in recognition of his affection for the country of France; 1190, attends the parish school at San Giorgio; being the son of a rich cloth merchant, he lives the high-life of a young man of means; becomes known as “King of Feasts;” 1193, Chiara di Favarone di Offreduccio (Clare) is born to a renowned family of nobility; November 1202, in war between Perugia and Assisi, Assisi is defeated, and Francis spends a year in captivity, during which time he falls ill; ransomed by his father; 1204, experiences a long period of illness and convalescence; 1205, sets out to join the army of Walter de Brienne; returns after a vision and message in Spoleto; begins gradual stage of conversion; receives message from the icon of Christ Crucified in the chapel at San Damiano, just outside Assisi to “repair my house;” experiences conflict with his father over his decision to sell cloth to repair the San Damiano church; in a trial before the bishop, he renounces all worldly possessions and his patrimonial inheritance; nurses the lepers at Gubbio; fulfillment of conversion process; repairs San Damiano, San Pietro della Spina and St. Mary of the Angels at Portiuncula; February 24, 1208, on the Feast of St. Matthias, hears a sermon preached on Matthew 10:9, and thereafter dons a cheap, plain shepherd’s garb with a rope tied around his waist; April 16, 1208, Bernard of Quintavalle and Peter Cattani, a priest, join him; others follow; 1208-1209, assured of the pardon of his sins and the growth of his fraternity; brothers go out two by two, preaching penance; ; 1209, brothers return to Portiuncula and Francis writes a brief Rule for himself and eleven friars; April 16, 2010, Francis receives official approval of Pope Innocent III to establish fraternal order; friars return to Rivotorto and eventually to the Portiuncula; Palm Sunday, March 28, 1212, Clare receives her religious habit at Portiuncula from the hands of Francis and joins the Order of the Poor Ladies (which will eventually become the Order of the Poor Clares); 1215, Francis goes to Rome for the IV Lateran Council; May 5, 1217, on Pentecost, General Chapter of all the friars gathers at Portiuncula; first mission outside Italy; May 26, 1219, first friar missionaries leave for Morocco; June 24, 1219, goes on the road, to Egypt, site of the Fifth Crusade’s encampment, in order to meet with and convert al-Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine to the Christian faith; 1220, first Franciscan bothers become martyrs in Morocco; Cardinal Hugolino appointed Protector of the Order; Francis resigns as General Minister and friar Peter Cattani appointed; 1221, Peter Cattani dies and Bro. Elias becomes Vicar; 1221-1222, Francis goes on a preaching tour throughout Italy; 1223, Francis goes to Fontecolombo to write the definitive Rule for the Order of Friars Minor; The Chapter discusses it and further changes are made until its approval by Pope Honorius III; December 1223, first living Christmas nativity scene is dramatized, midnight Mass at Greccio; September 14, 1224, while on long retreat on the mountain at La Verna, receives stigmata (five marks of Christ’s crucifixion); 1225, his eye problems turn worse; stays for a while at San Damiano with Clare and the sisters; while almost blind writes “Canticle of the Creatures;” 1225 – 1226, goes to Fontecolumbo where doctors cauterize his temple in an unsuccessful treatment; at Sienna takes a turn for the worse and dictates a short will; September 1226, while staying at Bishop’s house in Assisi and aware that he is dying, writes the Testament and asks to be brought down to the Portiuncula; October 3, 1226, dies at Portiuncula in the evening, listening to a reading of Psalm 141; October 4, 1226, is buried in the church of San Giorgio; July 16, 1228, in Assisi, friend Cardinal Hugolino now Pope Gregory IX canonizes Francis; May 25, 1230, remains are transferred to his tomb in new papal basilica of San Francesco; March 16, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, after being elected Pope of the Catholic Church, announces he is taking the name “Francis” to emulate St. Francis’ care for the well-being of the poor.
(1) Anne Gordon, A Book of Saints: True Stories of How They Touch Our Lives (New York: Bantam Books, 1994), pp. 116ff; see also Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Saints (San Francisco: Harper, 2001), pp. 404-407; Elizabeth Hallam, general editor, Saints: Who They Are and How They Help You (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pp. 81-83; www.franciscan-archive.org; Joan Acocella, “Rich Man, Poor Man: The Radical Visions of St. Francis,” The New Yorker, January 14, 2013.
(2) Matthew 19:16–30, Mark 10:17–31, Luke 18:18–30; see also Andre Vauchez’s Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 2012)( translated by Michael F. Cusato) and Paul Sabatier’s Life of St. Francis of Assisi(New York: Cosimo, 2007)(originally published in 1894).
(5) William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 2.
(6) For the background and growth in popularity of St. Francis’ prayer see Leonardo Boff, The Prayer of St. Francis: A Message of Peace for the World Today (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2001); the first English translation of “The Prayer of St. Francis” appeared in Living Courageously, (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1936), a book by Kirby Page, a Disciple of Christ minister, pacifist, social evangelist, writer and editor of The World Tomorrow. Page clearly attributes the text to St. Francis of Assisi.
(7) One of the most iconic images related to the attacks of September 11, 2001, was provided by Shannon Stapleton’s photograph (Reuters, Sept 11, 2001) of Fr. Judge being carried out of the rubble in New York City by members of the New York Fire Department and medical personnel.
(8) Joe Feuerherd and John L. Allen, Jr., “Another fixer-upper for O’Malley: Franciscan bishop’s appointment to Boston is seen as a welcome surprise,” National Catholic Reporter, July 18, 2003.
WEDNESDAY WORDS [During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #26.]
By almost every measure, the U.S. is in danger. The Trump administration’s response (or lack thereof) to the COVID-19 pandemic has been tragically botched, and the job market has been decimated. No attempted distraction can mask the trouble.
Beyond the pandemic and the rampant numbers of people unemployed (and underemployed), the trouble is plain to see. And the most troubling aspects of our predicament have to do with the character (or lack thereof) in the current administration and the dangerous consternation and deadly confusion abounding in our society.
Leaders whose focus is on more fame for their brands, more attention for their egos, and more money for their supposed empires are deleterious to democracy.
Leaders who are so insecure and needy that they create a cutthroat atmosphere among their staff members are not worth following.
Leaders who are so willfully ignorant that they refuse to learn what a careful reading of history would teach them are not worth following.
Leaders who are autocratic, dictatorial, and megalomaniacal in their leadership styles are not worth following.
Leaders who daily commit serial misrepresentations, blatant misdirection, and provably false declarations are not worth following.
Leaders who authorize policies of maltreatment of children as being “necessary” for the supposed fulfillment of U.S. immigration laws are not worthy of endorsement. (The separation of young migrant children from their parents at U.S. borders is a form of child abuse and ruthless dehumanization.)
Leaders who lack humility as a major tool in their toolbox are not worthy of support. How utterly vulgar, how nauseatingly offensive, and how egregiously indefensible is the promotion of one’s achievements and one’s supposed superiority over previous leaders at a gathering focused on prayer. Every great American leader who has ever captured my attention — Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Sitting Bull, Marian Wright Edelman, Cesar Chavez, Barbara Jordan, and the list could go on and on — has expressed deep-seated humility in the face of life’s and the world’s incessant dilemmas regarding fairness, equity, living the good life, sharing heartache and setbacks with others, and the vicissitudes of human existence.
MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) [During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday — or shortly thereafter! — I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #26.]
In his brief 63 years, Henri J.M. Nouwen marked his boundless search for God and God’s peace by a prodigious output of writing. Many of his books are now considered spiritual “classics” and essential reference points for any discussion about relevant care-giving by religious leaders. In a wide-ranging survey, Nouwen’s books were voted the favorites among mainline Protestant and Catholic clergy.(1)
Ronald Rolheiser speaks for countless others when he offers his abiding appreciation for Nouwen: “He wrote as a psychologist and a priest, but his writings also flowed from who he was as a man. And he was complex man, torn always between the saint inside of him who had given his life to God and the man inside of him who, chronically obsessed with human love and its earthy yearnings, wanted to take his life back….. His readers identified with him because he shared so honestly his struggles….Like many others, when I first read Henri Nouwen, I had a sense of being introduced to myself.”(2)
A faculty member at The Menninger Foundation Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, as well as the University of Notre Dame, Yale University, and Harvard University, Nouwen did much to explore the connection between God and humanity – in everyday life, among the poor, within the experience of depression, and among those considered “handicapped” in common culture. He spent the last ten years of his life as pastor of the L’Arche Community at Daybreak in Toronto, Canada, working with people with developmental disabilities.
Henri Nouwen had profound insights into the predicaments of contemporary society and what it means to offer caring service to people who are vulnerable and adrift. Over time he arrived at significant occasions of ministry to clergy. “After all [my] attempts to articulate the predicament of contemporary humanity, the necessity to articulate the predicament of the ministers themselves became most important.”(3) Nouwen’s phrase “Wounded Healers,” the terminology he coined to describe contemporary ministers, and, by analogy, contemporary Christians as a whole, became a famous watchword during the last 25 years of the 20th century.
Out of a seminar on Christian Spirituality at Yale Divinity School, Nouwen began to discern the essential components of Christian faithfulness in terms of three dimensions, or what he called “movements,” in the spiritual life. The first of these focuses on the Relationship to Self and the movement from loneliness to solitude. The second dimension involves our Relationships to Others and the movement from hostility to hospitality. The third dimension has to do with one’s Relationship with God and the movement from illusion to prayer.(4)
Between December 1987 and June 1988, during what he described as “the most difficult period of my life,” Nouwen kept a secret journal. This document consisted of personal “spiritual imperatives’ which he composed each day during the time of his deepest despair. He published selections from his journal entries nearly a decade later with the hopes that others might find his reflections “a source of consolation to see that light and darkness, hope and despair, love and fear are never very far from each other, and that spiritual freedom often requires a fierce spiritual battle….”(5)
In a 1991 sermon, Nouwen revealed his basic insights about the essential characteristics of the spiritual journey: “…the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says …, ‘You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.’…. We are little people, but if we believe that we are chosen, that we are blessed, that we are broken, to be given, then we can trust that our life will bear fruit. It will multiply. Not only in this life, but beyond it. Many, many people will find strength by knowing that they are being given new life by those who lived as the beloved and they can become the beloved themselves.”(6)
At the end of his ministry within the L’Arche community, he began to experience a fervency, an urgency to “get the word out.” In response to a journalist friend’s challenge to communicate the faith to non-believing folks, Nouwen sought to convey and translate the wisdoms that had come his way into a wider reception and thus a broader redemption.(7)
PRAYING WITH HENRI NOUWEN – SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 Nouwen relied on the New Testament scenes of Jesus’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the foundations for his thinking in one of his last books on the spiritual life. Pray today by pondering your encounters with God in connection with each of these sacraments and give joyful thanks. As a voice from the heavens proclaimed Jesus as God’s beloved on the day of his baptism, so you are also God’s beloved. In your prayers today, listen, really hear God calling you as God’s own beloved.(8)
Day 2 Nouwen had a deep understanding of the impact of loneliness on contemporary people: “Loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering today.”(9) Pray today by centering on a seeming contradiction: “the company of the lonely.” Loneliness is an unavoidable fact of life. Thus, we don’t despair, because our loneliness is not unique. Rather, we pray for a deep awareness of companionship with others.(10)
Day 3 Be aware of your brokenness as you pray today. Enumerate to God, and thus claim for yourself, your own experiences of brokenness and inner pain.(11) Since it is futile to fulfill your needs or lessen your anguish by your own will power, Nouwen suggests that you “work around your abyss,” i.e. any gaping hole in your life, “so that gradually the abyss closes.” Pray today that you will be able to avoid “being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay away from the wound you want to heal.”(12)
Day 4 Recalling Nouwen’s emphasis on the movement from loneliness to solitude, pray today for an open heart for receiving God’s companionship and knowing your sufficiency (“enough-ness”) in God.
Day 5 Before praying today, first think on these words: “The more you relinquish your stubborn need to maintain power, the more you will get in touch with the One who has the power to heal and guide you.”(13) Then pray this way: (a) sit quietly; (b) acknowledge your powerlessness; (c ) rest in the faith that one day you will know how much you have received.
Day 6 Nouwen’s ultimate counsel was to “Receive All the Love That Comes to You.” “Wherever there is real love for you, take it and be strengthened by it.”(14) Pray today by giving thanks for all the places and people in your life where and from whom you experience real love, knowing that the increase of that kind of love is the ultimate source of healing for your life.
Day 7 Pray today by giving thanks for a release from past illusions you may have had about God. Or, if you are presently struggling in your relationship with God, pray for a more vivid encounter with God in your prayer time. Pray also that your growing experience of solitude, hospitality and prayerful encounters with God will be known by each person you meet today.
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE — January 24, 1932, Born Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen in Nijerk, Netherlands, the oldest of four children to Laurent Jean Marie Nouwen and Maria Huberta Helena Ramselaar; father works as lawyer, mothers as a bookkeeper in her family’s business; as a young boy, takes after his very religious mother, expressing desire to be a priest; 1939, Germany invades Netherlands; 1950, passes his final examinations at Aloysius College in the Hague, enters final year at minor seminary in Apeldoorn; 1951, begins studies at Rijsenburg seminary near Driebergen; July 21, 1957, ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in St. Catherine’s Cathedral, Utrecht; begins studies in psychology at Catholic university of Nijmegen; strongly influenced by Hans Fortman (connection between action and contemplation) and Gordon Allport (pastoral psychology); works at the mines in south Limburg, Unilever in Rotterdam; serves as chaplain in the army and on the Holland-America shipping line; 1964, receives Ph.D. in Psychology from University of Nijmegen; begins religion and psychiatry program at Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas; becomes friends with Seward Hiltner; learns about civil rights movement and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.; March 1965, participates in civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery; 1966, invited by John Santos to be visiting lecturer in psychology at University of Notre Dame in Indiana; 1968, begins teaching at Amsterdam Joint Pastoral Institute and Catholic Theological Institute of Utrecht; 1971, receives Ph.D. in Theology from Nijmegen; takes appointment as lecturer in pastoral theology at Yale University Divinity School; 1972, publishes Creative Ministry and The Wounded Healer; 1974, receives tenure, becoming Associate Professor in pastoral theology; publishes Reaching Out; June-December 1974, visits at Trappist monastery Abbey of the Genesee; 1976, Fellow at the Ecumenical Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota; publishes The Living Reminder; 1977, awarded the status of Professor in Pastoral Theology at Yale; 1978, after his mother dies, attempts consolation and reconciliation with father; 1978, Scholar-in-Residence at the North American College in Rome; 1981, studies Spanish in Bolivia, lives in Lima, Peru; becomes friends with Gustavo Gutierrez; goes to Latin America; March 1982, teaches spirituality and liberation theology at Harvard Divinity School; 1983, makes first visit to L’Arche community founded by Jean Vanier and Pere Thomas in Trosly-Breuil, France, for persons with developmental disabilities; 1983, travels to Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras; 1984, lectures on situation in South America; travels to Guatemala; returns to Trosly-Breuil for 30-day retreat; 1985; moves to Trosly-Breuil; December 1985, receives “call” to become part of the Daybreak L’Arche community in Toronto, Canada; August 1986, joins Daybreak L’Arche community working with six disabled people and their assistants; September 21, 1996, dies of sudden heart attack in Hilversum, Netherlands; buried near Daybreak in the Sacred Heart cemetery in Toronto, Canada.
(1) Jackson W. Carroll, “Pastors’ Picks: What Preachers are Reading,” The Christian Century, August 23, 2003.
WEDNESDAY WORDS[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #25.]
Educational institutions, when they fulfill their highest calling, do not merely prepare students for better jobs, or career advancement, or the establishment of a stable financial foundation. When educators truly educate, they teach us how to learn. May we always know and know always anew the multiple meanings of learning.
Learning is the expansion of a child’s heart as well as her mind. Learning is a young one fashioning dreams, and an old one sharing visions. If we pay attention, learning is what takes place when knees are skinned, egos are bruised, and souls are stretched by new awareness.
Learning is to knowledge what burning is to fire. Learning is the beginning of new life and the closing off of that which has passed the point of usefulness. To learn is to encounter every present moment as a potential blessing.
Learning is an adventure in uncharted territory. It is the challenge of all good managers, all insightful inventors, all masterful musicians, all wonder struck painters, and all worthy teachers.
Learning takes place by staying awake, paying attention, and doing our homework. Learning also happens by simply sitting on the edge of a peacefully gleaming lake or watching clouds pass by overhead or listening to the gentle rhythms of rain. Learning is not kept under lock and key at the schoolhouse.
Learning is essential for every effort toward quality, and it is unavoidable in the natural scheme of maturation. Either we learn or we wither. Learning inspires the mind and checks our brazenness. Learning humbles the highest and ennobles the lowly.
Learning is the breaking of poverty’s shackles. It is an escape hatch out of the pit of prejudice. It is the living link which draws disparate groups together. Without learning, history moves in retrograde. With learning, we take the next authentic step into the future.
Learning shines on a graduate’s face. Learning empowers the disenfranchised and lifts up the downtrodden. Learning is the great democratizer. Learning is the ultimate check and balance system. It is the stimulus for all virtues and the corrective for all vices.
– Bob Hill
(From LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, 2015, pp. 11-12.)
WEDNESDAY WORDS[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #24.]
THE TEACHING TOMATOES
Another year, another bumper crop of tomatoes in our Brookside garden! And, even though I know more about concrete than I do about dirt (or tomatoes or arugula or snap peas or banana peppers or any other edible piece of vegetation), our little 8’x 15′ “Le Metarie” patch on our home’s south-side is teaching some obvious lessons. And mostly, for me, the tomatoes are the instructors.
First of all, I now know what “prodigious” really means. It means you can’t harvest the sun gold cherry tomatoes fast enough to keep up with their fruition.
Secondly, there is pleasure, rich pleasure, deep olfactory bliss, in the sheer smell of tomatoes. If you ever need a reminder of life’s unmitigated goodness, all you need to do is walk by our tomato plants. Gardens are the original aroma therapy centers.
Thirdly, a great harvest of tomatoes is achieved when there’s a grand balance of sunshine and rain. Now, I admit that this should be as obvious as the nose on my face, but remember I’m a city kind of guy, and the rhythm of sunshine’s power and rain’s nurturing comfort can sometimes elude us city-slickers. But during the month of August, amidst the undulating rain-heat-rain-heat-rain-heat-rain weather cycles, even I was able to see the rate of growth among the tomato plants, their burgeoning heft weighing down the tomato cages almost to the point of collapse.
Fourthly, certain sorts of tomatoes are prone to disease and others are disease-resistant. So you need to find the best kind of tomatoes for your kind of soil. We definitely hit pay dirt again this year!
Fifthly, a torrent of tomatoes – or a plethora of peaches or a cornucopia of corn or a pile of pears – builds community. When a harvest is so effusive, friends (and also some strangers) will be graced, and the gracing binds people together in a unity of enjoyment.
Finally, an abundance of tomatoes inspires an abundance of curiosity about recipes for tomato dishes. And, wow, what an array of possibilities! Ever tried tomato grits?
I think I’ll take the fried-green-tomato BLT, please.
– Bob Hill
(Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press.)
[Normally, each Monday, during the current COVID-19 crisis, I post a chapter from my GREAT SOULS, GREAT PRAYERS manuscript as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Today, given that it’s the Labor Day holiday, I’m posting an excerpt from my book LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE. Partake, use, and/or share this as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Here’s MONDAY MED #24.]
How we work is at least as important as what we actually work at. In an age when the average American changes occupations and/or jobs 12 times during their working life, the attitude we bear through the changes is central to success and contentment. During this year’s Labor Day holiday, let us consider carefully and prayerfully the ingredients for healthy and useful attitudes toward the work we do.
Working, of course, entails a paycheck. This is partly what the establishment of Labor Day was and is all about. The dignity that obtains when fair pay is available for all workers.
Working also entails compensation in addition to a paycheck. Monetary wages do not necessarily attend meaningful and significant work. Working conditions and benefits are utterly important.
I know older persons who are working harder in retirement than they ever did during their “workforce” years. Their satisfaction is found in volunteering for good and great causes and thereby making a meaningful contribution to the wider community.
I know homemakers of all stripes — housewives and househusbands — who work mightily but don’t receive a penny for their efforts. Their compensation is satisfaction in adding to the moral development of others, doing something they love doing, time with children and grandchildren, peace and fulfillment for their families, well-managed households, the happiness that a fulfilling partnership brings.
There are also students, from kindergarten to graduate school, whose work is a daily and exciting challenge, though their compensation can hardly be calculated in the gross national product.
Without these forces for goodness in our society, our social fabric might very well come unraveled.
Let us also recall that our work, apart from the love of our families and our relationship with God, is our most valuable possession. Here I am adapting something I first heard James Carville describe when he was assessing his colorful career as a political consultant. Far away from raucous political campaigns and the calumny of adversarial relationships with the media, Mr. Carville mused eloquently about work — any person’s work — and its significance on the earthly scales of what counts as important.
My questions this Labor Day weekend are these:
* Do you regard your work in such a manner?
* Do our communities regard work in such a manner?
* Does U.S. culture regard work in such a manner?
* Is work one of your more prized “possessions”?
* How many of us regard the work of others as worthy and valuable?
* And, to add an urgently pressing question, when will we do what is right as a country and raise the minimum wage to $15/hr?
May we always remember that good work, well done, fit for a good purpose, shaped for the sharing in the wider community, is always a cherishable treasure. When we do such work, we are then engaging in what Marge Piercy describes as being “of use.”
— Bob Hill
(Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #23.]
Friends and friendships are integral parts of what it means to be a member of the human race. Friends and friendships are essential components of what it means to be part of a community of faith.
What are friends to you? Who are your friends? As we approach the possible answers to those questions, allow me to offer the following acronym of definitions for what friends are all about.
F – Friends are faithful, in season and out of season. Not perfect, mind you, but faithful in the end. Faithfulness is the testimony of person after a person when they list their greatest assets in life.
R – Friends are the way we know what reconciliation is all about. Of course, along one’s journey, reconciliation is appropriate in all of our relationships. And we are challenged — by tradition, heritage (religious and otherwise), and sacred texts — to be reconciled with our adversaries and enemies. But our friendships depend upon reconciliation, too. Sometimes, in the face of great disagreements or grievous wounds, reconciliation with our friends just may be the most difficult thing to achieve.
I – Friends help us experience the inspiration of God’s powerful presence. Sometimes, a friendly face is the only way we know the face of God. Friends inspire us with their example. Friends offer us inspiring challenges. And friends continuously inspire us with their forbearance and acceptance. When we experience such gifts, we know that we are in the presence of God.
E – Friendship relationships, in addition to our families, are the primary source of energy for human life. What could you do, really, without the affirmation of your friends? How enthusiastic could you really be without friends in your life?
N – Friends know our names. And we know theirs. To know and be known by name is the foundation for an empowering and meaningful life. And not only do our friends know our names, they also know the nuances of our personalities, the nettlesome problems which puzzle us, and the numinous moments that give us hope. But first they know our names, and we treasure the instant when they call us by name.
D – Friends provide the extra dose of delight which is so necessary for a life worth celebrating. Our friends are the pizzazz in the midst of a drab and dreary day. They are the “carbonation” in the drink of life. They are the “spice” in the feast of life. They are the “syncopation” in the rhythms of life.
S – Friends sustain us in hard times, support us in times of grieving, and show us their true affection and affirming regard when we encounter joyous triumphs.
– Bob Hill
[Excerpted from LOVE ALL WAYS, forthcoming from Caroline Street Press, late 2020/early 2021.]