WEDNESDAY WORDS – WORD #19 – GEORGE NAKASHIMA: “… to go to sleep at night with an honest face.”

nakashima-portrait.#2
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 #19.]
GEORGE NAKASHIMA:
“To go to sleep with an honest face.”
A while back, on a sunlit afternoon, near an illuminating window within the confines of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I happened upon a small table by George Nakashima. Astounding in its simplicity, beautiful in form, shining in appearance, it was immediately apparent why that table had attained the status of art and been deemed worthy of exhibition.
One of Nakashima’s hallmark achievements, I would learn later, is a Peace Table he made for the United Nations. It turns out he was also an insightful soul, chock-full of good counsel for life, as well as knowledge of wood and its wonders.
Nakashima mentored many wood artists, always encouraging them to do their work in such a way, with such integrity, that they could “go to sleep at night with an honest face.”
Sterling advice for us all, indeed, whether or not we know much about wood.
– Bob Hill
[From ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, p. 161.]

MONDAY MEDS – MONDAY MED #19 – SOJOURNER TRUTH

sojourner-truth (2)
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 #19.]
SOJOURNER TRUTH
In 1972, when Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman to run for the Presidency of the United States, she commenced her campaign at the grave of Sojourner Truth.(1) Sojourner Truth’s depth of soul, audacity of heart, strength of will, abiding love of God, and courageous social and political involvement to better the lives of others, made her the perfect exemplar and source of inspiration for Chisholm’s historic endeavor.
Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in the 18th century, Sojourner Truth’s life and legend would come to touch communities and cultures in three centuries. Her religious journey found her among Quakers, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and two utopian communities. While she was always a person who affirmed communities of faith, she was also open to personal mystical experiences. In her thirties, she had a vision which affected her profoundly, leading her to develop a “perfect trust” in God and prayer. After the death of her son, she asked God for a new name and received the name “Sojourner Truth” to signify her new role as a traveler telling the truth about slavery.
For twenty years she labored as an outspoken abolitionist in the U.S. until slavery was abolished in 1865. Through the sheer force of her personality and an indefatigable spirit, her fame as a speaker and singer spread far and wide in the United States. President Lincoln received her at the White House, and Frederick Douglas delivered the eulogy at her funeral.
Sojourner Truth’s depth of soul was evident in the prayer she prayed throughout her long battle against slavery: “O Lord! O Lord! Oh, the tears, an’ the groans, an’ the moans! O Lord!” (2) Her depth of soul moved her to be sensitive the degradation and devastation which came with slavery but, through the release of her moaning, groaning prayers, she was not overcome by them. She looked difficulty in the eye and faced it straightaway. When she encountered heartache and heartbreak, she took her life to God. When she knew the gloom and doom of separation from her children and the debilitation of loneliness, she turned honestly and forcefully to God.
Her audacious heart was accompanied by extraordinary wit and ready answers for nearly every occasion. Once, after returning to her home in Florence, Massachusetts, she was asked to speak. Despite her fatigue, she did speak and, when she rose to address the crowd, she is reported to have said, “Children, I have come here like the rest of you to hear what I have to say.” One of her most famous rejoinders came when she described the ethics of her self-liberation from slavery: “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”
No one could ever forget the courage of her will. This was evidenced again and again. Once, in a pre-Civil War gathering, in which Frederick Douglass was opining rather negatively about the fate of black people and may have even suggested a violent end to slavery, Sojourner Truth rose to her feet and chastised the formidable Douglass with the challenging question, “Frederick, is God dead?” Little wonder that this is what is inscribed on her tombstone – “Is God dead?” – in Battle Creek, Michigan.
She also showed the courage of her will when she was once accused of being a man. Standing a regal six-feet tall, and having the sinewy strength that could only come from slave labor conditions, she was accused of being a man. At which time, she opened up her blouse to show the accusing man her breasts!
Her most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman,” given in 1851 at the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, revealed the powerful persuasiveness of her audacious heart. Frances Gage, an abolitionist and president of the Convention, recorded the speech which clearly made a great impact at the Convention. Since then it has become a classic rallying cry of the women’s movement for equality and human rights. (3)
Ultimately the genius of Sojourner Truth’s great soul, the key to her courage, the cornerstone of all she believed, rested on her loving trust in God. Being illiterate, she couldn’t read a word in any book, including the Bible, yet still she treasured it because of the stories from it she had heard. Never ordained, still she preached as she believed God had charged her to do. In a conversation with the famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher she is reported to have said that whenever she preached her only text was “When I found Jesus.” (4)
Sojourner Truth could believe in the essential oneness of God’s creation, because she believed that her essential nature of being free and equal in God’s eyes was an accomplished fact.
“AIN’T I A WOMAN?”
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place. And ain’t I a woman?
“Look at me! Look at my arm…. I have plowed, I have planted and I have gathered into barns. And no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman?
“I could work as much, and eat as much as man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?….
“That little man in black there! He says women can’t have as much rights as men. ‘Cause Christ wasn’t a woman….Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from?! From God and a Woman! Man had nothing to do with him!
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right-side up again. And now that they are asking to do it the men better let them.”
PRAYING WITH SOJOURNER TRUTH:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 – Pray today by remembering Sojourner Truth’s constant prayer throughout the years of her valiant struggle against slavery. Then consider the following question: For whom or what does your heart and soul cry out? In your most despairing times, recall the substance of your prayers and how such communication with God either sustained you or frustrated you (or both).
Day 2 – Pray today by pondering the possibility that God is giving you a new name today, to guide your destiny from now on. What is that name? Is it two names?
Day 3 – Today let your prayers be informed by a recollection of the moment(s) when you have encountered God and thereby experienced a profound re-orientation of your life. Give God thanks for such transformative encounters and offer the names of others you know who may be in need of such clarifying moments.
Day 4 – Pray today by seeking wisdom from God about your own audacity being increased in particular places and specific situations, knowing that some portion of audacity is accorded every human being and awaits release at just the right time.
Day 5 – Pray today for an expanding love of God and trust in God’s ways in your life.
Day 6 – Pray a prayer of exaltation and joyful celebration for the fact that God is alive in the world and in your life and how that makes all the difference in your journey in faith.
Day 7 – Today, consider the women in your life, past and present, and catalog their gifts to the world and to you. Offer a prayer – either a whisper or a shout – of thanks for their contributions to the betterment of the human family and the blessing of your life.
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE — 1797, born Isabella Baumfree, in slavery, the second child (of 10 or 12 children) of James and Elizabeth in Hurley, New York; speaks only Dutch during childhood; as a teenager she’s sold to John J. Dumont, who cruelly makes her marry another slave named Thomas; she and Thomas have five children some of whom are sold away by Dumont; labors for a succession of five “masters;” 1827, escapes and taken in by the Van Wegeners, a Quaker family; July 4, 1827, slavery is abolished in New York State by the NY State Anti-Slavery Act; wins lawsuit to have her youngest son Peter (who had been illegally sold away from her to a slave owner in Alabama) returned to her; moves to NYC, works as a housekeeper, deeply involved in religion, becomes member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; has a vision which affected her profoundly, leading her – as she later describes it – to develop a “perfect trust” in God and prayer; after the death of her son, she asks God a new name and receives the name “Sojourner Truth” to signify her new role as traveler telling the truth about slavery; June 1, 1843, sets out walking for miles in a northeasterly direction with 25 cents in her pocket; fame grows and reputation precedes her wherever she travels; 1843, comes to live in Florence, Massachusetts at the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a utopian community dedicated to abolitionism, pacifism, equality; meets progressive thinkers like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and David Ruggles, and local abolitionists Samuel Hill, George Benson and Olive Gilbert.; at six feet tall she is an imposing and powerful speaker and singer; when she rises to speak, writes one observer, “her commanding figure and dignified manner hushed every trifler to silence;” audiences are “melted into tears by her touching stories.”1850, dictates her memoirs to Olive Gilbert, published as The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave; 1851, delivers her most famous speech,”Ain’t I A Woman?,” at woman’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio; 1853, helps form a utopian community called “The Kingdom,” at Sing Sing, New York, which disbands following the death and possible murder of its leader; 1857, moves to Michigan; after Emancipation Proclamation is issued, moves to Washington, D.C.; begins working with former slaves in the newly created Freedman’s Village; 1864, is invited to the White House, where President Abraham Lincoln personally receives her; serves as a counselor for the National Freedman’s Relief Association, crusading to gain support for her dream of a land distribution program for former slaves;1875, retires in Battle Creek, Michigan; November 26, 1883, dies at home, surrounded by her family and friends; November 28, 1883, funeral held at Congregational-Presbyterian Church in Battle Creek; buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek; 1971, Sojourner Truth Library dedicated at State University of New York at New Paltz; February 4, 1986, Sojourner Truth Stamp dedicated; 1998, Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek established; August 28, 2009, bronze bust of Sojourner Truth (by sculptor Artis Lane) is first sculpture to honor an African American woman in the U.S. Capitol; September 21, 2013, Sojourner Truth Park dedicated at Port Ewen, Ulster County, New York; November 17, 2014, Smithsonian magazine lists Sojourner Truth among “The 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”
NOTES
1 Marvin A McMickle, “Sojourner Truth,” An Encyclopedia of African American Heritage(Valley Forge: Judson Press), 2002, pp. 164-166.
2 Harriet Beecher Stowe,”Sojourner Truth, The Libyan Sibyl,” Atlantic Monthly,Vol. XI. April, 1863.
3 While no absolutely formal record of this speech exists, Frances Gage, an abolitionist and president of the Convention, recounted Truth’s words. Scholars have cast grave doubts on the actual transmission of the speech as it has been traditionally reported, especially because Gage did not record the account until 1863 and her record differs somewhat from newspaper accounts of 1851. Still, it is Gage’s report that endures, and it is clear that, whatever the exact words, “Ain’t I a Woman?” made a great impact at the Convention and has become a familiar trope in civil rights history, feminist and womanist activities, and liberation lore. See Carleton Mabee with Susan Mabee Newhouse, Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend (New York: New York University Press, 1993), pp. 67-82, and Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996), pp. 258-273. Despite the questions pertaining to the wording of the speech, the spirit by which Sojourner lived and transformed herself into a champion abolitionist was evident throughout her sojourn. She still serves — as a speaker and in her persona — as an inspirational symbol for oppressed people yearning for enfranchisement and fulfillment.
4 Harriet Beecher Stowe,”Sojourner Truth, The Libyan Sibyl”
FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION
Bell Hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Boston, MA: South End, 1981)
Carleton Mabee with Susan Mabee Newhouse, Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend (New York: New York University Press, 1993)
Marvin A McMickle, “Sojourner Truth,” An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage (Valley Forge: Judson Press), 2002, pp. 164-166.
Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996)
Harriet Beecher Stowe,”Sojourner Truth, The Libyan Sibyl,” Atlantic Monthly,Vol. XI. April, 1863
Sojourner Truth, Narrative of Sojourner Truth; a Bondswoman of Olden Time, Emancipated by the New York Legislature in the Early Part of the Present Century with a History of her Labors and Correspondence, Drawn from Her Book of Life (Battle Creek, Michigan: Published for the Author, 1878). (Later printing, NY: Vintage Books, 1993. )
Juan Williams and Quinton Dixie, This Far By Faith: Stories from the African American Religious Experience (New York: William Morrow), 2003, esp. pp. 75-99.
© 2020, Robert Lee Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS – WORD #18 – DOXOLOGIES

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 #18.]
DOXOLOGIES
When and where was the last time you sang a doxology? Every week millions upon millions of faithful souls sing it in worship. They join in offering musical thanks to God for the plenty they have received. Some sing loud, some sing demurely. Some merely hum along with the music.
Such thanks are offered because, usually, it seems natural to do so. Some folks participate in the doxology because they think they ought to; it’s plainly the decent thing to do in polite religious circles.
Some folks sing or say the doxology because of an overwhelming humility or the rush of joy or the thrill of exaltation.
It is safe to say that around the world, in countless congregations, somewhere, somehow, someone is offering a doxology each and every week of the year.
But expressions of gratitude through the doxology need not be limited to Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings or Friday evenings or other times of “official” worship. Indeed, the plentitude of graces supplied by God behooves us to be about the business of singing doxologies on numerous occasions outside our gathered worship experiences.
Consider now those times when you have sung a doxology. What occasions prompted your offering of thanks? Did something in the natural realm cause you joyous awe? Was it something a child said or did? Was your doxological moment stimulated by a task completed or by an unexpected gift or by a surprise visit from an engaging stranger?
Did you use the words of a traditional Christian Sunday morning doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”)? Or did you have another set of words or another tune in your heart and on your lips at the time?
Did others join you for a hearty refrain of thanksgiving? Or was yours a quiet sort of doxology, offered, say, in the solitude of your car or along an exercise path or even down the aisle at the grocery store?
The singing of doxologies need not be restricted to weekly worship in a gathered community of faith. Doxologies can and do go on all the time in the expressions of gratitude of the faithful everywhere.
One truth is made consistently plain in our journey in God’s grace: all occasions can inspire us to sing a doxology.
Whether changing a diaper, or walking the dog, or doing our jobs, or preparing a meal, or sitting in a class, or digging in the garden, or paying the bills, or reading your Holy scriptures, or writing a note, or watching a movie, or following the news, or holding a hand, or tasting a peach, or smelling a rose, or beholding a sunset, or listening to the rain, the truth abides: now is the time to sing the doxology.
– Bob Hill
[Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, pp. 112-113.]

MONDAY MEDS – MONDAY MED #18 – DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD

Dag Hammarskjöld
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 #18.]
DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD
As the second Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld achieved one of the highest seats of political power and historical influence the world can ever bestow. Through the posthumous publication of his private devotions and philosophical musings in Markings, he attained the admiration of countless persons of all stations and callings.

Though he was a political intellectual of the first rank, Hammarskjöld’s expression of questions, ponderings, prayers, and poetic musings is arguably his greatest legacy. Most English‑speaking people who were born after his death may not recognize his name or his place in global history, but yet his book Markings continues to sell at a rate and with such an avid following that booksellers have rated it as one of the best spiritual books of the past 100 years.(1) With forthright humility Hammarskjöld understood his writing simply as “the only true ‘profile’ concerning my negotiations with myself – and with God,”(2) but his masterful ruminations continue to have a universal resonance in each new generation.

 

Hammarskjöld’s thinking and his public life emphasized the primacy of action. He was mindful of the powerful forces that influence and turn the direction of human history, but he also maintained an absolute belief in the power of persons, individually and collectively, to choose and work toward a better future.
While Hammarskjöld was a solitary figure on the stage of history, he steadfastly felt that there was comfort and strength to be found in sharing another’s burdens. He was undaunted in his positive regard pertaining to change and the possibilities among nations for overcoming great obstacles.
True community, Hammarskjöld felt, is to be found in bonding oneself to a noble purpose: “Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”(3) Always, in prayer as well as in relations with others, he stressed listening to one’s inner voices – to God, and to the needs of the world – prior to speaking and acting.
Hammarskjöld believed so deeply in the centrality of prayer and meditation for all individuals and organizations, including the United Nations, that he initiated and supervised the transformation of “The Meditation Room” at the U.N. In a piece written for its dedication and re‑opening in 1957, he described the room and its importance: “We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense. It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.”(4)
One would like to think that he met his untimely death (which some have even called an assassination) with an inner tranquility and calm resolve, for he emphasized in the musings among his Markings that contending with the universal denominator of death was a necessary prerequisite for human maturity.
Hammarskjöld was convinced of the humanity of Jesus as the premier place where followers could connect with God and better relate to their neighbors. Courage, deep abiding courage, he believed, was found in the dailiness of human activity.
In a life which can be characterized as a via crucis (way of the cross), one can say, as W.H. Auden pointed out in his “Foreword” to Markings, Hammarskjöld life‑long project was to balance the via activa (active life) and the via contemplativa (contemplative life).(5) Such a yearning finds residence in countless lives and causes us to be inspired by one of Hammarskjöld’s most famous prayers: “For all that has been – Thanks! To all that shall be – Yes!”(6)
PRAYER POEM ‑ July 19, 1961
Give us
A pure heart
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee,
A heart of love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee,
Thou
Whom I do not know
But Whose I am. (7)
PRAYING WITH DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 Today pray Hammarskjöld’s famous “Thanks/Yes” prayer. For what/whom do you say “Thanks”? For what/whom do you say “Yes”?
Day 2 Pray today that you will find courage in your daily rounds, in those encounters and relationships and events, which, while seeming mundane, hold within them the essence of magnificence.
Day 3 Recall Hammarskjöld’s prayer from July 19, 1961, and pray for “A pure heart,” “A humble heart,” “A heart of love,” and “A heart of faith,” all of which are always in order in every circumstance of life. Which one do you most desire/need today?
Day 4 Pray today that you will find someone, either familiar or a stranger, whose burdens you can share and thereby gain comfort and strength for your own life.
Day 5 Recall Hammarskjöld’s admonition: “Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”
Day 6 Begin today with a prayer that is simply listening to your “inner voices” – God’s presence with you, the counsel of your forbears, the input of your imagination upon the meanings of a piece of Scripture, the musings of a favorite writer – as you prepare for the actions and encounters in which you will participate throughout the day.
Day 7 At the close of this day, pray a prayer a thanks for the deepening of your relationship with God – “Thou/ Whom I do not know/ But Whose I am.”
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: July 29, 1905, born Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld , in Jonkoping, south‑central Sweden, the fourth son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, Prime Minister of Sweden during the years of World War I, and his wife Agnes, M.C. (b. Almquist); christened and grows up in the Lutheran Church of Sweden; brought up in university town of Uppsala; 1923, enrolls in Uppsala University; 1925, graduates with B.A. degree with honors (major: French history of literature, social philosophy and political economy); 1925-1928, studies economics; 1930, Bachelor of Laws; 1930-1934, works in Stockholm as a secretary of a governmental committee on unemployment and writes his doctoral thesis in economics (“The Spread of the Business Cycle”); 1933, receives doctoral degree, University of Stockholm; made assistant professor in political economy; serves one year as secretary in National Bank of Sweden; appointed to the post of Permanent Under‑Secretary of the Ministry of Finance while also serving as Chairman of the National Ban’s Board (1941‑1948); 1945, appointed adviser to the Cabinet on financial and economic problems; 1947, appointed to the Foreign Office; 1949, appointed Secretary‑General of the Foreign Office; 1951, joins the Cabinet as Minister without portfolio, becoming, in effect, Deputy Foreign Minister; 1951‑1952, Vice‑Chairman of the Swedish Delegation to the Sixth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly in Paris; 1952‑1953, acting Chairman of Sweden’s delegation to the Seventh General Assembly in New York; 1953, unanimously appointed the second Secretary‑General of the United Nations by the General Assembly; 1954, becomes member of the Swedish Academy, elected to take the seat previously held by his father; 1957, reelected unanimously for another term of five years; during his tenure at the U.N . (April 10, 1953 — September 18,1961), responsible for the organization of the first (1955 ) and second (1958) UN international conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy in Geneva, and for planning a UN conference on the application of science and technology for the benefit of the less developed areas of the world; initiates and supervises the transformation of the U.N.’s “Meditation Room;” provides leadership for historic events with regard to the Suez Canal, Lebanon, China, Asia, Africa, Europe; Dec. 16, 1959 ‑ Jan. 31, 1960, visits 21 countries and territories in Africa; honorary degrees from Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Amherst, John Hopkins, University of California, Uppsala College, Ohio University, Carleton College and McGill University; September 18, 1961, dies in plane crash in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) while on a peace mission trip; 1961, posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; 1963, Vägmärken(Markings) is published in Swedish; 1964, Markingsis published in English.
NOTES
2 Dag Hammarskjöld, translated by Leif Sjöberg and W.H. Auden, Markings(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1964), p. v.
3 Ibid., p. 85.
4 http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/dag/meditationroom.htm; see also Roger Lipsey, Hammarskjöld: A Life (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2013).
5 Markings, pp. xvii and xx.
6 Ibid., p. 89.
7 Ibid., p. 214.
FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION
Dag Hammarskjöld, translated by Leif Sjöberg and W.H. Auden, Markings(New York: Alfred A.Knopf, Inc., 1964)
Roger Lipsey, Hammarskjöld: A Life (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2013)
Brian Urquhart, Hammarskjold(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972)
© 2020, Robert Lee Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS – WORD #17 – THE WONDERS OF BASEBALL

Kansas City Royals - June 15 2016
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 #17.]
THE WONDERS OF BASEBALL
“Play ball!” With that sacred call to action Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 altered season will commence this week.
And for many if not most of the game’s enthusiasts, the wonders of “America’s pastime” will dance in our hearts, even if to a radically different rhythm.
The wonders of the game of baseball are multitudinous to me and include the following:
• Baseball is the single most democratic sport of them all, because all kinds of people with all kinds of shapes and weights and heights and physiques can play it.
• Baseball is the most popular sport that isn’t ruled by a clock. In some sense you could say it has the potentiality of timelessness.
• Baseball is, as George Carlin reminded us all, the most gentle and elegant of sports, since you go to a park to see it played on a diamond. It’s a pastoral game played on a field, usually outdoors. It’s always a game of new beginnings suffused with hope, commencing in the spring, the season of new life.
• Baseball is a game sensitive to the weather. If it’s raining, the players come in from the field and the game is delayed.
• Baseball is a game for conversation and relaxation for spectators. There’s never too much going on on the field that will interrupt a good talk with a friend.
• And, as Carlin also reminded us, baseball is a peaceful game in which the objective is to go home and be safe!
Throughout the years I’ve garnered many other wisdoms and insights and much saving knowledge from baseball:
1. I learned a new word from Dizzy Dean, that the past tense of slide is “slud.” As in “Did you see the cloud of dust that pea-picker kicked up when he slud into third?”
2. I learned that one could defy the normal constraints of aging and human physiology, as I beheld Nolan Ryan pitch phenomenally across four decades of competition and Satchel Paige do the same across five decades!
3. I learned how one individual can restore the trust of the American people, like when Babe Ruth virtually saved baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal rocked the credibility of baseball to its core.
4. I learned how one individual could contribute mightily to saving the soul of American, as I discovered how Jackie Robinson=s heroic stoicism withstood the ravages of racist taunting unlike that which any other professional athlete ever faced before or since.
– Bob Hill
[Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015, pp. 157-158.]

MONDAY MEDS – MONDAY MED #17 – WILL CAMPBELL

Will Campbell at his desk (2)
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 #17.]

WILL CAMPBELL

Will Campbell was one of the most powerful witnesses for the Christian faith which the North American scene ever beheld. Born in the deep South, baptized in the backwaters of Mississippi, seasoned in the U.S. Army, educated at a Connecticut seminary, matured in a university chaplaincy, Campbell became arguably the most important white man in the modern civil rights movement.
During tumultuous times in the South, he offered a ministry of daring witness and courageous presence.
Campbell was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and among his closest associates mourning his tragic death on the day of his assassination at the Lorraine Motel.
In Little Rock he provided shepherding for school girls as they sought full educational enfranchisement.
He ministered at the hallowed locales of the civil rights movement – Birmingham and Montgomery and Nashville and Memphis – when the social trajectory of the United States and the souls of its citizenry were being irrevocably transformed.
In a critical moment of great sorrow, he discovered the bedrock reality of his own summary of the gospel: “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.”(1)
In the depths of the Depression Campbell learned from his parents what he calls “the radical faith of Jesus.” Every night in their little frame house in rural Mississippi, his parents would read to their brood of four from the family Bible and say prayers.
Throughout his entire growing-up years in Mississippi, his father would utter the same table grace three times a day, no matter how sumptuous or meager the meal: “O Lord, look down on us with mercy, Pardon and forgive us our sins, Make us thankful for these and all other blessings, We ask for Christ’s sake. Amen.” “Those words made a deep impression on me and I began early to take them to heart. As the words took flesh it was in relationship to other human beings. We lived in one of the most rural and presumably most racist counties in the nation. How then did I grow up to give my entire adult life to the struggle for racial equality and reconciliation? I learned lessons, lessons centered around my father’s table and hearth. Not mandated prayers in Caesar’s schoolroom.”(2)
From his family of origin and his extended family Campbell learned about racial equality and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. In World War II he saw the horrors of war and the deep interior wounds which accompanied soldiers on their return home. In his pilgrimage throughout the South, he struggled for racial equality and reconciliation and was converted in the process to a new awakening about divine grace for his life and for all others.
In 1983, Campbell applied his writing skills to an explication of The Lord’s Prayer as a foundational source of spiritual inspiration for those who say they are following the ways and will of God through Jesus.(3)
Campbell’s counsel and friendship were treasured by a host of ministers, seminarians, lay people, professional musicians, intelligentsia, prisoners, ex-prisoners, in addition to the civil rights luminaries with whom he was on a first-name basis. All of these were members in what he called “The Neighborhood.”(4)
Though he denied the connection, many regarded Campbell as the model for the cartoon character “Rev. Will B. Dunn” in the comic strip Kudzu drawn by Doug Marlette.
All along, perched in a cabin-office nestled on his 35-acre farm in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, Campbell was available for friendly conversation, scriptural commentary, prayerful support, and loads of grace-tinged, hilarity-tinted, and sometimes moonshine-soaked stories. Countless people share a common bond of admiration and affection for “Brother Will.” For them he was sacred kin, the kind of uncle whom you may not see very often but upon whom you know you can always depend for compassion and wisdom. God’s will worked itself out in extraordinary fashion in “God’s Will.”
PRAYING WITH WILL CAMPBELL:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 Recall the nightly practice of Bible readings and prayers by Will Campbell’s family in Mississippi. What are the rituals your family practices? If such a regular routine seems foreign to your sensibilities, can you imagine giving something like a nightly reading and regular prayers a try this week? This night?
Day 2 Pray today by recalling how you learned about justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. Give thanks for those whose teachings and examples are now embodied in your own commitments to justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. Call out their names, one by one, with honoring recognition and gratitude.
Day 3 Pray today by considering your enemies. Choose one enemy in particular and imagine that you and your enemy are seared before the throne of God’s grace. Now recall Campbell’s summary definition of the gospel: “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.” Let whatever emanates from your soul come forth — as an expression of despair, as release from the fatigue of enmity, as a cry for consolation, as an expression of rage. Whatever comes, let it come. And know that you are being held, as your enemy is, in the hollow of God’s gracious hand.
Day 4 Today, pray by reciting The Lord’s Prayer, all the while pondering how this prayer means “God has come on earth.”
Day 5 Pray today by recollecting those on whom you depend for counsel, comfort, and encouragement, those who are part of your “Neighborhood.” Name them one by one and utter the following prayer: “My God, I am blessed, aren’t I! Thank You for Your generous provision.”
Day 6 Remembering the progress that has been attained in civil rights and race relations, give God thanks today by uttering a time-honored prayer by an old preacher of the South: “Dear Lord, we ain’t what we ought to be, and we ain’t what we want to be, but thanks be to Thee, we ain’t what we were.”
Day 7 Despite the tragic circumstances that continue to bedevil God’s children — inadequate education, continuous wars (and the machinations that support their continuance), lack of potable water for one-fourth of the world’s population, ignorance that stands for too much public policy in too many nations, abiding bigotry toward those who are different — offer a prayer of anticipation and hope today, signing off your prayer, as Will Campbell does all of his personal correspondence: “With Hope!”(5)
BIOGRAPHICAL TIMELINE: July 18, 1924, born Will Davis Campbell in Amite County, Mississippi, one of four children, to Lee Webb Campbell and Hancie Ted Parker Campbell; grows up in Liberty, Mississippi; attends Amite County public schools; 1931, joins East Fork Baptist Church and is baptized in Amite River at the age of seven; 1940, preaches first sermon; 1941, ordained at the age of 17 at the East Fork Baptist Church, with the ordination council consisting of his Uncle Luther, his Grandpa Bunt, a cousin, and a country preacher; 1941-1942, attends Louisiana College; 1942, enlists in the Army, serving for three years as a medical corpsman, attaining the rank of sergeant; 1946, marries Brenda Fisher with whom he will have three children (Webb, Bonnie, and Penny); 1946, attends Tulane University; 1949, earns A.B. degree from Wake Forest; 1952, earns B.D. degree from Yale University Divinity School; 1952-1954, serves as a Baptist pastor in Taylor, Louisiana; 1954-1956, serves as Director of Religious Life at the University of Mississippi; forced to leave because of his ardent support of civil rights; 1956-1963, serves as race religious consultant and member of the National Council of Churches field staff; works closely with Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Andrew Young, and Kelly Miller Smith; January 1957, included by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Council at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia; September 1957, escorts black students who integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas; 1961, accompanies and counsels Freedom Riders in Alabama in their efforts to integrate interstate bus travel; 1962, publishes Race and the Renewal of the Church; 1963, his declarations regarding radical equality among the races at the National Conference on Religion and Race in Chicago earns him stern disapprobation by the National Council of Churches; accompanies King and other SCLC leaders in the Birmingham campaign of marches and civil disobedience; 1963-1972, from his home base and farm in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, serves as the only white member of the Committee of Southern Churchmen and as “preacher at large;” with James Holloway, creates Katallagete, a journal of religious opinion and social commentary (which will last until 1990), with contributors like Thomas Merton, Vincent Harding, Daniel Berrigan, Jacques Ellul, Walker Percy, Reinhold Niebuhr, Robert Penn Warren, Christopher Lasch, and John Howard Griffin; creates a ministry to members of the Ku Klux Klan; offers his “backhouse” as a refuge for draft resisters and black dissidents; 1973-1976, establishes Southern Prison Ministry in Nashville, Tennessee; helps to create the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prison, a broad network of compassionate support and legal assistance for death row inmates across the southern United States; preaches, as a “preacher without a pulpit,” whenever and wherever asked; begins ministry to country western musicians in Nashville; 1977, publishes Brother to a Dragonfly (an autobiographical account of the Civil Rights Movement and an elegiac remembrance of his brother Joe), which earns the Lillian Smith Prize, the Christopher Award, and a National Book Award nomination; 1982, publishes his first novel The Glad River, which wins a first-place award from the Friends of American Writers; other works are awarded the Lyndhurst Prize and an Alex Haley Award; 1996, serves as “roadie” and cook for Waylon Jennings’ band on tour through Tennessee and Mississippi; 2000, receives National Endowment for the Humanities medal from President Clinton; Alabama Arts Council releases PBS documentary “God’s Will,” narrated by Ossie Davis; 2002, 25th anniversary edition of Brother to a Dragonfly is released, with a new forward by President Jimmy Carter; May 2011, suffers a stroke and moves to Richland Place Health Center, Nashville, Tennessee; June 3, 2013, dies peacefully at Richland Place, in Nashville, Tennessee, surrounded by family; June 22, 2013, memorial service held at St. Stephen Catholic Community, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee; eulogized by John Egerton; burial in East Fork Cemetery, East Fork, Amite County, Mississippi; September 11, 2015, University of Mississippi names the gathering place near its chapel in Oxford “The Will Davis Campbell Plaza” in honor of his years of service there as Director of Religious Life.
NOTES
1 Will D. Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1977), p. 220.
2 Will D. Campbell, “A Personal Struggle for Soul Freedom,” Christian Ethics Today, Issue No. 4, December 1995.
3 Will D. Campbell, God on Earth: The Lord’s Prayer for Our Time (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1983).
4 See Will D. Campbell, The Glad River (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1982).
5 Personal correspondence.
FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION
Will D. Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1977)
Will D. Campbell, The Glad River (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1982)
Will D. Campbell, God on Earth: The Lord’s Prayer for Our Time (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1983)
© 2020, Bob Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS – WORD #16 – GRACE

Sunset - Lee's Summit, MO - 7-14-2020

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 #16.]

GRACE

Grace is central to the experience of faith. Grace is central, as well, to the experience of a blistering summer. For what but grace can help us endure scorching days and smoldering nights? May we all have grace enough and more to keep cool and calm during record high-temperature days, so that we can still perceive the presence of the holy in the minutiae and the magnificence of our lives. As we bear the burden of the heat, may we take time to receive these graces:

The grace of an old friendship renewed, across time and trouble and geography.

The grace of a poem well-wrought and ennobling to the human spirit.

The twin graces of a beautiful sunrise and a breath-taking sunset. (The sun may not be that much of a friend during the rest of the day, but it still glows with wonder before its heat magnifies. What may be hot to the touch is still a beautiful flame.)

The grace of a plentiful water supply. Even the most calloused international tourist who disdains the intricacies of foreign politics returns home with a new appreciation of the wonder of water.

The grace of an evening trip to your favorite frozen yogurt shop.

The grace of a new-born baby cradled in your arms.

The grace of garden surprises and the daily harvest therefrom.

The grace of retirement pleasures.

The cascading graces of song and art and dance and photography and sculpture and the inner vision to call such creations into being.

The grace of pets you love.

The grace of literacy and doors to unknown worlds which language opens.

The grand graces of the heritage and traditions and worship, all of which help earnest seekers to find God in their midst.

– Bob Hill

(From LOVE ALL WAYS, Caroline Street Press, forthcoming late 2020/early 2021.)

MONDAY MEDS – MONDAY MED #16 – SAMUEL DEWITT PROCTOR

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 #16.]
 
SAMUEL DEWITT PROCTOR
 
Some souls enter space and time with such effervescence and power, with such quintessential distinction and impact that, after their earthly ships have steered toward their final harbors, the wake they leave after they have passed touches shoreline after shoreline with hardly any indication of ceasing. Such a soul was and is Samuel DeWitt Proctor.
 
To review Proctor’s astonishing career is to witness someone with a high purpose in a hurry. A high school graduate at age 15, a college president at age 34, Proctor was always being sought out for his wisdom and wit, his keen intelligence and his spiritual insights. He was twice a college president, thrice a congregational pastor, thrice a professor, and four times engaged in endeavors for social transformation initiated by agencies of the U.S. government.
 
His academic credentials and effectiveness (particularly in the area of improving education for minorities) were surpassed by the “street cred” of his vigilant fight against racism in the arena of civil rights. Countless professionals can trace their ascendance in their chosen fields back to Proctor’s gentle promptings and inspirational proddings. Even greater legions of clergy in black church traditions and leaders in the civil rights movement owe an eternal debt of gratitude to him. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, one of Proctor’s former associate pastors at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, would say on the day of his funeral: “By the thousands, there are people who feel he made the decisive impact in their lives.”(1)
 
As a counselor to U.S. Presidents, an admired colleague among leaders of America’s most prestigious universities, a cherished confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Jesse Jackson, Gardner C. Taylor, and Marion Wright Edelman (among countless others in the long-fought battles for equality and equity in American society), Proctor exhibited a rare fidelity to what one mentee described as “the four arrows in the quiver of his legacy”:
 
(a) intellectual excellence;
 
(b) cultural relevance;
 
(c) spiritual integrity; and
 
(d) social honesty.(2)
 
Esteemed homiletician David Buttrick declared, “The real secret of Sam Proctor is that he is a true ‘gospeller’…. He hands out hope.”(3) Bill Moyers, former political advisor and award-winning journalist, gave this tribute in the year of Proctor’s retirement from his pastorate at Abyssinian Baptist Church: “Like the meal of loaves and fishes, you have nourished the multitude and lived your life as a miracle.”(4) Marian Wright Edelman, founder and CEO and President of the Children’s Defense Fund and Proctor’s dear friend, has said, “His writings and sermons ground[ed] me with his realism and awe[d] me with his infinite optimism and faith. And he never fail[ed] to make me laugh.”(5) And in his eulogy for Proctor, the Rev. Jesse Jackson described how, as a “master teacher,” Proctor “lives through us” and that his chief joy was “making lights come on in minds….”(6)
 
All along his stellar path, others saw Proctor – and Proctor saw himself! – as a bridge-builder, between races, between historical eras, between competing camps of concern.(7)
 
While Proctor conducted the first portions of his life in the midst of the societal degradation of Jim Crow racism, the family he was born into – suffused with great warmth, a love of education, and the understanding that hard work paid off in the end – steeled him well for his journeys as an educator, preacher and parent. The weekly Sunday rituals of food, fellowship, and family gathering, including the Sabbath prayers led by his father at the family dinner table with all six children present, “sufficiently immunized us from the news of the day and kept our world in order.”(8)
 
Proctor’s father Herbert was not only a spiritual exemplar in terms of prayer but a fount of reassurance and grace in response to his son Sam’s pressing questions about life. Proctor remembered that as a young boy he asked his father a question about his identity: “Daddy, how do I know that I am really myself? Am I the only one of me?” His father’s response – indeed all that his father and mother said and did, as well as the entire context of his family and church situation – led Proctor to conclude: “… I was not a statistic, a digit, a shell, a cube, a bundle of tangled instincts and drives; but a thinking, reflecting, remembering, reacting, feeling, analyzing, choosing human being, a unique creation of a loving, eternal, holy God.”(9)
 
Toward the sunset years of his professional career, as he was surmising his “moral odyssey,” Proctor described the basic beliefs of his “central pivot of religious faith”:
 
(A) Planet earth is a good and gracious gift from God’s generous hand. (In other words, this is the best possible world God could fashion for the purposes which God wanted to accomplish.)
 
(B) God grants human beings real freedom and the power to choose. (In other words, human action is not predetermined, and it is better to act as wisely as we can than to wait for other-worldly intervention.)
 
(C) Jesus is the paragon of human possibilities and into his life was invested “all the divine attributes a human being could embrace.” (In other words, Jesus was and is fully human and fully divine.)
 
(D) The kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed is a real possibility. (In other words, God’s reign is more immanent than we can ever imagine.)
 
(E) There is a continuance of spiritual existence after our mortal bodies die. (In other words, beyond debates about heaven and hell, there is a transcendent quality of life which leads to intimate communion with God’s presence.)(10)
 
Despite the accolades that accumulated to him, including 50 honorary degrees, Proctor remained a humble person aware of his mutability and the fragile nature of human life. At the same time, he always experienced God’s never-failing presence. “We are all vessels of clay, derivative, finite creatures, but we are not here alone.”(11) Even as admirers have granted further legendary status to his memory – naming university chairs, a school of theology, a ministerial doctoral program, an annual national institute for child advocacy, and an annual national pastor’s conference in his honor – it is essential to recall the perduring foundation of his faith: “Believing that change is possible causes one to act in harmony with such faith. As you live it out, the unseen evidence begins to appear…. This is the substance of things hoped for. And when faith is operational, strange things happen.”(12)
 
PRAYING WITH SAMUEL DEWITT PROCTOR:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
 
Day 1 Give Thanks for Dr. Proctor – Pray today by giving thanks for Samuel DeWitt Proctor’s unique agglutination of gifts and how he proffered them so generously and caringly in a time and for a people who greatly needed them.
 
Day 2 Family & Congregation – Proctor’s experiences with family and his church communities were enriching all throughout his life. Pray today for blessings to enrich the lives of your family, close and extended. Name three people for whom you care greatly. Pray that they will receive blessings. Pray that the experience of community will enrich the lives of three people whom you do not yet know well but still care for.
 
Day 3 Joshua 1:9 – Recall the verse from Joshua 1:9 – “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – and how the preacher’s sermon on that verse inspired Proctor to move toward a deepening of his faith and the act of baptism. Pray today by listening to God speaking to you and your life through this very verse.
 
Day 4 Giving Thanks for Mentors – Think of the untold numbers of people who were influenced by Proctor’s touch on their lives. Consider those who have touched your life and give thanks today for their healing, empowering, loving , influence on you. Seek God’s guidance about those whom you are now influencing and those whom you are to influence in the future.
 
Day 5 Identity – Pray today by remembering Proctor’s childhood question: “Am I the only one of me?” And then affirm for yourself B and especially for all the children in the world B his conclusion, namely that everyone “is a unique creation of a loving, eternal, holy God.”
 
Day 6 Proctor’s Legacy – Pray today by recollecting “the four arrows in the quiver of [Proctor’s] legacy.” Contemplate which one of the four you need to work on in order to strengthen your own faith journey: (a) intellectual excellence; (b) cultural relevance; (c) spiritual integrity; and (d) social honesty.
 
Day 7 Matthew 25:35ff – For Proctor, the “bottom line” of one’s faith in Jesus should align with Jesus’ “bottom line,” which he found in Jesus’ command to serve “the last of these.”(13) Pray today by asking God how you are measuring up to Jesus’ “bottom line.” Pray for new opportunities to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, shelter those without proper homes, tend to the sick, visit those in prison.
 
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE – July 13, 1921, born, Norfolk, Virginia, second of six children of Herbert Proctor and Velma Gladys Hughes Proctor; grows up in Christian home (at 918 Fremont) with warmth and love and strong emphasis on education and hard work; as a child, attends Congregational Church (in Norfolk) founded by his maternal great-grandfather, Zechariah Hughes; skips 3rd, 5th and 7th grades; attends and joins Bank Street Baptist Church, Norfolk, Virginia, with family, making several professions of faith but is not baptized; 1937, graduates from Booker T. Washington High School at age 15; enrolls in Virginia State College; while attending a local church service in Petersburg, Virginia, hears sermon based on Joshua 1:9 and experiences “something unseen working in me” and is baptized shortly; September 1939, does not return to Virginia State but takes exam for U.S. Naval Apprentice School and goes to work for U.S. Navy as shipfitter apprentice; 1940, experiences calls to ministry and enrolls in Virginia Union College (now University), Richmond, Virginia; 1942, graduates with A.B. in language and literature from Virginia Union; 1944, marries Bessie Louise Tate (from Fredericksburg, Virginia); together they will eventually have four sons (Herbert, Timothy, Samuel, and Steven); 1945, graduates with B.D. degree from Crozier Theological Seminary, Chester, Pennsylvania; accepts fellowship to study ethics at Yale University; begins five-year tenure as pastor of Pond Street Baptist Church, Providence, Rhode Island; 1946, transfers to Boston University’s School of Theology; 1950, graduates with Th.D. from Boston University; joins faculty of Virginia Union; while visiting at Crozer seminary meets young Martin Luther King, Jr., beginning a long friendship; 1951-1953, interim pastor at Gillfield Baptist Church, Petersburg, Virginia; 1953, travels to India and Burma on Behalf of American Baptist Foreign Mission Board as institutions are transferred to indigenous ownership; 1955, becomes president of Virginia Union; 1956, lecturer for Dr. Martin Luther King at the “Spring Lecture Series” at Dexter Ave. Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama; 1958, goes on Baptist preaching mission in Moscow; 1960, after 10-year journey at Virginia Union, becomes President of North Carolina A& T State University, Greensboro, North Carolina, where he begins long friendship with then student body president, Jesse Jackson; January 1962, takes leave of absence to direct first full Peace Corps unit abroad, in Nigeria; September 1, 1963, resumes duties as President of North Carolina A & T State University; March 1964, resigns as President of North Carolina A & T State University to be one of three associate directors for Peace Corps; becomes associate general secretary for National Council of Churches; November 1964, becomes Northeast Regional Director of Office of Economic Opportunity; 1968, writes speeches for Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign; September 1968, accepts invitation to become University Dean for Special Programs at University of Wisconsin in endeavor to increase numbers of minority scientists and professors; March 1969, appointed the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Professor in School of Education at the Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, with full tenure; 1972, succeeds Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., as senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York City, New York, while still maintaining teaching position at Rutgers; January 15, 1978, experiences first heart attack; April 1984, delivers eulogy for Count Basie at Abyssinian Baptist Church; 1989, retires from Abyssinian Baptist Church and Rutgers University; second heart event results in quadruple by-pass surgery; 1990, gives Lyman Beecher Lectures in Preaching at Yale University Divinity School; first class of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Doctoral Fellows graduates from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio; 1990-1991, visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee; 1993, visiting professor at Duke University; 1995, serves as founding Pastor-in-Residence at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry for the Children’s Defense Fund at the Alex Haley Farm, Clinton, Tennessee; 1997, serves as visiting and adjunct professor for United Theological Seminary, Boston University School of Theology and Virginia Union School of Theology; May 21,1997, suffers heart attack at Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa, where he was to lecture; May 22, 1997, dies at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; May 29, 1997, funeral held at Abyssinian Baptist Church, Harlem, New York; School of Theology at Virginia Union is named The Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology in his honor; September 17, 2003, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference founded by Dr. Iva E. Carruthers, Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III and Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. with the focus of conjoining “sound biblical knowledge and committed social advocacy.”
 
NOTES
 
(1) Quoted in Peter Steinfels, “Beliefs,” The New York Times, May 31, 1997.
 
(2) Iva E. Carruthers, Frederick D. Haynes, Jeremiah A. Wright, editors, Blow the Trumpet in Zion!: Global Vision and Action for the Twenty-First-Century Black Church (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), p. 6.
 
(3) See Samuel DeWitt Proctor, “How Shall They Hear?”: Effective Preaching for Vital Faith (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1992), p. 4)
 
(4) Samuel DeWitt Proctor, My Moral Odyssey (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1989), p. 14.
 
(5) Samuel DeWitt Proctor, The Substance of Things Hoped For: A Memoir of African-American Faith (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995), p. xiii.
 
(6) Bob Gore, We’ve Come This Far: The Abyssinian Baptist Church: A Photographic Journal (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2001), pp. 12-16.
 
(7) See Adam L. Bond, The Imposing Preacher: Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Black Public Life (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2013) p. 27, and Proctor, My Moral Odyssey, p. 95.
 
(8) Proctor, My Moral Odyssey, pp. 31-32.
 
(9) Ibid., pp. 19-21.
 
(10) Ibid., see pp. 97-124.
 
(11) Proctor, The Substance of Things Hoped For, p. 241.
 
(12) Ibid., p. 81.
 
(13) See Samuel D. Proctor and William D. Watley, Sermons from the Black Pulpit (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1984) pp. 87-91.
 
FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION
 
Adam L. Bond, The Imposing Preacher: Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Black Public Life(Minneapolis, MN:Fortress, 2013)
 
Iva E. Carruthers, Frederick D. Haynes, Jeremiah A. Wright, editors Blow the Trumpet in Zion!: Global Vision and Action for the Twenty-First-Century Black Church (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005)
 
Samuel DeWitt Proctor, My Moral Odyssey (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1989)
 
Samuel DeWitt Proctor, “How Shall They Hear?”: Effective Preaching for Vital Faith (Valley Forge, PA:Judson Press, 1992)
 
Samuel DeWitt Proctor and William D. Watley, Sermons from the Black Pulpit (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1984)
 
Samuel DeWitt Proctor, The Certain Sound of the Trumpet : Crafting a Sermon of Authority (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1994)
 
Samuel DeWitt Proctor, The Substance of Things Hoped For: A Memoir of African-American Faith (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995)
 
Peter Steinfels, “Beliefs,” The New York Times, May 31, 1997
 
© 2020, Robert Lee Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS – WORD #15 – WORDS OF RESPONSE AT THE END OF THE DAY

Sunset - Kansas - January 2017

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 #15.]

WORDS OF RESPONSE AT THE END OF THE DAY

When the sun arcs to its restful place on the other side of the horizon and darkness comforts us with a blissful forgetting of all conquests and omissions in our daytime hours, when we review the day’s victories and its attainments, its joys and its adventures, its banalities and its sorrows, its hurts and its hoopla, there, at the tail end of the day, there remain so many questions and assessments:

Have I prayed enough today?
Did I serve enough today?
Was I merciful enough today?
Was there laughter enough (for my beloved and for others) today?
Did we get enough glimpses of truth today?
Did I comfort enough today?
Have I shown compassion enough today?

If or when we are bluntly honest with ourselves and respond with clarified souls, of course all of our responses to these and other summary sorts of questions must naturally be “No.” Perhaps, though, in the mere, stark honesty of asking, peace can begin to infuse our hearts and minds, and we then can sleep without anguish and possibly even with soothing, hopeful breathing. And if we can ever say an affirmation of “Yes” to these and other similar kinds of queries, then peace should cover us caringly, like a blanket of consolation, and we then will sleep the sleep of the angels.

This recent meditation has guided me with strength and much grace. Consistently, my answer to the challenging list of questions, as you surely should suspect, is “No.” But, I work toward that rarified moment when I might possibly say, as untold numbers of seekers and strivers have said and continue to say each day, “Yes, Oh Yes.”

I invite you to join me in saying another word, a word of response for those precious gems in our midst who gleam with the wisdom of the ages and shine with great daring and courage. Obviously, the word is “Thanks.”

– Bob Hill

(From LOVE ALL WAYS, Caroline Street Press, forthcoming in 2021.)

MONDAY MEDS – MONDAY MED #15 – FREDERICK BUECHNER

Buechner - A - 2019 (2)

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 #15.]

FREDERICK BUECHNER

For nearly seventy years, Frederick Buechner’s writing and thinking, especially as they pertain to issues of faith and religion, have found a glad resonance among mainstream Protestants, burned out Anglicans, renewal‑focused Catholics, mega‑church evangelicals, emergent church experimenters, orthodoxy adherents and base‑line new‑age seekers.

Buechner’s combination of common sense experience, abiding respect for salt‑of‑the‑earth people, incessant celebration of humor, and sense of the mystical are the reasons the majority of his books is still in print. Sometimes hailed as “America’s C.S. Lewis” or “a latter day G.K. Chesterton,” Buechner really has created his own category.

The rudiments of Buechner’s compelling spirituality include:

* The Sacredness of Ordinary Human Experience

* Constant Affirmation in the Meaningfulness of the Seeming Randomness of Life

* Understanding the Resurrection as the Belief that the Worst Thing is Never the Last Thing

* Understanding Faith as a Search to be Known, Forgiven, and Healed

* Proclaiming that All of Creation, including the Obscene and the Ridiculous, is Redeemable

* Receiving Comedy and Laughter as Blessed, Saving Graces

* Knowing that Doubt and Certainty are Two Sides of Faith’s coin

* A Belief that We Always Do More Than We Know

For Buechner, prayer possesses a universal character. He would echo the adage Carl Jung had inscribed above the entrance to his home and on his tomb: Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. (“Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”) Which doesn’t mean one is not to make an effort. Indeed, like the importunate widow of Luke’s gospel(1), persistent searching holds the best potential for connecting with God.

Being prepared to encounter God – through vitalized expectation and heightened anticipation – can lead to answered prayers. Or, if not answered in the way we want, expectancy can lead to something more important: God’s very presence felt and realized in our midst.

Buechner’s public prayers from his days as school minister at Phillips Exeter are characterized by great reverence toward a transcendent Creator. To reflect this reverence, Buechner consistently opts for his generation’s use of “Thee/Thou” language. His prayers show him to be empathic about human affairs and trusting in God’s radical immanence in the human predicament. Like his writing style – fiction and nonfiction – his prayers can be long but without being long‑winded, urgently earnest but without being boring or morosely entangled in their own rhetoric.

Like many clergy, Buechner uses brief, closing prayers at the conclusion of his sermons. Like his seminary professors did before him, he employs brief opening prayers before beginning a class or church‑related, religious‑oriented lecture.(2)

Buechner would always want religious adherents to be sure to listen to the spaces and the silences between what we say and pray.(3) Listening and speaking are the “inspiration” and “expiration” of prayer.

A key feature of Buechner’s prayers, novels, sermons, indeed his entire adult life, is the belief that the stunningly wondrous, grace‑filled life we each have been given by God trumps all setbacks, mishaps, mistakes, sins, and degradations, if we will but have eyes, ears, hearts, minds, and souls to take in such a gift. When Bob Abernathy interviewed Buechner for PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly in 2006, Buechner quoted the title character from his novel Godric: “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was set next to life would scarcely fill a cup.”(4) This, he said, is what he wants inscribed on his tombstone.

TWO PUBLIC PRAYERS

“Lord, Catch us off guard today. Surprise us with some moment of beauty or pain so that for at least a moment we may be startled into seeing that you are with us here in all your splendor, always and everywhere, barely hidden, beneath, beyond, within this life we breathe….”(5)

“Almighty and everlasting God, Only speak to us that we may hear thee. Then speak to us again and yet again so that when in our hearts we answer thee by saying No, we may at least know well to whom we say it, and what it costs us to say it, and what it costs our brothers, and what it costs thee.”(6)

PRAYING WITH FREDERICK BUECHNER:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 To emphasize the sacredness of everyday life, pray today by first making a list of the events, happenings, people, and places that you are likely to encounter. Now, presuming that God has a hand in all of life, read the list out loud and say the phrase, “O God, You are holy!” after each item.

Day 2 Pray today by simply sitting still and beholding the world. Breathe in, breathe out, listen to the grand overtures of grace God is uttering in your life, see the portrait of love God is revealing all around you.

Day 3 Pray today with a focus on the resurrection, Christ’s, that experienced by others and your own. Recall when you have gone through crucifixion and how you came out on the other side of it. Now say this prayer: “I give You thanks, O God, that the worst thing is never the last thing. Amen.”

Day 4 In your prayers today, give thanks for your favorite writers, who like Buechner, are constantly at the task of rendering in linguistic form something of the splendor and honorableness of the human experience.

Day 5 Do not use words today in your prayers, if you can at all help it. Simply sit quietly for 15 minutes or more, if you can manage it. Listen. Look. Imagine. Ponder. Feel the rhythms of your own pulse, your own breathing. Watch whatever happens before you. Abide.

Day 6 Pray today by using the two public prayers above which are from Buechner’s The Hungering Dark.

Day 7 Pray today by recalling the hopeful declaration by Buechner’s character Godric: “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.” Remember that this is what Buechner wants inscribed on his tombstone. Now ask yourself: “What do I want inscribed on my tombstone?” In one sentence give a summation of your fundamental beliefs about God and humanity and your faith journey. This summation may be a wisdom adage, a portion of Scripture, a remembrance of an insight, or anything else. Now share this summation with the God of your life.

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: July 11, 1926, born Carl Frederick Buechner in New York City, New York, the oldest of two children of Katherine Kuhn and Carl Frederick Buechner, Sr., in a context of family wealth and social status; 1936, father, unlucky in business and personally despairing, commits suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning; family moves to Bermuda; maternal grandparents in Pittsburgh and paternal grandparents in New York provide stability; family spends early teen years in Tryon, North Carolina, where he is perfunctorily baptized in local Episcopal church; 1941, attends Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and decides he want to be a writer; meets poet James Merrill, with whom he will have a lifelong friendship; 1943, graduates from Lawrenceville School; attends Princeton University; 1944‑46, education is interrupted by tour of duty in Army; 1948, graduates from Princeton with B.A. degree; returns to Lawrenceville school to teach in English Department; 1950, publishes first novel, A Long Day’s Dying, which is a best‑seller, with his writing compared to Henry James and Marcel Proust; travels in Europe; 1952, second novel, The Season’s Difference meets with significantly less acclaim; 1953, resigns his teaching position and moves to New York City to be a full‑time writer; begins to go to church, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church; in response to George A. Buttrick’s preaching, has a dramatic experience of conversion “among confession, and tears, and great laughter;” 1954, enters Union Theological Seminary on a Rockefeller Fellowship and studies with teachers James Muilenburg, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Robert McAfee Brown, and John Knox; 1955, takes a sabbatical year to travel; writes third novel The Return of Ansel Gibbs, which receives Rosenthal Award; falls in love with Judith Fredericke Merck; 1956, marries Merck with whom he will have three daughters, Katherine, Dinah, and Sharman; 1958, graduates with Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union; June 1, 1958, ordained  at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church,as an “evangelist”/minister of the Presbyterian Church; 1958‑1960, serves as teacher, school minister, and chair of religion department at Phillips Exeter Academy (John Irving being among his students), in Exeter, New Hampshire; 1960‑1967, school minister, Phillips Exeter Academy; 1966, several of his chapel sermons are collected and published as The Magnificent Defeat; publishes novel The Final Beast; 1967, he and family move to Wind Gap Farm, RUpert, Vermont, as he becomes full‑time writer; 1968, publishes second collection of sermons, The Hungering Dark; 1969, publishes The Alphabet of Grace (William Belden Noble Lectures, Harvard); 1971‑1977, Bebb novels, 1977, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale (Beecher Lectures, Yale); 1982, publishes first installment of his religious autobiography, The Sacred Journey; receives American Academy of Arts and Letters award; archives established at Wheaton College; 1983, publishes second installment of his religious autobiography, Now and Then; 1985, Wheaton College (holder of C.S. Lewis’ literary effects, as well) becomes repository for Buechner’s manuscripts and collected papers; 1991, third installment of religious autobiography, Telling Secrets; 1992, publishes Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner; 1999, publishes fourth installment of religious autobiography, The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found; April 5, 2006, is honored at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., in an event entitled “The Art of The Sermon: a Tribute to Frederick Buechner;” January 28, 2008, Buechner Institute is inaugurated at King College, Bristol, Tennessee; recipient of numerous honorary doctorate degrees; 2014, The Frederick Buechner Center and Princeton Theological Seminary begins offering “Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop;” July 2016, releases Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner; continues to write, with 43 books published thus far, most of which are still in print, and an active presence on Facebook, Twitter; now very sparingly, if ever, offers lectures; he and his wife divide their time between Vermont and Florida.

NOTES

1 Luke 18:1‑5.

2 See Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets (New York: Harper Collins, 1991)

3 Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1992).

4 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, PROFILE: Frederick Buechner, May 5, 2006, Episode no. 936 (http://www.pbs.org/w…/religionandethics/week936/profile.html). See Frederick Buechner, Godric (New York: Atheneum, 1980), p. 96.

5 Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark (New York: The Seabury Press, 1969), pp. 88‑89.6 Ibid, p. 69.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION

Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace (New York: The Seabury Press, 1970)

Frederick Buechner, The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1999)

Frederick Buechner, Godric (New York: Atheneum, 1980).

Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark (New York: The Seabury Press, 1969)

Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1992)

Frederick Buechner, Now and Then (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983)

Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982)

Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)

Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets (New York: Harper Collins, 1991)

Frederick Buechner, The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008)

© 2020, Robert Lee Hill