Uncommon Art for the Common Man

To See, Feel, Touch – Uncommon Art for the Common Man

2018.18-19

The Creative Soul

 

Sculpture is a unique form of art – related to but separate from painting, music, poetry, and writing. Unlike the others, a sculpture is a three dimensional work of art. From its very beginnings, a sculpture was meant to last. Sculpture pieces were created using materials that themselves had passed the test of time – stone and marble, hard metals such as gold and silver, and wood.  Sculptures are usually found in parks, in museums, in open spaces – all places where the average person goes. 

 

Sculpture, like most forms of art, is created with the idea of expressing a view.  A view can be personal, political, religious, historical, or something else.  Ultimately, the sculpture is also intended to evoke a feeling.   Determining the quality of a sculpture is very difficult and is subjective at best. Artists as well as artist styles go in and out of vogue and sculpture is no different.   

 

The very nature of art is to make something never seen before, even if the subject is well-known.  Heads of states and countries are always done in portraiture as well as having thousands of pictures taken.  Some have sculptures done as well, each trying to represent a different side of the individual, presenting the subject in an interesting, usually favorable light.  Some also represent the ethnicity and culture of the artist or reflect a particular style well-liked by the subject.

 

Art has value, both in economic and social terms. A 2002 study demonstrated the economic impact, finding that nonprofit arts organizations generated $134 billion nationwide, including $24.4 billion in tax revenue. The arts not only inform us about the world we live in, but also provide creative and challenging environments.   After all, the concept of museums as a gathering together of civilization’s best and most beautiful things is only a few hundred years old. For most of our history, art was never intended to be displayed in museums, but in more public places. 

 

Art is a form of communication, and the arts express the ideas of society in which they are produced.   Exposure to the arts helps expand our thinking and encourages dialogue and creativity.   Public art is an essential component of creating a vibrant community and nothing adds to the public panorama like sculpture.

 

One of my favorite sculptures is “Rising Cairn” by the artist Celeste Roberge.   “Rising Cairn” is a 4,000 lb. stone sculpture that many interpret to reflect the process of healing from grief.   Roberge says that she didn’t necessarily intend to depict anguish in the piece but doesn’t mind the alternative reading of her work. “I imagine her in the process of rising up from her crouching position…when she is ready,” she explains. “I am not disturbed by individual interpretations of the sculpture because I think it is really wonderful for people to connect with works of art in whatever way is meaningful to them.” 

 

Roberge became intrigued with cairns (piles of stones hikers used to mark trails) after learning about human-shaped inuksuit sculptures created by the Inuit people in the Arctic region. For each site-specific sculpture, Roberge finds each stone herself and places them within the steel cage that holds its shape. “I was hoping the feeling of weight, would [symbolically] be carried in the sculpture itself,” said Roberge in a video by the Portland Museum of Art.

 

A professor at the University of Florida, Roberge suggests that art lovers ought to consider the artist’s original intent too. “If the image has helped some people to find a way of expressing their unspoken feelings, then I think that is beneficial. At the same time, I think viewers should give some thought to the artist’s intentions because the meaning of a work of art can be very complex and multi-layered.” She says her cairn sculptures are tribute to the rugged North Atlantic landscape.  Roberge created the first Rising Cairn in the late 1980s when she was a fellow at Harvard University and creates them on commission today. “Each time, I am surprised that the process is still interesting to me,” she says. “I was just installing a cairn in San Francisco last month and I noted that they are never the same: different place, different light, different stones, different siting in the landscape, different energy.”

 

I think her last sentence is an important thing to remember whenever we critique any art form or piece of creative effort.  Where we are, physically and personally, the light with which we view or hear, the light within our souls or the lack thereof at that particular moment, the energy we feel or do not feel – all of these things affect our response.  It is in sculpture that we are able to see, touch, and even stub our toe on the art form.  Sculpture as an art form helps us rise above our past like cairns, creating markers along the history of humankind in our sculptures as we move forward.

 

With Pen in Hand

With Pen in Hand

2018.09.11

The Creative Soul

 

Today is a day that affected the world seventeen years ago.  The victims were citizens of the world in that they came from over eighty countries.  For those of us in the United States it seemed like a personal attack and yet, it was really an attack on humankind.  The grief still lingers as does the fear.  Writing poetry (or any literary format) can be a great therapeutic tool for such events.

 

In 2009 Richard Alleyne explored this in an article written for “The Telegraph”, a UK publication.  “Putting pen to paper is said to help the brain “regulate emotion” and reduces feelings of anxiety, fear and sadness.  Researchers claim the act of writing about personal experiences has a cathartic effect because it inhibits parts of the brain linked to emotional turmoil, and increases activity in the region to do with self-control.”

 

Now if you are like most of us, you are thinking “I can’t write!”  However, you can because research indicates that the quality of the poetry or prose is of little importance.  In fact, some researchers believe the less descriptive, the better in therapeutic benefits.  Most writers have gone through those periods of self-doubt.  As we saw in last month’s series, the important thing was to keep writing and reading.

 

Dr. Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, outlined his findings regarding the use of writing to ease social fears and phobias at an American Association for the Advancement of Science convention in a lecture called ‘Putting Feelings Into Words’.  He said that expressing yourself in print was “a sort of unintentional emotion regulation”.  “It seems to regulate our distress,” he added. “I don’t think that people sit down in order to regulate their emotions but there is a benefit.   “I think it could play a role in why many people write diaries or write bad lyrics to songs – the kind that should never be played on the radio.”  Dr. Lieberman proved the therapeutic power of writing by scanning the brains of 30 individuals while they described distressing pictures.  He found that the act tended to reduce activity in the amygala, a part of the brain connected with emotion and fear and increased activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the mind’s regulator.

 

Alleyne also reported that in another trial, writing was used in conjunction with exposure therapy for people who had a phobia of spiders.  It was discovered that writing about their fears actually boosted the effect of the therapy compared with people who did not put pen to paper.  “We do think that it has clinical applications,” Dr. Lieberman said.   “People expressing negative emotional responses in words while being exposed gave them greater attenuation (reduction) of fear.”  Dr. Lieberman said that the effect was negated if the writing was too vivid or descriptive because it led to people reliving their trauma. Also, typing was not as good as writing long-hand.

 

Whether journaling thoughts, chronicling the day, attempting poetry or starting a novel, old-fashioned pen and paper has an immense impact on emotional well-being, helping students organize their thoughts and even improve their moods.  Despite being viewed as an old-fashion activity, writing by hand is still considered a valuable skill that has many cognitive benefits both in and out of the classroom.

 

One of the primary benefits from writing by hand is stress relief.  Additionally, writing by hand has been proven to increase brain activity and creativity as well as increase memory and retention.  By using long-hand, one activates certain centers in the brain that involves more senses and motor neurons.  Writing about one’s feelings can improve one’s mood and lead to a greater sense of well-being, sorting out and bring together one’s thoughts as well as prioritizing and viewing one’s fears in a proper perspective.

 

Even writing a thank you note and/or recording reasons to be grateful before bedtime has led to better sleeping in recent studies.  Journaling has been proven to be more than just a simple diary of the day’s events.  It can be a way to organize the day’s events and view them from a less emotional standpoint.  This in turn opens the door for rational and logical movement without fear and a sense of security.

 

Electrical engineer and financier Ganesh S. Nagarsekar has led an interesting path from a chawl in Mumbai to being recruited by J. P. Morgan upon graduation and now by Goldman Sachs.  Writing poetry is integral to the founder of the website ‘On a Platter by GSN’.  Nagarsekar explains:  “For starters it makes you feel great. There is something peaceful and liberating about writing poetry.  A decent vocabulary as well as a clean flow of thought will take you far in life. A good poem demands both.   A poem can be interpreted by different people in entirely different way. This gives you a lot to play with.  They are relatively less time consuming. I can write a few verses in the last five minutes of a boring lecture.  This last point applies to all fields of writing, not just poetry. Sometimes when you are writing on a particular topic, you come to a verse, and by the time you have completed it you have a whole new perspective on the issue.”

 

The owner of the NBA team the Phoenix Suns may seems like an odd proponent for writing poetry but Richard Jaffe firmly believes in it.  Jaffe is first and foremost a businessman.  He was most recently the CEO of the medical technology company Safe Life Corporation.  He also founded Safe Sink Corp, a latex glove manufacturer sold to Kimberly-Clark and Nutri-Foods International, a frozen dessert company sold to Coca-Cola Co.  His first published book of poetry is entitled “Inner Peace and Happiness”.

 

Jaffe spoke about his feeling for poetry in an article published in 2013 on a website run by Americans for the Arts which serves, advances, and leads the network of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain, and support the arts in America.  “We would be wise to celebrate America’s poetry because it’s an art form that does as much—sometimes even more—for the writer as the reader. Poems inspire, educate, and cleanse.  The process of exploring my thoughts and feelings and expressing them in symbolic word images exercises my creativity in a fun way. I think it makes me sharper and, the more I explore the well of my imagination, the faster it fills again.”

 

Jaffe sees these benefits  from writing poetry. 

·         “1. Improves cognitive function. Learning new words (I’m never without a Thesaurus), working out meter (math!), and finding new ways to articulate our thoughts and feelings (communication) are all good for the brain. Want to get smarter? Write poetry! 

·         2. Helps heal emotional pain. Grief is one of the most painful emotions we experience, and it’s also the source of some of the world’s most inspirational poetry. When I have experienced a profound loss, the act of putting my feelings into words or memorializing and paying tribute to those who I lost is extremely cathartic.

·         3. Leads us to greater self-awareness. Most of us don’t have the time or desire to just sit and aimlessly ponder the meaning of our lives or what makes us deeply happy. Writing poetry gives us a constructive way to do that. Not only does it help us explore and gain insight, we have something to show for all that “inner reflection” when we’re done.

·         4. Provides a gift of inspiration or education to others. One thing we know—we are not alone! Universal questions, fears, and emotions are called ‘universal’ because everyone, no matter what country or culture they’re raised in, experiences them. Once we’ve done the work of exploring and finding our own answers, we can help others by sharing them. I like to share my poem ‘Eternal Happiness’ because it describes what I’ve found to be the source of my own eternal happiness.

·         5. Helps us celebrate! For some things, balloons and cake just don’t suffice. Proposing to my wife, the births of my children, their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, falling in love—these were among the most emotionally powerful, joyful times of my life. Thanks to the poems I wrote at the time to capture those feelings, I can experience them again and again.”

 

I once passed by a sign at a Mexican restaurant while stuck in traffic.  Sitting there staring at the sign while counting to ten twenty times to reduce my stress level, I realized the sign was advertising a contest.  “write a limerick and win fifty chalupas!” the sign read.  To be honest, the sign actually read “Quintilla Comica! Enscribe un Limerick y gana cincuenta chalupas!”  Fortunately, beneath it was the English translation: “Write a limerick and win fifty chalupas!”  All day I wondered what a chalupa was and as I drove home, again getting stuck in the construction zone back up, began composing a few limericks just for fun and again, stress relief, in my head.  The next afternoon I wrote one down on paper and picked up a couple of tacos at this restaurant for supper, submitting my limerick at the same time.  A week later I drove by the restaurant and to my surprise, saw my name on the marquee.  I had won the contest and happily I discovered I loved chalupas!  Carve out a few minutes for yourself today or before bedtime and put pen in hand.  It not only will benefit your brain but also your mental and emotional health and maybe even your taste buds!

 

 

 

 

 

River Jordan

River Jordan

2018.08.12

Literature and Life

 

The Jordan River, also known as the River Jordan, is a river in southwestern Asia, in the Middle East region. It lies in a structural depression and has the lowest elevation of any river in the world.  Flowing southward from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, the Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea.  The Jordan River’s geology and climate have contributed to its role in history as a political boundary and in biblical history writing as a site of community formation.

 

I’ve told this story before but in writing about one of my favorite authors, I must tell it again.  The first paragraph was not unknown to me so imagine my surprise when I see River Jordan on the spine of a book incorrectly shelved in the general reference, religious, philosophy and psychology sections of a local library.  Clever marketing, I thought; a bit too clever, in fact.  To pretend a religious or philosophical author’s name was the same as a well-known religious landmark was really rather trite.  I was in a hurry, however, so instead of taking the time to read the back cover ir inside flap of the book, I added it to my pile and proceeded to the self-checkout.

 

Later the next day I looked at the book I had no intention of reading and realized two things.  First, it was a book on prayer, a subject near and dear to me.  Secondly, the author’s name really was River Jordan.  River Jordan began her writing career as a playwright where her original works were produced, including “Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek”, ‘Soul, Rhythm and Blues”, and “Virga”.  Her first novel, “The Gin Girl” (Livingston Press, 2003), garnered high praise as “This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath.” Kirkus Reviews described her second novel, “The Messenger of Magnolia Street”, as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” It was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as “a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.” Her third novel, “Saints In Limbo”, has been painted by some of the finest fiction voices of today as “a lyrical and relentlessly beautiful book,” and “a wise, funny, joyful and deadly serious book, written with a poet’s multilayered sense of metaphor and meter and a page-turning sense of urgency,” and reported by Paste Magazine as “a southern gothic masterpiece.”   Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, was published on September 7, 2010.

 

It was her first non-fiction work, “Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit” that I had picked up.  It was published in 2011 and was a book that was happenstance and one River Jordan never intended to ever write.  This acclaimed author teaches and speaks around the country on “The Power of Story”, and produces and hosts the radio show Clearstory Radio from Nashville.   She can often be found traveling the back roads of America with her husband and their Great Pyrenees lap dog. 

 

I felt a bit ashamed I had doubted her name (and yes, it really is her name) and was surprised that she lived less than two hours from me and had the same breed of dog that I did.  We also had one other thing in common – we both had sons in the military of this country.  Hers had been deployed to a war zone about the time mine returned from the same area.  Her non-fiction book begins with the week before her son was to leave and the feelings she described I knew all too well.  However, she had very little acquaintance with praying for strangers while I had spent the past eight years doing just that.  Still, I felt compelled to read the book, more a diary than a novel or autobiography.

 

E. M. Bounds describes prayer as “power and strength, a power and strength that influences God, and is most salutary, widespread, and marvelous in its gracious benefits to man. Prayer influences God. The ability of God to do for man is the measure of the possibility of prayer.”  We tend to overlook what prayer does for the person doing the praying, though.  River Jordan addresses both in this book as she embarks upon her journey as the parent of a child walking into war.

 

There are many different types of wars we face, especially as parents.  First it is colic, then perhaps first day of school anxiety.  Regrettably, some parents must face their child having a life-threatening illness or developing an unhealthy addiction.  Sometimes it is peer pressure that creates the war zone with destructive behaviors or ill-planned escapes becoming the enemy.  Long before our children are of an age to defend their country, we as parents have faced many battles.  Every person confronts life’s issues but it seems to be most difficult when it is our children doing so once they have “grown up”.  The concerns and fears of our hearts grow also and never are diminished in spite of how accomplished we may believe our children to be.

 

River Jordan has an encounter with a stranger, recognizing the pain of another similar to her own and offers to pray for this person.  To be certain she knows saying those words will not instantly change anything.  They are not a magic chant.  She is somewhat surprised, though, to see the calm they seem to give this stranger.  Within a few days, another incident occurs and again, she sees the power that offering to pray for a stranger can create.

 

It is very seldom – okay, never – that I will claim an author as one of my favorites when I have only read one book by said author, especially if said book is diametrically opposed to the rest of the volume of their writings.  And yet, it is that very fact that made me claim River Jordan as a favorite.  I have given this book to others, had a book club read it, shared it on this blog in years past, and still at least once a year reread it.  I could not leave her out of any list of influential writers.

 

Trying to get River Jordan to pin down a favorite writer, though, is difficult.  “Honey, I was raised by the tribe of Eeyore. I can worry about anything and everything….I want to read something that sets my soul on fire. I want to read words that tell me what it was to have been human and to set my feet on this planet for even just a little while. I want to carry some truth away about this life that I didn’t recognize before. To connect to another person’s life in the process. To cry, fight, laugh, love, and live more passionately than when I first turned that page.  I want the story to carry me somewhere wonderful whether it’s South America, or a riverboat, or even if it’s only a backyard on a summer night. And it doesn’t matter if it’s wonderful contemporary voices southern and otherwise, or the older voices of Mark Twain, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Conner, Harper Lee – the list goes on into eternity. Just give me that great story. Carry me away. The words can be soft or sharp, biting or butter, I just want the passion of the writer to be so intense that the words are like a white, hot light on the page.”

 

River Jordan has stated that “it is her deep belief that through our stories we discover the truth of our common ground and are able to celebrate our humanity, working together toward living at our highest potential.”  I hope you read “Praying with Strangers” but more importantly, I just you read.  By the way, River Jordan’s latest book, “Confessions of An American Mystic, Stories of Faith and Fiction” ( Jericho Books, Hachette) will arrive later this year.  Literature and life continue to reflect one another.

 

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

2018.08.08

Literature and Life

 

“I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.”  This was not an easy lesson for Marguerite Annie Johnson to learn.  A child raised in part by her grandmother, raped by a boyfriend of her mother’s, she was traumatically mute for five years.  Her brother called her “Mya sister”, and that was the basis for her pen name “Maya”.  Angelou credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors who would affect her life and career, as well as black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.

 

Maya Angelou would be a dancer, a singer, and San Francisco’s first black female street car driver before settling in as the noted and acclaimed author that we know and love today.  She would go on to become only the second poet (and first black female) ever to read at a presidential inauguration.  When Maya Angelou wrote and recited “On the Pulse of Morning”, she was already well known as a writer and poet. She had written five of the seven of her series of autobiographies, including the first and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  African-American literature scholar Mary Jane Lupton describes the poem:  “On the Pulse of Morning” is an autobiographical poem, one that emerges from her conflicts as an American; her experiences as traveler; her achievements in public speaking and acting; and her wisdom, gleaned from years of self-exploration”.  Angelou herself considered the poem good but not great. 

 

“On the Pulse of Morning” was full of contemporary references, including toxic waste and pollution. Angelou’s poem was influenced by the African-American oral tradition of spirituals, by poets such as James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, and by modern African poets and folk artists such as Kwesi Brew and Efua Sutherland, which also influenced her autobiographies.  Si it might surprise you that Angelou held that her favorite author was the one that most influenced her as a child – Louise May Alcott.  “When I read Alcott, I knew that these girls she was talking about were all white.  But they were nice girls and I understood them.  I felt like I was almost there with them in their living room and their kitchen.”

 

The BBC had an article regarding Maya Angelou and I think it illustrates the impact an author can have.  The article listed fourteen people that were influenced by Angelou.  “American icon Maya Angelou was a celebrated writer, poet, activist, singer, actress and speaker. During her long and varied career she worked as a journalist in Africa, toured the world as an opera singer, authored the international bestseller I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, worked alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and recited one of her poems at a US presidential inauguration. But more than that, Maya’s life, work and wisdom inspired some of today’s most famous names to achieve great things too.”  Those listed included Nelson Mandela, Tupac Shakur, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Bill Clinton (at whose presidential election she spoke), Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Barack Obama, Rochard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock.

 

“She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace”, Oprah Winfrey once said of Maya Angelou.  Controversy did follow Maya Angelou but nothing illustrates the unifying goals of her writing more than these remarks from President Barack Obama.  Although Angelou supported Hillary Clinton in the race to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2008, she became a strong advocate for Obama during his time as US President. He awarded Angelou the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. When she died, Obama described her as an inspiration to all Americans. “A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking,” he said, “but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.” 

 

Inspired by the writing of a girl from another time and of a different race, Maya Angelou herself overcame the unimaginably horrible to do unimaginably great things.  She herself said quite simply:  “We are more alike than unalike.”  Hear her reading her poem “On the Pulse of Morning”:  https://youtu.be/59xGmHzxtZ4

A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

2018.07.15

Pentecost 2018

 

We often think of “separation of church and state” as a means of keeping politics and religion separate.  Recently in India it has become a way of one faction’s campaign of lies being used to usurp power and gain control.  West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted on Thursday, July 12th, that the religious order founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta – more popularly known simply as Mother Teresa – is being targeted by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is affiliated with a Hindu nationalist group.  Although the state government is run by the BJP, the state has a large proportion of India’s marginalized tribal people, who exist outside of Hinduism’s traditional caste system, and many of them have become Christian as the Christian church has done much to improve their quality of live, standard of living, and educational opportunities.  Jharkhand has a Christian population double the national average.  The BJP has even gone so far as to accuse nuns of the Missions of Charity of illegal and wrong doing.

 

Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born August 26, 1910 was an Albanian-Indian descent in Skopje (now the capital of Macedonia), then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman.   After belonging to many different empires throughout history, Skopje today is the capital of an independent Madeconia.  After living in Macedonia for eighteen years Anjezë, then anme’s English equivalent being Agnes, moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life.

 

The youngest child in her family, Agnes’ father died when she was eight years old.  He had been involved in local politics but the young girl was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal.   She decided by age 12 that she should commit herself to religious life and this resolve strengthened in 1928 at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice, where she often went on pilgrimage.

 

Agnes left home in 1928 at age 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English with the view of becoming a missionary. She never saw her mother or her sister again.  She arrived in India in 1929and began her novitiate in Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas.   She learned Bengali and taught at St. Teresa’s School near her convent.   Teresa took her first religious vows on 24 May 1931. She chose to be named after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries, opting for its Spanish spelling (Teresa).

 

On 10 September 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as “the call within the call” when she travelled by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”  Joseph Langford later wrote, “Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa.”

 

Teresa wrote in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulty. With no income, she begged for food and supplies and experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months: “Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. “You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again”, the Tempter kept on saying … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.”

 

Teresa received permission to start her order from the Vatican in 1950.  In her words, it would care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”.[43] By 1997 the 13-member Calcutta congregation had grown to more than 4,000 sisters who managed orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centres worldwide, caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless and victims of floods, epidemics and famine.[44]

In 1952, Teresa opened her first hospice with help from Calcutta officials. She converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, free for the poor, and renamed it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday). Those brought to the home received medical attention and the opportunity to die with dignity in accordance with their faith: Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received extreme unction. “A beautiful death”, Teresa said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”

 

She opened a hospice for those with leprosy, calling it Shanti Nagar (City of Peace).  The Missionaries of Charity established leprosy-outreach clinics throughout Calcutta, providing medication, dressings and food. The Missionaries of Charity took in an increasing number of homeless children; in 1955 Teresa opened Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and homeless youth.

The congregation began to attract recruits and donations, and by the 1960s it had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses throughout India. Teresa then expanded the congregation abroad, opening a house in Venezuela in 1965 with five sisters.  Houses followed in Italy (Rome), Tanzania and Austria in 1968, and during the 1970s the congregation opened houses and foundations in the United States and dozens of countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.

 

The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976.  Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. Responding to requests by many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa founded the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests and (with priest Joseph Langford) the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in 1984 to combine the vocational aims of the Missionaries of Charity with the resources of the priesthood. By 2007 the Missionaries of Charity numbered about 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries.  In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front-line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas.

 

A friend of mine from India told me of meeting Mother Teresa as a boy of eight years.  His class was on a school trip to one of the orphanages for which they had donated goods.  At one point during the tour, he said, he heard someone approach him from behind.  He thought it another student since the person was not much taller than he.  “I felt a hand on each shoulder,” he said “realized the strength and weight of those hands.  I thought surely it must be a giant because they were so strong.  I dared no move or squirm.  Suddenly a sweet voice spoke and I turned.”  Mother Teresa was standing with her hands on my young friend’s shoulders. It was over thirty-five years later that he told me this story and still, he assured me, he could feel the imprint of her hands on his shoulders.

 

Mother Teresa resigned as head of the Missionaries of Charity on March 13, 1997 due to her failing health and died on September 5th of the same year.  At the time of her death, the Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters and an associated brotherhood of 300 members operating 610 missions in 123 countries.  Teresa once said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” According to former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, “She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world.”

 

In the 19 years since Mother Teresa’s death, the Missionaries of Charity have not only grown in faith and service, but in numbers around the world.  Teresa of Calcutta once described the reason for her being to accomplish what she did:  “My secret…I pray!”

Fairy Tale Come True – A Royal Wedding

Fairy Tale Come True – a Royal Wedding

Pentecost 2018

 

I took a delightful sabbatical and discovered a renewed need to connect my faith and my living.  The past thirty-odd days without a blog post have reflected nothing new in the world.  Children are still going to school hoping to learn and instead have to run, literally, for their lives.  It is with a heightened sense of hope that I await tomorrow and the Feast of Pentecost.  I pray it brings us an improved sense of living the faith we purport to hold dear.

 

Today a fairy tale came true, fitting that it occurred on the eve of Pentecost.  One commentator this morning stated that no one would have ever written the script of the wedding of Harry and Meaghan Sussex – the new Duke and Duchess formerly known as Prince Harry and Meaghan Markel.  Yet, this is the time when the spirits make dreams happen.

 

The season of Pentecost celebrates the time when Christian believers received the spirit of their deity.  The mythologies of the world celebrate the spirits of one’s beliefs.  The world fate often is used as one’s destiny but in truth, the word comes from the Latin “fatum” a form of the verb “fari” which meant to speak.  Thus one’s fate was something spoken, a decision.  It became a word that ultimately meant one’s destiny since what one said reflected what one believed and how one lived.  The spirits that help influence this were known collectively as the Fates, much like the Greek Moirai, a group of spirits who determined the course and end of one’s life.

 

We tend to think of mythological creatures as being larger than life; most deities are as well.  After all, we want those spirits that can affect the history of mankind to do so with great fanfare.  We think of miracles as large “Hollywood-style” productions.  While the focuses of some spiritual beliefs are calmer, even their main characters possess great power and knowledge.

 

In 1691, a Scottish minister named Robert Kirk put pen to paper to tell of a different type of mythological creature.  His characters were not new and had been a part of Celtic folklore and myths forever.  Once depicted as being quite tall, by the time Robert Kirk wrote of them, their size had been greatly reduced.  “These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (like those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the subtlety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.”

 

The word” faeries” has an often disputed etymology and the faeries we see pictures in children’s books are a relatively new version.   Their origins are a melting of various elements of mythologies and folklore from different parts of the world.  Many believe they were originally minor goddesses, spirits of nature who took their revenge upon mankind when the natural world was mistreated.  Thus the term faerie has been used to indicate trolls, goblins, gnomes, or ethereal spirits.  They are sometimes called wee folk, good folk, people of peace, or the Welsh “tylwyth teg which translates as “fair folk”.

 

Celtic faeries are said to live in nature, often hiding, and are portrayed as a diminutive race driven into caves and underground by invaders.  These enchanted creatures either protected the good people or could extract revenge upon the evil.  In western parts of Europe ancient mythologies described faeries as personified aspects of nature, similar to the ancient gods and goddesses who had their origins in personified elements of life and questions about it.

 

The advent of Christianity in the first century ACE had no room for such mythological creatures as faeries.  The Irish banshee and Scottish “bean shith” were referred to as a ghost, a woman who lived underground.  There was no room in the Abrahamic faiths for such creatures.  Their angels might seem like faeries but they were divine creatures, not creatures of nature.  While medieval England portrayed faeries as both helper and hindrance, Victorian England explained mythological creatures as aspects of nature and faeries as metaphors for the night sky and stars.

 

Faeries are also found in ancient Greek mythology and are closely aligned to the Greek word “daimon” which means Spirit.  The nymphs the classical poet Homer wrote about in his works “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” could be considered faeries.  The Roman penates, lares, and genii from Roman mythology were also faery creatures.  It is easy to see how the word “daimon” came to mean evil faeries known as demons.

 

I think the real benefit of our mythological spirits and stories is found in the Victorian definitions of them.  A metaphor is a figure of speech in which something is compared to another thing, both things being very different.  One example is: “The road was a ribbon of moonlight.”  Victorian England sought to justify the telling of these stories without compromising one’s religion. They became metaphors, much like the stories found in the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths.  The difference was that religious stories were held to be true while myths were considered fables of the imagination.

 

The real test of validity lies in the spirit of the believer.  In 1891 W.B. Yeats wrote:  “Do you think the Irish peasant would be so full of poetry if he had not his fairies? Do you think the peasant girls of Donegal, when they are going to service inland, would kneel down as they do and kiss the sea with their lips if both sea and land were not made lovable to them by beautiful legends and wild sad stories? Do you think the old men would take life so cheerily and mutter their proverb, ‘The lake is not burdened by its swan, the steed by its bridle, or a man by the soul that is in him,’ if the multitude of spirits were not near them?”

 

The legends and myths of the world give us a better understanding of both the world and mankind.  Like the word fate, they speak of what we believe, how we live, and ultimately how we will die.  Whether you consider something folklore, mythology, or doctrine, the spirits in which we believe shape our lives.  “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.”  Those words from the classic “Beowulf” are an example of the importance fate has been given by mankind.  For many, fate is an inescapable shadow.  For others, fate is merely the road upon which we travel, neither threatening nor constrictive.

 

The characters of the myths of man are really metaphors and if we take heed, they can assist us in our living.  We might not live on the top of Mount Olympus but we can make every abode our own palace and live our own beliefs.  Small children delight in the stories of faeries and often have a favorite.  Such differences in their likes and dislikes are seen as individual, not threatening.  Yet as adults, we often see the differences in beliefs as fearful.  Hopefully one day we can truly learn from such myths and create our own fate, a road of success for all built upon a foundation of respect and reverence for all life.

 

As William Ernest Henley wrote in his “Echoes of Life and Death”: “It matters not how strait the gate; How charged with punishments the scroll.  I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex have already established themselves as believers in the future.  May we also come to share their faith and live with strength.  May our faith and our lives be wedded.  We too can make a difference.
 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reality of Being

The Reality of Being

April 14-15, 2018

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  Three years ago Nepal suffered a terrible earthquake.  About that same time Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people protested this.  They were good people with no motive for malice but they really did not like the streamer inviting them to help others.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here was that one should let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors closer to home.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.  Do these Face Book subscribers donate to these groups within their own countries?  No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.  The reality is that there is always a need for which we could render aid.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, another was worn outside and holes appeared, etc. 

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least two children, now adults, still imagine at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures sold at a charitable auction.

 

Mankind is real.  We have problems but we also solutions if we have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing it.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  This weekend I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see the worth of that other person but also your own value.  We are real.  We all matter.  Our lives have purpose and meaning.