Yesterday We Grieved

We may in fact be biologically wired to need to respond [to tragedies such as mass shootings] in some way, as a byproduct of our need to understand how someone could do something so horrible. http://goo.gl/Ptocvv

Sunrise-on-mississippi

First the Quiet, Then the Dawn

Creator, speak to us of life, and may your
voice be stronger than the noise of our
confusion. Shout, if shout you must, so
loudly that we can’t mistake your
teaching for the rolling thunder,
blasting guns, or animals stampeding,
panicked, running reasonless except to
separate their heaving bodies from the
pandemonium behind them. May we
turn to you and hear an utterance of
life so clear it slices through the clutter
of the evening news, the arguments, the
blame, the words of fear, the hate, the
litany of retribution.

God of Earth and Heaven, we have
seen too much of death. Now we are
ready; we would hear you: Tell us
where to find this life, however near or
far away. Direct us to the distant
forest or the unkempt field where
living seeds—so generously sown yet
carelessly received, so easily displaced by
clumsy feet, so poorly tended, long
neglected, overcome by brash,
aggressive weeds unchecked—have
taken root and thrived in spite of
lassitude, unkindness, or abandonment.

The rain, it seems, is overdue and ends
too soon; the sky too pale, the sun
irresolute or vicious, alternating days;
the earth depleted, soil once dark and
rich with nourishment now turned to
dust. The gardens that in seasons past
have flourished now send up weak,
scattered seedlings, delicate, bug-ridden,
subject to disease and rot.

And then come summer storms that even
oaks and beeches and the hardiest of
shrubs succumb to. How we long for
spring, remembering warm afternoons
and honeybees, industriously pollinating
cherry trees and making golden honey
thick with sweetness. How, we wonder,
did the yield go tough and bitter? What
now shall we eat for strength and
courage, nature having turned against
us, poisoning the harvest, if indeed a
stalk remains for reaping?

Creator, we were not expecting such an
answer as the one alighting like a
feather on a puff of wind… not even
certain you had heard us… not
anticipating anything like peace or
purpose… just a tiny dose of courage,
strength enough for one more midnight.
First the quiet, then the early dawn;
eyes to discern wheat ripe for cutting,
grapes plump on the vine; ears to hear
wagon wheels turning and the soft tread
of workers who appear as the sun clears the
far hills, ready to haul away decaying
branches and dry leaves and bring in the
crop that bursts with life beneath.
Yesterday was meant for sorrow. Now
you call us to the season and the
work at hand—to serve the hungry,
heal the hurting, carry comfort to the
shocked and grieving, stunned by
unimaginable loss. The time for
feasting will be soon enough. Come,
labor on.

Amen.

fruit-harvest

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The Attributes of God

I pray that I am sufficiently stirred
by the rumor of great things
to seek the God who created this
single thread that I am, and to marvel
at a vision magnificent enough to cause
this God to weave from
this single thread
a tapestry most
resplendent. *

Love Beads

 The Attributes of God

Spirit who dwells within,
Sovereign who reigns above,
Creator of all that is, whose name is love;
Healer of our blindness to the truth
of our own luminous well-being;
Gentle mother, steadfast father,
Strong defender and provider,
Source of energy and power;
Substance of the loyalty, devotion,
orderly activity, cooperation, and
encouragement that draw us home
to family and hearth and altar:
security and safety, discipline;
commitment, perseverance;
noble work; shared purposes;
illumination, elegance, and comfort;
warmth and hearty sustenance;
friendship, hospitality, compassion;
ease and unconstraint and laughter;
peace and innocence and honesty;
devotion, silence; passion, tenderness;
respect and solace;
Weaver of the fibers of community and
fellowship;
Heart of celebration, rhythm of rejoicing;
Inspiration for the dance, for music, poetry,
for every form of artistry;
All that is rational, spontaneous, intuitive,
and wise;
All that is generous and sensible, benevolent,
responsible;
These are your attributes; they are the nutrients
we need for life and growth;
They are the woven strands the poet speaks of:
Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry
in which every thread is guided by an unspeakable
tender hand, placed beside another thread and
held and carried by a hundred others.**

 * Craig D. Lounsbrough
** Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Tapestry with the Arms of the Giovio Family-detail

Tapestry with the arms of the Giovio family (detail) with the Giovio arms and family motto in Latin: “Wisdom is weaker than fate.”

1543-1552, probably commissioned for the Palazzo Giovio in Como
Southern Netherlands (Belgium), Bruges
Woven in wool and silk on wool warp

This long tapestry with three medallions surrounded with garlands bears the arms and motto of Giovio of Como on a mille-fleurs ground, enlivened with a variety of birds and animals. It is the finest example of its kind known. It was presumably intended to hang above wainscotting. Paolo Giovio was bishop of Nocera, but his motto, Fato prudentia minor’(wisdom is weaker than faith) is more Humanist than Christian.

Collection ID: 256-1895

This photo was taken as part of Britain Loves Wikipedia in February 2010 by David Jackson.

 

 

 

Evening Prayer

nocturnal-cat-wall321-dot-com

TIME AFTER TIME

Divine Protector, when the old clock’s minute hand
moves step by step toward evening, tick by tick to measure
something science claims is nonexistent—time, a concept only,
humankind’s invention;

…when the shadows lengthen and the daylight dims, the darkness
thickens and the denizens of night come out of hiding, mischief-
making elves and pixies, predators becoming bold, their timid prey
uneasy, skittering across the open places to their subterranean
retreats;

…when flying insects play a game of chicken ’round a sizzling lamp
and hunters prowl the desert, lone coyotes or a noisy pack of them,
whose triumphs are announced as if by lunatic night watchmen;

Our spirits seek your comfort then, and your protection and your
teaching. Ancient stories of the night endure across millennia; their
histories whose seeds were planted in the distant past still feed and
stimulate imaginations. Storytellers out of time have demonized the
wee hours, never mind that they arrive on schedule, never mind
that night has seasons independent of the solstice and the equinox.
For reasons of its own, night lets the lonely lay their isolation at its
door; the hopeless wrap it ‘round their flimsy frames—cold comfort
but a form of solace nonetheless. The slenderer the moon, the more
secure are the immortalized adventurers and mystics, daughters of
the sky, and those who streak in seconds to the edges of the cosmos
while we ordinary creatures merely seek oblivion—but we are given
dreams and shown the convocation of the galaxies. We hear the
music in the stratosphere’s deceptive stillness, and we watch the
dancers and the acrobats whose gleeful choreography—their
romping, gliding, flying past a billion planets in a single leap—defines
our aspirations and the freedom we possess if we would seize it
even once.

Divine Beloved, send us angels who can steer the ship that sails at
moonrise, navigating seas now smooth, now agitated, now
mysterious where ghosts and phantasms abide.

Guardian angels, spirit guides, beloved saints and bygone mentors,
teach us secrets inaccessible to sight; show us the treasures and the
perils human eyes are blind to. Be a lantern in the dark night of the
soul, when mortal bonds are unavailing.

Custodians of our repose, when we uneasily succumb to sleep,
support us, soul and body. On our own, we battle gravity until
exhaustion overtakes the sturdiest intention and we drift into the
ocean. By your watchfulness and with your strength we rise to
altitudes our own wings are unequal to, heights tantamount to bliss,
and we experience a gentle floating on a peaceful thought; we are
receptive to the wisdom that is taught only in dreams. We put aside
anxiety and fill the space with gratitude for blessings in abundance,
evidence of love and messages of grace; and as we do, we feel the
muscles’ loosening; the joints relax, the chest expands. A warm
sensation, liquid light scooped from the sun’s last pouring-out,
surrounds and fills us to the marrow till our very cells are saturated.
Thus the cleansing and the healing can begin, and the reunion with
Divinity (as if there ever were or could be separation). Thus it is that
we behold each other truly, innocent and new. Thus are we daily
born again.

Amen.

san_juan_de_la_cruz

St. John of the Cross, 16th-century Carmelite brother, Spanish poet and mystic, wrote “The Dark Night of the Soul” in 1578 or 1579. 

 

 

 

Today I Didn’t Break My Arm

 

Window, tulips in vase, white lace curtains

…at the bed-and-breakfast…

Dear God,

Today I didn’t break my arm

nor did I rupture my appendix.

I got up at six a.m.

and probably will go to bed

before eleven, certainly

by midnight, at the latest.

 

I read a book—a hundred pages.

I had supper with a friend.

I didn’t grumble very much

about the pang of emptiness

I feel at times when I come home

and here I am—alone again.

Tomorrow I shall grumble less.

 

I didn’t lie. I didn’t cheat.

I didn’t steal. I did my bit

for peace. I wish I had a dog—

but that’s a problem I can fix.

There’s glass on all my windows

and a carpet on my floor.

I have a clean and pleasant kitchen

and some dishes in the cupboard.

There are those who’d miss me if I didn’t

call them every week or two.

I care about them, so I do.

 

It rained this afternoon, a pleasant

interlude before the heat.

There’s food in the refrigerator,

shoes for both my feet; and there

are blankets on the bed. And if

there isn’t money in the bank,

I’m thankful for the stuff I bought

instead.

 

Tomorrow I’ll have company.

It’s Mrs. Beaman’s day to clean,

pick up a bag of groceries,

and wash the towels and the sheets.

I’ll have an opportunity

to write a letter to a friend

who’s happy when she hears from me

but understands my tendency

to undertake too many things.

 

I have my health, and never take

such things for granted any more.

I’ve no excuses to complain

and every cause to celebrate

the sunshine, and the April storm.

 

Thank you for another day,

dear God, and let the people say:

Amen.

 

Make Me a Lantern

Loi-Krathong-Lantern-Festival-Thailand

O God, make me a lantern; may I be a light and not a shroud.
Give me a song that I might sing your Holy Name out loud,
a song of praise so clear, so crystalline, so bright with joy,
the mountains sing it to the valleys and the rivers to the sea.
O God, fill me this very day with merriment and laughter,
and may everywhere I go be better for my having been there.
Lift the heaviness from me that falls in layers, imperceptibly,
until the weight immobilizes me. Divine Beloved, set me
free from demons hiding in the bogs and caverns of my
history. Release me from this solid-seeming melancholy.
Let it rise like morning mist that settles in the river valleys
and at sunrise dissipates and drifts away upon the wind.

Father-Mother, send your angels here to keep my lantern clear
and clean. The fuel is pure. It is your sacred energy. The flame
is bright, but, God, the night is long, and in the lonely hour
before the first and bravest ray of dawn appears, I fear that
morning will forget to come, the sun will fail to rise, and if it
does, when people venture forth to go about their lives, I am
too small and insignificant to be observed amid the throng.
Then may your angels carry me upon their wings to where
the steeples, tall and proud, point to the endless sky and keep me
strong and brave and unafraid to hold my lantern high.

Dear God, I pray that all your children know what flame they carry,
be it hidden deep within or fearlessly in open sight,
its steady shining bright with promise, love, and life, uniting
all in one great congregation gathered at your feet.
Can it be possible, Almighty God? Can this phenomenon
by any name, whatever we may call it—harmony or
peace on earth—be at so great a distance or so well concealed
that even your omnipotence, all-power, is unequal to it?
Yet we pray not just for daily bread but for the coming of
your kingdom. We believe it can be done. Show us our part.

Creator, you have made us in your image, placing in our hearts
such longing for your presence to be manifest among us
that we cannot rest for wanting it. Your generosity is limitless;
abundance falls like manna from the sky. We cannot fail to shine;
our lantern light is infinite. To eyes that open, it illuminates
the path to reconciliation, where compassion waits and justice
is victorious, relationships are healed, disease deprived of energy
and violence made obsolete… a holy place where we can say,
“Thy will be done,” in perfect faith… a convocation of the saints
made new by grace… where all are safe because love reigns,
and in us burn the flames that carry it as you instruct us.

God, make me a lantern and a song, with eagerness to share
the light of heaven and the music of the stratosphere.
Strain from each pulse impurity of motive; uncontaminated
may my purpose be, O God, and bless it with such clarity
that everywhere I go is better for my having been there.

Amen.

***

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SEPIA

The Purest Race

The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus
The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

Who Do We Think We Are?

from Fanny’s journal of her time among the Ancients

There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the [Caucasus region]… a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including Europe’s highest mountain (Mount Elbrus).  

The Caucasus Region, 1994

The Caucasus Region, 1994

North Caucasus  comprises… Russia (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Adyghea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai).    

 

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

South Caucasus comprises… Armenia, Azerbaijan (including disputed Nagorno-Karabakh), Georgia (including disputed Abkhazia and South Ossetia)    

The village of Tindi, in Daghestan, in the late 1890s.

Tindi, Daghestan, late 1890s. "This region of the southern Caucasus is home to a mixed population, the majority of whom are Muslims (mosques and their adjoining minarets can be seen to both the left and right of the village). The photograph was taken by M. de Déchy, who returned from the area with large collections of plants, fossils, and photographs." Wikipedia, "Peoples of the Caucasus"

There is so much to write about:

How we traveled here (dirigible), Henry, Sister Alma Rose, Henry, Mr. Truman La Follette’s mama, how the Ancients’ communities remain hidden (not sure if I can even put this on paper, except to say that technology is both a help and a hindrance), Henry, how you can Pray Without Ceasing and still walk around and not bump into things, Henry….   

But I am going to begin with what is foremost in my mind (other than Henry), which I am trying to understand without passing judgment, which I am just beginning to study in preparation for being a Peacemaker of the Ancients, which was triggered by the YouTube dialogue at the very end of this little essay, which concerns…   

Ethnic Pride and Conflict among the Peoples of the Caucasus

 

I did not know that I was living a sheltered life. I believed that representatives of all manner of humanity came and went via Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wraparound porch. I believed that “ethnic pride” was the kind of warm but not profound satisfaction I get out of my Scots heritage or the healthy awakening of pleasure in one’s own racial or ethnic background.   

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus (User:PMX)

I also believed that YouTube was a website where people shared videos (ranging from very polished to I-just-bought-this-camera-47-minutes-ago) and laughed or gagged and then moved on. Which it is, and I am a big YouTube fan, and I am certain that since I reported the comments you will soon read if you just hang with me here a minute they will be expeditiously removed from YouTube, we can all continue to be big YouTube fans. (You will get a hernia if you try to diagram that sentence.)

Crossroads of cultures and continents

Maps and photographs of the Caucasus sometimes make it appear to be not an area that you would just stumble upon or where you would be stumbled upon, given the altitude and the rough terrain. If I wanted to hide, I might say to myself, “I think I’ll just pop into this little village here, elevation about forty-five-hundred feet and inaccessible by road during the winter and tucked nicely into this deep gorge where it’s practically invisible, and no one will ever find me.” 

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

But I would probably be wrong, because I would not have taken into account (a) the invention of the helicopter, and (b) the region’s unique geography: its position at the virtual dividing line of Europe and Asia and also, historically to some extent, between Christian and Muslim cultures, though in parts of the Caucasus adherents of Christianity and Islam have peacefully coexisted for a long time; the region’s proximity to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Volga River, all important for shipping by virtue of being filled with water; its wealth of natural resources, including oil and other minerals; and its inexplicable popularity among tourists who evidently collect musculoskeletal injuries instead of postcards on their vacations.  

During the many decades that the Caucasus was part of the Soviet Union, hardly anybody with a normal job like “weed control inspector” or “dentist” had ever heard of Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia, unless one of those places happened to have a crabgrass or tooth-decay emergency that the Soviet professionals couldn’t handle, although that would have been unlikely in the extreme since, as I understand it, the Soviets basically marched the folk down out of the mountains, shouting instructions in whatever language had won the coin toss, and settled them in posh hotels to wait out the dictatorship.  

Tellingly, when the Soviet Union collapsed in, um, 1991? “a dozen or so families” decided to go back to what is literally a medieval fortress and village called Shatili, whose appearance is picturesque (see photo above) but bodes ill for coziness on those long, cold, high-altitude winters, though I could be mistaken, but I doubt it and under no circumstances will I go there without Sasha the Ski Patrol Samoyed. It’s just that, in the winter, once you’re there, you’re there, and that’s kind of the way it is until that bright summer day that signals the approach of autumn, and it seems that if you try to leave then you could be trampled by herds of trekkers taking advantage of the fine weather to photograph each other at their destination (Shatili) and then galloping back down the mountain with their overheated Samoyeds panting along behind.   

Grozny, Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya. Source: trunghocduytan.com

I did uncover— after much searching, avoiding anything written using an alphabet in which all the letters look like cursive W’s as well as “ergative-agglutinative languages [such as Chechen,… Ingush and Bats, which are members…] of the Nakh branch of the Northeast Caucasian language family” [Chechen (depending on the dialect) can have up to 60 consonants and 44 vowels, not to mention geminate fortis stops, ejectives, ligatures, aspirations, frigates, and so forth (Wikipedia)] — a concise and (as far as I can tell) factual article using the familiar Latin alphabet with no diacritics, thank God, there are times when a diacritic could just throw a person right over the brink — with paragraphs excerpted below that account in part for perennial conflict in the Caucasus (as if it weren’t enough that there is less than a 10-percent chance that you will ever be in the same room with five other people who speak the same language and dialect as yours, even in your own home).

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

Since the region is among the oldest settled regions on earth and populated by peoples speaking languages related to no others in the world, it has a great deal of history which extends far back into ancient times.  During the Soviet period history was either suppressed or forced into a rigid, dogmatic framework which left most Caucasian peoples feeling cheated of their past, but deeply concerned about their identity and their roots.  With the collapse of communism, they are free to repossess their history and explore their roots….   

Each ethnic group has its own version of its origin and its past and these, more often than not, conflict with neighbors’ versions.  There is, thus, a great deal of argumentation about history.  More often than not, current problems are debated in terms of ancient texts, archaeology, and even legends and myths.  Intriguing and entertaining as such argumentation may be, it tends to exacerbate and obfuscate conflicts rather than facilitate settlement of them. —Paul B. Henze, “Conflict In The Caucasus: Background, Problems, and Prospects for Mitigation,” CircassianWorld.com, accessed May 18, 2010   

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia. Photo: Tripwolf. Text: VisitGeorgia.ge. "The major part of the territory of Georgia is mountainous, therefore some of its regions like Khevsureti, Svaneti, Tusheti, Pshavi, Mtiuleti, Khevi ans Racha are hidden is high mountains. Each of them has its own history and traditions but they all have something in common: Americans cannot pronounce their names without extensive mouth surgery. NOT! Just seeing if you are paying attention. "Travelling in the mountains is an experience for live! Little has changed there since the Middle Ages. The fields are still worked with the scythe, and the ox and cart still remain the usual mode of transport. The people in the mountains live in a world of their own. They are proud and haughty as they have never had a master ruling over them. Even the continual aggressions of the enemy could not break their bellicose character. Although Christians, their religious practice still includes some pagan elements. Of course, ancient customs and traditions are very closely followed. In some parts the blood feud was observed even in the 20th century."

My research revealed little in the way of ethnic antipathy directed at Jews in particular, though there was some discussion about what constitutes genocide and there were isolated comments by Armenian sympathizers making light of the Holocaust or dismissing it as fiction.  

Comments on the video (I am ‘M’)

I have learned just enough about the Caucasus to understand how dismally ignorant I am. Just before I left Hilltop, however, Father Dooley and I spent hours discussing the history of the century preceding World War I, in which conflict, eastern European nationalism — in particular, Yugoslav nationalism, which no longer exists because the Yugoslavs, as a nationality, were a fiction, being actually composed of Serbs, Croats, Herzegovinians, and other peoples who couldn’t get along, and today, a century or so  later, there are so many splinter nationalist and ethnic groups* that some individuals have to be members of two groups at the same time — and so I was especially disheartened by the irrational and possibly inflammatory comments you are about to read, and in semi-real life, too, stirring what I suppose are similar chauvinistic passions.

* Some of the groups are just holdovers from antiquity, we postulate. 

Do I think that I, at not-quite-13, have more wisdom than “K” or “G”? Not necessarily, because I have never lived in the way described above under the photo of Bakuriani, that is, in a world of my own with no master, nor am I “bellicose” by nature. We puny weaklings learn early on that there are better ways to solve disputes. We also develop a sense of humor, which, perhaps, “being bellicose” and “having no master” do not facilitate. 

What I do know is that I am not fundamentally my nationality, my gender, my role in the family, my race, or any of the other qualities that Eckhart Tolle characterizes as “content” (emphasis on first syllable: CON-tent). Someone else has said that nothing you can know about yourself is your Self. Makes sense to me. 

Note that (1) The video referred to was a song about alchemy to which a fairly spectacular Caucasian video had been attached. The song itself is immaterial to the “debate.” (2) I have rearranged most of the comments into chronological order. (3) When you see the word Caucasian below, it will always refer to “Peoples of the Caucasus.”

dot

 3 months ago (?) — I`m very proud to be 100% caucasian! Caucasus will be free from russian Occupants. Our people will never give up to fight for freedom. Long live Caucasus!   

Pretty redhead

MOI, Fanny the Bilingual

3 months ago (?) — Georgians and all Caucasians always had to fight for the freedom. I think, that also this time it will not be peacefull, but the TRUTH is on our side. That gives me hope, that we`ll win.   

M – 1 week ago — [My comment addressed to creator of video, who did not participate in this conversation] I don’t know what is wrong with the 23 people who did not like this video. It is stunning. I just don’t know how you did it! You have L_____’s amazing song…, with YOUR beautiful video… which appears to relate to weddings, one long ago and one contemporary? And you make it work so well! I love the men’s dancing — They are the peacocks, the women are in the background. Thanks for this!    

G – 1 week ago — CAUCASIAN RACE THE PUREST EVER   

M – 3 days ago — Please. No one can control where they’re born or who their ancestors are. Your people and mine have been massacred because a bunch of people REALLY, REALLY did not like what we represented. And what do Jesus and all the wise prophets admonish us to do? Forgive. Emanate peace, not war. Who needs more wars?   

K – 3 days ago – 23 jews   

M — 3 days ago — Blaming the Jews is SO 20th-century. Isn’t it time we picked another scapegoat? How about the Congregationalists?   

K – 3 days ago — Not at all. The jews aren’t “scapegoats”, they are the aggressors.   

M – 3 days ago — ALL of them? My dentist? The kids I went to school with? Sweet Rabbi V_____ who brought me matzos and pineapple preserves when my family had nothing to eat? I truly, genuinely, with all my heart wish you and your people well, and I can understand (trust me) your feeling for this land that has been continuously occupied by your people perhaps longer than anywhere on earth. But the soul is more important than the tribe. No two souls are alike.   

K — 3 days ago — “ALL of them” ? Yes, of course, all of them, to the extent that they are jews. If Sweet Rabbi V_____ was so sweet with you I bet all my 20 $ that I own in cash that you are a jew. A rabbi is someone who knows the unholy jewish literature. He can prove to you that you must be cattle if you are not a parasite and that you are required to give up your property to them b/c all the wealth of the earth must be turned over to ugly tribal beelzebub. Thanks anyway for the reply.   

M — 45 minutes ago — I’ll take the $20 in quarters; I need them for the laundromat   

“K” gets around

Different issue, one in which I did not take part   

H – 3 days ago — You deserve to be killed
but I think you know that already
   

O – 2 days ago — Zionazi – I received your private love letter, in which you wrote: “I want to slit your throat open can you tell me where you live so I can slit your throat” I have a vehicle so why don’t you tell me where you live?  There are no bus stops for you near my house.   

K – 2 days ago — The United States look like they are on their way out and those wars for the jews help a lot. They tell the soldiers that the Afghans aren´t human and that´s why they are able to massacre them at a whim. It is the attitude of the kosher parasite who lives by his unholy and insane religion. If you aren´t a parasite then you must be his cattle.   

 

These comments were still in place this morning (Tuesday), though it had been only about 12 hours since I flagged them. And may I say something schoolmarmish and utterly irrelevant here? *** The last two syllables of antisemitic rhyme with critic. *** Please do not refer to a man as a chauvinist unless you really do mean that he is “fanatically patriotic.” *** Thank  you.   

   

Photo sources
Kaukasus Reisen— Flora in the Caucasus, a Botanical Journey to Kazbegi, Bakuriani and to the Black Sea Region, June/July 2009
Tripwolf, Bakuriani   

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Moving Right Along

Purple Flowering Shrub to illustrate prayer "The Shrub"Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

The Shrub:
Prayer for a Happy Home and for Difficult Transitions

Glory be to you, Creator and Redeemer, Father-Mother of us all

It was as if I’d one leg that had put down
deep, good roots—the rest of me was flailing,
not in an endeavor to escape, No! but to stay
there, stay forever; not for freedom, but for
safety, so I did believe. “I can’t!” I cried. My
tears were shed to no avail, for they (the
gardeners) merely hauled me out, to plant me
in some other yard. I thought I’d die;
however, as it happened, though the roots
were bared and some were torn and I called
out in pain (while they pretended not to
listen, but I knew they cared), the roots ran
broad and shallow, and not deep at all, and I
can keep my foot and all my toes, it seems.

Red Clover to illustrate poem "The Shrub - Prayer for Happy Home and Difficult Transitions"

Well, they were not mean-spirited or so
unkind as just to leave me to the task and
drop me any-old-where; they asked, and I
said, “There, please.” There they stopped, and
sent me in with my valises, oh, so many! and
they went away. I didn’t mind so much,
although I wish it all had happened faster, for
I sit here yet with my belongings strewn at
random… nor do my legs, quite tender from
the struggle, function right. The touchy, easily
offended, mewling voice, in protest, whispers,
“This is wrong.” But it’s too late; I silence it.

Blue Sheer Curtain Window Toothbrushes to illustrate prayer-poem

My troubles found me, with that radar that
they have, and seemed to double in the
interim. But by your grace, O God, I shall win all
the little victories and overcome the obstacles,
with them, with the detritus, the unholy mess,
eventually, I’m not sure how, but I don’t need to
be… in you, there’s no uncertainty. This morning,
anyway, I hear a pair of cardinals calling to
each other, far away, then nearer, or else
bolder, and the sun is warm upon my hair, my
neck, my shoulders; it’s enough and more for
now.

Images: vnwallpapers.net
except as noted

Passing Through

Sh-h-h-h: Limeade

Mr. Truman LaFollette's Incomparable Limeade Recipe

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Inhaling God in deep breaths

It was the laziest possible of summer afternoons, and Sister Alma Rose and Father Dooley and I were enjoying Mr. Truman LaFollette’s new recipe, which was new only in the sense that it was limeade instead of lemonade, which Mr. Truman said: weren’t we getting tired of it, meaning his incomparable lemonade, and we emphatically informed him that we were not, and he finally confessed that he was getting a little bored with always making lemonade, and I have to say that his limeade is so crisp and refreshing that I will be a little sorry when he gets tired of limeade and goes back to lemonade, or maybe he will try something exotic, like papaya limeade, which, whatever he concocts will be delicious.

Mr. Truman LaFollette always uses fresh lemons when he makes his incomparable lemonade. They are SO fresh that I think he must have a lemon tree hidden somewhere

Mr. Truman LaFollette always uses fresh lemons when he makes his incomparable lemonade. They are SO fresh that I think he must have a lemon tree hidden somewhere

I was happy and relaxed, but I had a mild premonition that something extraordinary was about to happen. I was just too whipped to have a strong premonition, or else I surely would have. Sister Alma Rose trusts and actually encourages my premonitions. “Heaven is talking to y’all, Girl,” she’ll say.

That morning, Sister Alma Rose had been up since before dawn “putting up” produce, tomatoes and peas, I think, and Father Dooley and I had ridden our bicycles to Beth Israel, which is the Reform synagogue in Hilltop, where we were taking a class called “The History of Judaism,” which is every weekday morning for three weeks, and I found it absolutely mesmerizing and was spending hours at the library reading everything I could find about Judaism, but on this particular day I had an extra lot of chores to do when I got home, and Father Dooley had an extra lot of confessions to hear, or something, and so we all felt as though we had earned an afternoon of lethargy, except that Sister Alma Rose was sitting at the grass-green wicker table shelling peas, which is her idea of doing nothing, while Father Dooley and I were sprawled bonelessly in the roomy grass-green wicker chairs with green-and-yellow flowered cushions. Or she might have been shelling beans. I remember reading somewhere that peas ARE beans, of a sort.(1)

THE SPANISH INQUISITION. St. Dominic Presiding Over an Auto-da-Fé, by Pedro Berruguete, c. 1495. An Auto-da-Fé (act of faith) refers to the sentencing of a heretic to die by being burned at the stake

THE SPANISH INQUISITION. St. Dominic Presiding Over an Auto-da-Fé, by Pedro Berruguete, c. 1495. An Auto-da-Fé (act of faith) refers to the sentencing of a heretic to die by being burned at the stake

Pablo had come and gone. He is taking French, which he does every summer, and he is in Advanced French now, so he and Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose chatted in French, of which I know only enough to expostulate on la plume de ma tante, a topic that soon loses its charm, but when the conversation changed to Judaism, in English, Pablo got up and cheerfully bid us au revoir and climbed onto his bicyclette and rode off. Not that Pablo is uninterested in Judaism, but we were discussing the medieval Inquisitions, and Pablo is very tender-hearted. He was almost inconsolable when his labrador, Myra, dragged a half-dead gecko into the house. A conversation about the cruelties of the Inquisitions would depress him for a week.

Pablo and I are pretty sympatico, and as he was leaving, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Something’s up.” I nodded soberly.

Pilgrimage

The three of us were lounging in a comfortable, exhausted silence (except for Sister Alma Rose, who is always comfortable but never exhausted), enjoying the light breeze that floated across the shady porch, when we heard the crunch of feet on the gravel driveway, and I sat up and watched as a man approached, waving and smiling, and I knew that he had something to do with my premonition, and I said, “Thank you, Jesus,” in my head, because he was wearing cutoffs over exquisitely muscled legs and a very nice butt, and he had on a short-sleeved lightweight cotton plaid shirt, unbuttoned, that looked like vintage Eddie Bauer, and I could tell from his high-dollar shoes and backpack that he was a hard-core hiker, not to mention that he was neither sweating nor short of breath and he had just walked up a long, steep hill, which I knew because if he had been coming from the other direction we would have seen him on the road.

Peas in pods

Peas in pods. Image from Wikimedia Creative Commons, by Gaetan Lee at http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaetanlee/

It’s not unusual for strangers to visit Sister Alma Rose as they are passing through Hilltop, although usually they are from La Mesa or one of the other nearby towns, and they have heard of Sister Alma Rose, who has something of a reputation as a healer, a wise woman, an oddball, a guru, a saint, or one of the Ancients, depending on whom you ask, but if the person you ask is Sister Alma Rose, she will say she is a farmer. I had never seen this man before, I was positive, because I would have noticed him inasmuch as he looked almost exactly like Matthew McConaughey, or like Matthew McConaughey might have looked when he was nineteen, and I sort of but not devoutly wished that he would button his shirt because my newly discovered hormones were popping like fireworks in my chest. He was quite a package, with his hip, expensive hiker stuff and his suntanned not-too-hairy chest and sunstreaked, longish, curly hair and slightly cheeky grin, and his very, very blue and surprisingly sagacious eyes, and when he approached us on the porch he smiled directly at me and I smiled back and told myself very firmly to focus on him and not on whether my hair looked okay or did I have a parsley morsel on my teeth or was I drooling.

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey, not just eye candy

But when he reached the table he stuck his hand out to shake Sister Alma Rose’s hand, and he spoke to her with something like awe, saying, “Y’all must be Sister Alma Rose,” and I waited to see if he would wince, because Sister Alma Rose’s hands are large and strong and her handshake is legendary, and he didn’t wince but he did raise his eyebrows. The soft, gentlemanly Virginia drawl almost finished me off, though I was able to smile and cock a finger at him and say, “Richmond,” and he smiled back and cocked a finger at me and said, “Bingo.” I’m very good at accents.

Mystical encounters

He shook hands with Father Dooley and then with me, and introduced himself as “Henry the Hiker.” I introduced myself as “Fanny the Drooler,” and he gave me a very fetching wink. Sister Alma Rose graciously gestured to the empty chair, and Mr. Truman LaFollette appeared out of nowhere, which is sometimes disconcerting, especially since he is nearly seven feet tall, with a frosty glass of limeade, and then he was gone before Henry could shake hands with him. When you’re not used to Mr. Truman LaFollette and he makes his ephemeral lemonade appearance, or, in this case, his limeade appearance, it’s a bit like being served by a ghost, and I saw Henry shiver, very slightly, but then he smiled, and I noticed that his teeth were perfectly even and almost blindingly white, and parsley-free, and that he had freckles, for Pete’s sake, and I thought, I am done for.

Patrick Henry delivered his 'Liberty or Death' speech at St. John's Church in Richmond

Patrick Henry delivered his 'Liberty or Death' speech at St. John's Church in Richmond

Because there was more to Henry than dazzling good looks. He was eye candy for sure, but he had an odd kind of quiet vitality, and life just rolled off him in waves. I never thought I’d say this, but even Sister Alma Rose seemed almost ordinary next to Henry.

He had just finished his first year as a seminary student (Princeton, Presbyterian), he told us, with a nod to Father Dooley, as if to say he didn’t have anything against clergy who were other than Presbyterian; and he had heard about Sister Alma Rose through our friend Ben, who had been Henry’s best friend since third grade, which indicated that he also didn’t have anything against black people, which was useful information because southerners sometimes have odd ideas about people whom Pablo refers to as “our darker equals,” ironically, because Pablo is very brown, as is Sister Alma Rose, for that matter.

Pable and I take this road to the library, though it adds a half-mile to the trip

He, Henry, was hiking on country roads with no particular route or destination, he said, other than his journey being in part “a pilgrimage” to meet Sister Alma Rose because Ben had told him that if anyone could help him clear his head, Sister Alma Rose could. His head needed clearing, he explained, because he had entered seminary confidently, with a definite calling, but after a year of study he felt that he had gained a lot of information but had lost his sense of closeness with God.

“I was a strange little kid,” he said, throwing us a killer grin, and, I surreptitiosly checked my chin for drool. “I was always praying. Not conspicuously, like falling down on my knees in the middle of a Little League game, but privately, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and feeling like whenever something was wrong I could go to God and be wrapped in love and made strong. 

“It just came naturally. I’d start to pray, at home or in church, and right away I was just lost in love, and I was surprised when I found out that it wasn’t the same for everyone else. But I was never embarrassed about it, and sometimes kids would call me ‘Holy Henry,’ but they weren’t being mean, so I’d just smile and say, ‘Alleluia,’ or, ‘Bless you, my child,’ or something, and everyone knew it was just who I was.”

He looked inquiringly at Father Dooley, who had been gazing at Henry with a kind of reverence. “Unusual,” Father Dooley said. “Yes, I’d say it’s very unusual for anyone, of any age, to have mystical encounters on demand. In my own experience, God has been accessible enough to keep me inspired… to keep me excited about my work and to enable me to genuinely love and feel honest compassion… and I often know that I have truly encountered God in prayer, but just as often I get up from prayer dissatisfied, as if one of us showed up and the other didn’t.”

I had never heard Father Dooley speak so earnestly, not even in class.

“Oh, yes!” Henry said, obviously grateful to be understood. “That’s just how it’s been with me, almost since I started seminary. The second thing you said, I mean. One of us not showing up.”

Like breathing

MOI, Fanny

MOI, Fanny

To my credit, I like to think, I had stopped seeing Henry as a sex object and had become absorbed in his story and sympathetic with his dilemma. I pray a lot, and I feel loved and nurtured when I pray, but my Close Encounters with God, the kind that Henry had routinely, have been like lightning bolts out of the blue, huge and unexpected and infrequent gifts of grace.

“It’s like breathing,” said Sister Alma Rose, breaking the silence. She was still shelling peas, and I was reminded of Pablo’s mother praying the rosary, a rhythmic, repetitive, tactile exercise, with the added benefit of the peas being living things just off the vines and smelling fresh and earthen.

Sister Alma Rose looked appraisingly at Henry, and then she nodded, as if something she’d suspected had been confirmed. I had the feeling that there was a secret between them, like they were both members of the Scottish Rite or something, but then Sister Alma Rose went back to shelling peas.

Saint Jerome Praying, by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)

Saint Jerome Praying, by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)

God always shows up for gratitude

“Y’all can’t be somewhere God isn’t,” she said to the peas, “because there isn’t any such a place. But y’all aren’t always aware of God, just like y’all aren’t always conscious of breathing. Then y’all go to pray, and it’s like y’all are inhaling God in deep breaths, and he fills y’all up and yet he still surrounds y’all.

“And then Henry, he goes to seminary and he learns about the mechanics of breathing and respiration, and how the air supplies oxygen to the lungs, and the oxygen gets into the bloodstream, and into every cell, where it’s exchanged for carbon dioxide, which the blood carries back to the lungs and then it, the carbon dioxide, gets exhaled. Cells can’t live without oxygen, so breathing and all is pretty important.

“But it happens automatically. It’s not a rule. If y’all tried to push oxygen into your bloodstream and then force it into your cells and exchange it for carbon dioxide, and so forth, thinking that if y’all worked hard at it y’all could make it special, maybe sacred, y’all are gonna most likely hyperventilate. Because it’s already been done for y’all. What y’all can do, in prayer, is wonder at it and accept it gratefully and praise God with every breath. God always shows up for gratitude.”

Vanished

For a while the only sound was the slight crackle of fresh pea (or bean) pods opening and the soft plop of peas (or beans) falling into the bowl. Then Henry asked Father Dooley a question about transubstantiation, and thus began a lively conversation to which Sister Alma Rose contributed now and again, and I closed my eyes and listened to the pleasant hum of their voices, like bees in a patch of clover, and when I opened my eyes, Henry and Father Dooley were gone and the sun was low in the sky.

Then Mr. Truman LaFollette was setting a plate of fresh fruit on a romaine lettuce leaf in front of me, with my favorite snack (if we’re not talking hot fudge), sharp cheddar cheese and Triscuits, just within reach.

“Y’all’s mama says y’all can stay for supper,” Mr. Truman LaFollette said, in a voice so seldom used I thought he must have to scrape the rust off. And then he evaporated before I could ask where Sister Alma Rose was.

She appeared a moment later, looking thoughtful, and before she sat down to her salad she carefully placed a yellowed newspaper clipping on the table to my left.

“Don’t y’all be dripping any strawberry juice on that,” she said, and then she bowed her head, so I did, too, and she said, “God of wonders, we thank y’all for the gifts both substantial and mystical that y’all shower upon us, and we ask that y’all help us use these gifts to grow strong and wise and generous. Amen.”

Strawberries

Mr. Truman LaFollette won't tell me where he gets such FRESH FRUIT

I had to bite my lip to keep from giggling as she prayed, first because it always amused me to hear her address the Almighty as “y’all,” and second because her words invoked an image of strawberries and grapes and pineapple falling out of the sky.

“That’s it?” I said, surprised. Usually Sister Alma Rose prays until the food, if it started out hot, is tepid.

“It’s enough,” she said. “Read that newspaper, Missy.”

Without picking it up, I began reading the clipping, at the top of which was a two-column-wide black-and-white photo of a grinning Henry, flanked by a grinning Ben and a bemused-looking Portia, who is the daughter of Mr. Henry LaFollette and Sister Alma Rose’s cousin Dulcie, who had given birth to Portia back when she was Wanton and Wild, which is exactly what Portia is, though Dulcie has turned into a round, comfortable person who smells like talcum powder and who Does Good Deeds. Portia, I thought, was an odd person for either Ben or Henry to know. Sister Alma Rose once told me that Portia is an Aberration, one of the Ancients reincarnated who remembers nothing of her former life and has no idea that she has been sent to do anything other than seduce men and twirl in circles, looking and singing like a fairy child, in the woods.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci ("the beautiful woman without mercy"), a painting by Walter Crane (1845-1915)

La Belle Dame Sans Merci ("the beautiful woman without mercy"), a painting by Walter Crane (1845-1915) that always makes me think of Portia

The story was dated July 28, 2000, and I was startled to see that Henry looked exactly as he had looked that afternoon, even wearing the same shirt (I couldn’t see his butt; unfortunately it had been cropped out of the photo).

Somewhere in Tennessee

‘Seminary student vanishes,’ read the headline. The story went on to say that Henry Morgan McKenzie, Jr., age 19, son of the newspaper’s executive editor and his, the editor’s, wife of twenty-two years, onetime film star Julianne Morgan, had begun a solo cross-country hike just after his classes had ended the second week in May. The photo had been taken as Henry was setting off. As promised, he telephoned either Ben or his parents at least three times a week, but the last phone call had been made on June 2, from somewhere in Tennessee. Of course, law-enforcement personnel in three states were searching vigilantly, blah, blah, blah, but they had found no trace of the missing boy, who had been in excellent health and spirits, with no history of mental illness, blah, blah, blah.

Jessica Lange lookalike

COVER GIRL: Julianne Morgan, a respected actress and Hollywood favorite, before she gave up her career for marriage and children

Scotch-taped to the story was a brief piece published on the five-year anniversary of Henry’s disappearance. There was a small photo of Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie, with Julianne looking youthful and serene and Henry Senior appearing haunted. Their son had been neither found nor heard from, though his mother said that he visited her in dreams and she was at peace, but apparently nobody paid much attention to Julianne, least of all her husband, who said that she was “in denial and receiving psychotherapy.”

I sighed and looked wide-eyed at Sister Alma Rose.

“Poor Julianne,” I said. “But NOT ‘poor Julianne,'” I added, on second thought, “because she knows that Henry is okay. She’s probably thinking, all right, send me to a shrink if you want, but I know something you don’t, and I’d tell you if you’d listen.”

Sister Alma Rose beamed at me, as if I’d proven the unified field theory.

“Ben never mentioned him,” I mused, “or Portia.”

Sister Alma Rose and I both knew that if Ben had been worried about his friend’s disappearance, he would have come to Sister Alma Rose. Therefore, Ben had somehow been in touch with Henry, or knew where he was.

The Angel Gabriel (by Guido Reni) resembles Henry a little bit

The possibilities eddied furiously in my head. Henry had been run over by a semi and had come back as an angel. Henry had been a collective illusion shared by Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose and me. Henry was one of the Ancients.

“Henry is one of the Ancients,” I almost shouted. That explained Portia’s being with him, sort of. And Sister Alma Rose had known. That explained the long, penetrating look she had given him.

“But why did he come to you? Was it just as he said? About wanting to feel close to God again?”

Sister Alma Rose ignored the latter two questions.

“He didn’t come to me, Fanny,” she said, taking my hand and squeezing it and probably breaking nine or ten small bones. “He came to y’all.”

The thing in me that had always thought I was weird and longed to be normal… it seemed to dissolve in that very moment.

“Oh, my,” I said, trying to take it in without knowing what “it” was, but sharply conscious that my hormones were alive and well and having an emergency convocation in what would someday, with luck, become my left breast. “What a world we live in.” And for the first time in my life, I didn’t have the least idea what to do next.

lemons

(1) Common beans can be used for shell (or shelling) beans, which have the pods removed before they are cooked or dried. The term can be used to refer to other species of beans, such as lima beanssoybeanspeas, or fava beans, that have their shell removed before it is eaten. Nutritionally, shell beans are similar to dry beans, but in the kitchen are treated as a vegetable, often steamed, fried, or made into soups. Wikipedia

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Annagrammatica's Unusual Exceptional Remarkable Valentines
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Partridge in a Pear Tree Wall Tapestry

"A Partridge in a Pear Tree" wall tapestry (art.com)

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Warm your feet by the fire

The popcorn’s warm and buttery. The cocoa’s thick and rich and… well, chocolaty. It must be time… Yes! It is! … for the annual Sister Alma Rose Semisecular* Christmastide Videorama.

* To Sister Alma Rose, nothing is truly secular. Is there somewhere God isn’t? She doesn’t think so.

First, but not necessarily foremost, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser, whom we adore, in close harmony with nutty variations and a few outright departures. (The song itself — not the Straight No Chaser rendition — might be three hundred years old — no one seems to be sure — nor can anyone say with certainty whether each day’s gift has any particular significance.)

Okay, these next two give Sister Alma Rose goosebumps, but not me. I just sob.

Christmas in the Trenches

“Perhaps,” Sister Alma Rose ventures, “y’all have heard the story of ‘Christmas in the Trenches'”:

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Christmas truce” is a term used to describe several brief, unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day between German and British or French troops in World War I, particularly that between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front during Christmas 1914. In 1915 there was a similar Christmas truce between German and French troops, and during Easter 1916 a truce also existed on the Eastern Front. —Wikipedia

It is said that after the particular truce described in the song “Christmas in the Trenches” (by folksinger/songwriter John McCutcheon), the soldiers were unable to or refused to fight and had to be sent home. Sister Alma Rose does not know whether this is true, nor does she know whether it makes them heroes or fools (cowards they certainly were not), nor should it reflect on the courage and honor of those who stayed and fought, or of those who do so till this day, God bless them all.

Bing and Bowie

Mama, the musician, likes to introduce this video:

If you’re under a certain age, you need to understand the subtext of this 1977 performance. Bing Crosby — one of the biggest stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and still a popular celebrity when he died in 1977, was very straitlaced and conservative, a strict Roman Catholic, and David Bowie… wasn’t.

Bing Crosby: He could carry a tune

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby’s singing and acting career “stretched over more than half a century from 1926 until his death. Crosby was a best-selling artist until well into the rock era, with over half a billion records in circulation.” (Wikipedia)

Apart from some youthful drinking and indulgence in marijuana, Bing was so squeaky-clean, both publicly and privately, that the public sometimes wished (although it was none of “the public’s” business) that he were less strict with his four sons (from his marriage to Dixie Lee, who suffered from acute alcoholism and who died of cancer in 1952). Two of the couple’s four sons committed suicide, Lindsay in 1989 and Dennis in 1991. Bing Crosby had three children with his second wife, Kathryn Grant Crosby.

Asked what he would write for his own epitaph, Crosby replied, “He was an average guy who could carry a tune.” Well, Bing, if you say so.

David Bowie — Mega-Shocker, Megastar

Iman and David Bowie

Iman and David Bowie; photo by David Shankbone

David Bowie is a highly respected “English musician, actor, record producer and arranger. Active in five decades of popular music and frequently reinventing his music and image, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. He has been cited as an influence by many musicians and is known for his distinctive voice and the intellectual depth of his work.” (Wikipedia)

His music has been tagged as “psychedelic folk,” “glam rock,” “heavy metal,” and a dozen other styles, some of which he invented. On tour, he has startled even hard-core fans with his androgynous appearance, “ultra” theatrics, and “shocking stage moments….”

He married the Somali-born supermodel Iman Abdulmajid at Saint James Church in Florence in 1992. Their daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones (she goes by “Lexi”), was born in August 2000. The family has homes in Manhattan and London.

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, Bowie’s son with his first wife, was born in 1971. He earned a bachelor’s degree and then graduated as a director from the London Film School.

Bowie has been notorious at times — for years of heavy drug abuse, particularly cocaine; and for “politically radical comments, saying that Britain could benefit from a fascist leader and that Adolf Hitler was ‘the first super-star.'” Yet Bowie has steadily reinvented his image and his music so creatively that he is said to have progressed from “superstar” to “megastar.” Some who know him well say that the private David Bowie is at heart a family man but that periodically shocking the public is part of his mystique.

Culture Clash

The wildly differing backgrounds of Bowie and Crosby set up a cultural tension between the two that makes their duet all the more poignant — like watching the Crips and Bloods Mixed Chorus, maybe. It’s also helpful to know that “White Christmas” was a huge hit for Bing Crosby — his signature song, in a way.

This video is lovely, and Bing and Bowie are fun to watch. The duet, I think, is overorchestrated, which blunts the impact of the two very different men making music together. Even so, it’s a rare treat. I hope you enjoy it. And a very Merry Christmas to you….

Bing Crosby - White Christmas Album

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    A Pox on Doctrine

    Islamic architecture

    While Arab-Nomadic culture lacked a grand imperial art, their aesthetic tastes contributed essential elements to Islamic art. Nomads treasured the minor arts of textiles and weapons, and lavished them with geometrical decoration. Life under the stars, in the infinitude of the desert, endowed them with a love of surfaces filled with radiant, boundless patterns, and lush visions of paradise and vines. Along with architecture, decoration is a core element in Islamic art. —dartmouth.edu

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    For this they kill each other?

    I am listening to Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose discussing the possible reconciliation, in the distant future, of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. The two bodies are having “ongoing discussions,” but there are of course some pesky differences, such as their dissimilar views on married priests and birth control.

    What the Anglican Communion is, it’s basically the Church of England (with its marvelous ancient Canterbury Cathedral, “the Mother Church”) in association with Anglican churches throughout the world— and who knew there were so many and so far-flung? And, however, one of them is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA), not being far-flung, at least not from our perspective here in Hilltop.

    Canterbury Cathedral

    Canterbury Cathedral, photo by Hans Musil. I'm not clear on exactly how old this structure is. St. Augustine built a cathedral on the site early in the 7th century, but the Saxons rebuilt it four centuries later or so. Augustine's church is still there, under the nave. Wow.

    A royal whim

    Father Dooley is saying that the Anglicans like to pretend that their church’s origin is not owed to King Henry VIII’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he was besotted, and who, everyone hoped, would bear sons to inherit the crown. Well, the establishment of the Church of England was indeed a direct result of Henry’s infatuation and his desire for a male heir, says Father Dooley. The wiley Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, plotted with Henry for years and in the end came up with the strategy that gave Henry “royal supremacy” and made him “the only supreme head on earth of the church in England.”

    Montage of English royalty and distinguished citizens in the time of Henry VIIIBut they did that only as a last resort, after the pope refused to annul Henry’s marriage to poor Catherine of Aragon… and Henry didn’t particularly want to change the church, he just wanted to control it so that he could have his way. Plus he wanted the wealth and the property that the Catholic Church had amassed, so he turned the monks out of their monasteries, which he then handed out like party favors (the monasteries, I mean, not the monks) to his friends and supporters, who converted them to grand houses. And many monks were executed for defying the Act of Succession.

    And do you know that in the end, after they were married, after hundreds died so they could be married, Henry and Anne didn’t like each other very much, and she didn’t give Henry the sons he wanted, only the one little girl who would become Queen Elizabeth I, and I know this because I have read just about every book about Anne Boleyn that was ever written, even though there is no suspense about the ending.

    So, under Henry’s reign, people were executed for not signing a document agreeing that Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church, and blah blah blah, and one of the people who was executed was the scholar and statesman, and onetime close friend of Henry, Sir Thomas More (now, Saint Thomas More).

    This is not to say that the Protestant Reformation was unknown in England. There were Protestants in England, but most of them kept rather quiet about it, not as in Germany, where Martin Luther had already converted much of the country to Protestantism.

    Martin Luther

    Martin Luther

    When Henry died, his nine-year-old son (by his third wife, Jane Seymour) became king — he was called Edward VI — and he was a zealous Protestant. But he ruled for only six years, and then he died, and there was some scrabbling, much of which involved the Protestant claimant to the throne, Lady Jane Grey, who actually was queen for a few days.

    Edward’s half-sister Mary overthrew Jane with ease — there were still many Catholics in England, and Mary’s mother, Catherine, had been beloved. When Mary became queen, she restored Catholicism as the state religion, ordered her cousin Lady Jane Grey beheaded, and had nearly three hundred dissenters burned right there on the street corners of London.

    King Philip II of Spain

    King Philip II of Spain

    For this and a bunch of other reasons, including her wayward husband, Philip II of Spain, who wore hats that looked like upside-down flowerpots, Mary was not a success as queen, and she died unloved and unhappy five years after her coronation. Finally, destiny had its way, as Mary’s brilliant and charismatic half-sister Elizabeth was crowned. Defying those who called her a bastard with no right to the throne, and those who said that she must marry because a woman could not rule, Elizabeth I reigned forty-four years and brought a measure of stability and religious tolerance to England.

    And what does any of this have to do with God? I ask Father Dooley. If I believe in God and you believe in God and we both pray to God but the nitty-gritty details of our religious practice are different, don’t we begin with what we have in common? Don’t we start by honoring the one God, who gave us life and who holds our lives in his hands?

    Servants of God

    The name "Muhammad" in traditional Thuluth calligraphy by the hand of Hattat Aziz Efendi

    Sunnis and Shi’a, major Islamic denominations, are mortal enemies. In 2005, al-Qaida‘s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called for a jihad on Shi’a. The situation in Iraq was degenerating into a civil war between the two sects. And what is it that each finds so intolerable about the other?

    Sunnis believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful successors to Muhammad; since God did not specify any particular leaders to succeed him, those leaders had to be elected….

    The Shi’a, who constitute the second-largest branch of Islam, believe in the political and religious leadership of Imams from the progeny of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who according to most Shi’a are in a state of ismah, meaning infallibility. They believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, as the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was his rightful successor, and they call him the first Imam (leader), rejecting the legitimacy of the previous Muslim caliphs.Wikipedia

    Omigosh! You have got to be kidding. This is why you murder someone (but first you have to ask his name, because you can’t tell by looking or even talking with him whether he is a Sunni or a Shi’a, but you can probably tell by his name)?

    I try to understand. It seems important for me to understand such a big thing about the world. So I make a little speech.

    “I don’t mean to sound pious,” I say, “or naive, or… ingenuous?” (not sure I’m using the word correctly; it’s a new one I picked up the other day).

    Father Dooley nods, and I go on.

    Muhammad And Companions Advancing On Mecca

    An anonymous artist's 16th-century illustration of Muhammad and his companions advancing on Mecca. The angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil, and Azrail are also shown

    “I just don’t understand why everybody wouldn’t rather sit under a tree on a lovely day and read a good book. That sounds to me like a much better way to spend an afternoon than strapping on a bunch of explosives and then trying to blend at a wedding party, where, chances are, nobody else is wearing explosives, and where a large number of ‘the bad guys’ are gathered, and then detonating my explosives, thereby making paste of myself and several dozen wedding attendees, and some of them just little kids. In what way does that serve God? How can it be twisted into seeming to serve God?”

    “Honey, I hope y’all never have to understand,” Sister Alma Rose says, suffocating me in a Sister Alma Rose hug because I am about to cry. “I hope y’all will never be so poor and desperate, and angry, because maybe the other side has killed someone dear to y’all, that y’all have to blame and punish someone. But no, y’all are right. It does not glorify God.”

    Then I think of the Muslims born in the U.S. or the U.K. to middle-class families, the affluent young men who want to go to the Middle East and fight in the holy war, and I know that not all the killers are poor and desperate, maybe some are just bored, and Sister Alma Rose knows that too, and we will talk about it one of these winter afternoons as we warm our feet at Sister Alma Rose’s fireplace.

    The Alhambra

    At the Alhambra, the magnificent palace and fortress built by Muslim rulers during the 14th century in southern Spain

    Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose and I go into Sister Alma Rose’s lovely white chapel and sit side by side, me in the middle, and we pray silently, except for Sister Alma Rose, who is whispering. And then Father Dooley prays out loud, fervently, for all who suffer enmity “in the name of God,” for those who die needlessly, and for an anxious, restless, seething world.  We sit quietly, and I feel the holy presence of peace, like the early rays of dawn, in Sister Alma Rose’s chapel.

    And then Father Dooley takes Sister Alma Rose and me to the Dairy Cream, and Father Dooley drinks two large strawberry-cheesecake malts and belches a world-class belch, on purpose.

    “Better to urp a burp and bear the shame than squelch a belch and die in pain,” he says, grinning like a kid; and what can I do but agree?