Happy Valentines Day

When I was a child, we made Valentines Day cards for everyone – our parents, our siblings, our cousins, our teachers, our friends.  In some, but not all years, the recipients may have included someone we had a crush on.   And, up until well into my adulthood, my father gave candy on Valentines Day, not only to my mother, but to each of his four children ( his son as well as his three daughters).  No doubt that contributed to  to my sense that “Happy Valentines Day” was a greeting appropriately conveyed to anyone who meant something in my life.

So on this Valentines Day, let me say thank you and I love you to…

…those who have encouraged me and helped me to grow;

…those who have loved me even when I’m not being very lovable;

…those who have helped me look my demons in the face;

…those who have gone out of their way to be kind and caring;

…those who have given when I’ve been unwilling to ask;

…those who inspire me by their example;

…those who have quietly supported me, even when they haven’t understood the direction I was taking;

…those who have been willing to put an arm around me when I needed to be consoled and kick my behind when I’ve needed to be pushed;

…and all those who have enriched my life by their presence and by being who they are.

To all of you I say: Happy Valentines Day. Thank you and I love you.

[adapted from a post I made some years ago]


A Tactic of Love

Thomas Merton has often been a source of wisdom and reflection for me.  I thought these words of his from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander were useful for all of us in these fractious times.

The tactic of nonviolence is a tactic of love that seeks the
salvation and redemption of the opponent, not [our opponent’s] castigation,
humiliation, and defeat.  A pretended nonviolence that seeks to
defeat and humiliate the  adversary by spiritual instead of physical attack is little more
than a  confession of weakness.  True nonviolence is totally different
from this, and  much more difficult.  It strives to operate without hatred, without
hostility, and without resentment.  It works without aggression, taking the  side of the good that it is able to find already present in the adversary.  This may be easy to talk about in theory.  It is not easy in practice,  especially when the adversary is aroused to a bitter and violent  defense of  an injustice which [the adversary] believes to be just.  We must therefore be careful how we talk about our opponents, and still more careful
how we  regulate our differences with our collaborators.  It is possible for the  bitterest arguments, the most virulent hatreds, to arise among those who are  supposed to be working together for the noblest of causes.

Let Your Servant Go in Peace

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  The feast commemorates the day Mary and Joseph bringing their newborn child, Jesus, to the temple “to present him to the Lord” in fulfillment of the Scripture that “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.”  When they arrive at the temple, both the devout man Simeon and the prophetess Anna recognize Jesus as their Lord.

I love praying with the passage from Luke that describes this event.  I can feel Simeon’s joy and praise and confidence, as he holds the child and says to God, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”  As I sat with the passage this morning, I wondered what it would take for me to honestly say, “I’m now ready to go in peace, Lord.”  (The best I can say is give me the grace to go willingly whenever you call me.)

I’m also always struck by Simeon’s words to Mary in this passage  “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  What must Mary have felt when she heard these words?  Frightening words to the mother of a baby.  You expect people to look at your baby and say things like, “He looks just like his mother,” or “What a beautiful baby.”  And if anyone makes any predictions, you expect to hear, “He’ll grow into a fine young man.”  But Mary hears a much more troubling prediction.

I’m guessing Mary did with those words what she did so often: pondered them in her heart.  And prayed to her God in whom she had so much faith and trust.  And loved her child… knowing he would not be hers forever.

We Must Remember

We are all familar with the adage that Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Today, January 27,  is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  On January 27 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated more than 7000 survivors, who were mostly ill and dying.  As every year, many survivors of the camp will visit there, lighting candles and praying, or otherwise paying homage to those executed by the Nazis.

The day is an important one for all of us to mark, not just those liberated from the camps and their families.  Today is a challenge to all of us to learn from the past.  To learn where racism and hatred inevitably lead if left unchecked.

RIP Mary Oliver

I was saddened yesterday to read of the death of Mary Oliver.  I, and so many other people, have been moved and inspired by her poetry.

Many people posted poems of Oliver’s yesterday in tribute.  It is hard to pick a single one, but perhaps the most appropriate is her poem, When Death Comes:

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

I think it is fair to say that Mary Oliver did not simply visit this world; she truly was a bride married to amazement.

RIP Mary Oliver

No God But God

I just finished reading Reza Aslan’s No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.  This is the third of Aslan’s books that I’ve read, the other two being Zealot and God: A Human History (which I posted about here and here, respectively).  As I did the others, I found No God but God, a worthwhile and provocative read.

The book greatly increased my understanding of pre-Islamic Arabis, a history that I think helps understand some of how Islam developed.  It also gave me a deeper understanding of the division between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims than I had before.

Apart from helping foster a greater understanding of Islam and the teachings of Mohammed, I found many of Aslan’s more general observations about faith traditions worth chewing on.

Perhaps most exciting about the book, however, is a promise of what the “next chapter of Islam,” and the replacement of “the archaic, rigid, and inequitable structures of tribal society with a radically new vision of divine morality and social egalitarianism.”  That won’t be a simple move – and Aslan does not pretend otherwise – but I am bolstered by his conclusion that “the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped.”

I think this book is a good read for anyone, but I especially hope it will get some readership from those who fundamentally misunderstand Islam and the teachings of Muhammed, believing it to be an inherently violent faith with no respect for other faith traditions.



Who are Your Heroes?

I hope everyone had a blessed and wonderful Christmas and that the New Year is off to a good start.  Immediately after my holiday travel was completed, I began teaching a J-term undergraduate honors seminar (hence the long time between posts).  The course I’m teaching is called Heroes and Heroism.

Heroism is something we often view as beyond us.  We think of those to whom we ascribe the label “hero” as different from ordinary people. The goal of my seminar is to help students articulate what heroism is, to be inspired by the acts of a variety of people on whom that label has been placed, and to help them (in the words of Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo) see heroism as “something that seems in the range of possibilities for every person, perhaps inspiring more of us to answer that call.”  In the course we examine the lives of some figures of the present and recent past who have been given the label hero.   Thus far we’ve had three classes, and some great discussions!

You might find it worthwhile to take a few minutes to consider how you respond to the questions I asked the students to consider on the first day of class:

Name three figures you considered heroes pre-adolescence (before 14 or 15) and why?

Name three figures you now consider to be heroes (living or dead)?  What is it about them that inspires you

How do you define a hero and why does heroism matter?

Feel free to comment with your thoughts.