Francis

St. Francis from my childhood backyard garden still looks over my plants and encourages the birds. He looks sadder than I recall his gaze from the past.

“In Franciscan (and true Christian) mysticism, there is no distinction between sacred and profane. All of the world is sacred for those who know how to see.”

I saw this quote in one of  Richard Rohr‘s “daily meditations.” It is taken from his book, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote,  “The world is in truth a holy place.”  He is a writer I initially investigated when I was in high school just because he was quoted in a John Updike novel.  I think “holy” is a more “loaded” word than sacred, but the philosophy is very similar.

Teilhard’s was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who was trained as a paleontologist and geologist. That intrigued me. He and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. I loved that mix of science and religion – two areas that more often argue and disagree.

He conceived the idea of the Omega Point. It is simply described (though it is not so simple) as the maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which [he believed] the universe was evolving. He also helped develop Vladimir Vernadsky’s concept of Noosphere. (I wrote earlier about the Omega Point and Noosphere.)

Teilhard’s writings were censored by the Catholic Church during his lifetime because of his views on original sin, but attitudes have changed somewhat and he has been praised by Pope Benedict XVI.

Is there a way to follow a “religionless Christianity” or is that an oxymoron? If you see a division between the sacred and the profane (terrible term for it) worlds, then it is not possible.

The early religions focused on identifying sacred places, sacred time and even sacred actions. That leaves most of life “unsacred.”

Where you find God in most religions are the places and events that are largely controlled by the clergy. As Rohr say, this is probably partially related to “job security” – organized religion needs people to survive.

francis

St. Francis of Assisi: Sermon to the Birds (fresco detail), 1297-99, Giotto di Bondone

Another area of religion that interested me as a young person was mysticism, including Franciscan mysticism. My mother had a book in our house on the life of Saint Francis and I read it one summer. He saw no distinction between sacred and profane. I was immediately taken with the notion that the universe and all events are sacred. They all might be doorways to the divine, if you know how to see. This was not something the priests and nuns were telling me in religious classes.

I know that all of this still doesn’t work for religious people who don’t accept being “spiritual” as a way of life (even though a growing number of Americans report that as their religious affiliation).

It was a Lutheran mystic, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the mid-2oth century who called this “religionless Christianity” as he saw people moving beyond the framework of religion to what they saw as a deeper but still Christian experience.

I would say that I see people moving even farther to a “religionless spirituality” that is unattached to any formal religion and may or may not be connected to any formal conception of God.

flocking

The animals know. They sense things that we can’t. The recent earthquake in Nepal demonstrated that again.

We are pretty sophisticated in our science but we still aren’t very good about predicting natural disasters. Animals seem to be able to sense some events.  Immediately before an earthquake, herds of animals often start to behave strangely. Before a tsunami, they move to higher ground. They may leave their homes in large numbers.

In 373 B.C., historians recorded that animals, including rats, snakes and weasels, deserted the Greek city of Helice in droves just days before a quake devastated the place.

Can they detect small, fast-traveling waves? Can they sense changes in the ground water? Some researchers think that animals may be more sensitive to positive ions in the air that build up when rocks in the earth’s surface are stressed leading up to an earthquake.

We don’t know how they know.

You’ve heard those stories about a dog detecting cancer in its owner.  But when a group of animals reacts to an imminent disaster, is that some kind of group behavior – like birds flocking or the movement of a school of fish – or is it many data points that we could monitor?

Researchers are just beginning to look at collecting data in large quantities from animals without interfering with their natural behavior. That might come from monitoring their habitats using sensors or motion detectors. Could we add science to our observations and learn to know about disasters beforehand?

“The Monk and the Fish” is a little film from 1994 by animator Michael Dudok de Wit. It is about a monk who tries to catch an elusive fish. Some viewers see Christian symbolism. Some see Buddhism.

The animator has said it is about rising above duality. He was inspired by the Ten Ox Herding Pictures, a series of Zen poems and images from 12th Century China. They illustrate the journey to enlightenment through the story of a man’s struggle with a wayward bull.

Each frame is hand-drawn in ink and watercolor and it also feels more Eastern. The short film was nominated for Best Short Animated Film at both the Academy Awards and the British Academy Film Awards.

Tonight,  May 21, 2015, Venus is quite clear near the waxing crescent moon in the western sky. Venus is the third-brightest celestial object in our view, after the sun and moon.

The fourth-brightest celestial body is Jupiter and it is above the moon and Venus and can also be seen at dusk. If it is a clear night for you, you will see, as the darkness deepens, the bright star Regulus above Jupiter, and the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux , will come out above Venus.

 

 

new moon smallToday, May 18, is the day of the New Moon. Some people think of this as the Dark Moon or “No Moon.”

In one of the many celestial plays of motion and opposites, this is when the Moon transitions from the morning to the evening sky. Today, and at this point every month, the Sun and Moon lie on the same side of Earth in space.

The Moon rises with the Sun at sunrise and then crosses the sky with the Sun during the daytime and sets with the Sun at sunset. The New Moon follows the Sun.

For perspective, at the Full Moon, the sun and moon lie on opposite sides of Earth and the Moon will then rise around sunset, cross the sky during the night and set around sunrise.

Johannes Stoetter’s images body paintings, nature art and of models covered in vegetables and fruit are a kind of camouflage as art.

No, that’s not a bird holding a bird. It’s a woman holding a bird.

Watch video about his work:  http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.” ~ Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman is a “new” novel by Harper Lee which is set to be released on July 14, 2015 by HarperCollins in the United States and William Heinemann in the United Kingdom.

It is new but it is old. It was written before Lee’s only published novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Some news reports have called the book a “sequel” to Mockingbird, but that’s not totally accurate.

cvrGo Set a Watchman was written in the mid-1950s before she wrote Mockingbird, which was published in 1960. Go Set a Watchman was the first novel Harper Lee submitted to publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.

It wasn’t accepted or published and was assumed to have been lost. She set it aside when her editor suggested that she write another novel from young Scout Finch’s perspective.

The manuscript was then said to be “lost” until it was “rediscovered” by her lawyer in the fall of 2014.  What’s with all those quotes around words? I’m not convinced that story is true – and I’m not the only one who feels that way.

The title is from the Bible (Isaiah 21:6) “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”

As any reader of Mockingbird knows, young Scout sees her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral center, the watchman, of their town of Maycomb.

Harper Lee in 2007

Maycomb is a thinly-disguised version of Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama where she was born in 1926. She attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama.She recently celebrated her Happy 89th birthday. She has been awarded numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Go Set a Watchman is a literary event.

To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite novels and one I loved teaching because many students ended up loving it too. That’s part of why I am cautiously anticipating the new novel.

Some media reports the past few months have also been suspicious about the manuscript’s sudden discovery and the publication.

Harper Lee’s health has been in decline and she had said last year she would not write or release another novel. Her sister was also her caregiver and he lawyer. Her sister died and two months later comes the announcement of the new book. Harper is blind, 89 years old, in assisted living where she has been since she had a stroke in 2007. NPR suggested that the publication circumstances raise “questions about whether she is being taken advantage of in her old age.”

I have read that some people were planning to boycott the new novel, believing that it would tarnish her Mockingbird reputation. The publisher has said that it will be published as originally written, with no revisions.

Did Harper Lee control over the decision to publish? Is it a worthy followup to her beloved first novel?

I hope the answer is yes to both of those questions.

Will I read the book? Yes. How can I resist?

Go Set a Watchman tells the story of an adult Scout Finch who travels from New York to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father, Atticus. It is a sequel in that it takes place 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird.  You could think of Mockingbird as her prequel to Watchman.

tkamThe book is said to have many of the characters we already know and love. It will be interesting to see how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are dealing with events in the mid-1950s American south.

If you’re a big fan of a novel, then you might not welcome the idea of it being made – and ruined – by a film version.  You also might not welcome a sequel of a novel or a film if you think it was just being released to make a buck.

I am hoping that Watchman was just as well written as Lee’s other book since they were written about the same time. Of course, all the years that I taught Mockingbird, I would look for biographical material on Lee and it always said she was “at work on a second novel.” Wouldn’t she have gone back to that earlier manuscript and released it if she thought it was as good as Mockingbird?

I hope a watchman has been watching over Harper Lee.

 

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