THE WETLAND POND
The wetland pond is shrinking.
Dark-chocolate cattails and
summer-green milkweed pods
burst into the white cotton
balls they always do when
autumn comes, a cotton
field of wisps and puffs that
match the color of my hair.
The sumacs are changing into
the red dress they always wear
this time of year, a royal
crimson robe, glistening in
the morning sun before
frost and snow turn their
fleeting autumn puffs from
regal red to winter white.
I see no yellow on the wetland
pond beside this dirt road that
has no name or dot on anyone’s
map. The yellow lilies on the
lily-pads have gone to sleep
to greet the Spring again if
the pond is still here.
--GCS, September morning walk
September 27, 2021.
O LORD, what are we that You should care for us?
mere mortals that You should think of us?
We are like a puff of wind;
our days are like a passing shadow.
Do not cast me off in my old age.
(Psalm 144:3,4; 71:9 BCP)
Let the earth rejoice;
Let the multitude of the isles be glad.
- Psalm 97, Book of Common Prayer
There is no multitude of isles here. I see instead a multitude of cattails, and lily pads waiting to splash bursts of yellow on this off the map wetland pond, this place like no other among the multitude of wetlands, marshes, and fens. It calls no attention to itself. Perhaps that’s why I like it so.
Eared Grebe caution and curiosity
This morning an Eared Grebe teenager is playing hide-n-seek, surveilling the stranger on the dirt road. I see only one. It darts behind the cattails and shows itself again, paddling among the lily pads with eyes trained on the stranger, its head turning left, to right, and straight ahead again before diving out of sight and rising here and there, looking and hiding until, suddenly, three siblings who’d slept in late turn the caution and curiosity of one into the daily familiarity of four — life without strangers.
Eared Grebes and the fine arts
I wonder whether Eared Grebes hear and see what only children, painters, musicians, and poets of my kind know, stopping to see and listen and rejoice with the isles themselves: “The LORD is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad!” (Psalm 97:1).
Troubles and the gladness of another day
Do Eared Grebes know of kings and queens, of gods and goddesses? Do they shudder and call for momma, huddling in their nest when thunder rolls and lightening flashes to light the starless sky? Do they smell the far-off smoke or hear the crackling fires from the Outback? Do they rue the death of ‘Roos? Do they despair of fires, earthquakes, winds, rising seas, floods, and dried up ponds? Do they imagine the mountains melting like wax? Do they have phonies who plunge them into despair or the ‘truehearted’ who raise their spirits to the gladness of awakening to another sunrise over the wetland?
The wonder of cattails and lily pads
Are Eared Grebes more attuned than the stranger to the wonder of this isle of cattails and lily pads, this isle with no distractions, where LIFE Itself— beginning, middle, and ending — is “Lord and King”?
The LORD is King; let the earth rejoice;let the multitude of isles be glad!
Gordon C. Stewart, by the wetland isle, August 12, 2020.
Blood, as all men know, than water’s thicker But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than blood.
Aldous Huxley, Ninth Philosopher’s Song, 1920
When Aldous Huxley turned the adage “blood is thicker than water” on its head there was no Earth Day. No COVID-19. No economy stuck in idle at the brink of the cliff. No orders or guidelines to stay home and wash your hands. But he had been the flu pandemic of 1918.
Blood Brothers — Teddy Bonsall and I
“Blood is thicker than water” is about family ties, or becoming ‘blood-brothers’ the way Teddy Bonsall and I did when we drew blood with our pen-knives, and put our cut fingers together to mix our five year old blood. Maybe something in our little minds knew that ‘blood’ described the bond between soldiers in battle. Blood-brothers — soldiers who risked their lives, as our fathers had in World War II — were closer than brothers and sisters born of the same womb. The world was a war zone. Teddy and I would go down together, whatever new war might come along. We were blood brothers.
A virus doesn’t know about ‘blood-brothers’
The day after Earth Day 2020 tests the way we frame who and what we humans are and will, or will not, be on a planet on its way to boiling both blood and water. We are not blood brothers or blood sisters. We can no longer frame ourselves as warriors in wars between our nation and their nation(s) without committing species suicide. No more blaming the Spanish for the 1918 flu pandemic or China for the new coronavirus. There will be no great America without a green planet. Everyone is a child of water — the amniotic fluid of every mother’s womb, and the water that is wider than blood (the oceans, rivers, and water tables) that keep the ‘pale blue dot’ blue and green.
The Daily Briefings
Most afternoons I tune in to the president’s coronavirus pandemic team’s daily updates, but I can’t do it anymore. I’ve run out of Maalox, and I refuse to fill a glass or two from the liquor cabinet. This is no time to self-medicate. I’ve watched the climate-change-denying president and his ‘oleaginous’ vice president and administration re-frame COVID-19 as a foreign invasion — the ‘Chinese’ flu — to be ‘defeated’ by an army of American blood brothers. The updates are not COVID-19 updates. They are 2020 presidential campaign rallies with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx thrown in to provide cover for the medical disinformation no doctor or scientist can support. Day by day, the conflict between the president and the medical professionals becomes increasingly apparent in the faces of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx barely able to conceal their professional and moral in the face of a kind of medical malpractice they once could not imagine.
While the members of the coronavirus team stand shoulder to shoulder without masks, members of the White House press corps practice the social distancing guidelines the people with the microphone do not. Spaced six feet apart, the correspondents ask the questions that publicly trap the president in his own lies and contradictions. The medical professionals become more outspoken, less likely to say what the president expects them to say.
The White House press corps occasionally rises to the expectations of the First Amendment, offering slivers of hope that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will go away before the Earth is left to the viruses.
The Voice that cannot be silenced
I imagine Aldous Huxley in the last row of the White House correspondents section. He’s the only one in the room who brings wisdom from the “Spanish Flu” pandemic a hundred years ago.
He’s had his hand up for 20 minutes. No one will call on him.
Finally, in exasperation, he whispers in hopes someone watching might remember the greater threat to Earth itself:
“Blood, as all men know, than water’s thicker But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than blood!”
Legitimate fears, on the one hand, and the false assurances, on the other, expose a truth we rarely face. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pays no attention to political parties, economic status, or national borders. Viruses do not discriminate. One human being is the same as the next. Viruses like this are familiar with homo sapiens stupidity that ignores our mortal frailty. They know better than we that there is only one economy — one house, one planet — in which what happens in one room (one class, one race, one culture, one nation) affects everyone in every room of the house.
A Time for Solitude
The closing of schools, businesses, sports venues, cancellations of political rallies, social gatherings et.al. will separate us until the current siege passes. But is it too much to hope that the threat of a virus would bring our species to its senses and rouse us to action in the face of the bigger pandemic threat, the health and habitability of the planet itself? The viruses will be fine; we may become the latest Woolly Mammoths to die of thirst.
The experience of separation will be either lonely or solitary. Loneliness is its own kind of despair; solitude offers opportunity to step away to reflect. How much we reflect deeply depends in part on learning from previous generations the kind of wisdom that does not shrink or shrivel when there are real reasons to fear. One of those sources of wisdom is G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), the Irish Anglican priest, poet, author, and World War I British Army chaplain affectionately known as ‘Woodbine Willie’.
‘Studdert Kennedy became ‘Woodbine Willie’ after insisting on serving in the trenches, moving among the injured and dying, distributing “Willis’s Woodbine’ cigarettes as part of his pastoral care. “Our first job,” he advised a newly commissioned chaplain, “is to go beyond the men in self-sacrifice and devotion. . . . There is very little spiritual work — it is all muddled and mixed — but it is all spiritual. Take a box of [cigarettes] in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart, and go to them, live with them. You can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always.”
The modern cult of cheeriness: deadly fear of sadness
G. A. Studdert Kennedy left behind a word for our troubles in 2020. He called called people to think and feel. He demands that we get real. “Thinking, he said, “begins with trouble in the mind.
“Thinking begins with trouble in the mind. There is no thought without tears. ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ The modern cult of cheeriness is largely due to the fact that we are deadly afraid of being sad. We want Easter without Lent. But we cannot have it. The human mind and the human heart — you cannot separate one from the other — God has joined them together and no one can put them asunder.”
There’s no such thing as thought which does not feel,
If it be real thought, and not thought’s ghost
All pale and sicklied o’er with dead conventions,
Abstract truth, which is a lie upon this
Living, loving, suffering Truth which pleads
And pulses in my very veins. The blue
Blood of all beauty and the breath of life itself.
--G.A. Studdert Kennedy sermon, The Word with God, 1926.
Coming Next: more wisdom from ‘Woodbine Willie’
In days to come, Views from the Edge will feature more of G. A. Struddert Kennedy as it applies to this moment for thoughtful solitude to reflect on who we are and who we choose to become. Coming next:
“There is, and must be, a plane upon which we can think and reason together upon the questions. . . apart from . . . the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife.”
David Kanigan’s Sunday Morning introduced me to Niall Williams’s words and a photograph of architecture from Berlin. “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story….” — Niall Williams, History of the Rain.
HEARING AND TELLING STORIES
Pondering Williams’ short sentence reminded me of Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. We don’t just have stories. We ARE our stories. And our stories contain secrets.
I’m imagining a scene that will not happen in real time. There is a large room. Folding wooden chairs have been arranged in a huge circle. Members of Congress and their staff members are sitting there. There is no assigned seating. Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are there.
Adam Schiff and Doug Collins are there. Scattered among the tailored suits and silk ties are members of the Capitol cleaning and custodial staff, the barbers and stylists, the shoe shiners, the cooks, kitchen assistants, table waiters, and dishwashers are all there. The mailroom clerks, the Capitol Guard, and Secret Service are there. No chair is different than another. Shaker-like oak chairs, every one the same. There is no dais. No microphone. No television cameras. All cell phones are off. There are no distractions. The room is quiet.
All eyes are fixed on the Ojibwa dancer sitting alone in the empty space created by the circle formation. All ears are listening to the story the Ojibwa Elder is telling through his flute. Everyone hears the story and his prayers to the Great Spirit offered without words through his drumming. Then he begins to sing toward the four directions. They watch his body turn to the West, and follow his lead, all turning as he turns.
Look towards the West Your Grandfather is looking this way Pray to Him, pray to Him! He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the North Your Grandfather is looking this way Pray to Him, pray to Him! He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the East Your Grandfather is looking this way Pray to Him, pray to Him! He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the South Your Grandfather is looking this way Pray to Him, pray to Him! He is sitting there looking this way!
Look up above (upwards) God (“Great Spirit”) sits above us Pray to Him, pray to Him! He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the Earth Your Grandmother lies beneath us Pray to Her, pray to Her! She is laying there listening (to your Prayers).
Everyone is both curious and caught up in the moment. The OIjibwa is on bended knee. He kisses the Earth. He lifts his eyes upwards. With his right hand he cups his left ear, listening for the voice of the ancestors who looked toward the four directions. The people in the circle begin to hear what he is hearing. The Ojibwa, like Moses parting the waters, is creating a path into the center of the circle, as the sounds draw closer. The Ojibwa shaman open to the doors for the Gathering of Nations, dancing and singing because they know what the people in the wood chairs do not: No one owns land. No one can own a Grandmother.
We are our stories. We tell them, including the secrets we’ve dared not tell, to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. Humankind is a long story.
“You must unite behind the science. You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.”
Greta Thunberg, US Congress, Washington DC, September 17, 2019.
Viewing former NASA Space Shuttle Pilot Mark Kelly‘s video this morning, the day we face the possibility of another government shutdown, inspires hope for a wiser future. NASA photograph of Earth as the Blue Marble invites us to recognize we’re all in this together.
Click Full Speed Ahead for Mark Kelly’s announcement of his candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2020. Mark Kelly is joined by his wife, former U.S. Congressional Rep. Gabby Giffords, whose formal public service came to an abrupt end with a near-fatal shot to the head on January 8, 2011. Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly became leading voices for responsible gun control in the U.S.
Earth picked up about 40,000 metric tons of interplanetary material, mostly dust, much of it from comets.
Earth lost around 96,250 metric tons of hydrogen and helium, the lightest elements, which escaped to outer space.
Roughly 505,000 cubic kilometers of water fell on Earth’s surface as rain, snow, or other types of precipitation.
Bristlecone pines, which can live for millennia, each gained perhaps a hundredth of an inch in diameter.
Countless mayflies came and went.
More than one hundred thirty-six million people were born in 2018, and more than fifty-seven million died.
Tidal interactions are very slowly increasing the distance between Earth and the moon, which ended 2018 about 3.8 centimeters further apart than they were at the beginning. As a consequence, Earth is now rotating slightly more slowly; the day is a tiny fraction of a second longer.
This morning I went back to see what we’ve said about climate change. Here’s an audio guest commentary from June, 2010 on All Things Considered. Click the red link below for the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) site with the commentary.
November 6 mid-term election opens the door for the American electorate — irrespective of party affiliation — to demand of candidates that they their parties, and the nation itself make climate change action their urgent first priority.
Have you sometimes felt you’d be better off not knowing? But you can’t help knowing what you know, or think you know?
This is a time like that. It doesn’t just feel like that. It is a time like that. I know, for instance, that the over-riding challenge of our time is climate change. I also know that the ruling party in my country denies that climate change is real, and that neither major party sees climate change action as Priority #1. I know from articles like the one in yesterday’s Phys.org (“Carbon tax gets renewed attention but still faces resistance“) and the U.N. report that the clock is ticking. We’re fiddling while the Earth burns.
The story of Nero burning down Rome appears to be apocryphal. I know that now. But before I knew that, I wondered what the Roman Senate was doing. Did the members of the Senate follow Nero’s lead? Did they light their own matches? Did they applaud? Did any of them head for the well for the water buckets to douse the fire?
The real Nero Claudius was much different, but also, it turns out, much the same as the one I thought I knew. Britannica speaks as “infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances.” Its biography of Nero offers the following on the burning of Rome and the aftermath.
The great fire that ravaged Rome in 64 illustrates how low Nero’s reputation had sunk by this time. Taking advantage of the fire’s destruction, Nero had the city reconstructed in the Greek style and began building a prodigious palace—the Golden House—which, had it been finished, would have covered a third of Rome. During the fire, Nero was at his villa at Antium 35 miles (56 km) from Rome and therefore cannot be held responsible for the burning of the city. But the Roman populace mistakenly believed that he himself had started the fire in Rome in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in the city’s subsequent reconstruction. — “Nero: Biography and Accomplishments,” Britannica.com.
Trump Hotel with gold-infused glass, Las Vegas, NV
Today, Nero and the U.S. Senate mock what I know: climate change is real and action on climate change should be priority #1 for every political political party and nation. Knowing Jesus’ parable about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and the wise one who built his house upon the rock, I keep hammering on the door of the Golden House that’s built on sand. “Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness,” said Jacob Christoph Blumhardt long ago. “They must oft be repeated. Not a single stroke is wasted.”
I add my little hammer-strokes to those of Governor Jerry Brown, Bill McKibben, 350.org, the Sierra Club for the rescue of the rain forests, the oceans, and all things green from the Golden House that threaten to entomb us. I can only live by what I know: the cry and hope that the hammer-strokes are not too late.
On Mothers Day 2018, “60 Minutes” featured an interview with the film-maker of “A Man of His Word,” the new documentary on Pope Francis in which Pope Francis speaks boldly about Mother Earth, the mother of all life.
Views from the Edge visitors and the readers of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness will recognize our long-standing position that all other moral, social, economic, political, and spiritual issues pale in comparison with the stewardship of the web of life we call nature. Like Pope Francis, we have contended that the planetary crisis is not just one issue among others; it is the singular overarching challenge to everyone everywhere all the time. We agree with Pope Francis. It is a faith crisis like no other.
In advance of the release of the documentary, we offer this excerpt of Franciscan Media summaries of Pope Francis’s previously published statements.
“Our common home is at risk. Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem.
“The earth, entire peoples, and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea—one of the first theologians of the Catholic Church—called “the dung of the devil.” An unfettered pursuit of money rules.
“This is the ‘dung of the devil.’ The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, Sister and Mother Earth.” – Pope Francis.
The Pope’s position also reminds us of another man of his word, Bolivian President Evo Morales who observed the following relation between Mother Earth, the devil’s dung” (money/greed), and the human species.
“Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.” – Evo Morales.