Where angels fear to tread…

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…fools rush in. 

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Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion

In places like Like Wobegon and Minnesota Public Radio’s firing of A Prairie Home Companion creator and host Garrison Keillor for “inappropriate conduct” and MPR’s erasure of all things Prairie Home Companion. MPR will no longer air A Prairie Home Companion re-runs or Keillor’s thoughtful “Writer’s Almanac” and will give a new name to the show hosted by Keillor’s successor. If you opened the last link and it said “Page Not Found – NPR” you get the picture.

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President Trump and Roy Moore

Meanwhile the President of the United States gets elected after 20 women have accused him of sexual misconduct or harassment — and continues to deny all allegations as fake new, though he himself has been recorded as bragging about groping — while he and conservative evangelicals in Alabama support the candidacy of Roy Moore whose behavior is alleged to be more than “inappropriate”.

220px-Alexander_Pope_by_Michael_DahlIt was English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) who wrote the line “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” in An Essay on Criticism that invites the reader to ponder which is worse: criticism of writing that “judges ill” or writing that is in “Want of Skill”?

‘Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill

Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,

But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ Offence,

To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense

Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,

Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;

A Fool might once himself alone expose,

Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.

-Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1–8).

Fools — both writers and their critics — are rushing in where angels fear to tread. Views from the Edge just became one of the them. Sometimes fools can’t help themselves.

Wishing everyone a nice day from what little remains of the little fictional Minnesota town that just went the way of all flesh. Farewell to thee, Lake Wobegon. We can only wish the same or worse in the nonfictional places of Pennsylvania Avenue and the State of Alabama.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 30, 2017

Christ the King

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Poet Malcolm Guite’s poetry holds the essential paradox of the Christian faith and life. Open the re-blogged piece to read and listen to his poem for the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday.

Malcolm Guite

20111119-111210We come now to a feast of Ends and Beginnings! This Sunday is the last Sunday in the cycle of the Christian year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King, and next Sunday we begin our journey through time to eternity once more, with the first Sunday of Advent. We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But alongside such images we must also set the passage in Matthew (25:31-46) in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden King…

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Only the Splendor of Light

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What we now see through the Hubble telescope is poetry written on a grand scale much larger than our mortal minds can fathom.

A deep infrared view of the Orion Nebula from HAWK-ILong before the Hubble and long before the onset of climate departure that rocks our illusion of the human species’ exception to nature, Walter Chalmers Smith‘s poetry gave voice to the sense the Hubble elicits, the sense of mortal awe looking at what we cannot fathom.

How do you express the inexpressible mystery of the Creator whose name was unutterable in Hebrew Scriptures, save the self-described “I AM”? How do you put into words what cannot be known? How do you sing about the One who is ineffable — beyond all words? —  Professor C. Michael Hawn, Perkins School of Theology, “History: ‘Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise’.”

Poetry is the language of faith. Perhaps it is also the language of God, the Ineffable.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small,
in all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render, O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee!

— Walter Chambers Smith (1824-1908), “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” (1867), stanzas three and four.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 30, 2017.

Who am I?

“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.”

Who am I,

this whirling

dervish of a self,

toying with nature,

twirling to and fro

the past that lives

in this whirling

blood and bones?

[GCS]

When “this whirling dervish of a self” came to mind at 3:45 A.M., the image came without forethought as expressing an endless search, the self spinning in search for what John Calvin called the knowledge of the self and of God. It had nothing to do with the phrase’s origins in the Sufi “whirling dervishes” who whirled in ecstatic union with the Divine.

A dervish performs the Sema Ceremony

Turkish whirling dervish with right hand up (heaven-ward) and left hand down (earth-ward) in love.

Who we are – where we come from, who we’ve been, who we’re becoming, and where we’re going – “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”  [First sentence of the first paragraph of the much maligned John Calvin, the 16th century whirling dervish of the much misunderstood The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536].

The more I learn, the less I know. I remain a mystery to myself, a whirling dervish.

  • Gordon C. Stewart [GCS], Chaska, MN, July 24, 2017.

 

 

 

Everything You Want

Two poems by Pat Cegan on the theme of contentment greeted us this morning while enduring a third day of unexpected silence in response to a property offer on the wilderness cabin we want as our own.

Who cares about the property? We never have had it. If the “seller” sells it, we won’t really “own” it – no one really owns a thing! – and the better part of wisdom is being content with what we have.

Source of Inspiration

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What would you do
if you had the perfect body
unlimited money
a loving family
all your wishes come true?

Would you be happy, satisfied
never again feel that yearning
deep within? Would you be free
of fear and doubt?
Love unconditionally?

Would having everything you want
make you who you want to be?

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Author Interview – Gordon C. Stewart – “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” (Poetic Theological Essays on Politics, Pop Culture, Economy and Much More)

David Ellis (an English award-winning poet, novelist, writer, and host of “Too Full to Write”) reached across “the pond” following publication of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness”. Thank you, David.

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Howdy folks.

So happy that you could make it to through to Friday, our favourite day of the week, in one piece 🙂

For tonight’s author interview extravaganza, let me introduce to you all my good friend, theologian and author Gordon C. Stewart, as he regales us with his writing experiences, his engagingly witty collection of essays blended together in a volume for our reading pleasure and what ultimately influences his writing thoughts and processes.

Enjoy the show and have a fantastic weekend packed full of fun, food, drinks and frolics galore, thanks for reading 🙂

Hi there Gordon, thank you for joining us to discuss your written works, writing experiences, passions and influences.

Let’s start with debut anthology “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness”, a collection of poetic essays based on a variety of topics such as politics, economy and popular culture to name a few. Can you elaborate more…

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Two Shores – the wands of joy and pain

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I left Maine behind with the DownEaster’s dream of being on Monhegan Island yet to be. Knowing how way leads on to way (Frost), I wondered whether I ever would.

Mysterious shapes, with wands of joy and pain,
Which seize us unaware in helpless sleep,
And lead us to the houses where we keep
Our secrets hid, well barred by every chain
That we can forge and bind: the crime whose stain
Is slowly fading ’neath the tears we weep;
Dead bliss which, dead, can make our pulses leap—
Oh, cruelty! To make these live again!
They say that death is sleep, and heaven’s rest
Ends earth’s short day, as, on the last faint gleam
Of sun, our nights shut down, and we are blest.
Let this, then, be of heaven’s joy the test,
The proof if heaven be, or only seem,
That we forever choose what we will dream!

“Dreams” – Helen Hunt Jackson, Amherst, MA (1830)

 

I’ll imagine Mohegan’s lure from the North Shore of Lake Superior, putting off the dream to welcome two new-born Minnesotans who might use a DownEast step-grandfather’s softened hand to guide them into the knowledge of themselves toward the choices they alone will dream.

North Shore

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 8, 2017.

 

 

A Burst of Yellow

Four days with old friends on the coast of Maine is tonic for the weary soul.

sometimes I feel all blue
sad sorry blue
all down in minor key
a rhapsody in blue.

Purple yellow Iris

Purple-Yellow Iris

sometimes when blue
begins to play in me
its melody the minor
turns to major key –

blue bursts into purple
and, leaping into joy,
a burst of sun-burst yellow
pushes the blues away

and I feel un-blued
almost whole, more up,
a purple-yellow rhapsody,
an off-beat Ode to Joy.

The days with Ted Campbell, McGaw Professor (Emeritus) of Old Testament at our alma mater, became a burst of yellow joy for us all. We awarded Ted an honorary dogtorate and made him an honorary member of the Dogs with a Goofy yellow hat.

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Goofy hat

Christopher Smart was Smart

Christopher_Smart_Pembroke_portraitChristopher Smart (1722-1771) was an English incurable pauper poet institutionalized in Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics whose poetry, like Vincent Van Gogh’s art, continues long after his death in spite of, or perhaps because of, what we now call mental illness.

Smart’s poetry is not as widely known as Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night. But it is well-known among other poets, musicians like Benjamin Britten, and worshipers who sing from the Episcopal Church Hymnal, as I did yesterday on the Second Sunday of Easter.

The fourth stanza of “Awake, Arise, Lift up your Voice” leaped from the page, as fresh today as it was the day Smart wrote it:

His [Christ’s] enemies had sealed the stone as Pilate gave them leave,

lest dead and friendless and alone he should their skill deceive.

Smart sees Christ as “dead and friendless and alone” under his enemies’ lock and key as the authorities of collective madness had given them leave, lest Christ – locked away dead and friendless and alone – should deceive their power to seal shut the tomb (or asylum cell).

And then the fifth stanza:

O Dead, arise! O Friendless stand by seraphim adored!

O Solitude again command your host from heaven restored!

At the very moment Christopher Smart was coming to my attention, the French were casting their votes, confused and fearful in the wake of England’s Brexit, wailing sirens on the Champs-Élysées, and candidates loudly debating whether sanity demands sealing the nation’s borders.

St_Lukes_Hospital_for_Lunatics,_LondonChristopher Smart’s biographers suggest that today Christopher would be diagnosed as bi-polar. He was committed to the Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics after episodes when, it is said, Christopher would suddenly drop to his knees on the street in prayer, loudly inviting by-standers to join him, a different kind of street preacher who causes saner people to cross to the other side of the street.

But sometimes “the lunatics” are smarter than we. They see what those of us who avoid them often fail to see: the Dead and Friendless One meeting us, like Christopher and Vincent, in times of lock-down madness, until we sing Smart’s hymn two-and-a-half centuries later on the Second Sunday of Easter.

Christopher Smart was smart.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 24, 2017.

The Widower and the Wife

THE WIDOWER

Ninety-year old “John” still drives to church. He comes alone now, one month after his wife died.

He parks his car on the street, as he has for forty years.

“Good morning, John! Good to see you. Am I remembering correctly that you lost your wife recently?”

“Yes,” he says. It would have been 62 years next month.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss. These days must be very lonely.”

“Yes. Very,” he says, his gentle eyes seemingly thankful for the momentary recognition of his plight, followed by a pause. “I don’t know why I’m still here,” he says.  “I’m ready to go. I’m not saying I want to go, but I’m ready.”

“Old age ain’t for the faint of heart, is it, John?” “It sure isn’t,” he says.

THE WIFE

During his wife’s long illness, she, too, had spoken about being “ready to go.”

“I want to die,” she’d said, “before you have to put me in memory care.”

The thought of transfer from independent living to the lock-down memory care unit seemed worse than death. She’d made too many visits there. Seen too many old friends get lost in there, taking food that no longer nourishes, spoonfuls of institutional food administered for the purpose of keeping inmates alive for no reason but to prolong bodies that can’t remember their own names.

“I wish I could just walk off into the woods,” she’d said, “the way other animals do. This is unreal. I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid of becoming a burden.”

“DEATH IN THE WOODS”- Thomas MacDonagh

When I am gone and you alone are living here still,
You’ll think of me when splendid the storm is on the hill,
Trampling and militant here — what of their village street?–
For the baying of winds in the woods to me was music sweet.

Oh, for the storms again, and youth in my heart again!
My spirit to glory strained, wild in this wild wood then,
That now shall never strain — though I think if the tempest should roll
I could rise and strive with death, and smite him back from my soul.

But no wind stirs a leaf, and no cloud hurries the moon;
I know that our lake to-night with stars and shadows is strewn–
A night for a villager’s death, who will shudder in his grave
To hear — alas, how long! — the winds above him rave.

How long! Ah, Death, what art thou, a thing of calm or of storms?
Or twain — their peace to them, to me thy valiant alarms?
Gladly I’d leave them this corpse in their churchyard to lay at rest,
If my wind-swept spirit could fare on the hurricane’s kingly quest.

And sure ’tis the fools of knowledge who feign that the winds of the world
Are but troubles of little calms by the greater Calm enfurled:
I know then for symbols of glory, and echoes of one Voice dread,
Sounding where spacious tempests house the great-hearted Dead.

And what but a fool was I, crying defiance to Death,
Who shall lead my soul from this calm to mingle with God’s very breath!–
Who shall lead me hither and perhaps while you are waiting here still,
Sighing for thought of me when the winds are out on the hill.

  • Thomas MacDonagh (1 February 1878 – 3 May 1916 / Cloughjordan / Ireland), executed by firing squad 3 May 1916 at the age of 39 for participation in the Irish rebellion called “Easter Rising”.

John now visits his wife among the ashes he’s scattered in the wooded glen behind their home, in the greater Calm under the old oak tree, among the animals, “sighing for thought of [her] when the winds are out on the hill.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 12, 2017.