Seamus Heaney: Treasures of his life that we may have missed

Seamus Heaney in the poet's classic pose: Ready to stand and read to yet another audience.

Seamus Heaney in the poet’s classic pose: Ready to stand and read to yet another audience.

Seamus Heaney’s death at age 74 leaves the world with one less spiritual hero in tangible form and a fresh new voice in the chorus of saints all around us. His voice is rising already in the current celebration of his life on front pages and TV broadcasts around the world. Rather than echo the familiar themes we see in news media, ReadTheSpirit is bringing readers some treasures from Heaney’s work that you may have overlooked.

SEAMUS HEANEY AS PEACEMAKER

One of the first in-coming emails about Heaney’s death to reach our ReadTheSpirit offices came from author and international peacemaker Daniel Buttry, who closed his own latest book Blessed Are the Peacemakers by invoking Heaney’s vision. In that passage, Buttry writes:

With all the grand visions and great hopes pushing at our back, our responsibility is to ultimately take that next small step. We must act faithfully, not someday—but today. The Irish poet Seamus Heaney insists that even the grandest achievements in the realm of justice depend on individuals standing on the shore of history and daring to “believe that a further shore is reachable from here.”

Of course, in that same 1990 poem by Heaney, The Cure at Troy, the poet also is blunt about the limits of his own art:
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

However, the legacy of that landmark poem proves that the poet’s pen can produce words that thousands will sing and keep singing for many years. Heaney wrote the poem—which debuted as a theatrical production and later was published in book form—around the time Nelson Mandela was about to be released from prison and South Africa seemed poised for dramatic change.

In writing The Cure at Troy, Heaney used one of the popular tales that, more than 2,000 years ago, was a well-known part of the larger cycle of stories about the Trojan War. In this particular tale, the clever hero Odysseus travels to a remote island to convince a reluctant hero to leave his long isolation and join the battle against Troy. This is no easy task! Odysseus’s arrival on the island resurfaces long-festering anger over past injustices; soon the main characters are playing tricks and telling lies; and there seems to be no chance that any clear moral vision can possibly emerge.

Vice President Joe Biden drew fresh attention to The Cure at Troy by quoting from the same section of the poem that inspired Daniel Buttry. Biden read the lines in bold-face, below, at the memorial service for Sean Collier, the campus police officer killed in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings:

History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

A CHORUS MOURNING SEAMUS HEANEY
ARISES IN GLOBAL NEWS MEDIA

Google News lists more than 500 headlines about Heaney’s passing in media around the world. And that doesn’t count the thousands of columns by independent writers and bloggers. So, we chose to hightlight a few that you might overlook:

THE IRISH TIMES: Like all great poets, Seamus Heaney was an alchemist. He turned our disgrace into grace, our petty hatreds into epic generosity, our dull clichés into questioning eloquence, the leaden metal of brutal inevitability into the gold of pure possibility. He lacked the arrogance to tell us who we are—much more importantly, he told us what we are. He reminded us that Ireland is a culture before it is an economy. And in the extraordinary way he bore himself, the dignity and decency and the mellow delight that shone from him, he gave us self-respect.

THE NEW YORK TIMES (Editorial Board): Seamus Heaney was sipping bourbon during a Boston snowstorm 30 years ago, trying to explain his poetry as an escape from a terrible fear of silence that always haunted him. “What is the source of our first suffering?” he asked, quoting the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. “It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak.” The poet, who died Friday at the age of 74, mastered that fear magnificently in five decades of lyrical composition that earned him a Nobel Prize.

THE TIMES OF INDIA: Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s foremost poet who won the Nobel literature prize in 1995, has died after a half-century exploring the wild beauty of Ireland and the political torment within the nation’s soul.

THE RICHES OF THE NOBEL PRIZE

Seamus Heaney's Nobel Prize in Literature diploma from 1995. Copyright the Nobel Foundation. Artist: Bo Larsson. Calligrapher: Annika Rücker. Click on this image to visit the Nobel website.

Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize in Literature diploma from 1995. Copyright the Nobel Foundation. Artist: Bo Larsson. Calligrapher: Annika Rücker. Click on this image to visit the Nobel website.

The riches we’re referring to here are the materials given to the world by the Nobel Foundation after Heaney was awarded the 1995 Prize in Literature. Click on the image of Heaney’s Nobel diploma, at right, to visit the site and explore its many offerings.

One of the great gems is Heaney’s Nobel acceptance speech, which is available both in full text and in a nearly hour-long audio version on the Nobel site. Here is one passage from that remarkable talk Heaney delivered, trying to sum up his life and times—almost two decades before his own death:

One of the most harrowing moments in the whole history of the harrowing of the heart in Northern Ireland came when a minibus full of workers being driven home one January evening in 1976 was held up by armed and masked men and the occupants of the van ordered at gunpoint to line up at the side of the road. Then one of the masked executioners said to them, “Any Catholics among you, step out here.”

As it happened, this particular group, with one exception, were all Protestants, so the presumption must have been that the masked men were Protestant paramilitaries about to carry out a tit-for-tat sectarian killing of the Catholic as the odd man out, the one who would have been presumed to be in sympathy with the IRA and all its actions. It was a terrible moment for him, caught between dread and witness, but he did make a motion to step forward. Then, the story goes, in that split second of decision, and in the relative cover of the winter evening darkness, he felt the hand of the Protestant worker next to him take his hand and squeeze it in a signal that said no, don’t move, we’ll not betray you, nobody need know what faith or party you belong to.

All in vain, however, for the man stepped out of the line; but instead of finding a gun at his temple, he was thrown backward and away as the gunmen opened fire on those remaining in the line—for these were not Protestant terrorists, but members, presumably, of the Provisional IRA.

It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir; that Tacitus was right and that peace is merely the desolation left behind after the decisive operations of merciless power. I remember, for example, shocking myself with a thought I had about a friend who was imprisoned in the ’70s upon suspicion of having been involved with a political murder: I shocked myself by thinking that even if he were guilty, he might still perhaps be helping the future to be born, breaking the repressive forms and liberating new potential in the only way that worked, that is to say the violent way—which therefore became, by extension, the right way. It was like a moment of exposure to interstellar cold, a reminder of the scary element, both inner and outer, in which human beings must envisage and conduct their lives. But it was only a moment.

The birth of the future we desire is surely in the contraction which that terrified Catholic felt on the roadside when another hand gripped his hand, not in the gunfire that followed, so absolute and so desolate, if also so much a part of the music of what happens.

WATCH POET SEAMUS HANEY READ

Since news of his death, the Internet has been awash with video clips of Seamus Heaney lecturing, reading and appearing in various network TV broadcasts. Here are two of the best we’ve found:

SEAMUS HEANEY: ST. KEVIN AND THE BLACKBIRD

Heaney read this poem countless times through the years, so there are many video clips of his readings. But this short video has a moving introduction by the poet very much in line with the founding principles at ReadTheSpirit. Click the video screen to watch. (Note: If a video screen does not appear in your version, try clicking on the top headline to reload this story.)

SEAMUS HEANEY: AN OVERVIEW OF HIS LIFE AND WORK

We also recommend this longer TV report about Heaney’s life, produced two years before his death. In this clip, you’ll hear lines from a number of his poems. He also reads from his poetry about his own parents. That poem contains the powerful line, describing their marriage as “a love that’s proved by steady gazing, not at each other, but in the same direction.”  Again, click the video screen to enjoy this clip:

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

In ‘World Rat Day,’ poet J. Patrick Lewis invites youthful smiles—and flights of imagination

Cover World Rat Day by J Patrick Lewis and Anna RaffJ. Patrick Lewis already is inside countless homes, coast to coast, inviting children and their parents to read aloud from books like last year’s wonderful National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar! That big, fun, colorful volume won all kinds of honors, including nearly unanimous 5-star praise on Amazon in reader reviews.

If you don’t have that particular book on your shelf, then perhaps you’ve got one of Lewis’s other 80-plus books! Lewis’s various titles have been released by more than a dozen major publishing houses. In 2011, the Poetry Foundation named Lewis its third U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. In other words: You’re placing yourself in masterful hands when you buy, enjoy—or give away one of his books.

This year, Lewis is back with a fanciful volume that grabs hold of the calendar—specifically the holidays that chart our progress through the year—and encourages his readers to think fancifully about the way we mark time. He calls it: World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of.

The title poem in J. Patrick Lewis's new book for children, illustrated by Anna Raff.

The title poem in J. Patrick Lewis’s new book for children, illustrated by Anna Raff.

Given his career-long fascination with the natural world, most of the holidays he marks with playful poems—and colorful illustrations by Anna Raff—have to do with living creatures. His style of poetry toys with words, with the shape of his lines on the page—providing lots of fun for young readers and their parents. Envision a cross between Lewis Caroll, ee cummings and Ogden Nash.

Lewis claims that all of the holidays in his new book are real, although you’ll have to look far and wide to find the groups that “officially declared” some of these holidays. And, no, this book does not include a page of web links or other information about these festivals that he and Raff celebrate. But that’s hardly the point.

The real point is seeing our planet in a new way—and remembering the living creatures that make it such a marvelous place in which to live.

Lewis’s shortest poem is just six words in a single line for the mid-summer Ohio Sheep Day:

No one will ever forget Ewe.”

And, if you welcome this book into your home, your children will never forget your gift.

Review by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

Meditate in harmony with seasons in ‘The Lunar Tao’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-The_Lunar_Tao_by_Deng_Ming_Dao_cover.jpgCLICK THE COVER to visit the book’s Amazon page.Seasons, gods, family and us—
We are tethered on the same cord.

From The Lunar Tao

AMONG THE THOUSANDS of books about the Tao, Deng Ming-Dao’s new book, The Lunar Tao: Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons, invites us to explore the Chinese spiritual world in fresh ways. At first glance, readers can tell this book was designed with great care—from a soft-to-the-touch matte cover to the hundreds of black and white sketches and photographs that draw the eye into the 365 daily meditations.

Why choose this volume over the heaps of other books exploring the Tao? First, consider the author’s stature. Author Deng Ming-Dao has been writing about the Tao for 30 years. His grandfather emigrated from southern China to San Franciso 100 years ago and Deng (that’s his family name) grew up immersed in Chinese culture. His first name, Dao, is the same as the Chinese word we Anglicize as Tao—so he grew up immersed in The Way.

Deng is no latter-day convert—some former Baptist or Catholic who left a career in marketing to start a meditation center and attract seekers. Deng has been in this for the long haul and his work stands up over time. After 20 years, his 365 Tao: Daily Meditations still sells briskly on Amazon. (That 1992 book currently has 87 of its 94 Amazon reviewers ranking it with either 4 or 5 stars!)

What is the Tao? The Way?

The Tao is the more-than-2,000-year-old spiritual system founded by Lao-Tsu (sometimes spelled Laozi, as Deng does in his book). “Taoism is China’s oldest and only indigenous spiritual tradition,” Deng explains to readers. “Buddhism came from India, and Confucianism is a system of morality, philosophy and governance. Taoists believe in following Tao—the Way. They believe that there is a Way that all of nature and all human endeavors follow. Furthermore, they believe that everyone has a personal Way.”

While firmly rooted in the tradition, Deng is gracious in broadening his presentation of the Tao. He touches on Confucian and Zen teachings, as well, and says that the Tao is not limited to Chinese people or Chinese culture. He writes: “Nothing is true just because it’s Chinese. We still need to take the ideas and find the right way to apply them to our own lives, regardless of who we are or where we live. … There is no reason to try to be Chinese if you aren’t.”

What’s inside this massive book? A lot! The Lunar Tao is as big as an old-fashioned telephone book. This certainly isn’t a little volume of meditations to tuck into your bag on a busy day. The trade off is that Deng is able to pack a startling amount of material between these covers. Do you enjoy the New Year’s Lantern Festival? Deng not only explains the festival, he also provides a meditation about lanterns, a tip for experiencing the holiday, an overview of how this holiday relates to other festivals—plus three fascinating legends about the Lantern Festival involving emperors who were surprised at this time of year.

Every day of the year is given at least a full page with at least two different texts to consider. Pick up a copy of this book of wonders, whatever your faith may be, and you’re sure to find something enlightening as the seasons turn this year.

REVIEW BY READTHESPIRIT EDITOR DAVID CRUMM

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Celebrate Catholic heroes in ‘Not Less than Everything’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0219_Not_Less_Than_Everything_Catholic_Writers_on_Saints.jpgCLICK THE COVER to visit the book’s Amazon page.THE INTRODUCTION to Not Less Than Everything reads like it was ripped from recent Vatican headlines about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in the midst of deep troubles at the core of the Roman Catholic Church. This book’s editor and all-around ring leader, Catherine Wolff, is well aware of those troubles. In fact, she was moved by the dysfunction at the core of her beloved billion-member Church to organize this series of 26 fascinating profiles, subtitled: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero. Collectively, this is more than a series of inspiring mini-biographies. This book is an effort to revive our appreciation of another source of authority in worldwide Christendom—something that Catholics and Protestants alike call “the communion of saints.” If our official religious leaders have led us astray, as Wolff argues, then it’s our fault for giving those elected officials too much authority in the first place.

These stories are not only uplifting—they are challenging. You’ll enjoy some of the profiles; others you’ll want to read twice, perhaps arguing with both the writer and the subject of the profile. If that sounds like your kind of book, then grab a copy now. Imagine discussing this book in your small group or Sunday school class. No shortage of spirited discussion here!

T.S. Eliot’s Warning of the Ultimate Cost: ‘Everything’

The title of the book comes from the end of poet T.S. Eliot’s spiritual tour de force, Four Quartets, in which Eliot peered deep into the nature of faith and fear, life and death, hope and doubt. Eliot wrote this huge cycle of poems at an earlier, historic moment of despair—the midst of World War II and the fire bombing of Great Britain by Nazi planes. Eliot wrote his final poem in the cycle “in the uncertain hour before the morning,” hoping that the world was on the verge of “the ending of interminable night.” Eliot kept asking: How can anyone who cares about humanity keep going? His answer was as long and complex as his 50 pages of poetry. But it involves making a total personal commitment to life. Or, as Eliot puts it—a commitment “costing not less than everything.” That’s a steep cost!

An obscure reference for the title of a new book? Perhaps. Yet, many of us are thinking of Eliot at this point of transition in Christianity. In Time Magazine, journalist and historian Jon Meacham published his post-mortem essay on Benedict’s resignation—and the road ahead—by citing Eliot, as well. The theme Meacham drew from the Quartets is the circular nature of life through seasons of birth, death and rebirth. “For T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets, the way forward is the way back,” Meacham writes. Perhaps Wolff’s choice of Eliot for her front cover was prophetic in these times.

REDISCOVERING ‘THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS’

In her introduction, Wolff explains that millions of grassroots Catholics are discouraged when bishops and Vatican officials claim that their flawed and limited view of the Church is the sum total of the Christian faith. In fact, many Catholics “yearn for other spiritual leaders,” she writes. If that is the case, she argues, we need a new way back into the faith: “Where better to look than the communion of saints? The Catholic cosmos is crowded not only by those present but also by those who have gone before. As Saint Augustine said, it should not seem a small thing to us that we are members of the same body as these. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson … writes that ‘their adventure of faith opens a way for us,’ that we together form ‘an ongoing river of companions seeking God.’”

This new collection includes not only some classic saints canonized by the Vatican—such as the 16th-century Ignatius of Loyola and the 15th century Joan of Arc—but also some surprises.

Dorothy Day, the tireless peace activist who devoted her life to the poor (and who also is profiled in Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers), is covered in Wolff’s new collection by journalist Patrick Jordan. He was Day’s associate in the Catholic Worker movement and Jordan’s 10 pages in this new book vividly capture Day’s larger-than-life spirit. Jordan jokes that her personality was so potent that an encounter with Day could feel like being hit by a Mack truck! Talk about throwing “Everything” into one’s life!

SHORT, TROUBLED (& INSPIRING) LIFE OF GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS

This book certainly is not Chicken Soup for the Catholic Soul! The Dorothy Day profile is occasionally amusing and, overall, is a moving story about the quirky activist. But other profiles in this book show us tortured souls, caught in impossible situations, nevertheless throwing themselves completely into their lives of faith. My favorite chapter in the book, one that I read more than once, is Colm Toibin’s 16-page profile of the 19th-century Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. While Hopkins certainly isn’t a household name, his star definitely is rising these days. Richard Rohr just named his latest book—a book that Rohr calls one of his most important works—with a line from a Hopkins poem.

As overall Editor, Wolff explains why chapters like the Hopkins profile appear in this book: “Many of these official or unofficial saints have been in situations similar to our own in Church history. They have spoken or acted in ways that challenged the prevailing authorities, knowing they risked reputation, livelihood, sometimes their heads—all the while remaining faithful. How did they do it? Why did they not just leave the Church or go on to another calling? What disposed them to dissent while remaining faithful to principles, to community? What was the source of their strength?”

As you watch the news unfold out of the Vatican in 2013, if you’re feeling anxious about the future of the world’s biggest organized religious body—switch gears and buy a copy of this terrific new collection. Pour a cup of coffee or tea, sit back in a comfortable chair with this volume—and enjoy learning about these dozens of men and women who still are quite capable of stirring hope in our hearts.

REVIEWED BY READTHESPIRIT EDITOR DAVID CRUMM

MORE STORIES ABOUT THIS CATHOLIC MOMENT

FATHER THOMAS REESE on the Next Pope: Who will elect the next pope? Europeans form the majority of the voting cardinals.

DAVID BRIGGS on Catholic Growth: Is the Catholic Church fading in America? No! It’s booming and church leaders need to plan for that growth.

TERRY GALAGHER on Catholic Critics: As Catholics, should we stay? A week-long series of OurValues columns exploring the push-and-pull felt by millions of American Catholics.

GREG TOBIN on Pope John XXIII: The inspiring story of how an Italian farm boy rose to surprise the world in his brief reign as pontiff.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Join in an Intimate Lenten Journey that leads us home

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0211_Ash_Wednesday_aboard_a_US_Navy_vessel.jpgU.S. Navy men and women participate in an Ash Wednesday service aboard the USS Wasp in the Atlantic Ocean. Electronics Technician 3rd Class Leila Tardieu receives the sacramental ashes from a chaplain. (U.S. Navy photo by Brian May released for public use.)

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0211_COVER_Our_Lent_2nd_edition.jpgCLICK THE COVER to learn more about this book and to read sample chapters.MILLIONS OF MEN and WOMEN around the world begin the journey of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday. When Eastern Orthodox Christians begin their Great Lent, starting a few weeks later this year, a total of more than 2 billion souls will share this journey toward new life.
THIS YEAR, ReadTheSpirit has two, inspiring offerings for Lent:

1.) DAVID CRUMM’S UPDATED
‘OUR LENT: THINGS WE CARRY’

Thousands of readers around the world have enjoyed ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s day-by-day book of Lenten stories, called Our Lent: Things We Carry. Small groups and even entire congregations have enjoyed “group reads” of the book, discussing it week by week. Now, you can enjoy this updated second edition. CLICK on the book cover, at right, to learn more about the stories in this book. On that book page, links in the left margin invite you to read the book’s Preface, Table of Contents, and Sample Chapter. Purchasing a copy of OurLent helps to support ReadTheSpirit’s ongoing work.

2.) COME ALONG! JOIN US IN THIS INTIMATE LENTEN JOURNEY …

One of our most popular columnists and authors is the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, a retired pastoral counselor who published books on wrestling with temptations (Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass) as well as helping others (Guide for Caregivers). His online columns are free for you to share with others (if you credit Dr. Pratt and readthespirit.com as the source). In addition, many of his columns are shared with the website of the Day1 radio network.
For Lent 2013, we are proud to publish Dr. Pratt’s once-a-week series …

Intimate Lenten Journey: Introduction …

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0211_Early_Mosaic_of_Jesus_Christ.jpgOne of the earliest portraits of Jesus Christ still in existence. A Roman-era mosaic now in the British Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.HOLIDAYS ARE HISTORY. That’s the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the year-long cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God’s people.

In Advent, we start the yearly cycle by preparing to receive the Lord, coming into this world to accompany us. Jesus is born at Christmas, but it is also the season to celebrate our own birth into the faith. Epiphany is more than just a historical memory of three Magi bringing gifts to honor this babe. Epiphany is an invitation for each of us to affirm the gifts we bring to the table shared by all of God’s people. By the time we reach Lent each year, we have jumped through more than three decades of Jesus’ life and the world’s two billion Christians recall Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem.

Lent is history, but it also is the most intimate invitation to men and women to journey in the Way of Jesus—the way of compassion, love, peace, hope, joy and forgiveness.

There is enormous loss and spectacular hope in Lent. And, each year, we all are invited to share our own losses and hopes as we journey together with each other and with Jesus toward the crescendo of Easter. That’s why these annual holidays and festivals have lasted for 2,000 years. That’s why, today, 1 in 3 people walking the Earth claims to be Christian and will in some way mark the Lenten journey. This is history, yes—but it also is an intimate invitation every year. “Intimacy is our capacity for closeness and tenderness in moments of risky self-disclosure,” says Father Richard Rohr, whom we just welcomed into the pages of this online magazine.

Each week during Lent, I will share some intimate stories—with an emphasis on that word “share.” I want you to feel free to share my stories with others. And I hope that my stories will prompt you to remember and share your own stories that are part of this journey. Perhaps you might carry these columns into your small group and invite people to discuss them. You will discover that the hallowed places I plan to take you in these six weeks are well-trod ground for many people. Perhaps they are hallowed ground you recognize.

This year, proclaim to the world that Lent and Easter are history, sure enough—but they also are personal invitations to journey together. Come along with me?

An Intimate Lenten Journey, Part 1:
Generation Calls to Generation; Deep Calls to Deep

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0211_Ancient_Roman_cremation_urn.jpgTHIS ROMAN-ERA CREMATORY URN, uncovered by archaeologists and dated to about 2,000 years ago was accompanied by a second smaller container to its right, apparently a vessel containing a gift of something precious to accompany the departed. Photo by Robert Valette, released for public use.‘TWAS A GRACIOUS OFFER we extended to the family—as so many grandparents do. We thought about it carefully, then waited for an appropriate gathering of the whole gang and announced: “We are getting old and will soon leave our home of many years. We want each of you grandchildren to choose some things to remind you of life with us.”

They stared at us for a moment, pondering this strange invitation. We could see them thinking through the meaning of what they had just heard. But, after questions, hugs, consoling grins and sighs—they took us at our word.

Finally, the respectful question came back to us: “What should we pick?” So, the walk began—all around our old house. What fun for my wife and me! I am known as “PopPop,” the patriarch over this gang of grandchildren. And soon PopPop was happily explaining the connections and personal history that oozes from every picture, pot, post and table—the collage of memories that drapes our home.

As the tales flowed, their pencils moved, making lists that included antique pictures where no one smiles back, a page from a 1611 Bible, Civil War bullet castings, pie-top and drop-leaf tables, rope beds—and even modern art. Clearly, they were excited by all of these offerings. We assured them that no request was out of bounds.

That is when a 9-year-old boy surprised us. He said: “I want PopPop’s ashes. That’s my first choice. That way, I can always have him close and talk with him.”

Nervous chuckles erupted from the others—uncertain what to say—and then gentle teasing and flat-out joking about how and where my ashes should, one day, be stored.

Soon, I could see that 9-year-old boy needed a hug to reassure him that his sincere question wasn’t being dismissed. I whispered in his ear: “I like your choice.”

I heard his question as he meant it: I don’t want to be without him; he doesn’t want to be without me. As in families around the world, we had cared for each other, laughed with each other, shared stories, comforted each other when sick. We had giggled, danced, read, laughed, played, wrestled, snuggled, talked about God and girls. He knows my love. I know his love.

And so this request: “I want PopPop’s ashes.”

And in that request was the truth so unvarnished and hard-edged: I shall leave him before he leaves me. It is in the nature of families. It is in the nature of relationships when the circle of friends realizes that one—perhaps even the leader of the whole big gang—is destined to leave first.

Just a 9-year-old boy, but the question was crystal clear.

Across the generations, his deep was calling to my deep.

AND FROM PSALM 42 …

AS A DEER longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.

 

When shall I come and behold
the face of God?

My soul is cast down within me …
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.

 

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Richard Rohr: Ancient prayer of hope for Resurrection

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0128_Richard_Rohr_Immortal_Diamond_cover.jpgCLICK THE BOOK COVER to visit its Amazon page.IN RICHARD ROHR’S new book Immortal Diamond, he ends with a prayer from an ancient liturgy used by Christians on the eve of Easter—the church’s great celebration of resurrection.

Rohr introduces the final prayer this way:

Many Christians begin Lent on Ash Wednesday with the signing of ashes on their forehead and the words from Genesis 3:19, which is just the first shocking part of the message: “Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return.”

But then we should be anointed (“Christed”) with a holy oil on Easter morning with the other half of the message: “Love is always stronger than death, and unto the love you have now returned.”

Then, Rohr adds these ancient lines, which are spoken as if God is calling the dead to new life:

O Sleeper,
to Awake!

“I ORDER YOU, O SLEEPER, to awake!
I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.
Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
Rise up, work of my hands, you were created in my image.
Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you.
Together we form only one person and we cannot be separated!”

Care to read more?

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD ROHR: This prayer’s theme is central to Richard Rohr’s newest book—and you can learn much more about Immortal Diamond in our inteview with him.

READ THE ENTIRE ANCIENT TEXT: The Vatican website publishes the entire much-longer reading in a slightly different English translation, that traditionally is used on Holy Saturday. The portion Richard Rohr excerpts appears as the fifth paragraph of the longer Vatican text.

Benjamin Pratt: The Brass Communion Rail

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0716_Eagle_and_Child_pub_Oxford_England.jpgAle and evangelism!
For millions of Christians, they go together like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. After all, Lewis and Tolkien were ringleaders of the Inklings, who famously haunted the Eagle and Child (the pub in Oxford shown in today’s two photos) along with Charles Williams, Hugo Dyson and sometimes other writers and scholars. Eventually, the friends were gathering to read aloud and discuss their works most Mondays and Tuesdays in a room of the pub still known as the Rabbit Room.

Not long ago, we passed the 30th anniversary of Theology on Tap—the very popular American Catholic version of pairing pints with preaching. That particular American format has flowed back across the oceans East and West to a dozen other countries’ public houses. Countless Catholics have partaken since the early 1980s in conversations led by priests—as well as some of the church’s leading lights. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin enjoyed Theology on Tap. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington D.C. since 2006, once showed up to try his first evening teaching at a pub and received a huge round of applause.
“That’s the warmest welcome I’ve ever received in a pub,” Wuerl told the patrons. Then he smiled, and added, “That’s the first welcome I’ve ever received in a pub!”

Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of Guide for Caregivers and the James Bond Bible-study book called Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins reports that he is not personally a regular at brass rails. However, he does occasionally enjoy a good pint, and he recognizes the long-standing tensions between secular and sacred communion rails in many communities around the world. For those bridging the gap in the rails, he offers this prose-poem—a prayerful meditation he invites you to reflect upon and share with friends.

He calls it simply:

The Brass Communion Rail

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0716_bar_at_Eagle_and_Child_pub_Oxford_England.jpgEver present Lord,
I was sitting on a bar stool
At the local Sports Bar,
My feet on the brass rail,
Having a Guinness and a burger.
Keeping an eye on the game,
I opened my laptop,
Taking notes for an upcoming sermon.

Three young men approached—
Teased me about drinking black, bitter mud.
I said, “Guinness is Gaelic for ‘genius’!
I’m hoping to be one
Since I’m trying to write a sermon.”
We laughed.

They teased me some more:
“Your team’s losing Pastor!”

I loved those guys right away.

They kept me laughing and finally said,
“Maybe we’ll see you Sunday, Pastor!
Hope the Guinness works,
But if it doesn’t—
A fiver says your Heart and Faith will!”
They were off, their laughter ringing.

Back at my pint and portable,
Sipping and tapping notes,
I noticed a man a few stools over—arise.
He shuffled my way,
“Excuse me, did I hear those guys call you Pastor?”

“You did!”

“I’m surprised to meet a Pastor drinking in a Sports Bar,
But maybe things have changed!
I haven’t been in a church since …
Well, the truth is: I left! They made me so mad!
I couldn’t or wouldn’t ever live up to their standards of perfection.
Hypocrites! They didn’t live up to them either.
I knew what they did when they weren’t at church.”

“You still have a lot of sadness about that,” I said.

“I thought I was only angry, but—
Maybe I am sad about how it all worked out.”

“You wouldn’t have spoken to me if you were only angry.”

“Where’s your church, Pastor?”

“Lots of places. Sunday mornings on Elm Street.
More often in hospital rooms, funeral parlors, gardens, offices, the jail,
Or at this Brass Communion Rail.
Looks to me like you’ve already joined us.
Welcome!”

He sat again.
This time on the stool next to me.

My silent prayer:
Ever-present Lord,
Bless us to know that our
Brass Communion Rail
Is where we join You in tending bar,
Bringing grace to anyone in need.

Amen

CARE FOR MORE FROM BENJAMIN PRATT?

There are links to Dr. Pratt’s two books, above. If you’re looking for fresh ideas to use in your congregation, we can report: A growing number of congregations nationwide are forming small groups to discuss the spiritual support of America’s 65 million caregivers. Ben’s book is a great guide in that process. Plus, this autumn is the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies—so Ben’s Bond Bible study book is a timely choice for a fall series. This meditation, The Brass Communion Rail, is posted jointly into ReadTheSpirit and the website for Day1, the nationwide radio network. If you are active in your congregation, click on that Day1 link and bookmark Ben’s section of that website. Each month, Ben posts another resource you’ll enjoy—and want to share with friends. He welcomes you to share these words.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.