Sunday, July 31, 2016

When he roars, his children shall come...

The Old Testament reading for today is one of the ones I find most moving. God is ready to punish Israel because of its unfaithfulness and yet, God remembers like a mother or father how dear the child is and relents, finally speaking of the beautiful future in which all are restored.

This passage gives me hope for myself and for mankind that some day we, too, will hear God's roar/call and come trembling forward, penitent but assured of love and reconciliation.  

Hosea 11:1-11

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. 
The more I called them,
the more they went from me; 
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols. 
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love. 
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. 
They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me. 
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes. 
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all. 
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel? 
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim? 
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender. 
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim; 
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion; 
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west. 
They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Today is Tom's birthday. It's one of those big ones, but after all, as you can see, Tom is a big guy. Here are our reflections in the water bus stop window from a vaporetto in Venice a couple of months ago. I hope he remembers that the trip was his birthday present. As well as our anniversary present. And come to think of it, it was my birthday present, too. I can't think of a better place to celebrate than Venice! (Except maybe the beach.)

In all seriousness, Tom is the best and most generous person I have ever known. I am so lucky to be married to him. He has always been there for me and for our children.

Now I'm going to stop before I get too mushy. 

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


I was fascinated by this sculpture in the garden at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. It's called Chariot (probably not a big surprise there), by Fritz Koenig, 1957.  You can read about him here. I didn't realize until I read up on him that Koenig is the sculptor who created The Sphere, which stood between the towers at the World Trade Center and, though it was damaged in the 2001 attacks, it was not destroyed and was reinstalled in Battery Park.

I have better photos of the actual sculpture, but I kind of liked this photo for the atmosphere. The slightly out-of-focus chariot is fading away.....

Whenever I see a chariot, I think about the Book of Exodus, about the Egyptians and how God caused their chariots to become stuck in the mud as they chased the Hebrew people into the path created through the Red Sea, and how when the waters rushed back over them, they sank like stones. 

Particularly, I think of the midrash on the story. When the Egyptians are drowning, the angels want to sing, and God says to them, "Are not the Egyptians my children, too? The works of my hands are drowning and you want to sing?"

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Poem: Of Politics and Art

Of Politics & Art
(for Allen)

Here, on the farthest point of the peninsula
The winter storm
Off the Atlantic shook the schoolhouse.
Mrs. Whitimore, dying
Of tuberculosis, said it would be after dark
Before the snowplow and bus would reach us.

She read to us from Melville.

How in an almost calamitous moment
Of sea hunting
Some men in an open boat suddenly found themselves
At the still and protected center
Of a great herd of whales
Where all the females floated on their sides
While their young nursed there. The cold frightened whalers
Just stared into what they allowed
Was the ecstatic lapidary pond of a nursing cow's
One visible eyeball.
And they were at peace with themselves.

Today I listened to a woman say
That Melville might
Be taught in the next decade. Another woman asked, "And why not?"
The first responded, "Because there are 
No women in his one novel."

And Mrs. Whitimore was now reading from the Psalms.
Coughing into her handkerchief. Snow above the windows.
There was a blue light on her face, breast, and arms.
Sometimes a whole civilization can be dying
Peacefully in one young woman, in a small heated room
With thirty children
Rapt, confident and listening to the pure
God-rendering voice of a storm.

----Norman Dubie

Sunday, July 24, 2016

For everyone who asks receives

When I was eleven, the animated TV special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” made its debut on CBS, airing on one of the three stations we we able to pick up in our rural North Carolina house. 

I was not a huge fan. For one thing, Halloween was not a big holiday for kids like me who lived outside of town. There weren’t really places to go trick or treating and besides that, despite my current attire, I was not much into costumes.

For another, on that October evening in 1966 I had settled down to watch My Three Sons, a sitcom about three very cute boys named Mike, Robbie, and Chip Douglas who lived with their dad, Fred MacMurray, and grandfather Bub, only to find out that it had been preempted by the Charlie Brown show.

And finally, I just didn’t like the plot. That whole Great Pumpkin thing was dumb to me. And in the end, Charlie Brown and Linus are just left to deal with their disappointment. And to top it off, there was this odd recurring cruelty that seemed gratuitously thrown in. At every house where the kids knocked and shouted “Trick of Treat,” they held out their bags, stuff got thrown in, and then they gathered on the sidewalk to take stock of their loot. “Hey, I got a candy bar!” said one. “I got three cookies!” said another. “I got a package of gum!” said a third. But Charlie Brown said, “I got a rock.” At every door, all the children expected and got goodies, except for Charlie Brown, who always got a rock.

Was that supposed to be funny? What kind of people would give out a rock to trick or treaters? Was everybody in town hating on on this one particular kid, who, granted, had made a mess of his ghost costume so that instead of a sheet with two holes for eyes it had at least a dozen or maybe two dozen holes, but hey. Why should he get a rock every time when all the other kids got sweets?

Jesus said, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?”

Well, of course not. Except, if you’re the one everybody's hating on, you might get a rock.

Just this week, I heard a story on the radio that really grabbed my attention. A group of friends in Washington DC had gathered under the stars to drink wine and eat cheese and listen to the tree frogs one evening when suddenly a man with a gun appeared in their midst. He pointed it at someone, and said, “Give me your money.” The friends looked around at each other, beginning to panic, and he pointed the gun at another person. “Give me your money or I’m going to start shooting.” The thing is, they didn’t have money on them. They were sitting outside, purses and wallets in the house, just enjoying the evening together. Their fear mounted as seconds ticked by and someone started talking to try to convince the gunman to calm down. “What would your mother think of what you are doing here?” Wrong question. He angrily replied that he didn’t have a mother.

Then, one of the women said, hey, you know, we’re just out here enjoying a glass of wine together. Why don’t you have a glass of wine with us? And someone gave him a glass.

And, according to the woman’s husband, the look on the man’s face changed immediately. Just like that. He accepted the glass, sipped some wine, and pronounced it very good. Then he reached for the offered cheese. He put his gun in his pocket. And they all drank their wine and ate their cheese together.

The gunman then said, “I think I came to the wrong place.” “Sure, yeah, we understand,” was the kind response. And then he had another request. “Can I get a hug?” So, the people beside him hugged him. Then he asked for a group hug. So they all got up and stood in a circle around him, and they all hugged him. He looked around at them, said he was sorry, and he took his glass of wine and walked away. Later, the hosts found the wine glass returned, carefully placed in the alley next to the house.

For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?

It seems like every few days, something comes on the news that is disheartening and even frightening. Events in our community, in our nation, in the world just keep coming at us, disturbing our peace and distressing us. Many of us are also dealing with personal angst or worries. What’s going to happen to me, to us, to the world? What should I - what can I - do in the face of all this?

In response, some withdraw: Turn off the TV, take a Facebook break, extend the cocktail hour. Some deny or deflect: I don't believe this. Others deflate and descend into depression: The world is a terrible place and we are doomed. 

Others of us get angry, and that anger causes us to turn on each other. Some go so far as to basically declare war: announcing which “side” we are on and engaging in blunt attacks of the other “side.” Some of those attacks turn physically violent. Sometimes people die, and so it is like war. Others are “merely” verbally vicious, ranging from grumbling disapproval to ridicule and cruel putdowns and name calling.

But hey, even Lucy, who often referred to Charlie Brown as a blockhead and never hesitated to call her brother Linus stupid, asked for an additional piece of candy for Linus while trick or treating because he was missing the fun while he sat in the pumpkin patch waiting in vain hope that his crazy dream would come true. Sure, she complained of the embarrassment this caused her, having to ask for an extra treat for her stupid brother chasing his stupid dream. But she asked, and she received, and when it turned out that Linus was indeed disappointed, she went to get him and took him home and gently tucked him and his blanket into his bed.

It may be hard to recognize what people are really asking for, especially when they are shouting demands or scaring us. But I think mostly people are asking for love and acceptance. I think they are mostly asking for kindness. The armed man said he wanted money, but really, it turns out that he wanted hugs. He had a funny way of showing it, sure. But he changed when someone offered a fish instead of a snake, saying, how about having a glass of wine with us? We are together out here; how about you be together with us? Simple kindness in the face of hostility transformed him.

So yes, there’s stuff going on out there that makes us feel vulnerable and afraid. And I know that there is great evil in the world. And frankly, there are also those who want us to feel afraid and want us to stock up on rocks and scorpions and snakes, because keeping us in a state of fear benefits them.

But really, what if we responded to the things that make us afraid with an invitation? What if we responded to the demand to hand something that we have (and they don't) over, responded even to the threat of harm, with kindness, with an invitation to join the circle, with an egg instead of a scorpion, with a glass of wine and some cheese? 

And what if we asked for an extra piece of the candy we get to share with the one who choose a different (and maybe to us a dumb) path?

What if we responded to everyone as if they were asking for love and kindness? Because deep down, I think that’s what everyone really is asking for. All those people out there are human beings, just like us. Even the loud ones and the scary ones and the ones on the other “side.” However clumsy and rough their approach may be, they’re asking to be loved and to be included in the circle.

Jesus said: “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Responding with kindness can change the world. When the knock comes at our door, lets give out love, and not rocks.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Music: Think Too Hard

The dB's were a Winston-Salem NC band (I lived there off and on during the 70's and early 80's) that had a lot of talent but didn't make it very big with the general public. The two principals were Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, who did make it pretty big with other musicians. This song is representative of the 1980's "jangle pop" music that was probably most identified with R.E.M. (with whom Holsapple played for a few years) We danced to those songs in the clubs by basically jumping up and down. 

This song was covered by Syd Straw (of the Golden Palominos) and it got a little more play, but the videos of her singing it on Letterman focus way too much on her swinging her hair around. So, although I usually prefer not to post music videos that don't feature anything but a still picture to go with the audio, here for your Friday morning is the recording of the dB's (decibels) playing Think Too Hard, something I am often guilty of doing. Enjoy.


You think too hard, you blow yourself in two

It can happen to you
It can happen to you
You wish too much, your wishes will come true
I wouldn't wish that on you

In the short haul, love conquers all

In the long run, you gotta have your fun
In between the two, there stand me and you

You want it all, you want it all right now

And you'll get it somehow
'Cause you swear you know how
You wish too much, your wishes will come true
I wouldn't wish that on you

When the day comes, you'll look around

On the good times shattered on the ground
Having no clue, then what do you do

You think about the past

And how it didn't last
You think of what's to come
And the battles to be won
You're thinking all the time
And you'll probably lose your mind
In the same way
In the same way
In the same way
As you did before

You think too hard...

You'll blow yourself in two...
You wish too much...
And your wishes will come true

You think too hard, you blow yourself in two

It can happen to you
It can happen to you
You wish too much, your wishes will come true
I wouldn't wish that on you
I wouldn't wish that on you

You think too hard

You think too hard
Too hard
Too hard

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday's bird is camouflaged

This pigeon nearly disappears against the old wooden shutters
in this old building in Volterra.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday Quiz: Lion or Dog?

Behind the church of San Miniato Al Monte, up on a steep hill overlooking Florence, there is a huge city of graves. Many fabulous mausoleums stand on little streets like miniature houses in miniature neighborhoods. Many of the monuments are adorned with sculpture, while others feature small mosaic decoration. Anyway, I loved this creature on one just behind the church, but I can't decide: dog or lion?

What do you think?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Poem: Dirge without music

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve. 
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Bible Story: Sarah Laughed

The Abraham story mosaic in the nave of the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna Italy

Genesis 18:1-14

18The Lord appeared to Abraham* by the oaks* of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures* of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 10Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?”14Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Caturday: Bath Time

In the "olden days" people took a bath once a week, on Saturdays. So here is Bella getting ready for her Saturday/Caturday bath. She really does love the water although if I turned it on full blast, she's most likely take a hike.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Music: For France (Cortege et Litanie)

For France.

French composer Marcel Dupre plays his beautiful piece Cortege et Litanie (funeral procession and litany [prayers]), originally written for a small orchestra and then Dupre transcribed it for organ.

I first heard this piece a few years ago at an organ student recital. I'm happy to have found the recording of Dupre playing it himself. It seems appropriate to play it again on the day after [yet again] death and destruction in France.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday's Birds are Taking a Bath

Sparrow on the top deck, pigeon on the main deck. Bath time in the Piazza de San Spirito, Florence.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Mother and Child

Everywhere in the Italian towns and cities we visited, tiny religious scenes adorn posts, walls, doorways. Here is a mother and child, Mary and Jesus, sharing a moment of intimacy in a niche on a wall in San Gimignano, Tuscany.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Looking Down

Another delight from Fra Angelico. This is one of the frescoes he painted in one of the monk's cells at San Marco, a scene of the empty tomb. Here Mary Magdalene (presumably) seems to shade her eyes as she looks down into the empty [anachronistic] coffin. The ladies on the right (especially the last one) who carry the spice jars meant to anoint Jesus' body frown as the angel points toward the risen Christ appearing behind them (at which they are not looking, being understandably preoccupied with the spectacle before them). These three ladies were actually painted by Fra Angelico's apprentice, Benozzo Gozzoli.

I love the angel's wings, all spotty. Just below the angel we see St. Dominic, who often appears in these paintings, meditating on them. It was not unusual to place the saints in scenes that they of course could not have actually attended. St. Dominic (Fra Angelico was a Dominican) shows up in many of these scenes.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday Poem: When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving

When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving

Related Poem Content Details

in the backseat of my car are my own sons,
still not yet Tamir’s age, already having heard
me warn them against playing with toy pistols,
though my rhetoric is always about what I don’t
like, not what I fear, because sometimes
I think of  Tamir Rice & shed tears, the weeping
all another insignificance, all another way to avoid
saying what should be said: the Second Amendment
is a ruthless one, the pomp & constitutional circumstance
that says my arms should be heavy with the weight
of a pistol when forced to confront death like
this: a child, a hidden toy gun, an officer that fires
before his heart beats twice. My two young sons play
in the backseat while the video of  Tamir dying
plays in my head, & for everything I do know, the thing
I don’t say is that this should not be the brick and mortar
of poetry, the moment when a black father drives
his black sons to school & the thing in the air is the death
of a black boy that the father cannot mention,
because to mention the death is to invite discussion
of  taboo: if you touch my sons the crimson
that touches the concrete must belong, at some point,
to you, the police officer who justifies the echo
of the fired pistol; taboo: the thing that says that justice
is a killer’s body mangled and disrupted by bullets
because his mind would not accept the narrative
of  your child’s dignity, of  his right to life, of  his humanity,
and the crystalline brilliance you saw when your boys first breathed;
the narrative must invite more than the children bleeding
on crisp fall days; & this is why I hate it all, the people around me,
the black people who march, the white people who cheer,
the other brown people, Latinos & Asians & all the colors of   humanity
that we erase in this American dance around death, as we
are not permitted to articulate the reasons we might yearn
to see a man die; there is so much that has to disappear
for my mind not to abandon sanity: Tamir for instance, everything
about him, even as his face, really and truly reminds me
of my own, in the last photo I took before heading off
to a cell, disappears, and all I have stomach for is blood,
and there is a part of me that wishes that it would go away,
the memories, & that I could abandon all talk of making it right
& justice. But my mind is no sieve & sanity is no elixir & I am bound
to be haunted by the strength that lets Tamir’s father,
mother, kinfolk resist the temptation to turn everything
they see into a grave & make home the series of cells
that so many of my brothers already call their tomb.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday Gospel. Go and do likewise.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 
He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 
He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, 
and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 
And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, 
who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. 
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 
`Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 
He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Luke 10:25-37

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Poem: Shine, Perishing Republic

The last few days have been so full of pain for us as a nation and for us as people. This morning, I remembered this poem, so here it is, for what it's worth.

Shine, Perishing Republic

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity
Heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the Molten Mass, pops
And sighs out, and the mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make
Fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances,
Ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.
You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life
Is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than
Mountains: shine perishing republic
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance
From the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lies at the
Monster's feet there are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man.
A clever servant, insufferable master.
There is a trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught
-- they say God --, when he walked on Earth.

Robertson Jeffers

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Thursday's Bird is the Rooster of Justice

I'll bet you didn't know there was a rooster of justice. But here it is. I found it in the basilica at San Miniato al Monte, on a hill high above Florence.

Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of the larger context, so you'll just have to make up a reason for this shield.  (Anybody out there know?)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Party on the River?

I don't know what this is - party, restaurant, club, special event? But we noticed it while we were walking across the Arno River by way of the Ponte alle Grazie. What's your guess?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Looking Up

This is another detail from the Fra Angelico scenes from the life of Christ series that I posted about on Sunday. Here we have the ascension.

While Fra Angelico is often noted for his big altarpieces and frescoes, he in fact was a brilliant miniaturist. Little characters doing interesting things adorn the edges of many of his paintings, their postures and expressions very interestingly drawn.

Here we see Mary, appropriately demure, hands folded in prayer, eyes just slightly turned heavenward. But the disciples on her left is boldly looking up, not at the reflection of my iPhone but at Jesus rising into the clouds, hands shading his eyes. I guess he is thinking, "Well, wow! there he goes!" Another disciple on the edge of the group seems to be remarking to another something along the lines of "So, I'm not sure; what do you think of this?" And the two disciples with their backs to us appear to have haloes in front of their faces. 

I hope things are looking up for you today, too.


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