Reading Adam Gopnik’s excellent Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life and came across this: (Gopnik is paraphrasing Alfred Kazin) “[For Lincoln], God. . . is the stenographic name for the absolute mystery of being alive and watching men suffer while still holding in mind ideals that ennoble the suffering and in some strange way make sense of it.”
Here’s what Kazin wrote: “It is clear that the terrible war has overwhelmed the Lincoln who identified himself as the man of reason. It has brought him to his knees, so to speak, in heartbreaking awareness of the restrictions imposed by a mystery so encompassing it can only be called ‘God.’ Lincoln could find no other other word for it.”
One a gorgeous night at a baseball game at Coney Island, I sat next to Chris Bonastia, who’s written a book about Prince Edward County (he’s also a friend of my daughter and her husband). Focused on the Brooklyn Cyclones vs. Aberdeen Ironbirds game and our respective family members surrounding us, Chris and I didn’t get to talk about a topic we both know a lot about.* (Of course, even if we’d wanted to compare notes, we wouldn’t have been able to talk above the ballgame din.)
So what does Prince Edward County have to do with shrines? On the day after the Supreme Court dismantled a key piece of the Voters Rights Act and on the same day the shrine to the Marathon Bombings is to be dismantled, I’m thinking about American history. I’m thinking about the stories that rarely get told and the stories we know so well that, despite ourselves, we’re sick and tired of them! I am continuing to think about slavery and its insidious aftermath—like yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. (Presently reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, BTW.)
But mostly I’m thinking how moved I am, whenever I see a little cross or shrine beside a road or superhighway—or, coming home on Amtrak, beside the railroad tracks—to be reminded that we co-habitate with stories. Unknowingly we move through and past them. They’re all around us. Wherever we go, we walk on hallowed ground.
* As I discovered when I did research for Way Opens, Lynchburg’s African-American community and Prince Edward’s black community were (and, presumably, still are) deeply connected and entwined. When, in 1959 the schools in Prince Edward were shut down for five years and no provision made for black children’s education, for example, African-American Lynchburg families took them in. (But let me hastily add that many, many Prince Edward children never were able to make up for those lost years.)
On a beautiful Saturday morning in Union Square, greater Boston Sikhs passed out free, iced, bottled water. It was cinematic: Turbaned men of all ages, women and children in colorful, flowing robes stood at every intersection—three very busy streets flow in and out of the Square—and, reaching into plastic trash cans filled with ice, handed wet bottles sparkling in the June sunlight to anyone who wanted one.
Although this water freebee actually commemorates the martyrdom of a 17th century Sikh guru, Arjan Dev Ji, a present-day Sikh leader, Satvir Kaur, gives this explanation: [“Passing out free water] gives back to the community and raises awareness of the Sikh faith.”
Exactly. Indeed, when I asked the young Sikh mother offering me water why she was doing so, she handed me a pamphlet which, in maybe the third or fourth paragraph, made this point: Sikhs are not Muslims. Gently, in other words. Subtly. But clear.
A member of another misunderstood sect, on Saturday my mind immediately went to: “What could Quakers pass out gratis to give back to the community and raise awareness?” (Not bottled water, I would imagine!)
But on Sunday at meeting for worship I thought about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. And about the open and generous gift of iced water on a hot summer day. And how, within all of us, love, Light, compassion can well up.
The first S of the Quaker principles “SPICERS”* is Simplicity. Which I used to interpret as anti-stuff, i.e. “Live simply that others may live.” But at a recent retreat, a wise soul pointed out that simplicity can also mean looking at ALL the tugs and pulls for our time, our love, our energy, and making careful, thoughtful choices. “What am I asked to do?” (May I suggest adding strategically to that all-important question?)
So I am presently experimenting with this inward simplification. Was bummed not to be one of those 40, 000 climate change activists in DC Sunday. But that day, I could be present when a member of our Prison Fellowship Committee downloaded.
“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa.
[* Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Respect, Stewardship)
This week begins a redesign process for this website.
Yes, Friends, after 5 (Oh, my!) Black & White years, it’s time for Color! (Such an exciting concept! So maybe I should say “Colour”?)
More frequent posting. More conversations, I’m hoping.
Hope YOU’LL decide to become be a part of this adventure!