Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Prayer of Autumn Welcoming

Welcome, Autumn, arms full of summer’s blessing,
carrying the seeds of life for next year’s planting.
Come, enter my home with your golden wisdom;
be my guest and share my table.

Welcome, Old Wise One,
may I be your student in the school of gratitude.
Guide me in reflecting upon the summer now gone,
that I might give thanks for all the many gifts
that have enriched me in that season of growth.

I greet you, spirits of darkness
that dwell in the night and within me.
While you are frightening, you are also a source of power;
may I not fear you
but learn to live in holy harmony with you;
you are not evil unless you dominate me.
Night within me, I welcome you as well;
may all your spirits that reside in me
live in harmony with the Spirit of the Holy.

– Edward Hays
(from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
O Sacred Season of Autumn
“Thou Hast Thy Music Too”
Autumn’s Wordless Message
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2018)
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2016)
Autumnal (and Rather Pagan) Thoughts on the Making of “All Things New”
Autumn Psalm
Autumn Beauty
Autumn Leaves
Autumn Hues
Autumn by the Creek
From the River to the Falls
Autumn Dance
An Autumn Walk by Minnehaha Creek
The Last of Autumn’s Hues
“This Autumn Land Is Dreaming”

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Mysticism and Revolution

Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself. He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. . . . Every real revolutionary is challenged to be a mystic at heart, and he who walks the mystical way is called to unmask the illusory quality of human society. Mysticism and revolution are two aspects of the same attempt to bring about radical change. No mystic can prevent himself from becoming a social critic, since in self-reflection he will discover the roots of a sick society. Similarly, no revolutionary can avoid facing his own human condition, since in the midst of his struggle for a new world he will find that he is also fighting his own reactionary fears and false ambitions.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Jesus: Mystic and Prophet
Called to the Field of Compassion to Be Both Prophet and Mystic
Why Jesus Is My Man
The Model of Leadership Offered by Jesus

For more of Henri Nouwen's wisdom at The Wild Reed, see:
And As We Dance
Active Waiting: A Radical Attitude Toward Life
A Guidepost on the Journey
To Be Held and to Hold
Lent with Henri
In the Garden of Spirituality – Henri Nouwen

Image: Artist unknown.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Shelf

I continue today my series that highlights the wisdom found on my bookshelf at work. As most reading this would know, my “work,” since September 2018, is that of a palliative care interfaith chaplain at a hospital just north of the Twin Cities.

In this sixth installment I share an excerpt from Richard F. Groves and Henriette Anne Klauser’s book, The American Book of Living and Dying: Lessons in Healing Spiritual Pain, described by Richard Rohr, O.F.M. as an “excellent and very readable book [that] finds new ways to create life even out of death . . . [and] opens avenues of healing and hope.”

(NOTE: To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)


Many of the ancient texts focused on a person’s journey into the afterlife, yet they also taught lessons about how to deal with the process of death and dying. During the final phase of dying, called the death vigil, our ancestors believed that it took an entire village to help someone die well.

There are remarkable connections between the Egyptian manuals for the dying and the Hebrew Psalter, as well as parallels among Taoist, Buddhist, and early Christian writings. Similarities found in ancient Celtic, Middle Eastern, and Western Monastic traditions are too specific to be coincidental. Such cultural cross-pollination points to a collective wisdom among our ancestors about what brings peace at the end of life. Parallels extend to rituals for grieving that include the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, the Native American potlatch, and the annual August Japanese O-Bon festival.

Our ancestors had a relentless commitment to the elusive thing we yearn for in the West – a peaceful death. Through centuries of careful observations, they created an entire language to name the gradations of the dying process. In hospice circles today we refer to a patient’s final stage with a single phrase: active dying. The ancients on the other hand found a detailed vocabulary to describe the many and distinct stages at the end of life. Both the Western monastic and the Tibetan Buddhist traditions include forty or more stages in the life-to-death transition. Each of these phases is associated with a particular set of tools to support both patient and caregiver.

Because the books of the dead span diverse spiritual and cultural traditions, not to mention distances of centuries and geography, we would expect differences in content and philosophy. More surprising are the similarities. Here are key underlying points that show up consistently. In other words, this is the common ground of our collective human experience at the end of life.

• It is a priority that human beings assist each other as coaches or midwives through the stages of dying. To be proactively involved in the death of another human being is the ultimate act of love. The ancient books of the dying were not just for an esoteric few. There was an overriding desire to disseminate the knowledge of these traditions among average laypersons. And it was essential to include both family and friends throughout the death and dying process.

• There are certain observable and universal patterns or stages in the life-to-death transition process. Human beings have always died in essentially the same way. Our common experience has been documented for millennia. The good news is that these patterns can help us to anticipate and support the various changes that body, mind, and spirit inevitably seem to face in the process of letting go.

• There is a clear relationship between physical and emotional pain. Relieving suffering at the end of life requires a holistic approach that acknowledged both dimensions of body and spirit. There is a difference between healing and curing. It is always possible to be getting well in the midst of serious illness.

• It is necessary first to diagnose spiritual pain before attempting to respond to it. The records of antiquity point to certain universal experiences or names for spiritual pain and suffering. Helping the dying person to identify spiritual pain gives the caregiver important clues as to appropriate means of support.

• A “good death” is defined as our ability to maintain a sense of clear knowing or consciousness at the end of life. Medicine is effective when it controls pain without compromising clarity of consciousness. The unfinished tasks at the end of life often hold the key to spiritual suffering. Other cultures insist that the goal of dying well is to help a person die – con los ojos abiertos, in the Latino tradition, or “with our eyes open,” in the Buddhist tradition.

• Some form of consciousness survives the death of our physical body. What is death? For most of human history death was not the opposite of life, but the opposite of birth. In ancient times, theological language provided the primary answer to this question. Nearly fifteen million Americans who have survived a near-death experience describe similar phenomena, regardless of their belief systems.

• We prepare throughout our lifetime for our dying. Standing before the mystery of death had the same impact on our ancestors as witnessing the mystery of birth. In such a twilight place, it is as if time itself stands still to allow the survivors to reflect on life’s bigger questions. Death has the power to heal because it has the power to put life into perspective and to bring forth life’s important priorities. The art of dying can become the art of living.

– Richard F. Groves and Henriette Anne Klauser
Excerpted from The American Book of Living and Dying:
Lessons in Healing Spiritual Pain

pp. 34-36

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf – Part I | II | III | IV | V
Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Welcome
Interfaith Chaplaincy: Meeting People Where They're At
Spirituality and the Healthcare Setting
World Hospice and Palliative Care Day
Resilience and Hope
The Calm Before the Storm
George Yancy on the “Unspoken Reality of Death”
Arthur Kleinman on the “Soul of Care”
“Call Upon Those You Love”

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Hold Them to Their Word

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.

– Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas (2016)

If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election.

– Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (2018)

I don’t think we should be moving on a nominee in the last year of this president’s term - I would say that if it was a Republican president.

– Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (2016)

The very balance of our nation’s highest court is in serious jeopardy. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will do everything in my power to encourage the president and Senate leadership not to start this process until we hear from the American people.

– Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. (2016)

A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics. The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.

– Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa (2016)

The campaign is already under way. It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president.

– Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. (2016)

In this election year, the American people will have an opportunity to have their say in the future direction of our country. For this reason, I believe the vacancy left open by Justice Antonin Scalia should not be filled until there is a new president.

– Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. (2016)

The Senate should not confirm a new Supreme Court justice until we have a new president.

– Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. (2016)

I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.

– Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Col. (2016)

I believe the best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in on who should make a lifetime appointment that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations. This wouldn’t be unusual. It is common practice for the Senate to stop acting on lifetime appointments during the last year of a presidential term, and it’s been nearly 80 years since any president was permitted to immediately fill a vacancy that arose in a presidential election year.

– Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio (2016)

I strongly agree that the American people should decide the future direction of the Supreme Court by their votes for president and the majority party in the U.S. Senate.

– Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. (2016)

The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.

– Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (2016)

Related Off-site Links:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion of Gender Equality, Dies at 87 – Nina Totenberg (NPR News, September 18, 2020).
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court’s Feminist Icon, Is Dead at 87 – Linda Greenhouse (The New York Times, September 18, 2020).
Donald Trump to Put Forth Nominee to Replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Coming Days – John Santucci and Katherine Faulders (ABC News, September 18, 2020).
Mitch McConnell Says He’ll Make Sure Trump’s Replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg Gets a Vote – Li Zhou and Ella Nilsen (Vox, September 18, 2020).
McConnell Vows Quick Vote on Next Justice; Biden Says Wait – Jonathan Lemire and Lisa Mascaro (AP News, September 18, 2020).
If McConnell Packs the Court on Behalf of Minority Rule, Dems Must Expand and Reform It – Juan Cole (Informed Comment via Common Dreams, September 18, 2020).
At Least 4 GOP Senators Have Said They Will Oppose a Vote for a New Justice Before the Election – Jamie Gangel, Manu Raju and Lauren Fox (CNN News, September 18, 2020).
Unequal Justice: Trump’s Supreme Takeover– Bill Blum (The Progressive, September 18, 2020).
RBG – What Happens Next – Chris Thomas (Resist.bot, September 18, 2020).
The One Thing Democrats Can Do to Stop Trump From Replacing Justice Ginsburg – Ian Millhiser (Vox, September 19, 2020).
Death of RBG Sparks Senate Showdown and Calls for Supreme Court Reform – Jessica Corbett (Common Dreams, September 19, 2020).
Donald Trump Says He Will Replace US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg With a Woman — So Who Is That Likely to Be? – Sarah Scopelianos (ABC News, September 19, 2020).
Trump's Leading Pick to Replace RBG Believes Husbands Should Rule Over Wives – William James (The Intellectualist, September 19, 2020).

Image : U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Grief and Gratitude

I recently came across the following quote by psychotherapist and author Francis Weller, and it spoke to me at a deep level.

Because of this, the photo at right seems like an appropriate one to use to accompany Weller's words. It's a self portrait I took when recently down by the Mississippi River, close to my home in south Minneapolis.

The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them.

How much sorrow can I hold? That's how much gratitude I can give.

If I carry only grief, I'll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I'll become saccharine and won't develop much compassion.

Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps makes compassion possible.

– Francis Weller
Excerpted from Tim McKee's article, “The Geography of Sorrow:
Francis Weller On Navigating Our Losses

The Sun
October 2015

Related Off-site Link:
What Chadwick Boseman’s Death Means in a Year Marked by Grief – Joshua Barajas (PBS Newshour, September 9, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Marianne Williamson: In the Midst of This “Heartbreaking” Pandemic, It's Okay to Be Heartbroken
Remembering Chadwick Boseman
Respite by the River
Love at Love's Brightest
You Will Know It
Resilience and Hope
Self Portrait
“Wholeness Is Never Lost, It Is Only Forgotten”
Autumnal (and Rather Pagan) Thoughts on the Making of “All Things New”
In the Garden of Spirituality – Rosanne Cash
Balancing the Fire
Saying Farewell to 2019 in a Spirit of Gratitude
Deep Graitude

Image: Michael Bayly (self-portrait, August 2020).

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

The Stakes Have Shifted

This was the weekend that climate change, in California, stopped being about the future. The weekend that the idea that COVID-19 was worse than climate change, or fascism was worse than climate change, disappeared. The experts, of course, had known this for some time. But by the point August turned into September, the drumbeat of California’s environmental anomalies had grown so horrid and relentless that not even the professionals could stay detached. Way back, a lifetime ago, on Sept. 3, Daniel Swain, UCLA’s extreme-weather climate scientist who’s made a name from himself by tweeting, in plain language, just what the hell is going on, wrote, “This *gesturing wildly and in every direction* is utterly exhausting.”

Still, through Friday the 4th and into Saturday the 5th, Swain tried his professional best to keep his readers up to date on the all-time record high temperatures in a staggering number of California cities and the unheard-of airlift rescue of 200 people from the Creek Fire surrounding Mammoth Lake. But by Saturday evening, his emotional and lexicographical reserves were growing thin. “Yeah, it is almost literally unbelievable, but I’ve been saying that a lot lately,” he wrote while commenting how the Creek Fire had exploded to more than 100,000 acres even before it reached the part of the Sierra where, due to climate change, bark beetles killed millions of trees.

For a moment early Sunday morning, he appeared to get his vocabulary and mojo back: “Active pyrocumulonimbus ("fire thunderstorm") activity occurred through night – resembling volcanic eruption . . .”

But by 8 a.m. he’d exhausted his vocabulary and himself: “These are getting harder and harder to write.”

The stakes had shifted; the essential subject-object dynamic changed. The earth – at least the part of it that is California – was no longer a backdrop for our actions, the set of our play. It had become the diva, the star of our horrible drama, the villain demolishing cascades of plans for all of us little specks hubristic enough to believe we could still make them.

– Elizabeth Weil
Excerpted from “The Climate Crisis Is Happening Right Now.
Just Look at California’s Weekend

September 9, 2020

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
Think 2020’s Natural Disasters Are Wild? Experts Expect a Lot Worse in Future – Associated Press via KTLA News (September 9, 2020).
A Climate Reckoning in California – Thomas Fuller and Christopher Flavelle (The New York Times, September 10, 2020).
Wildfire North of Sacramento Is Largest in California History — and It May Not Be Done Growing – Dennis Romero (NBC News (September 10, 2020).
This Is a Climate Emergency. We Need More Than Half-Measures from Democrats – Basav Sen (In These Times, September 10, 2020).
Help Is “Just Not Coming”: A California Reporter on What’s Different About This Year’s Wildfires – Mary Harris (Slate, September 10, 2020).
As Fires Engulf West, Democrats Not Running on Trump Climate Failures Accused of “Political Malpractice” – Jessica Corbett (Common Dreams, September 11, 2020).
California Governor Signs Bill Giving Prisoners Battling Wildfires a Shot at Becoming Pro Firefighters – Michael James (USA Today via Yahoo! News, September 11, 2020).
Climate Emergency Overdrive: Our Age of Compound Disasters as 10% of Oregon Is Evacuated, California Burns, and Louisiana Sinks – Juan Cole (Informed Comment via Common Dreams, September 12, 2020).
U.S. Wildfires Kill 24 People, Rip Through Northern California and Force 500,000 to Flee Their Homes in Oregon – Thomas Fuller and Christopher Flavelle (ABC News, September 12, 2020).
Oregon Sheriff’s Deputy Placed on Leave for Falsely Blaming Antifa for Starting Forest Fires – Bob Brigham (Raw Story, September 12, 2020).
Police: Political Activists Didn’t Cause Oregon’s Wildfires – Saranac Hale Spencer (FactCheck.org, September 11, 2020).
“I Don't Think Science Knows”: Visiting Fires, Trump Denies Climate Change – Alana Wise (NPR News, September 14, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Examining the Link Between Destruction of Biodiversity and Emerging Infectious Diseases
Something to Think About – February 10, 2020
In Australia, “the Land As We Know It Is No More”
Greta Thunberg: Quote of the Day – September 23, 2019
Five Powerful Responses to the Amazon Fires
Greta Thunberg: Quote of the Day – March 16, 2019
As the World Burns, Calls for a “Green New Deal”
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – August 29, 2017
The People's Climate Solidarity March – Minneapolis, 4/29/17
“It Is All Connected”
Standing Together
Standing in Prayer and Solidarity with the Water Protectors of Standing Rock
Rachel Smolker: Quote of the Day – September 19, 2014
The Paris Climate Talks, Multilateralism, and a “New Approach to Climate Action”
Superstorm Sandy: A “Wake-Up Call” on Climate Change
Chris Hedges: Quote of the Day – May 31, 2011

Image 1: The Bidwell Bar Bridge surrounded by flames of the North Complex fire – Lake Oroville, California, September 9, 2020. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)
Image 2: California wildfire – 2020. (Photo: Photographer unknown)
Image 3: Wildfires in California's Butte County – 2020. (Photo: AP/Noah Berger)
Image 4: A California forest fire in 2018. (Photo: Kellan Hendry)

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Dancer Calvin Royal III: Stepping Into His Light

Where does the time go? . . . I meant to write this post much sooner than now! And yet here we are, and so here I go . . .

The cover story of the July issue of Dance Magazine celebrates Calvin Royal III, a dancer I've come to greatly admire.

In her piece entitled “A Royal Arrival: The Singular Elegance of American Ballet Theatre's Calvin Royal III,” Marina Harss writes, in part, the following about Royal's dance style.

Royal – tall, lanky, with a silken, elegant way of moving and a gentle and open stage manner – would seem ideally suited to play Romeo [groundbreakingly paired with Misty Copeland's Juliet]. There is a quiet persuasiveness to his dancing. He doesn't show off. Instead, he imbues each movement with an aura of beauty and lyricism. As Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), puts it, “Calvin has an inner light.” . . . His ascent [in the dance world] has been gradual, even painstaking at times. You get the feeling he has earned every role, every opportunity through determination and the integrity of his dancing, but without ever losing that grace that makes him such a joy to watch onstage. He is hungry without being driven by ambition.

Harss also makes the following beautiful observation on how the professional and personal aspects of Royal's life come together in a very special way.

The poetry in Royal's dancing is related to his deep, subtle musicality; music flows through him. It's not surprising that his partner, ABT pianist Jacek Mysinski [pictured with Royal at left], is a musician. Their work spills over into their downtime; Mysinski practices at home, and they talk about the ballets in the rep. When Mysinski is playing from the pit during a performance, Royal can feel his presence, he says: “It's almost like having him at my side, almost like a partner.”

Interestingly, the metaphor of light in relation to Calvin Royal III was used by the dancer himself, as quoted in Gia Kourlas' October 2019 New York Times piece on Royal in the lead role of George Balanchine’s Apollo. (above).

“For Calvin,” writes Kourlas, “the ballet – which Balanchine considered to be his turning point as a choreographer – resonates with his own artistic journey. 'It’s this young god that goes from adolescence to stepping into his light,' says Calvin. 'As a dancer that’s something that I see for myself: I feel like I’m really just stepping into my own domain and embracing that.'”

Following, with added images and links, is more from Dance Magazine's recent cover story on Calvin Royal III.

Royal didn't get his start in ballet until age 14, at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Florida. Before that, he had been a serious piano student. It was his grandmother Linda, a social worker and a lover of classical music, opera and dance, who first encouraged his artistic tendencies. When he was 10, she bought him a Yamaha electric keyboard for Christmas. “I'll never forget it,” she says. “He called me one Sunday morning and said, 'I want you to listen to something.'” On the other end of the line, he started to play Beethoven's Für Elise. He had learned it by ear.

Royal excelled at his piano studies, but also loved to move. For a few years, he took part in a local production called The Chocolate Nutcracker, which included hip hop, West African and other styles of dance. One of his fellow participants encouraged him to audition for the high school dance program. Without ever having taken a formal dance class, he was accepted.

There was so much to learn, he sometimes felt he might never catch up. “I think it intrigued him that ballet took so much effort,” says Suzanne Pomerantzeff, his main teacher at Pinellas. The intellectual challenge drew him in as much as the physical.

That focus carried him through some difficult times at home. In his sophomore year, he injured his back in a car accident and had to sit out ballet classes for several months, excruciating given he had only just begun to make progress. He would take notes on the side, “visualizing dance in my mind,” as he puts it. Dance became a lifeline, a source of steadiness and hope.

In his junior year, he competed in Youth America Grand Prix, where he was spotted by Lukens and Franco De Vita, of the JKO School. “I was immediately struck by his elegance, his musicality and his coordination,” remembers De Vita, who offered him a scholarship.

After a year in the school and two and a half in ABT II (now the ABT Studio Company), he got into the main company, initially as an apprentice, at 21. He was still getting his technique where he wanted it to be — quick footwork and beats were a challenge for his long, lithe physique. (“I wanted to move like those little guys,” he says, “but it wasn't easy with these legs.”)

But he also wondered whether he fit the typical mold of a principal dancer at the company. “It was only when I came to New York that I started to become more aware of race in ballet,” says Royal. In Florida, his ballet classes had been mixed. In New York City, less so. When he first joined ABT II, he overheard other dancers from the company making snide comments about a fellow African-American dancer there. “Oh, well, I guess they needed a black girl,'” he heard one of them say.

He began to wonder whether he might never be given the chance to prove himself as a leading man by McKenzie and the rest of the artistic staff. “Will they see me as Romeo or Albrecht? Not only because I'm black, but also because I'm gay?”

At the time, he says, the company culture was different: “There was this sense of machismo, and this idea that the guys had to look sort of like football players.” Ethan Stiefel, José Manuel Carreño and other powerhouses in that vein were company stars. Just a few years earlier, in 2003, the company had put out a video, Born to Be Wild, that depicted its male dancers as testosterone-driven guys who rode motorcycles and posed as matadors.

Since that time, much has changed. Fewer international stars come through ABT; a new generation of home-bred principals has risen to the top, and they are anything but cookie-cutter. (Only one, however, is black: Misty Copeland [pictured with Royal at left].) Rigid notions about what Romeo or Siegfried should look like have finally begun to relax, to the benefit of the dancers.

– Marina Harss
Excerpted from “The Singular Elegance of
American Ballet Theatre's Calvin Royal III

Dance Magazine
June 11, 2029

Related Off-site Links:
Michaela DePrince and Calvin Royal III Are Changing the Face of Ballet – Gabe Zaldivar (Sports Illustrated, June 16, 2020).
Misty Copeland and Calvin Royal III Become the First Black Couple to Dance Lead With the American Ballet Theatre – Ashleigh Lakieva Atwell (Blavity, January 16, 2020).
Misty Copeland, Calvin Royal III and the Rarity of a Black Couple Dancing Lead Roles – Laura Bleiberg (Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2019).
Misty Copeland and Calvin Royal III Discuss Cancelled Romeo and Juliet Production With ABTBroadway World (June 1, 2020).
Standout Performances of 2019: ABT's Calvin Royal III in Apollo – Margaret Fuhrer (Pointe Magazine, December 24, 2019).
One Year With Soloist Calvin Royal III – American Ballet Theatre (via YouTube, September 2, 2020).

For more of Calvin Royal III at The Wild Reed, see:
Our Bodies Are Part of the Cosmos
A Prayer for the Moment Between
O Dancer of Creation
A Blessing for the New Year
A Prayer in Times of a Pandemic
When Spring Returns

See also:
To Dance
And As We Dance
A Prayer for Dancers
Not Whether We Dance, But How
"I Came Alive with Hope"
Aristotle Papanikolaou on How Being Religious is Like Being a Dancer
The Art of Dancing as the Supreme Symbol of the Spiritual Life
The Soul of a Dancer

Monday, September 07, 2020

Ben Hewitt on the 40th Anniversary of Kate Bush’s Never for Ever

Kate Bush’s third album, 1980’s Never for Ever, was the first album I ever bought. And I remember the day as if it were yesterday.

Back then, of course, it was a proper vinyl album that I purchased – from Gunnedah Sound Center, the little record store in my Australian hometown. I was fourteen . . . and it was a Saturday, as I remember walking around the corner to the main street and meeting up with some of my high school friends for lunch at the Monterey Cafe. I also remember keeping my purchase in its brown paper bag, as I didn’t want greasy finger prints all over the album’s strange and fantastical artwork!

Like everyone in Australia at that time who wasn’t living under a rock, I’d known of Kate Bush since her spectacular (and wildly original) emergence onto the music scene two years earlier with “Wuthering Heights.” It was my purchase of Never For Ever in 1980, however, that set me on course to being a lifelong admirer of Kate Bush. I soon added her two earlier albums (The Kick Inside and Lionheart) to my collection and from then on would purchase each new Kate Bush album upon its release – The Dreaming in 1982; Hounds of Love in 1985, my second year of college; The Sensual World in 1989, my second year of teaching; The Red Shoes in 1993, my last year teaching and living in Australia; Aerial in 2005, well into my new life in the U.S.; and 50 Words for Snow in 2011.

My most recent purchase has been Kate Bush Remastered – Part 1, a box set of her first seven albums, beautifully remastered and repackaged.

As I write, I have Never For Ever playing, and I must admit I find it hard to believe it’s been 40 years since its release. But there you have it. To my ears, the album remains strangely and compellingly contemporary. Or perhaps better still, timeless.

Ben Hewitt of Quietus has penned a wonderfully insightful appreciation of the album in which he writes that although it’s not Kate Bush’s most celebrated recording, “it might be her most pivotal – the start of her transition from artist to auteur.”

Following, with added images and links, is an excerpt from Ben Hewitt's Quietus piece on Never For Ever.


Despite being overshadowed by what followed, [Never For Ever is] the start of [Kate Bush's] transformation into a one-of-a-kind auteur, the record that made her later, greater glories possible. Tired of EMI’s conveyor-belt approach to rushing out LPs, Bush assumed more ownership in the studio and changed the way she made music forever. “The whole thing was so satisfying,” she enthused in 1980. “To actually have control of my baby for the first time.” Forty years later, it’s no less significant: Never For Ever isn’t Bush’s best album, but it might well be the most important.

By late 1979, Bush was long used to battling EMI. If the label had gotten its way three years previously, her first release would have been the fun-yet-forgettable ‘James And The Cold Gun’; Bush pushed for ‘Wuthering Heights’ instead, and duly became the first woman to hit No 1 with a self-written single. Still, there were only so many fights a 19 year old could win in a sexist, stuffy industry. After the success of 1978’s The Kick Inside EMI demanded an instant follow-up, giving her only weeks to write new material and forcing her to mostly use years-old compositions. Worse, they then backed producer Andrew Powell’s decision to again replace her group, the KT Bush Band, with session musicians. The patchy Lionheart, released nine months after her debut, left her cold. “Though they were my songs and I was singing them, the finished product was not what I wanted,” she later told Keyboard.

Never For Ever would change all that. Draining as it was, Bush’s gruelling Tour Of Life gave her the chance to co-produce 1979’s On Stage EP with engineer Jon Kelly, convincing her they could handle a full album together. She ousted Powell and combined the session hands with her band members, swapping them in and out like rolling subs and making them record take after take. Bush biographer Rob Jovanovic, estimates she spent an unprecedented five months writing and demoing at Abbey Road, honing new and old ideas alike, while keyboardist Max Middleton [has said that] the sessions were so exacting because of her obsession with finding “something nebulous that was hard to pinpoint.” For Bush the autonomy was worth savouring, no matter how painstaking the process. “It was the first step I’d really taken in controlling the sounds,” she said, “and being pleased with what was coming back.”

Listen now and you can still hear that fundamental shift Bush spoke of, the birth of some new, peculiar magic. It starts with ‘Babooshka,’ in which a paranoid wife impersonates a younger woman to test her husband’s roving eye, and ends up destroying her marriage.

It’s a wonderfully wicked premise: Bush based it on the cross-dressing, happy-ever-after hijinks of the traditional English folk ditty ‘Sovay’, but her revamp is less a cheeky romp than a surreal, bitter farce, pitched somewhere between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Tales of the Unexpected. Most startling, though, is the way it sounds, like unearthly Russian folk music: there’s something both archaic and futuristic about its echoey keys, eerie synths and the ethereal strings of her brother Paddy’s balalaika, as uncanny as a Cossack band playing on the Mir space station. Bush sings like two different people, flitting from coy trills to operatic shrieks, and eventually her world comes crashing down in a crescendo of squalling guitars and the Fairlight’s splintering glass.

Then, before the debris has cleared, she drifts into the wispy beauty of ‘Delius (Song Of Summer)’, which recounts how Frederic Delius’s amanuensis, Eric Fenby, took down his idol’s compositions from dictation after he was waylaid by syphilis. All the same, if “moody old man” Delius was difficult, there’s no rancour in its shimmering reverie of hazy sitar and bubbling percussion: it hums with the heady buzz of the olde British countryside, and Bush’s vocal has the crisp, bucolic freshness of dandelion and burdock. Both tracks size up the album’s big themes – the push-and-pull of thorny relationships, the constant churn of emotions – but one bursts into thunder, and the other floats on the breeze.

. . . Like ‘Wuthering Heights’, Never For Ever made history: the first No 1 album by a British female solo artist. Yet its significance transcends chart milestones. For the next decade Bush would build on its potential to become, as she joked to Q in 1989, the “shyest megalomaniac you’re ever likely to meet.” Whereas her first three albums were squeezed into two-and-a-half years, the subsequent three spanned nine. The next one, the bewildering, avant-garde masterpiece The Dreaming, was the first she produced entirely by herself; soon after, she built a studio-come-sanctuary near her family home and hunkered away to make the flawless Hounds Of Love. Each record introduced new inspirations, new instruments, new collaborators and new methods, all indebted to Never For Ever’s triumph of bloody-minded determination. It doesn’t belong in her imperial period, but that imperial period wouldn’t exist without it.

– Ben Hewitt
Excerpted from “All She Ever Looked For:
Kate Bush’s Never For Ever, 40 Years On
The Quietus
September 7, 2020

Related Off-site Links:
Kate Bush's Splendidly Transitional Never For Ever at 40 – Cheryl Graham (Pop Matters, September 9, 2020).
Big Boi Suggests a Kate Bush Collaboration May Be On the Way – Jack Whatley (Far Out, July 27, 2020).
Ranking All of Kate Bush’s Studio Albums – Jack Whatley (Far Out, July 30, 2020).

For more of Kate Bush at The Wild Reed, see:
Happy Birthday, Kate!
Quote of the Day – July 20, 2018
Celebrating the Unique and Influential Kate Bush
“A Dark Timelessness and Stillness Surrounds Her Wild Abandonment”
“Can You See the Lark Ascending?”
Quote of the Day – August 17, 2014
Scaling the Heights
“Oh, Yeah!”
Celebrating Bloomsday in St. Paul (and with Kate Bush)
“Rosabelle, Believe . . .”
Just in Time for Winter
“Call Upon Those You Love”
A Song of Summer
“There’s Light in Love, You See”

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Marianne Williamson on the Movement for a People's Party

Author, activist, and former Democratic Presidential candidate Marianne Wiliamson was one of a number of progressive figues who spoke last Sunday at the People's Convention 2020.

Organized by the Movement for a People's Party (MPP), the virtual convention also included Dr. Cornel West, Sen. Nina Turner, Sen. Mike Gravel, Danny Glover, Chris Hedges, Ryan Knight, Chris Smalls, Medea Benjamin, and Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap.

Oh, and before anyone gets bent out of shape worrying about this movement taking votes away from Joe Biden in his race against Donald Trump, you can relax. The Movement for a People's Party plans on running its first crop of candidates in the next election cycle.

Following is an excerpt from The Progressive's Christopher D. Cook's report on the August 30 People's Convention.

In a surreal year that has spiraled from surging hopes for a Bernie Sanders presidency to today’s pandemic-hemmed fear and a tight election between centrist Democrats and fascistic Republicans, now may be just the right time for a new political party.

As voters face a dismal “lesser of two evils” election in which a Biden/Harris ticket represents the only alternative to four more years of Trumpian fascism and racism, the Movement for a People’s Party aims to prevent such dreary and sparse choices in the future.

“We’re going to get that neo-fascist out of the White House, and we’re going to build a People’s Party and get to work,” said former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, as she culminated the first-ever online creation of a political party on Sunday, August 30, following five hours of webinar speeches melding outrage and inspiration.

On the heels of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, the Movement for a People’s Party (MPP) speakers blasted this “duopoly” for its long bipartisan allegiance to corporate power, oligarchy, and militarism. Speaker after speaker skewered the Democratic Party and its nominee for decades of adherence to corporate and Wall Street interests, military spending increases and war, and its refusal to support Medicare for All, even amid a deadly pandemic.

By press time today, 7,639 convention participants (among viewers and online listeners, who numbered roughly 95,000 on Periscope) had voted to approve the official creation of the People’s Party. As of now, organizers say, there are three active state chapter Twitter pages – Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – and the MPP’s all-volunteer crew is working on building local chapters in other states. Organizers aim to tap local activists across the country to help launch party chapters as well as state-level hubs and nine regional branches.

The day-long virtual convention – which also featured Dr. Cornel West, Danny Glover, Marianne Wiliamson, Tim Black, Amaya Wangeshi, and other progressive icons, podcasters, and organizers – builds on more than two years of MPP organizing.

The stakes of the moment are starkly clear: a raging pandemic, soaring unemployment and poverty, and a fascist and racist president versus a Democratic nominee who has stated, “nothing would fundamentally change.” Against this backdrop, speakers warned against both the continuation of Trump and the perils of a Democratic Party that relies on corporate money and stifles fundamental change.

Actor and activist Danny Glover said “in face of growing fascism . . . when peaceful protesters are viciously attacked . . . if we don’t act now, we’ll find ourselves in a darker moment than we can imagine.”

Cornel West, citing the “marvelous militancy” rising in the streets, called for a “prophetic fight-back that is intersectional,” in a multiracial, multigenerational movement to combat “the neofascist in the White House,” and the “milquetoast neoliberals who keep voting for his military budgets,” along with “unbelievably grotesque levels of inequality.”

From the convention’s opening moments, the rage and hope were palpable. Host Nick Brana, MPP’s national director and a veteran of Bernie’s 2016 campaign, provided a stark lay of the land. “The kind of crises we are facing indicates the two parties can’t deliver what we need,” said Brana in his opening remarks. “There’s a word for that – it’s called a failed state.”

– Christopher D. Cook
Excerpted from “New People’s Party
Rises Amid Grim Election Options

The Progressive
August 31, 2020

Four days after the convention, Marianne Williamson was a guest on Rising with The Hill's Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. In this interview she discusses her support for the People's Party and her involvement in last Sunday's People's Party Convention. It's well worth watching.

Related Off-site Links:
People’s Party Convention Speakers Bring Hope In a Dark Time – David Doel (The Rational National, August 31, 2020).
'DemExit': Virtual Convention Aims to Create US Leftwing Alternative – David Smith (The Guardian, August 29, 2020).
New 'People's Party' Emerging From Disappointed Left to Host Inaugural Convention – Paul Kurtz (KYW News, August 28, 2020).
Marianne Williamson Is Back – to Talk About Forming a Third Party – Holly Otterbein (Politico, August 18, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – September 4, 2020
“We Have an Emergency On Our Hands”: Marianne Williamson On the “Freefall” of American Democracy
The “Freefall” Continues
Eight Leading Progressive Voices on Why They’re Voting for Biden
“The Republican Party Has Now Made It Official: They Are a Cult”
Branko Marcetic on the DNC: “Progressive Symbolism and Empty Rhetoric in Place of Real Political Vision”
My Summer of Supporting Progressive Down-Ballot Candidates
Progressive Perspectives on the Biden-Harris Ticket
Fascism Is Upon Us
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – June 2, 2020
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – November 5, 2018

From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf

I continue today my series that draws from the wisdom found in the books on my shelf at work. As most reading this would know, my “work,” since September 2018, is that of a palliative care interfaith chaplain at a hospital just north of the Twin Cities.

In this fifth installment I share an excerpt from Kathleen Dowling Singh’s book, The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope, Comfort, and Spiritual Transformation, which Seymour Boorstein, M.D. describes as “a very powerful and gentle antidote to the fear of dying both in ourselves and our loved ones.”

(NOTE: To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

I am an ordinary person working with ordinary people dying ordinary deaths. The people I work with are neither saints nor sages. Although occasionally devout, they are not spiritual adepts. These are the people who have been in line with us at the supermarket or in the next lane at the traffic light; they are our parents, our friends, our spouses, our children, ourselves.

The deaths I observed do not include the sudden, violent ones of attack or accident or the unexpected ones of a heart gone suddenly awry. They are the routinely prognosed deaths of terminal illness, the final fading away of a body riddled with cancer or stilled by a failing essential physiological system: ordinary people dying ordinary deaths.

What I have observed in these deaths, however, and what I have experienced is most certainly not ordinary; it is profound, transcendent, and extraordinary. By and large, people die in solemnity, peace, and transformed consciousness, radiating energy that can only be described as spiritual. Death, as no other moment we encounter in life, announces itself in resplendent silence. Death is so absolute that anyone’s encounter with it is transforming. It provokes the strongest of feelings: terror, sadness, rage, utter fascination, and an interior acknowledgement, an intuitive recognition, of liberation.

William James, the American giant of psychology and philosophy, once observed: “The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main these experiences and those of the world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in.”

It is my observation, after having been with hundreds of people who are dying, that death is most definitely one of those points where “higher energies filter in,” where, as Mircea Eliade describes it, there is “a rupture of planes.”

Wisdom traditions have acknowledged this for millennia. In the West, a series of treatises in the Middle Ages referred to as the Ars Moriendi, the “Art of Dying,” set forth a cartography, a map, of the psycho-spiritual transformations of the dying process in Christian religious terms. At that time in that culture, there was confidence in the prevailing worldview that death, like life, is a pilgrimage. Dying persons, at the edge between life and death, were seen as beings glimpsing the mystery in a way that is rarely possible for those of us in the midst of life; they were seen as beings moving more rapidly in their pilgrimage into spiritual dimensions.

In the East, Padmasambhava gave a precise map and explanation of the dying process in the Bardo Thodol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in the eighth century. The essence of its teaching is that, in the dissolution of dying, we move beyond the personal sense of self and the delusions of ordinary mind. In the gap created by that movement, the nature of Reality is revealed, experienced, and entered into. Buddhist psychology sees dying as the moment when the fundamental nature of mind, the essence of who we are, sometimes called the Ground Luminosity or Clear Light or Immutable Radiance, naturally reveals itself in its vast glory.

These viewpoints contain great wisdom. Our culture – America, at the turn of the third millennium – has lost much of that wisdom and we are only now in the process of regaining it. A profound shift is occurring in human consciousness regarding the perception of death and dying. This shift was ushered in by the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others who first turned to dying as a legitimate, heretofore unexamined, area of research. The shift gained further impetus from the hospice movement, the AIDS epidemic, and the advancement of medical techniques that increase the probability of near-death experiences. The limited, yet significant, resurgence of spiritual practice in the West as well as a general and evolutionary maturing of human consciousness have also contributed to the emergence of the study of death and dying as a field of research and interest. Unequivocally, death is coming to be seen as our final stage of growth.

. . . It is time for us to observe and to describe the psycho-spiritual transformations normal and inherent in the dying process. . . . [to] describe the experience of dying by exploring the transformations that many of us who work with the dying are beginning to see. These transformations appear to be inherent in the dying process itself.

It has been said that death is a mirror in which all of life is reflected. When we look into this “mirror” of death and dying, we get a clearer image of ourselves, a clearer image of the inherent possibilities of human consciousness. Increasing our insight into what is generally considered to be the unfathomable nature of death and dying – particularly knowledge that reveals dying’s transformative and transcendent power – helps us to understand our fear of death and to decrease this fear. With this insight, we can recognize death as a part of life as beautifully conceived as every other part. We can come closer to accepting the fact that, of course, part of the experience of physical existence involves the organism’s natural design for death. Why do we die? We begin to answer the question simply: because we are alive. In the words of the American sage Ram Dass, “Death is not an outrage.”

A greater understanding of the process of dying, in both its physical and psycho-spiritual dimensions, also will enable us to better guide our loved ones and ourselves through this difficult and profound time. To observe and intimately participate as a dying person’s consciousness becomes one with the Clear Light or the Ground of Being is an act of great value, inexpressible and unforgettable. It is to be pierced by a power beyond our separate sense of self in a moment that sources both compassion and wisdom.

As we deepen our understanding of the entire human journey from conception through death, we deepen our capacity to live more fully and freely, awed by the fact that we are alive. We become different beings through the transformative power of our insight into the dying process. We become larger, more integrated, and somehow more real with this expansion of our horizons and remapping of our boundaries. We enter levels that allow our now deeper being to open to what is – giving and taking, in living and dying, with fewer gimmicks and simpler truth, with less frivolity and more joy, with less suffering and more gratitude.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf (Part I)
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf (Part II)
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf (Part III)
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf (Part IV)
Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Welcome
Interfaith Chaplaincy: Meeting People Where They're At
Spirituality and the Healthcare Setting
World Hospice and Palliative Care Day
Resilience and Hope
The Calm Before the Storm
George Yancy on the “Unspoken Reality of Death”
Arthur Kleinman on the “Soul of Care”
“Call Upon Those You Love”

Related Off-site Links:
In Pandemic, Health Care Chaplains Address an “Existential and Spiritual Crisis” – Alejandra Molina (Religion News Service, March 20, 2020).
Hospital Chaplains Bring Hope and Solace to COVID-19 Patients and Staff – Lulu Garcia-Navarro (NPR News, March 29, 2020).
It's Time to Get Serious About End-of-Life Care for High-Risk Coronavirus Patients – Jessica Gold and Shoshana Ungerleider (TIME, March 30, 2020).
Learning to Cope With the Pandemic From Palliative Care Patients – Rob A. Ruff (KevinMD.com, May 8, 2020).
Our Crash Course in Being Mortal – Ira Byock (Goop, May 2020).
“Hurry, He's Dying”: A Hospital Chaplain’s Journal Chronicles Pandemic's Private Wounds – Chris Kenning (Louisville Courier Journal via USA Today, September 1, 2020).
How the Arts Can Ease Grief After Loss – Patricia Corrigan (Next Avenue, April 29, 2020).

Images: Michael J. Bayly.